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Chapter 9: Manufacturing Babies

Did I dream it all? Am I never going to see my babies again; never hold my grandchildren to my breast? No, I didn't dream it, and I put the sentence of exile on the NetBoard session myself: when there's a disaster, Earth people help, with our lives if necessary. And I'm strong as a lion and tough as nails, and I'm going to do five extra on each bar exercise this morning to prove to myself that it's true. And with sixteen lion kittens to take care of, or however many Simba said, I'm going to need the strength both in my arms and in my mind.

What would Tiger do in this situation? She'd tell how she felt and ask the others. Then she'd do her job.

Me: Hey, Tiger, do you mind some serious talk before breakfast? I'm not changing my advice or anything, but I feel pretty bad about not being able to go back to Earth. I miss my children.

Tiger: I miss mine, and my grandkittens. Anansi is in the middle of college now; I don't even know what major she chose. What we've seen of Claude's financial management has been pretty canny, and I wish I could see how he turns out, and his and Demeter's kittens. I made a prediction that we'd return just in time to see Charlie appointed to the Federal Reserve Board; he'll be appointed, but I won't see it. Holly and Surya: his thesis should be coming up pretty soon, and from the notes he's sent it's a blockbuster. I wish I could hug him again, and their kittens, but it's not going to happen.

Simba: I don't want to add to the list too much, but I'm going to be following Becket's work on the Lion Disc very closely. I'd hoped to be able to work with him directly, now that he's full time. And our human grandchildren: remember the picture of the four of them hanging upside down in the tree? Coyote's Julio was almost ready for college when we left and we got the message from him that he'd aced the entrance exams. I'm proud of them all, and I'd enjoy it a whole lot more in person.

Willie: Yes, I miss them too. Wooly... But we made our choice; we'll enjoy them as we can, from here, and we'll enjoy our new family that we'll be making. Assuming nothing goes wrong.

Tiger: Do I take this discussion as meaning nobody's backing off from her or his recommendation to replant? If so, I'm going to record that it's confirmed, and send the file off to Earth. I held it back in case anyone got cold feet.

Simba: I'm still on board.

Me: I said, I'm not changing my mind.

Willie: Yes, I'm not backing down.

Tiger: Neither am I. Then... So ordered. Signed by me as commander, and in the data stream. I put a note that a lot of details are to follow. So, does that perk up your appetite? Wilma, I noticed you doing extra repetitions, and you might have noticed that I did extra too. Tough as lions, right? I think we're going to do OK; I think we're going to be steady and sharp and we're going to work around the inevitable problems. And a big part of staying steady is eating a proper breakfast. How does this sound: Chinese onion cakes with oat flour?

It sounds good, and thanks to Simba's good husbandry the storage bin has onions, both green stalks and round red ones. Tiger and I knead up the dough and flatten out the cakes, while Willie feeds them through our rolling mill with the heat on, doubling as a toaster. They're supposed to be fried but you can't fry stuff in zero G. Simba turns some fruit into juice or purée: a peach, a plum, a small bunch of grapes and two tomatoes. There's just a sip of each one per person, but with a little bit from each plant there's enough.

Tiger: OK, people, brush your fangs. This morning I'd like to get started on two things. First, I want to set up the production schedule for the next two weeks. Second, we need to specify our colonists. Kittens. Whatever. Production schedule first?

Willie: Let's list the projects. Interplanetary bees, two kinds, pusher and gatherer. Their power nexus. A new lander. An automated prospector. An APX and an X-ray sensor to put on each one of them, plus the replacement X-ray sensor for this ship. The bee factory. More factory types. That's enough for a year, isn't it? Or two?

Tiger: Yes, and I see a problem with the supply of metals for chassis. What's the plural, chassises? Or do you stick with French? Anyway, what's the current miner status?

Willie: Fifty kilos.

Tiger: Here's what I propose: we have the pusher chips for the new lander. We'll bring in the comet miner and use the metals it's collected to make a lander, but it will be optimized for mining operations on Thor, at the sites we've already explored. When that's done we won't lack for metals. The prospector unit would be the next spacecraft we build. With any luck we'll have a design for the bee factory and we can build that next. And we won't build a second chip prototyper; the bee factory is our full bore chip factory! It can make any chip, not just bees. Yes, Willie?

Willie: Don't forget, that system is complicated. We need to purify and grow the silicon tape, probably on a separate chassis, and the oxide and metalization process isn't well defined yet, whether it will be on the same chassis as the ion implantation accelerator.

Tiger: You're right, I'm kind of oversimplifying. But most of the time is taken for ion implantation. Initially, for prototype work, we can use our premade wafer stock in the bee factory, and the prototyper can postprocess both its own chips and the bee chips, while we're building the other modules. So of the three sections, the implanter should come first. Agreed?

Willie: Right. Now when can we get started on the bees? They're important.

Tiger: Yes, they are. My major work effort is going to be combining the pusher, AATS, cooler and CPU functions on one chip, as well as to design the power nexus. I'm thinking to do all this at about a quarter scale, with the nexus right in here with us so we can keep an eye on it. We'll do the complete cycle of gathering water; that's the most corrosive; but I'm worried that we'll have to go through several kinds of coating before we find one that will hold up, which is why I want four quarter size chips rather than blowing a whole wafer on a bad coating. But the design will take time; on pusher chips you can't just slice off a corner of it and expect it to work. Let's tentatively schedule a new APX machine first, to go on the prospector. If the bee design is ready we'll do that next, and if not we'll start the X-ray detector, which I want on this ship, because we're not looking for uranium ore, and while epsilon Eridani is pretty quiet on flares, the internal radiation detectors don't give us as much warning as I'd like. Those are all big chips, and when all three are finished in a month or a month and a half, we'll decide what to make next. For the mining lander and the prospector we can use chips that are in storage already: pushers, CPUs and cameras.

Willie: I think that's reasonable. I'll start the miner coming in this morning, and until it arrives my main effort will be to design the implanter module, but I'll need some help from you on the specifications.

Tiger: Right, I'm the chip expert. Simba and Wilma, any comments on the production schedule?

Simba: Only that I think I should make up about three more bug tanks, and start zymase production so we can have a reliable supply of sugar.

Tiger: Right. Now let's work on our colonists. Let's do this on NetBoard because I think the people at home will want to see it.

Me: Tiger, this is our home now.

Tiger: Hmmm. I'm afraid you're right. Agreed, people, that from now on ``home'' means Thor, not Earth? And Earth years and stuff like that will have to change too. We'd better think about Earth-reference things, but I don't want to get distracted by that. Session is ready; everyone on? I see you. I think it's clear that some, but not all, of the colonists should be lions. Agreed?

Simba: Agreed. Now as for human colonists, I've had my finger up your vagina enough times and I know how much space there is between your ischial bones. At three hundred grams a lion kitten can get through, but a human baby is three kilos mass or more, and it absolutely won't fit. I also don't like the idea of repeated Caesarean deliveries. Maybe you could get away with it in an Earth hospital, but I don't want to do it here. Real humans are out of the question.

Willie: But fake humans are a distinct possibility; that's how it sounded to me.

Simba (by voice): Tiger, I think I should tell them. OK? Willie and Wilma, this is political dynamite and Mr. Chernik and Ms. Holbeck and Dr. Franck decided it should disappear into oblivion, for the safety of the lions. If we decide to do this, we'll ``invent'' it afresh for our purpose here. The project was to estimate how much lion stuff you could hang on a human and still have it accepted by other humans. They called them ``stealth lions''. Autotrophy, obviously the chemical synthesis machinery can't be detected without medical tests. Opal teeth and bones: very beautiful teeth, but not unreal; they figured they could get away with that. The shoulder button panel, the metal sensitive taste buds, the poison alarm and the metal deficiency readouts: clearly those could go in. Zygote production by button press: that too. Our muscle response to exercise wouldn't arouse suspicion. And stealth lions would never get bald and could be programmed hormonally to have a beard or to never have to shave. You couldn't push much beyond that, though, without making it real obvious that it was a fake human.

Me: Wow! I assume none were actually built.

Simba: Damn right! We look like cats because Felix Stenhorth loved cats, but it's been really helpful that we have very obvious differences from humans: it reassures them that they know what they're dealing with. No body snatchers. If they don't see fur, it's not a lion. There are already enough tabloid stories about space aliens hiding among us. I think there would have been lynch mobs if we'd built any stealth lions.

Willie: You're probably right. It might be a good idea for my species to pass up this opportunity.

Tiger: Yes, it would, and no, it wouldn't. And I want to make this point first: our goal isn't to modify the human as much as possible, it's to make the minimum changes that will enable it to thrive within our ability to support it. If that leaves it human, great, but I have my doubts that's possible. Too bad. Can we talk about how the humans will react to not having humans here, on the board?

Me (back on the session): I'd be disappointed to have no humans here. Others would be furious at being left out.

Willie: And if we do modify the humans, others would feel threatened and might be able to do something about the threat. We're damned if we do and damned if we don't; kind of a common situation for us, isn't it?

Tiger: Too common. I'm going to make a proposal. We'll tell Earth something like this; I mean, this file will eventually go back to Earth, so take a look at our reasoning, second guessers. We wanted to have humans here, but my vagina can't accommodate a human baby, so we have to splice in the lion developmental program, you know, birth at three hundred grams. Think of them as always premature. We have no capability for textiles, cloth diapers, nor for absorbent paper, so we have to splice in the lion excretory controls. That's a polite way to refuse to deal with reeking diapers and wiping the little darling's shit-smeared arse. How could you people be designed so incompetently! Sorry.

Me: We were parents too, you know. We had that thought several times a day. Now what's next that we want to change? We're bringing these kids into a world where everyone has claws and has a tendency to use them. I think the opal reinforcement in the skin is a must.

Willie: Autotrophy. The Chang seeds are good, but they don't provide every vitamin. If we're making babies and we deliberately leave out their vitamin C or D or E production just to make them like Earth humans, I think it should be obvious that would be wrong. It won't be obvious but I think it should be.

Simba: You mentioned claws, Wilma. Should the humans have fingernails, and conical canine teeth flush with the others?

Me: That's hard to decide. The features we've discussed so far are hidden. Fangs and claws put them over the line: werewolves. But if I were a Thor human and my creators had given fangs and claws to the others and left me defenseless just to please humans in a place I could never visit, I'd be really, really angry.

Willie: I always imagine myself with fangs and claws. I understand the reason to take them away, but I think the kids deserve them.

Tiger: We're doing all this for a purpose, several purposes in compromise. We should be able to justify each feature by referring to the goals.

Me: We're asking a lot of the kids and they deserve a lot from us in return.

Tiger: Yes, they do. They deserve the absolute best we can give, and that absolute best means designing to a plan with the reasons clearly stated for each choice.

Willie: You're right, Tiger. The human children will need builtin weapons so they can have self-confidence equal to the lions. It took the project staff a lot of work to make sure I was willing to deal with the lions on their own terms and to get me to accept being clawed frequently. See here on my thigh where you got me good? And they had to train me in self-defense at the youngest possible age. I wish our colonists could train their kids equally well after we're gone, but I think we have to be realistic: it will be a whole lot easier if all the kids start with equal hardware.

Tiger: Point well taken. I wonder if instead of adding to the humans we could subtract from the lions? No claws or fangs.

Me: No! I won't... If you did that you should call them something else, like gorillas.

Simba: Declawed lions bother me a lot, same as clawed humans would bother humans. If we're voting, it's eight to fifteen billion, unfortunately.

Willie: I think we're forgetting what Tiger said before: we give the kids the best, and if the Earth people don't like it, tough, same as I said for autotrophy. They should both or neither have claws, and taking away the claws because Earth humans won't like it isn't giving the kids our best, and I lay on the people back on Earth the same obligation: to put up with giving our kids the best Earth has to offer, which in this case is claws.

Tiger: Mothers defending your kittens! I just said ``I wonder''. It seems to be your consensus to put claws on the humans, and to face the werewolf labeling. Claws are what I'd prefer too, if it weren't for speciesism on Earth.

Simba: Time for the next issue, right? We won't have enough genetic diversity to realize the range of fur patterns and skin color humans display, and given the direction this design seems to be going, I doubt I can program and debug the regulatory sequences adequately so we can leave them in files for later generations to put in. I'd like to have lion-style color, and also to regulate the fur style similarly: to tap into the existing regulatory sequences with our hormonal controls rather than writing new controls that happen genetically.

Me: May I brainstorm? Two bits for skin color: black, I mean our kind of black. You can omit Tiger's kind of black; it occurs, but rarely, and not in people of African origin. Brown; I hope we can have a really pretty brown, like some Asians can get. Will lion color do for Caucasians? They're either light brown or kind of a transparent color that's not very good looking. Or, there's a very nice kind of golden color, but it's rare. The golden color is close to lion color.

Tiger: I've seen white people two or three times; I think we can omit white. How about Coyote's color? I think it's very handsome, kind of a copper color, and where we lived in Salt Lake a lot of the people had it.

Me: Right, he's handsome and so is his color. That's four colors. We also need hair colors: midnight black like mine and Tiger's, blonde, auburn and red. We don't have to imitate the lions, having the same skin and hair colors. We don't need gray or white, I think. How many controls can we fit in?

Simba: Brainstorm. If you go over, we'll decide what to throw out.

Me: Next, curls. We should have straight hair like yours, crinkles like mine, and at least one level between: let's say sheep curls and waves. Will that work?

Simba: If we can find the existing control sequences. I'm sure there's enough information on our discs. We're prepared to deal with major problems caused by zero G and I have the complete human genotype and fairly extensive annotations about regulation and the like, plus the complete lion files.

Me: Now for the fur pattern, let's think of zones. Head hair. Beard. Chest. Pubic. Legs.

Simba: I wish we didn't need a separate bit for each.

Me: OK, let's give everyone head hair and pubic hair.

Willie: Including babies.

Me: It would come in when they were old enough, just like a real human. Let's say level zero is just that hair, like females try to be, shaving their legs. Level one would add hair on the legs and chest in a male pattern, two would add a beard, and three would make the person hairy all over like a chimpanzee. I think they look like apes, but some people like their men hairy.

Willie: If we could control the hair length we'd put barbers out of business.

Simba: OK, that's five two-bit modules: skin and hair color, curl, pattern and length. It's one more than lions have, but I think we can manage it.

Tiger: I'd like to suggest that the hairy pattern should be real fur all over, with a thermal layer plus guard hairs, just like we have. And I'd like it to be the default. If they want to be hairless they have to take hormones. The reason is that we don't know what temperature we'll be able to maintain in whatever we live in, and I think we should give our colonists maximum flexibility. Keeping human children covered can be a problem; we learned that with Coyote and Mariposa.

Me: It's a good point. Wolf and Wooly were pretty casual about clothes, particularly when they were little, but Atlanta has a benign climate, not like Salt Lake. But if we have them born in fur like a lion kitten we're really going over the line into werewolf territory.

Willie: We started out saying how much do we have to modify a human so it could survive here. It looks like we really should be thinking, how much can we modify a lion in the direction of superficially looking human.

Simba: I was waiting to make a similar point. A human has three billion base pairs in his genome, most of which is junk DNA. Lions have a tenth that, and I'd much rather take the lion genome, which is debugged, remember, and integrated, and patch in human regulatory sequences to get the face and the fur and so on. We know how to do that from the lion project: to take bits and pieces of various animals and get them to work in the lion background. Our pockets, for example.

Tiger: Taking it from the other direction, tell me if it would be feasible to lionify the human genome. Could you even do it in the time available?

Simba: I doubt it, and there'd be very little opportunity to debug it, whereas the debugging tools are built in to your and my cells.

Tiger: Then we have to start at the lion end. What do we tell the Earth people? We can't deal with humans in our colony, but we think it's important to preserve our connection with Earth, and so we've made a species of people who look as much like humans as we can manage with the materials and constraints we have to work with. Now how are they going to react? Half the people are going to say, what cute little werewolves, laugh, laugh. A quarter are going to say, you're blasphemous messing with the image of God. My turn to laugh. Another quarter are going to be terrified that the werewolves are going to invade Earth, and they're going to go out and buy guns and start shooting anyone hairy. Buy stock in razor manufacturers and tabloid publishers. Jeez, why can't humans be more mature!

Me: Because of the training, or lack of training; only about a quarter of the kids in the U.S. and less abroad are getting full scale lion instruction. But we're getting off topic. Do we have any other modifications to talk about?

Simba: We never did decide on the teeth. I suggest knifelike canine teeth, but two or at most three centimeters long, big enough to be useful but not like ours, dominating the whole muzzle.

Willie: For opening fruit or packages, right?

Simba: We hope, but the fangs I'm proposing could slash a jugular easily. Ours are overkill.

Me: If we're making werewolves they really should have proper fangs. I agree with Simba on that.

Tiger: Am I right that we're pretty close to the end of this, for today?

Me: Well, I had an idea. Um, we're going to be pretty busy just doing the humans; maybe we'd better not make things worse.

Tiger: Let Simba hear it.

Me: OK. Since I first heard of lion people when I was little, I kind of assumed that there would be more species: otters, raccoons, bears, dolphins, like that. It doesn't seem to be happening. My thought was to have another species.

Simba: Do I hear any screams of disagreement? I've always thought that a species with spots would be fun, like leopards or jaguars. Dolphins are out of the question until there's an ocean; however, I think a water species like otters would be a good idea. Look, there's a contingency here: I've been assuming sixteen kittens because that's about the maximum two pairs of adults can handle, speaking from experience. They have to be assembled rapidly so the last ones will be fully grown when we die. That means four litters of four, like I said, with just a few months between them, two males and two females in each group. See where this is heading: eight lions and eight humans would fit, or four of four species, but three species would be very inconvenient, uteruswise.

Tiger: I'm surprised not to hear you screaming about the work involved. How much is it?

Simba: Well, estimating the otter design, that would have some pretty big changes in morphology, like in the tail and the pocket, but it's all on chromosomes seven and eight; the rest are just copied, and most of seven and eight too. It still has a tail, after all; we're just changing its shape and the size of the muscles that work it. I propose to use our somatic cells and to check each chromosome for radiation damage by multiple comparisons; we just throw out the bad copies. That will take a year. Now from the variant genes on the Lion Disc we'll choose ones that weren't used in the present lion population, synthesize sixteen variants of each one that has that many, and splice them in. That's a year and a half. Earth years, I mean. The special work to make the individual species will be four to six Earth months each, the humans taking the most work. I'm sure we can keep ahead of your ability to gestate kittens.

Tiger: That puts a different light on it, don't you think? OK, Wilma and Simba want otters. We need one other species. Willie, what's your favorite?

Willie: Well, that's hard to decide; I like all the ones Wilma mentioned. Raccoons? But if half our population were fun-loving mischief makers it could kind of get out of hand. I have to say bears. How much would the personality and form match the wild animals? Would bear people be big but easy-going?

Simba: Genes don't determine personality, but they influence it. We have some idea what particular genes do in lions, though you can't predict perfectly: take Charlie as an example. And a warning; he's my best friend but I hope we can get his brilliance without all the bad parts. If we have otters and whatever, I'd plan to bias the gene assignments in the personality area according to the species theme. And yes, bear people could be made bigger, but I recommend that the difference be modest: let's say seventy kilos for lions and humans, sixty for otters and eighty for bears.

Me: Healthy real humans range from forty to a hundred kilos. How much sexual dimorphism are we planning on?

Simba: For the humans? We'd have to decide that. I'm satisfied with the minimal differences that lions have; I imagine we'd not have major dimorphism in the other species either, similar to the wild situation. But let's finish this topic: are you going with the bears too?

Me: Well, actually, the most beautiful cat in the world is the jaguar. If you can do those spots, I'd like to have jaguars.

Simba: It's on the disc. I did a project on that for a bioengineering class at Stanford. By the way, ``yaguar'' is how you pronounce the Guarani word.

Willie: What's your preference, Tiger?

Tiger: I like both. But... I'm thinking ahead to building a colony with laid-back bears. I'd like the atmosphere if the colony were fully developed, but in the beginning I think that theme wouldn't be helpful. Of the two I think we can build the more successful colony on the jaguar theme: fierce and goal-oriented.

Willie: Sounds like lions. Sounds like you.

Tiger: I hope they're better than me. Well, let's stick with the topic. Jaguars are big; how much, Simba?

Simba: Up to 180 kilos, same as for a male Panthera leo. I think we could justify the larger size for them.

Tiger: What about making us bigger too?

Simba: I think politically it would be better to tamper with our genome only if it were really needed operationally. The size difference won't be that great.

Tiger: You're right, of course. Willie, are jaguars OK?

Willie: Sure; you make a good point, and I think jaguars would be fun too, as well as beautiful and fierce. It's really OK to have four species?

Tiger: Apparently. And I agree with Wilma; I'd like to break loose the process of making new sentient species like us. It turned out to be impossible, with religious opposition to us, but here we can do what we consider prudent, and I think the lions have always hoped to be just the first of several new species.

Willie: The genus Novobios: new life.

Tiger: Hmm, not too bad. The Lion Foundation never officially gave us a species name, partly because of our mongrel origins and partly because they thought it would inflame the radicals.

Willie: We need to call our new species something, but I don't want to make trouble for the lions on Earth.

Tiger: Well, humans are pretty much used to us, resigned to us being there. I don't think we'd have a problem just from using your name. OK, we're Novobios leo; the fake humans are Novobios sapiens; the otters... Simba, you know this stuff.

Simba: Novobios lutra, and Novobios onca for the jaguars.

Me: I hope they sapiebant with their brains and not their gonads. Sapiens: wise, sensible, judicious; look it up. I always thought our species name was dorky, considering how often humans don't live up to it. Can we change that one, please?

Simba: Well, what do you think of Novobios uomo? Tiger, do you think it would help us politically if we acknowledge explicitly that they're fake humans?

Tiger: Good point, it could help a small amount. OK, let's use Novobios uomo.

Me: Um, I have another point. Willie, I think you've mixed Latin and Greek. Novanima might be better, or maybe Novanimans. And uomo is Greek too, but I think a Greek species name is OK with a Latin genus.

Tiger: I like the sound of Novobios. What's the difference?

Me: Bad Latin. Novanima would mean ``new soul'' while Novanimans would be ``new alive thing'' or ``new animal''; English mimics Latin literally here.

Tiger: Hmmm. What do the rest of you think?

Willie: We should do it right. I think Novanimans is safer, more, what's that phrase? Politically correct, in the lion context.

Simba: The Archbishop of Canterbury said I have a soul, and I think he's authoritative, at least for Anglicans. I'm a little tired of catering to the sensitivities of the religious fringe, and I think our genus name is pretty important. I'd like to be Novanima. Tiger, give us a prudence judgment.

Tiger: Willie is the most prudent, but we'll call ourselves Novanima. I think we deserve it, considering what we're doing. Now, any more items? No? Good, because I'm getting hungry. Would you people handle the lunch? I'm going to edit this file and put it in the data stream, and a separate message about the genus and species names.

Simba puts his paw on her shoulder.

Simba: Dearest commander, I think we have a balance issue here. We have a lot of work to do, and nasty consequences if we take too long, but let's remember: when running, many people are faster then we are at the beginning, but none at the end. We know how to work hard, and how hard to work, and I think right now you're going a little beyond.

Tiger, with a glare: I assume this is leading somewhere.

Simba: Yes, it is. For half a billion years Earth creatures have reproduced in the traditional way. Novanima do it differently. This morning, let's face it, we've been mating in the new way. And dearest mate, my mongrel origins are telling me they want the job finished.

Tiger doesn't hide her emotions, either on her face or in her tail, and she has quite a sequence of them for us to see: annoyance at being challenged, stubbornness at being distracted from what she intended to do, humor at the connection Simba has made, surprising her, tenderness at his entreaty to join with him... When she's been made horny she doesn't hide it either. She grabs and kisses Simba, pops her buttons one and three, and inverts with some fluid tail swats at his crotch.

Willie's mongrel origins also want the job finished. As do mine.

After lunch Tiger takes care of editing the file, while Simba, Willie and I go over our work plans. It turns out that my special skills aren't going to play a big role in the initial, critical steps. Clearly I should take over as much of the science tasks as I can handle, as well as helping out with bits and pieces of genetic design work, and taking some of the pressure off Simba by caring for the plants. For example, I plan to set up the zymase producing bacterial strain and to replenish our sugar supply, freeing Simba from that job.

Our plan is to stay at Njord until we've built the miner spacecraft, then take ourselves and it to Thor. There we'll mine a very generous supply of metals, sufficient to make the equipment we'll need to build our surface base. We'll then come back to Njord, where I will finish up the science work, specifically heptapus archaeology, while the others (with my help) assemble our personnel lander spacecraft, digging tools and so on. But as soon as living cells start coming out containing our childrens' chromosomes, one by one, we'll have to give up Njord for a long, long time, and retire to an underground bunker below the surface of Thor that will be protected somewhat from cosmic rays, because we adults can repair radiation damage in our own cells but we can't handle creating children artificially when the cells are being subtly damaged continuously.

My most important job for replanting will be to pick the spot for our first home and to design the buried building, with Willie's help.

But the science is important too. We need to have a life beyond pure Novanima reproduction, and we promised people at Earth to give them a good scientific look at this system and we don't want to start out our tenure here with a broken promise. And our own children, it will really help them understand what happened here, that they're supposed to avoid, if we can locate some hard facts about the history of the heptapi.

I'm looking for a heptapus city left dry by the evaporating ocean. The first step there is to do a pattern analysis on our map images. Setting that up takes all afternoon and some of the evening (Simba tries to drag me away), and then I let the program run all night while I join the others on clarinet. Then I have about ten days to visit as many unusual locations as possible. Our lander may be too radioactive to bring in here or to do proper elemental analysis any more, but otherwise it's perfectly functional. Here a landslide made the strata break up in blocks resembling houses. There a river delta dried out and great cracks opened in the mud, resembling streets. I spend five straight days going through representative sites of different computer-classified types of terrain: all very interesting and many very picturesque, though they'd be better with flowers and trees, but it isn't until midmorning of the sixth day that I find what I'm looking for.

Me: Hey, people, check out the lander image if you've got a moment. Here are sort of caves along a low cliff, originally at about two hundred meters water depth. Ten of them. They look like octopus lairs on Earth, but they don't look natural to me.

Willie: Let's go in all of them.

Me: I will, as soon as I have stereo views of the whole exterior. OK, done. Here's number one. Ooh, what's that? It looks like a cover over something. I'll just slide it... It only moves a little; it must have a lip on it. Let's see now, if I lift it just a little... There, got it, I don't want it to drop on the floor. It's a hole in the rock with a cover on it. Can you see anything inside? It looks empty.

Tiger: There's something at the bottom mixed with the salt; it looks all dried out. You can't reach it, can you?

Me: No, the grabber is too wide to go in. I'm going to close this up. Let me guess: you catch a prey and pop it in there so you can eat it later. Can you see any other furniture in the room? Is that... No, it's just a crack in the rock.

Willie: Maybe when they moved out they took everything with them. It's what humans would do.

Me: True. OK, what did the neighbors leave? Same layout, but the food locker cover is already on the floor. Nothing here either. Next door: well, what's that? It looks like a heptapus.

Simba: Right, high relief cut into the rock, so of course they had to leave it.

Willie: ``Mother''.

Tiger: We'll never know, will we, if they even had sexes like we do. I'm thinking: Simba and I are pretty frugal accumulating possessions and files, but I remember when we moved out of Casa Serena to your house we had about five big boxes of papers, hopelessly broken toys and so on that just went in the trash, plus another maybe ten boxes of stuff, and all the furniture, that we gave to the thrift store. If the heptapi were forced to abandon this place, I'd expect to see useless possessions left here.

Simba: You would if they were human. Maybe they had trash collection up to the last.

Me: Good joke. This place is as bare as the other two. Well, let's just run through them all.

It's exciting to have finally found a heptapus village, but disappointing that their material culture is so poor. I search thoroughly around the caves and am rewarded with a pile of some kind of hard parts. A garbage dump? A cemetery? Both? In any case, artifacts aren't evident, within the grabber's ability to dig for them. I return and get thorough stereo images of the relief sculptured heptapus. Someday maybe we can make a copy of it. I wonder how the heptapi appreciated the art, having no eyes. Probably by high-pitched sonar or tactually. I'm glad I'm in air, not water; I'm designed to look visually at things like this.

Now that we know what villages look like on the map images, the program identifies them all over the planet below the original waterline on the continental shelves, not a high density but appearing everywhere that suitable soft rock or compacted sediment is found at a suitable depth. The largest residential patch is about a third of the way around Njord to the east, and I hop out of the atmosphere to get there efficiently.

Me: More stuff, people. I'm heading for the crater thing. It looks like a large circle about fifty meters across with rows of low boxes around it. I'm imagining an audience, one heptapus per box. The boxes would signify territory to keep down fights among the audience. Something, probably frightfully cruel, happened in the arena.

Simba: Right. But if every spectator squawked sonar itself the return echoes would be such a mishmash they couldn't see.

Willie: Maybe a slave provided the signal and they listened passively. Consider the distance: not a comfortable range for them, actively.

Simba: We've never seen them use passive sonar.

Willie: That doesn't mean they never do. How would we know if they did it? Anyone want to speculate what the sport was in the Colosseum?

Me: No, I want to check out this plaza. They don't seem to have streets like we do; of course streets would be irrelevant to them. Oh, look at the relief carving along the front of this, I guess it's a building.

Tiger: Let's look at it in order. They face right to left; start at the right.

Willie: That's the first non-heptapus we've seen on the planet, and the heptapus hero has his tentacles full.

Me: Of course the hero wins. I wonder if the next scene is a feast where they eat the monster. It sure looks like a feast. Next one, can you tell the difference between the adversaries?

Willie: Probably one likes moving verbs and one doesn't. I can't see any difference. They must have a pictorial convention so you can tell who's in the sculpture, but we'll probably never figure out the code on our own.

Tiger: Likely it's three events in the life of the same hero. After the second triumphal banquet upon the loser, the last scene is pretty macabre. They're both down to one tentacle each and the sculptor has most of the lost tentacles floating around here and there. It looks to me like the heptapus on the right is winning even so; I think that's the hero. Maybe it won, then died immediately after, so they don't show the banquet. Maybe both of them were served.

Simba: I'm not going to deny it. We've got to send a good stereo image of this back to Earth.

Me: Right; I'll get a good sequence. I'm going to spend the rest of the day poking around this city and then decide what to do: continue here, or try to get an overview of some of the other cities. There are four distinctly large patches of urban terrain, but this is the biggest. I suspect it'll be more valuable to dig as deep as I can here, than to take a superficial look in four places when we don't know what we're looking for. And it's not as if this is our only chance; it may be years in the future but someone will be able to come back here and do more research; perhaps even stand on the surface in fifty years or so.

Simba: I think I agree with you.

Tiger: Yes, work with the remains here in depth, and try to understand what heptapi were all about, beyond violence and cannibalism. After we come back from mining on Thor you could spend time at each of the other cities, but I think a thorough understanding of this one will give the most results.

It's fascinating how the city is laid out. Heptapi had no concept of zoning; factories, hovels and palaces were shoveled together totally haphazardly. On this sedimentary plain they used bricks to build with; without a working APX I can't tell if the bricks are like ours or are some unique marine gel. They also used sculpted massive stone, and for all the world it looks like imitation columnar basalt, hexagonal columns in a wall, right down to irregularities and simulated cracks, but you can tell from crosscutting real cracks that the hexagonal pattern is sculpted. The heptapi had a lot to offer, a lot to like, but you can't forget that they had a lot to abhor too.

Here's a factory. The machinery is all taken away, but they used mortar to set bolts in the floor to hold the machines down, and the threads, wonder of wonders, have the same helicity that ours do. I wish I knew what alloy they were using for the bolts because it's free of corrosion even after service in salt water followed by years of dampness as the water level slowly declined. I wonder what they made here. There were many machines, meaning that many heptapi had to cooperate to run the place. And, interesting, here's an insulated pair of electrical wires held to the wall with clips, the ends of the wires hanging free. There are rows of scars and broken clips on the wall leading to other machines' positions; evidently the copper wire was scavenged but these green corroded pieces were forgotten. On the other side of the room hoses are still here that used to lead to the machines, but there are no rows of wire clips. And in this side room are shelves seemingly cast from concrete: a stockroom? A tool crib? Storage for finished product? Who can tell? Opposite it is a separate room for a special machine: the hoses lead in here, as do electrical scar tracks, so maybe power was hydraulic for some of the machines and this room held the pump. That's about it for the rooms, and about all the interpretation I can manage.

Next door are a number of huts: each is a pit dug into the seabed sediment. The pit openings are what the pattern analysis software recognizes as the common feature of this terrain. I enter one. The entrance, at the top, is just barely big enough for a heptapus (and the lander minus the sonar frame) to pass through. It opens out asymmetrically below into a circular room, far from spacious. The walls are reinforced with brick; it looks like the occupant had a limited supply and cleverly used columns and arches to hold back and hold up the sediment without covering the entire wall and ceiling with brick. There's a covered container buried in the floor, empty except for sea salt. Other than that the room is vacant and bare of decoration. Detritus and ordure have fallen through the entrance making a small pile off-center on the floor. Neighboring hovels are similar, some a little larger, some with a few more bricks to hold them open, and some partially or wholly collapsed.

So what's this edifice here? It has two stories. The front entrance to the upper one (heptapi have no need of stairs) is an archway decorated with some kind of blobby things, maybe the local equivalent of sea anemones. There's a small undecorated entrance high in the rear wall over a somewhat larger entrance to the first floor. The flat roof is covered with detritus; the occupant never had to worry about getting hit by falling litter, unlike its poorer neighbors. Inside upstairs, the sea anemone motif is carried through three rooms, a large front room and two smaller ones in back, one of which has a hole in the floor connecting with a room on the ground floor. There are four rooms below plus a hall giving access to the ones distant from the door; none of them have the rich decoration found upstairs. I can imagine slaves quartered in them, bringing living delicacies up to the master holding court in the big front room. Or maybe it's a high-class shop with objets d'art displayed in the front room, and workers perhaps hand-making, no, tentacle-making them in the rooms below. In any case, people worked together to keep this building running, and I have my doubts that present-day heptapi could manage that. I wish we could compare the people who lived here with a recent heptapus entourage, but both are extinct now. It's sad.

I have ten uninterrupted days to explore the ``capital'' city. The people on Earth are going to be astonished at the fantastic and brutal scenes carved in friezes. But I make little progress on the important issues: how did the heptapus people interact? What did they put their time and material resources into? What were the main themes of their culture, the defining elements? We can guess about the latter from the stone carvings, and we can extrapolate from the modern heptapi we've met, or tangled with, but it's impossible to make even plausible guesses at most of the issues I'm interested in. One thing we can say: these people were gifted artists in stone. I wish we could have known them when this city was alive. Well, would I have enjoyed attending games at the Colosseum in Rome, or here? Maybe not, but we aren't getting much insight into the heptapi from archaeology in these ruins.

Someday we'll have to put a submersible in the oceans and visit the cities there, but that won't happen until we've done a lot of work with our own new children. Not for decades.

When I say ``uninterrupted'' I mean I spend most of my time on archaeology, but not all of it. I get the zymase bug growing steadily and refine half a kilo of sugar. I'll want to repeat that, but I also want to make some progress on the comet-hunting infrared telescope that Willie and Tiger were going to build. As the backup mechanical engineer I assemble a spinning table and a parabolically curved iron backplate, which on Willie's advice I oxidize with a torch (doing it in an agricultural pod so we don't have to smell it). I also put together CQMT pointing motors and a gimbal to aim the mirror. After the APX is done Tiger and I make a far infrared sensor array of photoconductive silicon for the telescope, with a composition gradient in the doping. Portions are sensitive only to shortwave infrared and even more is totally blind, but a few pixels show a good response to a simulated target. We make up three complete arrays using the successful composition, varying it very slightly in the three tries, and one of them promises to give us outstanding pictures. When that's done, Tiger gets the chip maker started on the interplanetary bee prototype.

Finally the comet miner finishes its long journey from the Kuiper cloud, and we spend sixteen straight hours smelting metals and rolling the product into useful shapes. As soon as the last molten metal is out of the electrolytic smelter and properly cooled we break orbit and head for Thor. We'll assemble the mining machine on the way. But tonight is mirror night, however much work I've done during the day. Outside our ship I load aluminum ingots onto the spinner and start it turning, and activate the heaters for melting. Returning inside I insist that Tiger, Simba and Willie close their eyes, sleep, and not move. When all are at rest I very gently make a final correction so the spacecraft's acceleration is parallel with the turntable's spin axis, and I slowly turn down the heat. I'm not casting glass, which takes months for the critical phase of cooling, but I spend an hour on the job, barely breathing, only my fingers on the keyboard. Aah, it's all solid; at last I can sleep too.

In the morning I find that my care has been rewarded: the mirror comes out with an excellent figure, and given the hundred micron wavelength there's no need even to polish it. I carefully pry loose the backplate, install the mirror in its frame, and set the telescope to work finding comets that the bees are going to push. The process is tedious and long and, fortunately for my sanity, I've written a totally automatic program to do it.

Tiger: Good work, Wilma, on the telescope. Let's see what it catches. And let's check out the next batch of newsfeed. Hey, it's Surya's thesis, only two months late! Don't expect to see me for the rest of the trip. This is going to be a blast, reading it.

Simba: I agree, but let's have some balance here; check the titles about thirty down from there. President Martin nominated Charlie for the SEC again. There's a nice speech.

Me: Remember, cut to the confirmation hearings. Don't get your hopes up.

Willie: Here it is. Damn, it looks like a rerun of last time: Moravech led off again. But this chairman gave him fifteen minutes to antagonize Charlie, then switched to Polk.

Tiger: Derivative of mean saving propensity by perceived future utility: it sounds like engineers building cloud cuckoo land.

Simba: Don't laugh; it is engineering and it may well determine if our power feed lasts until we tell them to shut it off, or goes dead in the middle of the night. The stock market glitch six months ago, Charlie's blaming the whole thing on index futures, and he's got at least one senator convinced. Polk isn't having it all his own way this time.

Me: This one here, he or she, I guess it's a she, is asking what Charlie would actually do if he got his fangs into the index futures. Do you think she's on Charlie's side? And is it good she's using just that metaphor?

Willie: Charlie seems to think so; he says he'd put his fangs right through. If a black person wants to be black with white people it's not that easy; you can just come out and say ``I'm black'' or you can do the accent thing, but there isn't enough difference to really get a handle on; just enough to make other races uncomfortable. All along Charlie has been mentioning fur, or claws, or fangs, or his supervisor, or his creators, and saying it doesn't bother me to be different, in front of a bunch of people who aren't like him and are going to judge if he gets what he wants most in his whole life. It's got to take a lot of balls for Charlie to stand up there and take it from that committee.

Simba: As kids I had more raw nerve than Charlie did; you remember he wasn't totally stable in the head. But he worked a lot harder on that kind of thing than I did, because he had to, and he never lacked for balls. The senators have to admire him even if they don't like his policies.

Tiger: Read on! Callahan is in the minority party now, but he's off the fence today. He and Polk have quite a heated exchange. And Moravech chimes in, oh, that's great! Baker calls him a racist! The gentleman from Michigan is a racist! Oh, Charlie, that's rich! Charlie goes, um, Mr. Chairman, this is a bit of a neologism, but we lion people talk about speciesism. And the senators pick it up! The momentum is there! Right on, right on, Baker asks the chairman for a vote, and only Polk, Moravech and two others want to delay, and it's nine to six to recommend confirmation to the full Senate! He's in! He's a commissioner!

Me: Let's check ahead... Yes! The Senate votes on it, and here's a transcript of Martin's speech; apparently the press picked up on it and there were a lot of reporters in the audience. Cool. Martin didn't once mention fangs. He may be in the wrong party but he gets a point from me for that.

Simba: Proud of Charlie, I am. And I'm proud of the maturity of the American people. We lions have come a long way since being shot at and sued right and left just for existing.

Tiger: Right, Simba. The summary in the next file, it looks like the foreign press is a little more leery of the American lion. Someday there will be enough of us that they can experience our charm first hand.

Willie: French through fangs. They'll never go for it.

Simba: I got A's in French, in college, and both of us aren't bad in street Spanish. It'll happen, don't doubt it.

Me: This one caught my eye. At the Party Congress the Maoists seem to have rammed through their candidates, dumped out the pragmatist gerontocracy. I thought they'd finally finished that endless cycle of Mao versus everyone else.

Willie: China is unique, isn't it? The starship debacle certainly turned people off to that group of leaders, but I wonder if the Maoists are an improvement.

Tiger: And I wonder if the people should have gotten turned off. You're going to lose starships; you've got to have the patience and maturity and toughness to just keep sending them. Claude has our instructions, and from the financial reports he seems to have the resources to carry them out if our signal goes dead.

Willie: And the Eridanus Corporation announcements are doing something to educate people, I think; they remind people in each press release that they're pleased that the ship is still going, but that in case of disaster they intend to keep the sundippers together and to build another ship. Two months ago, their time, they actually printed excerpts from one guy's letter and rebutted him, saying that there are things worth expending your life on, and this is one of them, and the world is on notice that they're going to make this work.

Simba: Actually, before we left Tiger and I worked on that rebuttal with their public relations people. We knew there'd be a continuous stream of letters like that, and the rebuttal should be published from time to time. And we worked with the lawyers as well: they have the ammunition ready to block an injunction, if someone tries to prevent us from sending another ship into danger. It's a matter of balance: you're prudent to preserve your life, but preserve it for what? To spend it on something worthwhile rather than stupid. If you don't spend it, it's the same as running in front of a truck with your eyes closed.

Me: A point many people don't understand. I hope Wolf and Wooly have it straight.

Tiger: OK, Simba, you mentioned balance twice. I'm going to be balanced: I'm going to read Surya's thesis for most of the morning, but then I'm going to bake us a squash pie for a celebration of both events: Charlie's appointment and Surya's finishing his doctorate. And we can drink a toast to the Chinese crew: we might not have welcomed them here, but it would be nasty to take joy in their loss. Who else is in on the thesis? I'd like to get a seminar going.

Of course we all promise to read as much as we're able. Of course I learned quantum mechanics in college, but let's just say I'm a little rusty and this is going to be something of a challenge. But what's the epsilon Eridani system for, if not to challenge us?

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