Farthest Man From Earth

Lost on the Last Continent is on hiatus for the month of October. Episodes resume November 7th. In the meanwhile, tales from the Unconquered Earth Sequence, my earliest foray into science fiction, will be posted in this space.

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Farthest Man From Earth

John C Wright

Originally published in Asimov’s Science Fiction Vol. 19 # 4 & 5, No.229-230 (April, 1995)

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Beneath an unearthly dark violet sky, an old man wearing goggles, a rebreather-mask, and a cape, lay on the slope of a mountainside of gold crystal fibers.

He lay on his back, looking upward.

High overhead, vertical streamers of mauve-gray vapor rose up out of the organisms below the mountainside, striping the heavens like a tiger’s hide. A sun the color of roses or old wine hung high in the heavens, surrounded by zones of luminous gas like Saturn’s rings. A dozen moons like daytime stars hovered above the clouds, burning like colored points, too far away to show their disks or crescents.

The sun was 36 Ophiuchus, some twenty-three light years from Earth. The world was the fourteenth out of three dozen planets circling 36 Ophiuchus, about which also orbited gas clouds, swarms of cometary bodies, and the numberless worldlets and rocks of her four asteroid belts.

His practiced eye could find which moving point of light was the orbiting hulk of the starship St.  Anselm. For forty years, as boy and man, he had lived aboard that ship, in transit. To do God’s work, he had thought; to be among the first of all mankind to visit an alien civilization. The price of permanent exile from Earth had seemed small then, back when he still believed.

The man was Adam Drake. At the age of sixteen he had signed aboard the star-ship St. Anselm as astrogator and pilot, historian and linguist. He was the first xenolinguist of history, the first man ever to have translated an utterly alien system of symbology. Had it been worth his life?

He tried to lift his head. He saw the mountain.  On the summit above him, amid outcroppings of blue-reddish masses (which looked to be boulders, but were not) glinted the dome of the expedition. Seventeen other human beings were living up there; eighteen, if one considered Father Rodriguez to be alive.  None were young enough to outlive a forty year return to Earth.

He lifted his head further. The pain was beginning to tremble through his body. Below the dome, above him on the slope, were the aircraft hangers, surrounded by ponds of melted snow which were chemicals mostly not water. As far away as Earth, to him. He would not outlive the return journey.

He tried to rise, and failed. His rebreather-pack hindered his motions, as did the long flowing silver-white cape. He wore the cape because it was daytime. The expedition had, years ago, exhausted its supply of x-ray and ultraviolet ray blocking skin cream.

It seemed a shame that the whiteness of his cape was stained with so much blood.  He fell back onto the fibers. The fibers rippled were he fell, ringing.

The season was winter at this latitude. The gold fibers tinkling and clashing in the winds attested to that. The fibers were not grass, were not even of the plant kingdom, but they did absorb light from 36 Ophiuchus. During the winter, the fibers exuded a transparent crystal tip to help focus the light into their photoreactive orange stems. The fibres grew thick on the mountain slopes below the airstrip. He had been walking, admiring their shimmer. He had been going to visit the egg-pool of a friend, a native whom Adam had dubbed “Homer”, since it was some sort of native poet or linguist.  Adam Drake had once saved “Homer” from a native disease. Gratefully, “Homer” had spent much time with him, patiently helped him decode the Ophiuchan odor-language.

Adam Drake wondered if the odor of human blood would diffuse down slope far enough to reach the native encampment, or if any of the natives would be curious enough to investigate the alien smell.

Among the glittering fibres, a predator creature had been hiding. He had killed it with his hand weapon, but not before it had mauled his legs. The dead predator lay nearby, a torpedo-shaped organism coated in overlapping bony plates. Fang-clustered like crab claws ringed the circular mouth; around this mouth ran a circle of photoreactive eye tissue. The claws were stained with his red blood; the eye-tissue dripped pale internal juices of the organism, where Drake’s bullets had penetrated its brain-tubes. What he had taken to be reticulated leg-segments turned out to be a swarm of symbiotic creatures.

Now that the host-monster was dead, the leg segments were burrowing into the organism. Some were beginning to sprout.

His hand closed over the broken shell of his radio, which lay on the crystalline grass beside him. No signal would go forth to tell the others where he’d fallen.

His hand crept to where his gun lay. He had fired several shots into the air, hoping the noise would attract attention. He conserved the one remaining shot.  His hand crept slowly back to the control valve on his rebreather pack. The control did not react. Already the stink of the native atmosphere was beginning to burn in his nostrils. A noise behind made him crane back his head.

It came swaying up the slope, beautiful and strange, with the golden fibers of the ground rippling and chiming about it.

It was a tall, flower-like being, mincing delicately on ten thin radial legs. About the trunk were furled multicolored fans of membrane like wings. Like a crown around the eyeless, mouthless head, were a circle of hearing diaphragms. Atop the crown, sensitive antennae, like fronds, tasted the wind. All about the creature’s crown danced swarms of glistening insects, like fireflies. Manipulator prongs, on slender limbs like plant-stalks, were held up above.  The creature was taller than a man.

Adam Drake could not recognize who this was without seeing the patterns on the wings.  Even then, he could not be sure, since the patterns sometimes changed. Was this Homer, coming to see what had delayed him?

Adam Drake reached out a hand toward the Ophiuchan.  “Help me!” he called, futilely. He knew any sound he made was much too shrill for Ophiuchan ears to register. Even if it were his friend, the creature might not recognize him from a prone posture.

The creature raised three crooked legs and extended its toe-hooks; a menacing gesture. But then it unfurled the membranes between its prongs and wings, displaying the intricate pattern of gold and black Adam Drake recognized. It was Homer. Homer scuttled forward, and reached down with its toe-hooks to grasp the fabric of Adam Drake’s day-cloak.

As Homer picked him up, the movement sent shocking pains through his legs and chest.

Fainting, he looked up, and saw the Ophiuchan’s petallike wings rise up above its feathery crown fan out to shade him from the blazing light of the ringed, rose-colored sun. Sunlight shimmered through the translucent wings, glinted on the golden skin-plates of the upright body.  That was the last thing that he saw.


Two intelligent yet nonhuman organisms perched on a hillside beneath a sky, which, to human eyes, would show an imperial purple color. The two intelligences were surrounded by an array of organisms which might be called a forest; many of the organisms in the array had sheaths or fans of material which they exposed to their sun, 36 Ophiuchus, to use the solar energy in a variety of internal chemical reactions, none of which were photosynthesis. Most of the organisms were not ambulatory, but those that were, stepped with soft, slow regular motions, holding fronds high, and walked in great sweeping curves.

Some of the internal chemical reactions for certain phyla in the array were violently exothermic. Colored sparks flew up, and here and there, streams of escaping gas, like vertical cloud banks.

The two intelligent organisms stood on a layer of shell casings shed by an underground colonial life-form whose ridges and angles underlay most of the landscape. The intelligent organisms too had sheaths of tissue which used sunlight for certain processes; these sheaths were extended like layered butterfly wings from the legs and stalks of the intelligences. Between the intelligences and the forest-array, groups of tiny flying creatures darted and swayed continuously, glinting like gems.  The swarms were necessary, but not essential, for certain biological processes related to the reproduction and metamorphosis of certain parts of the intelligences, and also of the forest-array creatures.

The posture and situation of the intelligences excited certain channels in their nerve-structures which would otherwise be dormant.  These structures retained patterns of past behavior and produced symbolic and aesthetic formulations of those structures. While these intelligences had more levels of consciousness than a man’s nervous system, they did, like men, have a system of emotions based on symbolic associations. This system could, analogously be called ‘art’ or ‘religion’, but only if no one insisted on very exact definitions of the terms.

According to their symbological system, because the shell casings were odorless, the spent residue of a once vital process, their standing place symbolized death. Because the forest-array discharged swarms of odiferous flying creatures related to sexual processes, their locations symbolized life.

Both intelligences admired the aptness of their place and posture. For they had come to this place to discuss the life and death of their world.

Because of the excitement of those nerve-channels, which were usually dormant, this spot and stance, and the scene, to these creatures, held a rich and wild, almost dangerous beauty.

A man might also have thought it sublime, had one been there to see the long curving corridors of dancing tree-creatures swirling in their slow pavanes, and seen, here and there, a tree-creature with burning fire in its horns dancing alone, sending up sparks and streamers of colored smoke. A man might have wondered at the weird geometry of the soil, until he saw, here and there, like arms of coral, outcroppings of the underground colony creature, kraken-postured and crooked, glistening blue-red in the light of 36 Ophiuchus.

But an unprotected man would not have long enjoyed the beauty; the high atmospheric pressure would have deafened him, many of the hydrocarbon gasses the creatures produced were toxic, the atmosphere did not block out wavelengths of light dangerous or fatal to man.  Man, in fact, was what the two intelligences discussed.

The first intelligence had the long horns and branching prongs of an arboreal highlander. Among its artificial and natural scent-codes and perfumes were identifiers of its status, its code, its affinity, including an odor produced by glands exposed to the cold and lower pressure of the mountain peaks.

Human words cannot accurately translate the meaning of the scent-codes, but in general, the odors indicated the owner’s profession to be one who, with the mind, by communicating, seeks to imitate the organization and harmony of nature. A close human analogy would be to call this intelligence a poet, or a philosopher, or an ecologist.

The second intelligence smelled of sea-brine, and exuded odor which showed its diet consisted mainly of microscopic oceanic organisms rather than wind-born spores. The second intelligence had a rougher posture, thicker prongs, and stood with several legs angled wide, as if poised to jump in any direction. The fluids of this world’s oceans were less dense than water; the tidal actions of several large moons made the sea-shore a dangerous place. Related organisms, as well as members of the same race in an aquatic and less intelligent phase of their life cycle, inhabited the seas, and were cunning and violent. That the second organism smelled and stood as it did was a sign of almost legendary ruthlessness and courage.

Its outer layers of integument had been artificially hardened with boiled lacquer, and it carried, woven among its mid-body fibers, strands of incense meant to mask its personal odor. The profession of this creature was evident by its stance and lacquer. It could be called a warrior only by analogy, since, while this race did have organized and violently homicidal conflicts, they were not organized like human wars. A closer analogy would be to call the creature a child-stealer, an iconoclast, one who interfered with the consummation of another’s sexual practices, an arsonist and poison-breeder.

The poet initiated the conversation. Its scent-glands exuded a waft of odor of human sweat, plastic, and metal. The imitation was not good, but the warrior recognized the signal as referring to mankind. It was an imitation of how humans, in their pressure-suits, smelled to the Ophiuchan.

The warrior unclasped his incense-strands and swished its wings to clear the odor. The meaning of this gesture was to communicate the idea that there were mysteries whose clouds must be dispersed.

The two odors mingled. The combined odor symbolized the mystery of the human kind.

The poet touched his scent-paint with a prong and extended it toward the warrior, as if to accuse him of being a poet. This, because the poet was favorably impressed with how the warrior had discarded his masking perfume, which it did in order to communicate without the masking perfume clouding its meaning, yet had made the discarding gesture part of the communication performance.

The warrior breathed out the scent a youth might make, clear and sharp, but of small quantity. Between another pair of cupped wings, it breathed the scent an adult would make, rich and mingled with subtle under-scents. Between a third pair, it breathed a feeble smell, mingled with salt-smells as if from faulty glands of an older post-sexual adult. A slow furry of these wings combined the odors and wafted them towards the poet. The meaning of this was time was passing, the events were mingled and confused. At first, the poet thought the warrior was merely expressing impatience with the poet’s compliment, saying there was no time for such niceties. But when the cloud merged with the odors already present, the meaning became: Men grow old.

The warrior exuded an odor of human blood. The meaning became: Men grow old, and bleed.

The poet dipped a prong into its water-gathering gland and held it up with a slow, crooked gesture.  The water was odorless, like the shell-casings they stood upon. The meaning: Men grow old, and bleed, and die.

The warrior folded its crown fronds, but emitted no scent of confusion. Members of its profession gave no outward show of confusion. Nonetheless, the warrior did not at first understand why the poet used scentless water as a symbol for death, rather than the more usual scent of decay, and metamorphosis.

The warrior realized the poet meant to imply that humans had no life-cycles, underwent no metamorphosis, and that, when they died, they would emit no scent of decay because Ophiuchan microorganisms could not decompose humans. The warrior understood a second level of meaning, more subtle. The mythical world of humans, so the humans claimed, was a world covered in water. The poet’s gesture was a symbol for the shocking alienness of the human world, the human way of life.

The warrior understood a third level of meaning to the poet’s gesture. It was a request for odorlessness. The poet wished to clear the air of the previous messages.  The request was so elegantly woven into the other messages of the poet, yet communicated in such a novel way, that the warrior did the poet the honor of flailing his wings to clear the air. The warrior had known rumors of this poet, and favorable reports. It now knew those reports to be true.

The two organisms stood, waiting for the perfume of the previous conversation to settle. They had chosen a traditionally wise spot to stand for conversation; the shell-castings allowed no other scent to seep up from the ground or forest array to disturb the speech-smells. The coming and going of the darting fliers tended to erase past messages. Conversations were swift, taking hours rather than days.

When the poet was ready, it combined the odors of springtime, exaggerating the odor of feather-fronds of a certain species which had been numerously blooming three springtimes ago. The poet lifted its prongs towards the sun. This was a time-statement, an opening gesture, establishing when the events about to be shown took place. As it lifted its prongs, the poet’s colored wings stood up, a menacing gesture. Odors hidden beneath the wings now peeped forth. The scent of conversation-rope, and incense, indicating friendship or alliance, the scent of metal and plastic, with specific odors and tones, indicating a specific human being, one of the humans who lived in the small metal shell on the mountain top, where the air pressure was low, the poisons of the forest-array were diffused.

The warrior had not scented this particular human before, but it imbedded the scent on the conversation rope woven through his ventral fronds, so that it would remember.

Three years ago, the poet had met that human. The poet pointed again at the sun, and scraped the ground with several of its legs. Sound, unlike scents, had no duration, and were used as symbols of immediate occurrences. The poet’s time statement now spoke of recent events. Since the human smell still lingered, he was the subject of the statement.

The warrior now scented, coming from behind another wing of the poet, the smell of a harrier-beast on the hunt. It was a creature which hunted by eyesight alone, a dangerous predator, because it could not be deceived by camouflage-scents. The poet’s depiction of the smell was so realistic that the warrior involuntarily folded his wings. The warrior did not raise its prongs, restraining itself in time.

It had folded its wings that they might not be torn in combat, but the gesture was also, among the highlanders, a symbol of attention and respect, for folded wings could not inadvertently fan away or disturb another’s message.

Suddenly from behind the uplifted wings of the poet spread out two swarms of fliers, controlled by the poet’s pheromones. The poet had stroked the flier’s wings with scent-codes, smelling of danger, fear, metallic iron, the harrier-beast, human blood, anguish, and pain.

The Ophiuchan could see, but their photoreceptors were symbiotic insects which lived which lived on or near their skin-layer. The insects were phototropic, and different species had been bred to react to different colors and intensities of light. The Ophiuchan could smell the insect’s internal chemical charges caused by the phototropy. Their eyesight was thus more diffuse and less coherent than a man’s. Therefore, to the warrior, the sudden motion of the swarms being shaken from the poet’s wings was startling and alarming indeed, and created bewilderment and anxiety.

The warrior knew some part of the fear the poet had felt when the human, evidently a friend or ally, had been mauled by a harrier-creature.  The poet began to lower its wings; a gesture of despair. Cupped along the upper reaches of the wings came other scents; the smell of disinfectant, and of the worms used by physicians; the rich smell of human skin, not covered by plastic and metal; the ripe, harsh smell of a nonhuman emotion, an emotion which indicated a reckless and suicidal desire to achieve and succeed at any cost; the scent-code of another Ophiuchan highlander, one the warrior did not recognize; the smell of violence, death; and finally, a beautiful, wondrous odor, the most lovely perfume in the warrior’s knowledge.

The warrior had smelled that scent once before, when, as a child, after its first metamorphosis, it had emerged all dripping from the sea, with its gill-membranes shedding from it. A group of adults had found it, and introduced into its nervous system the symbiotic life-form which healed its wounds, extended its life, and increased the number of convolutions in its brain-tubes. The smell was the smell of the symbiotic ambiot.

But the ambiots could not be removed without killing the host. The horror of the poet’s story became clear. The poet had taken the wounded human to a highland physician, and, in the midst of the operation, overcome by the passion to save the man’s life at any cost, the poet had killed the physician and introduced the physician’s ambiot into the human being’s nerve system.

As the poet continued to lower it wings, another scent grew stronger. The scent of the human being grew stronger, healthier, mingled with a beautiful perfume of the ambiot. The smell of youth, endless youth floated down through the odor of the healthy man.

Then, as an afterthought, one flier floated from the poet’s crown, bearing the scent of harrier-beast poisoned and decayed. The foolish monster, unable to smell the otherworldly chemistry of the human, had taken in mouthfuls of human blood when it mauled the man, and been poisoned. The man had been healed, perhaps granted eternal youth; the beast attacking him had died.

The poet’s wings were now utterly folded, its crown bowed, in a posture of anguish and despair.

The warrior rattled its fronds in confusion. The scents for confusion and disbelief, and for humans mixed with ambiots welled up from the warrior’s glands. The warrior showed its disbelief at the idea that ambiots could cure or heal humans, or thrive in human chemistry.

The poet did not move or respond, but stood bowed in despair.

The warrior gathered a flier and embedded a cluster of eye-spots onto it with a glue from his conversation-rope. The warrior sent clusters of fliers off toward the metal bubble in the mountains where the humans lived, by chemically inducing the fliers to follow to follow the scent from his rope.

The warrior wakened its ‘waiting mind’, which made its sense of time passage dormant.  Days, or perhaps weeks went by, unnoticed, uncounted, by the hibernating warrior. The warrior grew alert again when the eye-spot bearing fliers returned. Brushing its fronds across the eye-spots, it saw the healed human, an awkward, bizarre, bilateral creature, thick-legged, with no animals, pets, or plants living in his hair or on his skin.

The images showed an unhealthy man, scarred, one-legged, with gray hair and white artificial skins. The next images showed the man with black hair, unscarred, with two legs of unequal size. The next group of images showed a man with equal legs.

The warrior carefully picked the man’s scent out from the wing hairs of the fliers and compared it to the scent imbedded in the fibers of the conversation-rope. There was no doubt. It was the same individual man.

But the men had claimed their limbs could not grow back. . .

Faintly, among the wing hairs of the fliers, the warrior’s fronds could pick out the faintest trace of the most sweet scent it knew. . .

Because the poet had not moved for so long, the warrior wondered if there was a meaning to the posture it had not guessed. The warrior gathered a cluster of eye-spots in concentric circles on its ventral surface, each ring sensitive to a different color, and sent the fliers, still carrying eye-spot, to examine the poet from all angles.

The poet had bent over to touch a prong to the ground. The warrior had not noticed this before, because the prong was covered with water, and scentless. The claw of the prong was extended, a battle-sign.

The meaning was clear. The world of men, the alien world of water, was coming to this place. Death was coming to this place. Battle was coming to this place.

The grief and defeat of the poet’s posture was plain. The men could fly, and had machines no one could understand or combat, all of which smelled the same.

The warrior gently stirred its wings in the air. Its message was nothing like the graceful dance of the poet’s. The warrior simply turned, opening the scents it had gathered in its wings one at a time. The scent for alliance, for the man and for conversation-rope rose up in the air. Then the warrior flailed its wings, dispersing the message, the gesture for silence. It gathered its masking-incense with its leg-hooks, a gesture for secrecy. The message: that the human was the poet’s friend, and might be conversed with to keep silent.  The poet did not rise or move, other than to open its crown-fronds, as if scenting the air. It was a gesture of curiosity, meaning, “what if? “The poet was asking what if the human would not be silent?

The warrior folded his wings back and raised his prongs. Moments later, the smell of human blood softly began to radiate from the warrior’s body.

A single drop of water, like a tear, dropped from the bowed poet’s down-thrust claw, and noiselessly fell to the shells.

The poet straightened, folded its wings, sheathed its claws. It sent groups of eye-spots away before it, raised itself on its leg members and began to stalk toward the mountains where the humans were.

The warrior anointed itself with camouflage-scent from a branch it carried, lifted its legs, and delicately stalked after the poet, staying down-wind.

The scent of human death, like the echo of a fading conversation, slowly dispersed in the wind, and soon the air where they had perched was empty.


Adam Drake’s eyes were bright and vital. His grey hair had shed, replaced with luxurious glossy black hair which he wore long. He sat with a relaxed alertness, uprightly but not stiffly. He wore a lose black surcoat which left his limbs free, not a day cloak. The cells of his skin had produced a dark gold melanin to block the ultraviolet and X-Rays. His chest was broader; certain of the convolutions in his lungs had grown osmotic tissue to enable him to breath the native air with less discomfort.

Adam Drake sat at one end of the long steel table of the shipmoot. The table had fifty chairs, one for each of the original members of the expedition. Where a man, through accident or old age, had passed away, a wreath of black winter fiber hung, tied with dark blue ribbon. The fiber had been cut at solstice, when the chips of crystal at their grassy tips were as large as gemstones, and shone amongst the black woven wreaths like little stars.

By unspoken common impulse, the other fifteen people had seated themselves at the far end of the table. They were a gray and withered group, with white and nodding heads, quivering thin hands, dim, vague eyes, loose and wrinkled mouths. On Earth, men between 60 and 80 could be healthy, fit, and active, and not show their years. On 36 Ophiuchus XIV, the air, the food, the sun, the soil were not intended for mankind, and not fit for him, not conducive to his better health.

The Rector had aged gracefully. His face was stern and lined with care; his hair was white as snow. He sat in his wheelchair as stiffly as a king upon his throne. “We are come together to determine what we shall broadcast in our next report to Mother Earth. ”

Sister Aetia was hag-faced, almost hidden in the brown folds of her habit. She said, “Wait. We must wait for Solomon Rourke to return from hunting. He may have something to say. “She turned a sly and bitter glance toward Adam Drake’s leg, which had, during the past three months, entirely regrown, nerves, muscle, bone. Envy was in her eyes.

Drake thought: Solomon Rourke must now be an ally of hers. Rourke could no longer be trusted. The Reverend Doctor Cuillian, Chief Surgeon, had a long white hair and beard which he left grown uncut. His eyes with dulled by a pale film. His white walking-stick lay on the table before him, which he gripped with his strong hands. The head of his white walking stick contained a radar circuit whose read-out formed in dots of Braille under the handle of the cane, where Doctor Cuillian’s fingers naturally fell. He spoke in a gentle voice: “Sister Aetia, let us begin, I pray. I have grievous news that does not directly touch Deacon Rourke. ” The Rector said, “Is it Brother Rodriguez?”

Doctor Cuillian nodded his head. “I could not halt the deterioration. My skill was of no avail. He is gone. ”

The Rector held up his hand. “I hold the shipmoot suspended one minute. For the passing beyond of our brother Rodriguez, the company shall silently pray. ”

With solemn deliberation, all gathered at the table folded their hands and bowed their head, except Adam Drake, sitting at ease, who did not.

In that moment of quiet, the door was thrust open, and Solomon Rourke stood in the gap. He had left the outer lock wide open, and the glare of 36 Ophiuchus, falling over his shoulders, spilled into the room, and the thin cold stinking wind whirled around him, fluttering his daycloak, and tossing his iron gray hair.

Rourke, with a clatter, had thrust the door open with his foot, and now strode largely into the chamber’s gloom, the beams of acetylene sunlight shining from his day cloak. With both arms he bore a grisly burden, and walked with heavy step, bowed backward a little under its weight.

The company rose with gasps of astonishment or little sighs of revulsion or shock as Rourke threw down the corpse upon the table, smelling of inhuman incense, driveling white alien blood.

All rose up in shock, except the Rector, who could not, and Adam Drake, who did not. Adam Drake did nothing but nod severely, as if completely unsurprised.

The alien corpse clashed wetly to the table, and a quartet of manipulator prongs fell open and pointed toward Drake, like skeletal parodies of human hands, fallen open while reaching for help.

Rourke spoke:

“I used Adam Drake’s machine to speak with the Pale Linear Scent Priest-kings. Their surgeons say Rodriguez will die. The ambiosis organism must be trained and adapted by contact with their brain-tubes in order to be flexible enough to enter symbiosis with our chemistry. They say untrained ambiosis organisms can only be put into children. ” Rourke stood staring back and forth across the table. Solomon Rourke was in excellent shape for a man his age, a condition he maintained by stint of remorseless exercise. He stood, head thrown back, arms folded on his chest still slick with alien fluids. On his back hung a musket and powderhorn, at his side swung a sabre of osmium titanium alloy. Solomon Rourke loved hunting so well that he threatened to exhaust the expedition’s entire supply of ammunition, until the Rector denied him further use of it. Rourke had made himself a musket in the machine-shop and mixed his own powder. He had not yet contrived a workable revolver or cartridge bullets. The sword he had lathed for when his one shot had been fired.

Doctor Cuillian said in a harsh quiet voice, “You are too late, Deacon Rourke. Yesterday we took Brother Rodriguez off life-support and surgically introduced the ambiotic creature you had caught in the wild. The wild ambiot seemed to all our tests to be identical to the one living in Mr.  Drake’s nervous system. But the wild ambiot did not cure Brother Rodriguez or make him grow younger. Cancerous cells began to grow in his lymph nodes; viral organisms began to reduce the electrochemical balance in his nerve cells. Mutant cells multiplied; his glands began releasing random amounts and mixtures of hormones. It was almost as if the ambiot were trying at random to force Rodriguez’s body to produce the chemicals of an Ophiuchan. Rodriguez did not survive our attempt to remove the creature. Once introduced into symbiosis, electroneural actions becomes dependent on the ambiot. They cannot be removed without the lobotomy of the host. ”

The Rector gazed at Solomon Rourke, and pointed to the corpse.  “And what is the meaning of this?”

“I brought it for Rodriguez. It’s one of the nonlinear dark scent spore-nomads from the eastern flame-tree country. The Linear pale scents found it discharging birthing-ink into an eel-pool, which is some sort of ritual infraction, like a political crime; they think him a murderer. I bought it from the Linear Pale Gaoler with my bottle of after-shave. ”

The Rector said, “They killed him? Or did you?”

“What does it matter?” asked Rourke, glaring down.

“If they, you are a corpse-buyer, no more. If you, you are a slaver and a murderer. ”

Adam Drake felt his ears popping. A shrill wind still whistled in the lock, which was open. The pressure-alarm, belatedly, began to ring. Solomon Rourke strode over and pulled shut the outer door. He threw off his stained cloak and hung it one a hook in the lock. The air pumps silently began to lower the pressure to normal.

Doctor Cuillian tilted his head toward the corpse.  “I hear a noise. ”

Solomon Rourke returned to the chamber, still wearing (so Adam Drake noticed) his saber. Rourke said, “It trembled and hissed as I held the corpse in my arms, and made a scraping noise from within, all while I climbed the mountainside. The ambiot is still alive. ” Sister Aetia said, “Quickly! We must put it in nutrient! I need it alive…I want it… for scientific study, of course. ”

A dozen voices spoke at once. “I want it too!” “For me!” “For love of God, Rourke!” “I need…” “Stand back!” “Young again!”

The Rector rapped his ring on the table. The polished steel surface hummed like a gong. “The company will come to attention and order! Be seated. ”

Aetia spoke quickly. “Forgive me, Rector, but we must preserve the specimen at all costs. It may be dying with its host body dead. Why should Adam Drake be the only one who. . .?”

Adam Drake leaned forward and drew aside a fold of the cloth draping the creature. The way the cloth had fallen, only Adam Drake, along at his side of the table, could see the corpse’s crown with its radially symmetrical array of scenting-fronds, listening diaphragms, and breathing valves. When he pulled the cloth aside, the table fell silent.

Dr. Cuillian said, “What is this hush? Tell me what you see…”

Adam Drake said, “There is a bullet hole in the dead Ophiuchan’s respiration fibers…” Adam Drake frowned, and

carefully smelled his fingers where they had touched the cloth.  Adam Drake could understand only part of what he smelled.  It was a death-curse delivered against his murderer, written in the long-range odor language of the dark spore-nomads. It was a cry for help, and an injunction that any who understood the message be compelled to avenge the murder.  Solomon Rourke said grimly, “I will not disguise the fact that I shot the creature. It would not follow me uphill. I shot its breathing membranes out to avoid damaging its brain tubes where the ambiot dwelt. It suffocated as I watched, and emitted smells.  I had my mask on, and did not know what it said, or care. ”

The Rector said, “Oh! Solomon…for shame…”

“I have not sinned, Rector. God will be my Judge. It was a choice between this monstrosity, whose life meant nothing to me, and Brother Rodriguez, my friend and comrade. My only sorrow is that I failed. Why do you all stare at me? Should I feel compassion for this insect-tree while Rodriguez lay brain-dead on life-support?”

The Rector said, “Heaven requires of us compassion for all creatures, Deacon. ” “Compassion?” Rourke flipped the cloth up to cover the corpse again. “Mankind is my race. I am a man. Compassion for men condemns these creatures to death.  It is Nature’s work…”

Sister Aetia stood up, interrupting, “If you have not need of it, Deacon Rourke, let me take it to the infirmary and save the ambiot. And shame if it should die while we talked.  Van Wenk, grab a bundle of legs, and help me haul it…” Otto Van Wenk was the master technician, electronicist and nucleonicist, who, since the death of certain doctors years ago, had trained himself to be nurse and surgical assistant. He was a thin man, bald, with thick spectacles (the expedition had no facilities to grow contact lens implants). Years ago, the bone-marrow of his right leg had been infected with a native spore, and his leg had been amputated below the knee. He wore a complex

electronic prosthesis he had built himself, and programmed with pressure-pads and gyroscopes to move and balance itself like a foot.

Otto Van Wenk was a practical man. “I will help you haul it if you implant the ambiot in me. They, when I am young again, and have two legs, I will acquire an ambiot for you…”

“Fool! Rourke gave it to me! Me!”

“Be practical. You are the better surgeon. I have more need. Who else will perform the operation on you?  Cuillian who is blind, or Dr.  Voltaire who is an …”

The Rector raised his hand. “Stop!” he commanded. And they stopped. The Rector looked at both Aetia and Van Wenk. “Is it any part of Christian Charity, or Brotherhood, or Love, to squabble like vultures over a corpse? We have no medical evidence of how much longer Adam Drake will live. Some incompatibility with alien biochemistry may strike him down in a week or month, or when his diet or when the season changes. Is his state so much to be envied that you would cast away your humanity to gain it?”

Dr.  Emilio Voltaire had his head bowed down as if napping. Now he jerked it upright. “An idiot!” he said in his strange, harsh voice. “Van Wenk. You were about to call me an idiot. ”

Dr.  Voltaire was a Jesuit, and eighty years old. The left half of his face had a lax, still lack of expression; only the right of his mouth moved in speech. His left hand lay curled, numb and motionless on the table. His right hand held the long stave he used to walk.

He said, “I know I used to be smarter than now. None of you say it, but I know. I found my diaries from before my stroke. I read what I said would happen to me. There were things I couldn’t read. Tricky, Latin things, and long words. But I read my own diagnosis. I was a doctor back then. My prefrontal and occipital lobes have been damaged. The next stroke may kill me…”

Dr.  Voltaire looked blank for a moment as if his thought had wandered away.

Then he said, “Deacon Rourke, we will make a deal. Let me be young again. Let me be smart like I used to be. Then I can do the operation, because I’ll be smart again. I can implant them in everyone else. We’ll all be young. I’ll be a surgeon again, and have something to do. “And he whispered to himself, “Not just waiting to die…”

But they all heard the whisper, as the chamber was utterly silent when he spoke.

The comment seemed to strike the Rector with particular grief.  “My old friend…my old friend…” he said softly.

Sister Aetia said, “Let us at least get the specimen into a nutrient before it dies! We can discuss what to do with it later! Van Wenk, help me with this! “And she pulled on the creature’s thorax.

Even with Van Wenk’s help, the two of them staggered under the load. Solomon Rourke came forward silently and put his shoulder to the burden, unmindful of the alien blood and juices which dribbled into his hair and across his shoulder and chest.

The Rector sat with his head bowed as if involved in solemn meditation. Dr.  Voltaire, rose, blinking, and limped vaguely from the room, murmuring to himself. He had wandered away from the shipmoots before, without being excused, and no one seemed to notice.

Except Adam Drake. He was sitting back in his chair, legs crossed at the ankles, in a relaxed pose. But his eyes missed no detail. He had seen Solomon Rourke pause to retrieve his musket.

Adam Drake spoke. “Rector! Stop them!”

But the Rector said nothing. Aetia, Rourke and Van Wenk were gone.

“Rector,” said Adam Drake, “You must make the ruling that anyone who has an ambiot implanted in them will be executed. Otherwise, the incentive to kill the Ophiuchan will be too great.  Any punishment, no matter how severe, will be as nothing compared to the promise of eternal life. ” Dr.  Cuillian cocked his head. “How strange for you to urge this, Mr.  Drake. You yourself would be condemned by the very rule you propose. Or do you expect that, now that you are immortal, that gift should be reserved to you alone, and never shared?”

“I urge capital punishment, and offer myself the first victim. Otherwise 36 Ophiuchus XIV is doomed. ”

The Rector stirred and said, “Doomed? Even if each of us here became young again, that would entail fourteen Ophiuchan. ” “What of Earth?”

Dr.  Cuillian said. “Earth will not receive the signal that we broadcast when we landed for fifteen years, even supposing the National Geographic Orbital Radiotelescope is still there to receive it! News broadcast now to Earth would not reach it for twenty years. A vessel launched immediately would not arrive here for forty years after that. But such vessels take years to build and provision. We speak of something seven decades in the future.  “But this assumes they will send such a vessel. “Dr.  Cuillian continued, “Which they will not. Do you recall the world we left behind? A world of dispassionate and intellectual men, selfish, money-loving and agnostic. Why do you suppose that we, the last remnant of the Christian Church on Earth, were the only ones who could be found to go to 36 Ophiuchus? Because there can be no economic reason for space travel, no worldly gain if you cannot outlive the round-trip. The men of Earth care only for profit. No profit will tempt them so far. ”

“Except the secret of eternal youth,” said Adam Drake. “Which will allow them to outlive the returning voyage. ”

The Rector said, “Then we must not broadcast what we discover to the Earth. ”

“That is not enough,” said Adam Drake. “The civilization will spring up from we fourteen may repair and re-equip the St.  Anselm, and fly to visit Mother Earth. The secret will then be known. ” Cuillian hands tightened on his white walking stick.  “Mr.  Drake! Dr.  Voltaire is sick now. This day. His next stroke may take his life. He has at best a year or two to live. The contingencies you fear are unthinkably remote. Well into the middle of the next century, at least, or generations from now!”

“Not unthinkable to me,” said Adam Drake. “I will be there then.  Perhaps my new youth has changed my thinking: no future seems remote. ”

And he turned to the Rector. “All these things will come to pass unless you stop it now. Make the ruling!”

Dr.  Cuillian reached out his hand blindly.  “No, Rector, do not! For such a cruel rule will condemn Dr.  Voltaire to death, yes, he, and all of us. To rob a man of eternal life is the same as to murder him. ”

“To aid a murderer is also murder, Doctor. “said Adam Drake. “Even if the aid you give is no more than to cause delay. ”

The Rector said, “Who is guilty here? Rourke? He shall be punished. Whom else do you accuse?”

“Listen. I know Dr.  Cuillian heard it. His ears are very sensitive. The dynamo has charged pitch. They are drawing power in the infirmary, energizing the surgical machines and fields. Make your ruling, Rector, before they begin the operation! Once the ambiot is implanted, it cannot be removed without the host’s death!”

The Rector opened the lid of his wristwatch. “Be it known to all men, this Two Hundred and Thirtieth day of the Forty-Eighth year since Launch, that by the authority of God and of His supreme Pontiff on Earth, Pope Urbane XXIII, in whose name I act, it is henceforth unlawful and unconscionable to administer, implant, or suffer to be implanted, either in oneself or another, any alien biological material of any kind taken from any corpse…”

Dr.  Cuillian said, “Rector, wait! Have pity on us, the blind, the crippled, the idiotic! Would you condemn us to be without a cure, now that cure has been found? Let there be pity in your heart!”

Adam Drake said, “Ignore pity. The innocent do not need pity; it only aids the guilty. ”

The Rector held his watch cover down for a moment, and said.  “I will accept both your counsels, gentlemen, but only in part. I will feel pity for those Ophiuchan whom my rule shall protect. ” He opened his watch and continued speaking “…and for the infraction thereof, the punishment will be…”

“Death!” Adam Drake said.

The Rector covered his watch. “So harsh?”

“Nothing less will serve. ”

“You condemn yourself as well, Adam. ”

“To save a world? I would give up my life for that. ”

“No, Adam. I will not kill you. ”

“Haven’t I warned you against pity?” Drake said angrily.

The Rector opened his watch. “…exile. So ordered by my voice, and duly recorded this day by me, Alexandros Bromion, Rector of the Mission of St.  Anselm, Star-voyager, to baptize and Christianize the Ophiuchan Race. ”

The indicator light immediately flashed, to show the computer on board the St.  Anselm acknowledged and recorded his words. He frowned gravely, and he snapped the watch-cover shut.

“Mr.  Drake! My signal has not reached the St.  Anselm.  The return sign came too swiftly.  The St.  Anselm is several light-seconds away. Someone is falsifying the broadcast.  This cannot be tolerated. Go in my name and order them to stop the operation. The legs of my wheelchair would take many minutes to climb those stairs. ”

Adam Drake stood. “They won’t listen to me. Aetia, Van Wenk, and Voltaire are members of the medical house, and under Dr.  Cuillian’s command. ”

The Rector said, “Go with him, doctor, and halt them. ”

But Dr.  Cuillian did not move. He shook his white and shaggy head slowly.

The Rector said, “Do you disobey? What of your oath of obedience to the Order, to the mission, to the Church?”

“I took my Hippocratic Oath before I was confirmed in my vow to the Ship. No matter what I think of the immorality of it, I cannot and will not interrupt an operation undertaken to save a human life.” Dr.  Cuillian said.

Adam Drake had gone. From the airlock, he opened the side-hatch. Beyond, was a curving metal stair, winding upward. He leapt up the stairway, three steps at a time. The energy panels had been bright at one time, but now were feebly glimmering squares, and wan and yellowed with age. A panel in the roof gave him access to a tall chamber, lit with electric tubes, with rows and rows of plugs, energy circuit, and switches lining its shelves from floor to ceiling. He shut the trapdoor, and walked past a row of shelving.

In the next aisle were the energy circuits for the infirmary and surgery. He found the circuits for the lights, the two banks of robotic surgery instruments, the air-pump, and the sterilization field. This last circuit he pulled.

He waited, listening for the drop in pitch from the dynamo. But he heard no charge.

Opening the panel, he found the cables within dark and cold. The power going to the surgery was not going through this nexus. Someone had re-routed it.

Solomon Rourke stepped around the corner. He spoke into his wristwatch, “He’s here, Sister Aetia, as you thought. “In his other hand he held his musket, which he pointed casually at Adam Drake.

Adam Drake said, “You heard the Rector recording his edict on the command channel. ”

Solomon Rourke nodded. “We knew you would come up to stop us. Sister Aetia said you were predictably indirect, and would come here, not to the surgery. ”

“And will you defy his command?”

“Perhaps I am disobedient,” said Rourke grimly. “But you are a murderer. Or would have been, had I not stopped you. Dr.  Voltaire is on that table up there. What did you think would happen to him when you shut down the knives, probes, fields and lights in the middle of an operation? Dr.  Voltaire was your friend, once, Mr.  Drake. What sort of monster are you?”

“One with a conscience. “He stepped back half a step.  “I would have shut off no more than the sterilization field. ”

“Stand still. The Rector’s order exiles you from the encampment. As deacon I hereby arrest you. You are now under penalty. ”

Adam Drake glanced behind him, to where the circuits for the communication laser stood. It was the only other nexus able to carry the powerload the infirmary drew.

Solomon Rourke raised his musket to his shoulder. “Stop. I know your thought. ”

“You’ve shut down the communication laser to use the circuit. Nothing we’ve done has been beamed to the ship. ” said Drake.

“The St.  Anselm had been empty for years. Nothing is up there. ” said Rourke.

“Nothing except the gigawatt radio-laser aimed at Sol. ”

“Sister Aetia and I are disagreed on the point. I wish to inform Mother Earth in our next broadcast that we have found the Fountain of Youth, the tree of life. It is an ill thing not to share this gift to mankind. ”

“But you’ve disable the communication laser…”

At that moment, Sister Aetia and Dr.  Cuillian entered the chamber, the sister’s gray robes billowing with her strides, the doctor’s careful step measured by the tapping of his cane. Drake was surprised to see the doctor here. He must have quickly come up from the shipmoot, perhaps in response to a signal from Aetia. It implied a degree of co-operation, of conspiracy, Drake had not guessed.

“Tell him nothing,” said Sister Aetia. “Arrest him. ”

“By what authority?” asked Drake.

“The Rector’s edict exiles you. ”

“And forbids the operation which, I assume, Dr.  Van Wenk is performing on Dr.  Voltaire right now. ”

Sister Aetia smiled a sickly grin. “The edict was not recorded. ”

“Then by what authority can you arrest me?” And he took a step backward.

Solomon Rourke said, “Stop. If you move toward the communication panel, I will shoot you. ”

Sister Aetia said, “Do not be a fool. The Rector is old and weak.  We shall be young and vital. We shall master this world. Join us. I need your skill to speak to the natives. To buy slaves, to organize hunts. ”

“Indeed. But for what do I need you? “He inched backward, not daring to look at the other panel, near to his shoulder, which was his true goal.

Aetia cackled. “You are a young man again, with the lusts and passions of youth. Have you thought of what you shall do for your satisfaction? The natives will not comfort you, I assure you! “she giggled. “You may think me foul and wrinkled now, but do you recall how I was aboard ship? I will be beautiful again, young, alive, and free! Nimue is married to the Rector. Katarina is insane. There will be only me. Are you revolted? I will be able to wait. A thousand years, a million. I will have worlds enough, and time enough to play coy. Mountains will tumble, and stars grow cold. My vows? I have been celibate this life; my life begins anew with my second youth, and no vows to bind me!”

“You will excuse me if I decline. I will wait for the first shipload of Earthwomen. ”

“They will not come! I will disable the laser! This world is meant for me alone!”

“Excellent,” said Adam Drake. “That will give me another few centuries in which to work. “And he reached out, not toward the communication panel, but to a panel immediately to his left, and pulled the circuit open. He was standing next to the panel for the circuitry chamber.

He pulled. The lights went out.

Solomon Rourke’s instinct, as a musketman, was not to shoot without a clear shot. Adam Drake jumped as he opened the circuit; Solomon Rourke held his fire.

“Keep clear of the surgical power, Mr.  Drake! If you kill Voltaire, I will kill you. ”

Sister Aetia said, “Fool! He can kill us all now. The ambiot altered the chemical structure of his eye. He can see partway into the infra-red! Let’s escape while we may! He can see us! We are blind! We are helpless in the dark!”

“Be quiet, Aetia,” said Dr.  Cuillian. “I am no more helpless than before. There. He is near the power switches, opening them up. Mr.  Rourke, can you feel my hand? Shoot where I direct. Wait! He is moving. There. Now. Fire. ”

The flash from the gunpowder lit up the room. For a frozen instant, Adam Drake saw Solomon Rourke’s grim, weather-beaten face bent over his weapon, Dr.  Cuillian with wild white hair and white beard, leaned beside him and guiding his hand, and Sister Aetia crouched in the corner like a witch, her cowl and habit a crooked bundle of shadows.

Then it was black, and Adam Drake was thrown back, breathless and thoughtless, impaled with pain, as the ill-aimed hot bullet struck through the flesh and bones of his shoulder. As if thrown by a giant, Adam Drake’s body was flung into the cabinets. An aisle of the machinery toppled.

A warm floating numbness seized Adam Drake’s brain. The pain was still real, but remote. The gloom of the room seemed to clear; he saw shadowy forms around him, the falling machinery, Rourke drawing his sabre, Cuillian clutching his ears, bewildered by noise. It was as if something in his nervous system were helping his brain interpret the random few photons striking his eyes into shadowy pictures.

With one hand he pulled himself to the trapdoor. A spasm of strength, like an adrenal rush, seized his arm when he tried to throw the lever. The hatch opened. He fell and slid down the stair, leaving a long bloody trail.

At the bottom, a second adrenal rush allowed him to dog shut the hatch. He was in the airlock. The room beyond was empty; the Rector had gone. Painfully, slowly, Adam Drake tilted his head. He saw where Solomon Rourke, when he had first entered the shipmoot, burdened by the Ophiuchan, had jammed the safety interlock with a stick, allowing him to open both doors at once.  Adam Drake fainted once and twice as he crawled across the airlock deck, a matter of a few feet. The floor seemed to be gyrating and wobbling as black lights swarmed and danced in his vision, swelling and receding. Then his sense of balance went numb; he felt as if he were falling. His vision focused.  The pictures seemed tiny and colorless, but clear, as if some emergency circuit in his optic nerve were showing him his environment as best it could.  He kicked away the stick. The safety interlock engaged. With a trembling hand, he reached up and pulled the exit bar. The machinery whistled and throbbed. The outer lock door cycled open. Adam Drake’s ear’s popped as the pressure rose. A shaft of pitiless red 36 Ophiuchus light fell in. He wedged the stick into the outer door’s hinge.

The inner door now could not be opened. Adam Drake gratefully fainted.

When he awoke, the bleeding had stopped. A group of muscles in his chest had constricted oddly, and pinched the bleeding veins closed. Scar tissue had already begun to form. His shoulder was numb and stiff, as if it had been anaesthetized, and the muscles of his upper back were as unmoving as a cast would be. He looked at his wristwatch, and dialed up the basic display. The little crystal screen displayed the time. Only a few moments had passed.

Adam Drake’s ears detected a faint hissing whine; the noise of a magnetic disintegration torch, probably the one from the machine-shop, eating away at the side-hatch. The hatch was slightly warm to the touch.

He was in no mood to talk. With his one good hand, he gathered up all the rebreather masks and threw them out the hatch. The bundle slid down slope a little way, masks rolling and flopping, goggles glinting. He opened the values on all the airtanks. The rack of airtanks hissed like a chorus of snakes.

He took the daycloaks with him as he ran out the air lock, tossing them here and there along the slope, or throwing them high into the wind, where they fluttered and sailed for a moment. Whenever he come near a motion-detector, he threw a cloak overtop the device, hoping the wind-rippled fabric, by flapping, would keep the detector ringing continually. If they were monitoring his movement from the watch-room, they would receive a confused array of signals.

Adam Drake ran downslope, exhilarated at the youthful power and grace of his limbs. His skin grew darker as his eyes adjusted; he saw a thousand variations of shadow and texture, subtle shades of color unknown to him before.  He laughed.

The pass-key signal on his wristwatch opened the airlock to the hangers. He was grateful that they had not yet thought to reprogram the lock.

Inside, the vast metal chamber held normal earthly light, colors, temperature and pressure. Robotic arms from the ceiling had lifted one of the two aircraft onto the launch desk. Another arm had entered the refueling socket.

The Rector rolled forward on his wheelchair from behind the control desk. “Welcome, Adam. I had come here to see if the communication lasers on either the Dove or the Raven could reach the St.  Anselm. I saw that if Sister Aetia and the others were willing to intercept the recordation of my edicts, that she would stop at nothing. I thought there might be violence. I hoped you would escape, and expected you would come to obtain an aircraft. ”

“And did the communications lasers reach?”

“Yes. By hooking the energy-cells from both aircraft in series, I had enough power to send a signal to the St.  Anselm. I recorded the edict, and also the title of the ownership of the Raven. That is the craft you prefer, I believe? It is now yours. ”

Adam Drake’s face lit up. “How can I thank you?”

“It is enough for me to know that I have prevented you from becoming a thief, by giving you what you otherwise would have stolen. Tell me what occurred in the dome. ”

“Cuillian, Aetia, and Rourke are in rebellion. I went to the circuit room and tried to disconnect the power to the sterilization generator in the lab. Rourke saw me, thought I was trying to shut down all the power, to kill Voltaire. ”

Adam Drake held out a flattened lump of lead, stained brown.

“What is that? “The Rector asked.

“Rourke shot me. The ambiot in my body ejected the bullet from the wound. ”

“Rourke would not have…”

“He thought I was trying to kill Voltaire. ”

“Were you?”

“Shutting down the sterilization field would have stopped the operation. Voltaire would have lived out his normal span. Perhaps a year or two. Then he would have died. I would have caused it.  Stopping immortality doesn’t make me a murderer. ”

“As I believe in heaven’s grace, I hope that what you say is so. Otherwise, I am as much a murderer as you. ” The Rector’s face was grim. “Take the Raven and go. Emilio Voltaire should join you in exile in about a day. I will order the robot surgeon instruments reprogrammed or destroyed. No one will be tempted when no one is capable of preforming the delicate implantation operation. ”

“The dome is in rebellion. They will not obey. ”

“The computer still obeys my voice. I have ordered all the doors to lock, and used my override. No door in the encampment opens but at my command, except the lock of the hanger I allowed to pass you in, in hopes that you would come. Sister Aetia and Solomon Rourke are only two out of fourteen; the rest will not break to open rebellion. And even those two will not defy me to my face. I will post a guard in the surgery if need be. My edict stands. ”

“Exile is too merciful.  Who takes command after you have passed away?”

“Father Rodriguez…had been…”


“Dr. Cuillian…” the Rector frowned.

“And how long do you think you will live, Rector? What edicts will Cuillian repeal once he takes command? Aetia and Rourke will accept the brief exile during the short remainder of your life. Then they win. ”

“I will destroy the infirmary if need be.”

“Even with the infirmary destroyed, it will not be enough.  The natives can do it. They did it to me.  With the correctly trained plastoderms inserted in the correct sequence, the natives don’t need our fancy programmable microtools to perform their operation…” Adam Drake shuddered.

“I know. We removed several of those worms from you before we knew what they were.  The natives have sufficient skill to tempt us. That is why I am sending you among them. You are our voice to the Ophiuchans. You must tell them never, not ever again, to suffer an ambiot to be implanted in a man.”

“That I will gladly do,” said Adam Drake. But he paused, and stood staring down at the Rector.

The Rector smiled. “Do not say it, Adam.”

“Unless you have an ambiot implanted in you, they will win as soon as you pass away…” Adam began.

“Just me?” The Rector smiled again. “What of my wife, Nimue? If we were both young again, we would want children and grandchildren. A century hence, how shall we explain to our old and withered great-grandchildren that while we are immortal, they shall not be granted immortality as well, even though they could be? No, Adam. The moment I have the ambiot implanted in me, they will win.”

Adam Drake turned and stared out the window, up at the dome. “Deacon Rourke would not have committed murder for money, or for glory, or for a woman, or for any of the other things men are tempted by. But this is a temptation that infinitely rewards those who yield to it, and punishes with old age and death those who resist!”

“Of the two trees in Eden, knowledge and life, Eve was tempted by one. We are now tempted by the other. What is the proper response to temptation? Resist it. What if that temptation is greater in magnitude than any other ever has been? The answer is the same. Magnitude alters nothing. Resist it!”

“And are you not tempted?”

“Nor would you be, Adam, if you have not lost your faith. Our Lord promises us that we shall be risen up, and clothed in bodies of incorruptible light.” He smiled. “Or, perhaps you can at least have faith in mankind. Our science may soon discover how to reproduce what the ambiots do, or reproduce the effect without killing the Ophiuchan host. You do not know how long your struggle will last. Have faith while it does.”

“And what am I to do? Suppose I convince the natives to stop their slave trade. They will not be able to resist the energy weapons the immortals of the dome will bring to bear. And the Earthmen will eventually come. The Ophiuchans don’t have an industrial civilization and military technology equal to our own. And I shall be alone. By the time, all the others who believe it is wrong to kill the Ophiuchans will be dead.”

“You are the translator. The others do not realize how much they depend on you to talk to the Ophiuchans. You will have your power of speaking.”

“What can one man do, armed only with the power of speaking?” asked Adam Drake bitterly.

“I do not know how to comfort men who do not believe what I believe. I am a Christian. I believe that one man can work the salvation of a planet; it has happened before.”

“I will not comfort myself with false beliefs,” said Adam Drake. “But I will do what I must, whether I am comforted or not.”

“God go with you, Adam.”

“Good-bye, Rector. I expect that I will not see you again.”

“Not in this life, Adam.”

And Adam Drake turned away and strode toward the Raven, his black garments swaying, his face grim, his step determined. From the lockers, he took his flight-suit and helmet and language box. At his signal, a robotic arm dipped down from the ceiling and lifted him into the cockpit.

Quickly, calmly, efficiently, he made the preflight check. He sealed and pressurized the craft. The engines whined to speed.

Magnetic impulses from the launch-deck levitated his craft out through the bay-doors and into the air. Rotary vanes slid out from his wings and lifted him up and away.

Gaining altitude, he dropped his nose, folded his vanes, and slid down through the air. Nucleonic rockets, ejecting steam at supersonic speed, propelled him forward till his velocity was great enough to open the ram-jet. He turned to circle the great mountain.

Through the slanted canopy window, and on the instrument screens, he could see the little gold bubble of the dome, the only habitation fit for humans within twenty-three light-years, except for the deserted hulk of the St. Anselm.

He circled the dome, once, twice, hoping for the last glimpse of a human being. There was a silhouette of someone standing on the observation deck, looking up, but Adam Drake could not see who it was. He dipped his wings in a last salute.

The he turned the Raven aside, and fled through the air. Tall upright streamers of cloud rose to either side of him, like titanic jail bars drawn across the dark purple sky. Below, the mountain crags shimmered with gold crystalline grasses.

He shut the intake to kill the ram-jet, fired his braking rockets, opened his vanes. Rotating the vanes until they faced forward, he broke his speed. Then, rotating them back to true, he made a circle down through the air.

Below, he saw a wide, clear space. There was a great flat outcropping of the subterranean colony-creature they had dubbed the atlas. To either side of the reddish-blue outcrop of the atlas, the forest-array slowly stalked by, the organisms taking one slow languid step after another, crystalline sparks glinting, sheaths open like sails, tall horns and branched pointed at the violet-red sun. The atlas was like a rock in the midst of a slow-moving stream of green, gold and dark blue.

The Raven settled to the outcropping, whirlwinds jetting from its wings. The vanes slowed, folded, and shut.

Adam Drake descended from the aircraft, holding his box. He wore his daycloak, certain that Homer would not recognize him without the odor of his cloak. Near the edge of the outcropping grew tall organisms twice the height of the forest that the expedition never found growing in any other valley: towering violet-black bundles of intertwined fibers and streamers, reaching up toward clusters of floating black balls. Here and there in the towers, white-hot points of fire burned, providing the heat to lift the parachute-leaves.

Upwind of the nearest purple tower of intertwined strands stood a native.  In two prongs, extended wide and angled away from its trunk, it held flowers which burned with a bright chemical fire. The flames writhed in its claws and did not hurt it. Another set of prongs angled forward out from its wing-vanes, like a praying mantis, holding a braid or twisted rope. Its wing vanes were half-folded around it, like the trailing skirts and bustle of a woman’s ball gown, or the spiral petals of a rose.

On its crown, every other frond was upright, and every other front was tilted out at the same angle, like insect antennae. The hearing diaphragms, which ran radially around the low crown, were swollen shut into folded knots. Evidently the noise of the landing aircraft had alarmed it.

Groups of tiny fluttering insects that Adam Drake called “pteroptics” swarmed in the air near the clawsful of flame. He knew that they were remote eyes.

Several of the native’s legs were crooked, others were straight. The knee-claws of the crooked legs held bits of braided fiber and clusters of white crystal shells. With a slow, inhumanly graceful motion, the native opened three of its legs and lifted them into the air. When the legs straightened, the knee claws retracted, and the fibers, like wisps of fluff, floated down. The shells clashed and tinkled as they fell, ringing like dropped pennies.

Adam Drake unfolded his box on the ground. The box consisted of a computer screen, a group of visual and magnetic recording cameras, a rack of bottled chemicals, scents and perfumes, a chemical synthesizer. He unrolled a group of hoses toward the native, and connected them to the several chemical scent analyzers, filters, and detectors. It took him about ten minutes to set up his equipment.

He assumed that this was his friend, “Homer.” The bright black-and-yellow patterns on the wings were the same, but he knew that the wings were actually separate symbiotic organisms, and could be exchanged among the aliens—regrown onto a separate host.

The analyzer tubes hissed. The machine, within a few minutes, had performed a dozen chemical tests on the perfumes radiating from the native, both separately and in combination. There was an 80 percent match-up between the native’s odor-elements and those of the native Drake had dubbed “Homer.”

While the box’s centrifuges, filters and tubes prepared the odors of Drake’s message, he counted the natives standing in the forest array nearby. Many held iron false claws in their prongs. Some had coated their outer skins with glue or hard lacquer, or strings or webs of shell, but none had armor. Instead, they had wadded scented leaves in their crowns to protect themselves from poison wafts of gas.  There was no evidence of bows or throwing machines, but some smaller wingless decapods held javelins tipped with sharpened shells or flattened iron tips. Adam Drake believed that the wingless ones were a semi-intelligent related species, as if mankind had trained platoons of apes for combat.

Drake turned his attention back to Homer. The meaning of some elements of the posture were known to him, others not. The gestures of holding every other scent frond upright or down indicated both a desire to talk (the raised scent fronds were being held up away from the odor glands during speech, to prevent them from being contaminated with one’s own scent) and to listen (the lower fronds were spread on the wind to catch passing odors.)

The gesture of holding flames out from the body Adam Drake did not know. He supposed that it was purely functional. The flames attracted the pteroptics into the widely spaced globes, giving Homer greater parallax as it looked through its flying eyes. Perhaps Homer had been attempting to judge the distance of the approaching aircraft.

The leg-gesture was obscure to him. The desire for movement? The casting aside of old impediments, symbolized by dropped shells and fluff?

Homer flicked open its flaming claws. Sparks of fire shot in each direction, trailing little lines of smoke. The pteroptics, following the sparks, fled out over the outcropping, swarming near and far.

Homer dipped its fronds. They fanned out before and behind its head like insect wings. This was a gesture of curiosity, a question.

The analyzer began to identify odors. The Ophiuchan language was more related to Oriental picture-writing than any other human language. Grammar was dependent, not on sequences of odors, but on their texture and position in space: near or far, overhead, impregnated into the ground, or depending on wind speed and variability. Adam Drake had classified the aliens according to their differing grammars, as Linear, Radial, Spiral, Lateral, Layered, and so on. Drake had no notion if these groups represented differing tribes, religions, races, or states of mind. The Linear group had developed a method of imprinting scents into wound rope, and this was the easiest grammar for Drake to follow.

In the first message-group, the odors were of a daycloak, a smell of metal and rubber, and of a conversation rope tinged with odors for metal and leather. These scents were permeated with the same under-scent, indicating that they were a group. This cartouche was Adam Drake’s name among the aliens: “The man whose machine speaks.” (The tinge of metal and leather was one of Homer’s jokes. Adam Drake did not have a conversation-rope when they first met, and had held up his leather belt by the buckle, in imitation of their gesture.)

The second odor was the navigation scent the Linears used to trace across the countryside, like milestones, so that the natives could orient themselves despite wind-changes, or precipitation of chemicals from clouds in the atmosphere.

The third was a cartouche of the atlas-creature combined with the smell of a daycloak.  Their word for Mother-Earth, the man-world.

To disperse one’s flying eyes afar was a gesture of hunting and seeking.  The machine translated the odor-message as “How far is Adam Drake from Earth?  What is his position relative to other men?”

The Ophiuchan language and philosophy had no definite way to refer to the past.  To an Ophiuchan, if another of its kind were far away, perhaps on a distant mountain-peak, it could be scented only dimly.  Likewise, if one came upon the footprints where another Ophiuchan had lingered days ago, they smelled of the same dim scent.  Thus, to Ophiuchans, to be far off either in time or space was the same, and was represented by the same word in their language.  To make matters worse, to be standing nearby in a high wind, or covered in water, meant the same thing, and both were described by the same scent-phrase.  And because warriors daubed their scent-glands with water, and came to do their violent vandalism on windy days, to be violently opposed to something was to be far away from it in time and space.

Thus, Adam Drake’s responding message was arranged in four lines of increasingly strong scent, to show the motion from past to present.

The first line contained Homer’s personal odor, as well as Drake’s machine could mimic it.  The odor was generated from combinations of stored chemicals:  Rope, Adam Drake’s name, water, atlas, and daycloak.  “Homer speaks to Adam Drake, asking him to be silent to his world, the world of men.”  The next group in the first line was permeated with Homer’s scent to show, as if by quotation marks, what it was Homer wished Drake to hide from Earth.  Drake’s machine emitted the gloriously sweet aroma of the ambiot, the odor of the most long-lived native tree, and the generalized odor of the daycloak.  “Homer asks Drake never to tell Earth that the ambiots bring eternal life to men.”

The second line was stronger and more recent, containing elements of rope, Adam Drake’s name, the daycloak, and the odor of the hard titanium plates and solar cells with which the encampment dome of the mission was paneled.  There was also an odor of tracking-scent, which was the Linear language circumlocution to refer to cause and effect, one thing leading to another.  “Therefore Adam Drake and the Men of the Dome speak.”

The third line, stronger, indicated still more recent events.  “Therefore Rector Alexandros and other men walk on the same path Adam Drake walks, and say to themselves what Adam Drake says to himself, that it is evil and unhealthy, not in the way of nature, violently to touch the Pale Linear People.  Far away from them and utterly opposed, Deacon Rourke and other men are silent to what Adam Drake says, and Adam Drake is silent to what they say; and is absent where they walk, and walks where they are absent.  Deacon Rourke says to himself that it is good and healthy violently to touch, to chloroform, to spill the blood of the Pale Linear People on the grass, that it is the way of nature.”

The final line was strong in scent, and indicated an immediacy, that what would come, came here and now.

“Deacon Rourke and other men speak to the Man-World.  The Man-World approaches and comes near.  The Man-World violently touches the Pale Linear People, the Dark Linear People, and the Dark Spiral People.  The Ocean People, the Intermittent Cloud People, the People Who Have No Eyes, and all the people who put their ten feet upon the atlas…”  (This, Drake hoped, was clear enough to show he meant all Ophiuchans everywhere, not just the local tribes).  “The Man-World touches the people, therefore the people smell of disease and corruption, decomposition, woodsmoke.”  This last, because the Linear Pales cremated only the dead of their most hideous criminals, to prevent their widow-buds from sporing, and inhaled the smoke of the corpse-fire during the ritual cursing and revilement.  It was the most horrid and dishonorable death that Drake’s command of the language could encompass.

Another alien came forward from the forest-array, tall body tilted forward, fronds trembling, legs flung high and forward as it stalked, and its foothooks tapped the atlas shells with tiny, precise clicks.

It came very close to Adam Drake, and stood with two legs angled over the machine, unfurling three of its wings.  It had tails of fiber knotted on the joints of its upper middle prongs, bundles of scented grass woven into its leg-hooks.  It had not one but three of the iron false-claws held overhead in its prongs, one of which was tied with perfumed black ribbons.  Adam Drake recognized the fiber-tails and bundles as deodorizing agents that indicated that this native was a warrior, perhaps of high reputation.

Up close, the warrior was taller and frailer than a man, surrounded by mothwing-soft sheaths of tissue.  The texture of its skin was stiff, made of many extremely thin translucent layers of hard fabric, which gave its outer surface a lambent shine and soft depth.  Tiny irregularities in the skin-surface gave it a strange, grainy texture.  The faint scent of ammonia hovered near the warrior.

Many of the warrior’s pteroptics landed on Adam Drake’s skin or buzzed near his head, shoulders or waist.  The alien’s listening diaphragms unfolded and focused on Adam Drake.  Adam could only wonder what, on wavelengths too deep for human ears to hear, a human male sounded like to an Ophiuchan.  He had the strange feeling that it was listening to his heartbeat.

With a fluttering sweep, a group of pteroptics lifted from Drake and swirled up around the warrior’s tall crown, dancing in and out of its gently waving fronds like a dozen fireflies or floating gems.

Adam Drake sat still, not daring yet to move.  He knew that native warriors rarely confronted each other directly, and almost never killed each other.  Instead they would commit acts of vandalism and destruction, burning crops and spore-fields, interrupting sexual ritual, killing children, smashing eggs, opening larval pods.  Even the iron claws were not truly weapons, but rather devices to hide the scent of the vandal in a communal perfume, so that when the victims of a raid came upon poisoned eels or uprooted mating-racks or dismembered children, there would be no one individual’s smell in the hand prints left on the wreckage.

Drake sat in front of his machine, wondering if the alien warrior would consider him an adult, and so immune from attack.

The machine detected odors:  the general scent of daycloaks, the metallic scent of the dome, the smell of decomposition, tracking scent, the generalized odor of the Linear Pale People, and the perfume of the most long-lived tree.  The computer could not analyze the grammar, but Adam Drake could guess the meaning, “If the men of the dome decompose, therefore the Pale Linear People will prosper.”  A complex odor set the box could not analyze.  Perhaps a statement of philosophy or valuation, or emotional reference?  Next, the odor for the daycloak, tracking scent, the daycloak again.  Again, the warrior was not as clever with words as Homer, not as clear, but Adam Drake guessed the meaning, “Men have brought this upon themselves.”

Next, the odor of chemical excitement native leaves and sheaths made when exposed to 36 Ophiuchus-light.  The Ophiuchans had no abstract word for good, but the scent-image of a sunlit forest was their circumlocution for what was good, healthy, and in accord with the way of nature “And it is well.”

The warrior emitted two more scents; one was the odor that an Ophiuchan’s skin took on in a state of high excitement, zeal, and anger.  The other, Adam Drake needed no machine to translate; it was the stench of human blood.

Adam Drake picked up one of the hoses, and, pinching the nozzle, sprayed the odor of gunpowder, and of the invulnerable metals of the expedition dome into the air, until the smell of the warrior’s last message was entirely smothered.  He pointed a waft from the hose at the warrior, for emphasis.

The warrior emitted a surprise-signal, and scuttled backward.  Adam Drake, puzzled, rolled an analyzer-head back and forth over the shells where the warrior had been standing.  The box picked up some faint traces of the scent-glyphs the warrior had been issuing to itself.  The computer identified it as an emotion for which there was no word in the human language, the native feeling of superiority and glee which came from being odorless and imperceivable; then, startlement at being discovered.

Adam Drake blinked.  Looking up, he saw Homer, standing, regally draped in soft furled wings, bright points of insectoid fliers dancing in its crown, wisps of smoke still rolling from two of its upright prongs.  Seeing his gaze on it (or, more likely, smelling the change in his profile as his mouth and nose pointed toward it), Homer raised two legs and rubbed them together, producing a dull rubbery sound like human laughter.  Homer, of course, had known that humans used eyesight primarily, and had expected Adam Drake to know where the odorless warrior, thinking itself indetectable, was hiding.

The native emotion for discovering an ironic similarity between two unlike things was their closest equivalent to humor, and was shown by bobbing one’s fronds quickly down and up, as if hunting for more scent.  Adam Drake turned toward Homer, and, putting his wrists to the sides of his head, curled and uncurled his fingers rapidly.

Homer raised two more legs and rubbed them together, in imitation of a noise it could not itself hear, to represent an emotion it could not experience.  Adam Drake flicked his fingers near his head, producing a motion in the air that his nose could not possibly detect, to represent an emotion alien to him.

Homer lowered its legs, and Adam Drake, smiling, lowered his hands.

Homer twisted one leg up oddly and ran its toe claws along various glands and orifices running down its trunk.  Then, reaching its leg forward, it tapped each slim bony toe-hook down in front of the machine’s analyzer hoses.  It was a very deliberate method of placing the scent-message.  Adam Drake wondered if it was meant to show emphatic precision.

The first line of odors was composed of tracking scent, a leather belt, a cartouche which mingled the leather belt with the odors for decomposition, the glorious perfume of the ambiot, the daycloak, the atlas-creature.  The leather belt was Homer’s shorthand version of Adam Drake’s name, “The man who speaks.”  The computer translated the message, “Adam Drake has told us of the death mankind and the ambiot will bring to all the lands of the world.”

Several odors in combination came next, including the scent of the fulcrum tree.  The fulcrum tree was a native organism which tilted its whole length toward 36 Ophiuchus at the dawn, and, with a system of proto-muscles and balancing valves, rotated toward the west each day.  “The principle of the balance of nature requires that Adam Drake speak well, speak healthy words in the way of nature, to counter balance the ill words he has spoken, the unnatural, sickening message.”

Next emerged the odors for night time, high winds, iron, smoke, the odor of Ophiuchan zeal and wrath, the smell of human blood.

“The raiding party has gathered to spill the blood of men.”  Tracking scent, sunlit leaves, larvae, “So that their children will prosper in health.”  Conversation rope odor permeating a group of odors; leather belt, ropes, decomposition, the balance tree, iron, human blood, a complex odor the computer could not identify, eggs, iron, smashed eggs, tracking scent, leather belt, iron, human blood.  “The raiding party says to itself that Adam Drake speaks death.  The principle of balance in nature requires that he die by violence.  Violence allows eggs to be destroyed; Adam Drake is the egg of our troubles; therefore he may be destroyed, his blood spilled on the ground.”

The computer detected, very faintly, a perfume code stroked onto the nozzles of the analyzer hose itself.  “Homer seeks to uproot and becalm the hatred and wrath of the raiding party, and asks, if Adam Drake is a man, how far is he from the Man-World, the egg and fountainhead of the death of all the Pale Linear People?  If Adam Drake is close to other men, he will spill his blood when their blood is spilt.  If he is far from the other men, he must tell us, and he must tell us the secrets of mankind, gunpowder, hard metals, machines which go up into the air, machines which will spill blood into the grass.  Homer asks where Adam Drake will stand.”

Adam Drake understood that Homer was not wiping the scent from his toe-hooks directly into the analyzer as a gesture of emphasis.  It was a whisper, meant to hide the message from the raiding party.

The computer registered another message.  “Adam Drake and Homer now have grown so their limbs entwine each other.  If Adam Drake is uprooted, Homer shall be uprooted as well.  The men must die in order that our children will prosper in health.  If Adam Drake stands with the men, Homer must stand with the men also, for their limbs entwine each other.  But, in order for the children to prosper in health, all men must die.  Adam Drake must die, and Homer must die, if they are near the men.  Where does he stand, Adam Drake?”

Adam Drake screwed the nozzle on one hose to a pinpoint, and valved the condenser to a trickle of air.  On that hose he sprayed a faint message at Homer’s foot.  Homer raised the foot high up to its crowns and writhed its fronds among its toe-hooks.  The message was, “Deacon Rourke and some men are bloody and unhealthy and deserve to die.  Rector Alexandros and some men are clean and healthy and shall live.  If the hard metal of the dome is cracked like an egg, all the men shall die.  If men who are clean and healthy and should live are killed by the raiding party, then the raiding party stinks like Deacon Rourke, bloody, unhealthy, and deserving death.”

Homer for a long time made no response, but stood swaying slightly in the breeze, prongs high, fronds twitching, clusters of eyespots floating here and there in the air.

The odor-codes of Homer’s response seeped into the machine.  “There is one who has a deadly disease.  The people say to the one, put yourself away from us, that your disease not taint our scents, not poison us.  The one goes on a windy day, annotated with water and ammonia, and puts the eggs from its body, which share its disease, into the pond of another.  The one stirs the water with circles of its foot, and the eggs become as one, and none can put the well eggs apart from the diseased.  The other, whose name is written among the fumes of the pool, cannot put the eggs which are its children apart from the diseased eggs of the one.  When the raiding party comes to poison the pool with ink, the other holds up a rope, and says, here are the eggs that are my children, that are not diseased, that you come to poison with ink in their pool.  The raiding party holds up rope and says, if the eggs of the one who has a deadly disease open, diseased eels will spawn, diseased amphibians will come from the eels, diseased adults will come from the amphibians, their wings will touch the wings of the people, and all the people will die, and stink of corruption.  Therefore, the other tears off its wings, and reaches into the pool with an iron fork to break the eggs from its body, its children.  But the iron does not bear the scent of the other.  Iron smells only of iron.  All of the people do not die of disease and smell of corruption.  The sunlight shines on the forest; all is well; the way of nature is done.”

Homer reached up with a thin, crooked leg and stabbed one of its own wings with a toe-claw.  The beautiful, delicate fabric shimmered and tore.  Homer’s whole trunk shivered and shook as the leg slowly straightened.  The wing-sheath fluttered in spasms, and shed colored dust.  With a kick, Homer flung the torn wing high up in the air.  The wing hung in the wind, a small triangle of fabric, rocking back and forth in the air.

The raiding party in the forest ejected bright swarms of pteroptics.  The flying eyespots swirled around Homer, glittering brightly, swarming in hundreds, crawling along Homer’s trunk, or circling in columns above.

Adam Drake sat in front of his machine, hands on his face, staring.  The meaning of what he saw was beyond him; too alien, too strange.  But the main point of Homer’s message was clear.  The raiding party would not allow the guilty men in the dome to shield themselves behind the innocent.  Too much was at stake.  And if Adam Drake attempted to side with any of the men, guilty or innocent, he would be killed, and perhaps Homer as well.  And the only sign he could make to show that he was not siding with the men would be to teach the natives how to build human weapons and machines.

But in conscience, he would not contribute to any attempt on the dome while there were any innocent men still left alive in it.  In any case, an attack on the dome was impossible without long range artillery, energy weapons, and armor, or, at the very least, hand-weapons and electronic counter-measures to jam the robot guns…

Drake took his hands from his face.  He had been thinking like a mortal man.  But strong evidence was that he was not mortal.  By the time the Ophiuchans could develop the military and industrial techniques necessary to mount such an assault, no one would be left alive in the dome except those who had murdered a native, or benefited by such a murder.  Adam Drake would still be here.

He suddenly understood the meaning of the self-mutilating gesture of stripping away a wing.  Homer’s message implied that wings were the main carriers of disease during epidemics.  Drake knew that the wings carried odors signifying rank, status, honor, fecundity, and all the virtues the natives held dear.  But, during a plague, the natives were willing to sacrifice honor to save their lives, their community, their children, those things for which they lived and died…

Adam Drake stood up and stripped off his daycloak, his symbol of humanity, and threw it into the air.  The daycloak flapped and fell past where the torn wing still floated weightlessly on the wind.  Adam Drake typed into his machine.

“Adam Drake does not stand with the men or near them.  Adam Drake, of all men, is the farthest away from Earth.  Here I stand.

“Attend me; for I shall now teach you all which mankind has learned about the art of making machinery, and the art of thinking about the world without doubt, so as to learn the truth of the world, on which truths the art of making is rooted.

“The first root of all learning is that a thing is what it is, and that what is said about a thing, cannot be at once both true and false…”