Startide Rising

David Brin



Streaker is limping like a dog on three legs.

We took a chancy jump through overdrive yesterday, a step ahead of the Galactics who are chasing us. The one probability coil that had survived the Morgran battle groaned and complained, but finally delivered us here, to the shallow gravity well of a small population-II dwarf star named Kthsemenee.

The Library lists one habitable world in orbit, the planet Kithrup.

When I say 'habitable,' it's with charity. Tom, Hikahi, and I spent hours with the captain, looking for alternatives. In the end, Creideiki decided to bring us here.

As a physician, I dread landing on a planet as insidiously dangerous as this one, but Kithrup is a water world, and our mostly-dolphin crew needs water to be able to move about and repair the ship. Kithrup is rich in heavy metals, and should have the raw materials we need.

It also has the virtue of being seldom visited. The Library says it's been fallow for a very long time. Maybe the Galactics won't think to look for us here.

I said as much to Tom last night, as he and I held hands and watched the planet's disc grow larger in one of the lounge ports. It's a deceptively lovely blue globe, swathed in bands of white clouds. The night side was lit in patches by dimly glowing volcanoes and flickering lightning.

I told Tom that I was sure no one would follow us here — pronouncing the prediction confidently, and fooling nobody. Tom smiled and said nothing, humoring my bout of wishful thinking.

They'll look here, of course. There were only a few interspatial paths Streaker could have taken without using a transfer point. The only question is, can we get our repairs finished in time, and get away from here before the Galactics come for us?

Tom and I had a few hours to ourselves, our first in days. We went back to our cabin and made love.

While he sleeps, I'm making this entry. I don't know when I'll have another chance.

Captain Creideiki just called. He wants both of us up on the bridge, I suppose so the fins can see us and know their human patrons are nearby. Even a competent dolphin spacer like Creideiki might feel the need from time to time.

If only we humans had that psychological refuge.

Time to put this down and awaken my tired fellow. But first, I want to jot down what Tom said to me last night, while we watched Kithrup's stormy seas.

He turned to me, smiled that funny way he does when he thinks of something ironic, and whistled a brief haiku in dolphin-Trinary.

* The stars shake with storms

* The waters below roll thunder

* Still, are we wet, love?

I had to laugh. Sometimes I think Tom is half dolphin.



All your better deeds shall be in water writ…' — FRANCIS BEAUMONT and JOHN FLETCH

1 ::: Toshio

Fins had been making wisecracks about human beings for thousands of years. They had always found men terribly funny. The fact that humanity had meddled with their genes and taught them engineering hadn't done much to change their attitude.

Fins were still smart-alecks.

Toshio watched the small instrument panel of his seasled, pretending to check the depth gauge. The sled thrummed along at a constant ten meters below the surface. There were no adjustments to be made, yet he concentrated on the panel as Keepiru swam up alongside undoubtedly to start another round of teasing.

'Little Hands, whistle!' The sleek, gray cetacean did a barrel roll to Toshio's right, then drew nearer to eye the boy casually. 'Whistle us a tune about shipsss and space and going home!'

Keepiru's voice, echoing from a complex set of chambers under his skull, rumbled like the groaning of a bassoon. He could just as well have imitated an oboe, or a tenor sax.

'Well, Little Hands? Where is your sssong?'

Keepiru was making sure the rest of the party could hear. The other fins swam quietly, but Toshio could tell they were listening. He was glad that Hikahi, the leader of the expedition, was far ahead, scouting. It would be far worse if she were here and ordered Keepiru to leave him alone. Nothing Keepiru said could match the shame of being protected like a helpless child.

Keepiru rolled lazily, belly up, next to the boy's sled, kicking slow fluke strokes to stay easily abreast of Toshio's machine. In the crystal-clear water of Kithrup, everything seemed strangely refracted. The coral-like peaks of the metal-mounds shimmered as though mountains seen through the haze of along valley. Drifting yellow tendrils of dangle-weed hung from the surface.

Keepiru's gray skin had a phosphorescent sheen, and the needle-sharp teeth in his long, narrow, vee mouth shone with a teasing cruelty that had to be magnified… if not by the water, then by Toshio's own imagination.

How could a fin be so mean?

'Won't you sing for us, Little Hands? Sing us a song that will buy us all fish-brew when we finally get off this sssocalled planet and find a friendly port! Whistle to make the Dreamers dream of land!'

Above the tiny whine of his air-recycler, Toshio's ears buzzed with embarrassment. At any moment, he was sure, Keepiru would stop calling him Little Hands and start using the new nickname he had chosen: 'Great Dreamer.'

It was bad enough to be taunted for having made the mistake of whistling when accompanying an exploration crew of fins — they had greeted his absentminded melody with razzberries and chittering derision — but to be mockingly addressed by a title almost always reserved for great musicians or humpback whales… it was almost more than he could bear.

'I don't feel like singing right now, Keepiru. Why don't you go bother somebody else?' Toshio felt a small sense of victory in managing to keep a quaver out of his voice.

To Toshio's relief, Keepiru merely squeaked something high and fast in gutter Trinary, almost Primal Dolphin — that in itself a form of insult. Then the dolphin arched and shot away to surface for air.

The water on all sides was bright and blue. Shimmering Kithrupan fish flicked past with scaled backs that faceted the light like drifting, frosted leaves. All around were the various colors and textures of metal. The morning sunshine penetrated the clear, steady sea to glimmer off the peculiar life forms of this strange and inevitably deadly world.

Toshio had no eye for the beauty of Kithrup's waters. Hating the planet, the crippled ship that had brought him here, and the fins who were his fellow castaways, he drifted into a poignantly satisfying rehearsal of the scathing retorts he should have said to Keepiru.

'If you're so good, Keepiru, why don't you whistle us up some vanadium!' Or, 'I see no point in wasting a human song on a dolphin audience, Keepiru.'

In his imagination the remarks were satisfyingly effective. In the real world, Toshio knew, he could never say anything like that.

First of all, it was the cetacean, not the anthropoid, whose vocalizings were legal tender in a quarter of the spaceports in the galaxy. And while it was the mournful ballads of the larger cousins, the whales, that brought the real prices, Keepiru's kin could buy intoxicants on any of a dozen worlds merely by exercising their lungs.

Anyway, it would be a terrible mistake to try to pull human rank on any of the crew of the Streaker. Old Hannes Suessi, one of the other six humans aboard, had warned him about that just after they had left Neptune, at the beginning of the voyage.

Вы читаете Startide Rising
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату