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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Clement Hal
 

«Noise», Hal Clement

To Tania Ruiz, who came up with the coral when the pumice refused to form.

Acknowledgments

Principal thanks go to the writer’s group that, I understand, has been named “Hal’s Pals” by Harlan Ellison. They have listened, suggested, criticized, encouraged. The membership has been rather variable over the years, but Sherry Briggs, Mona Wheeler, Greg and Anne Warner, Tania Ruiz, Matt Jarpe, and Wendy Spencer have all had their say in this particular Enterprise (pun inappropriate but intended). I don’t keep a log of the meetings and hope I haven’t forgotten anyone. If I have, I apologize; I do notice that as the years go by the insulation is getting frayed.

Other fans who have listened at conventions to a chapter here and a chapter there and have added their comments can’t be named here because I don’t know most of their names, but I am most grateful to them also.

 

Hal Clement

Milton, Massachusetts

March 2003

Prologue

Theme

“You still say these folks don’t have a Chamber of Commerce?” Mike Hoani made no effort to hide his skepticism.

“Right. There’s no native life that anyone had found the last I knew, but they’ve plenty of experience with pseudolife design; cities, ships, life-support equipment, are all grown just as they are at home. Their offworld trade is mostly specialized seeds, which don’t fill freighter holds very well. They haven’t much to offer to tourists; when you’ve seen one mist-shrouded floating city and a few square kilos of misty ocean with no city, you’ve pretty well covered the scenery. Most of the people I’ve met there seem friendly enough to visitors, though you may meet exceptions of course, but a few generations in one-third gee means they can’t do much visiting themselves.”

“So it’s just coincidence we popped into real space just where and just when we could see two eclipses at once?” Mike nodded at the screen. “You don’t get a small honorarium for arranging that, after we set down?”

Hi-Vac’s navigator didn’t answer at once. She, too, was staring at the image. The two partly overlapped stellar disks didn’t quite blend with each other; an M5 sun is enough cooler than an M4 to let even the human eye detect its lower surface brightness, especially when the cooler one is closer to the viewer and partially covering its twin. The double planets’ images, similarly overlapped, were less informative; they were not quite in the same direction as the suns, and showed only thin crescents, one half erased by its twin’s shadow.

“If I’d set it up,” the navigator remarked at length, “I’d have composed the picture better. Everything is practically in a straight line. A million kilometers or so that way”—her thumb gestured toward the lower left corner of the screen—“would have made it an artistic presentation.”

Mike, who was not an artist, made no comment. Intellectually, he knew that there was no disgrace in not being an expert at practically everything, but he was still a touch neurotic about displaying his own ignorance. The navigator, after a moment’s silence, went on.

“It wouldn’t be much of a problem, of course. There’s a huge locus of positions from which you can see both pairs, sun and planets, in eclipse at once, and the periods of both are short enough, goodness knows. The chances of popping into real space and being greeted by a view like this are pretty good.”

Mike nodded, somewhat doubtfully.“I suppose so. Which of those crescents is Kainui? And where do we land?”

“I don’t know, to both questions. Kainui’s just a little bit the larger, but from here I can’t tell by eyeball. Muamoku is the only place we can set down, at least usefully, but it’ll take time to find it.”

“You don’t have a chart of some sort? Aren’t there guide beacons?”

“You haven’t learned much about the place, have you? No, I don’t have a chart. Neither do the people who live there. Both planets are water worlds, though Kaihapa hasn’t been settled. Only the polar ice caps and the equatorial permanent rain belt can be distinguished from space, they’re not too clear with all the haze, and wouldn’t help anyway with the longitude problem. The cities float; they don’t stay put. Why are you going there, anyway? I thought anyone would learn something about a world before starting an expensive trip to it.”

“Research, and I’m not paying the freight. I care more about the people than their planet. I know several of the alleged reasons why they left Earth; for example, a lot of Polynesians got tired of the way oil-processing pseudolife stations were crowding the Pacific. There was never a war over the matter, just a lot of very expensive legal squabbling. I don’t know why they picked Kainui, even though it’s all ocean; it’s not an ocean you can swim in safely, I’ve heard, though I don’t know why. We know, we think, how many ships went there originally, but we don’t know how many arrived safely and succeeded in growing cities. Only one place, Muamoku, seems willing to spend energy on a landing beacon, so it’s the only place where ships can set down and expect to be in reach of anyone who can talk, buy, or sell. Whatever other cities there are seem quite willing to let Muamoku act as middleman in any off-planet trading. I’m a historical linguist by training and taste, and I’m looking for information on language evolution. All the original ships—that we know of, at least—left Earth from various Polynesian islands. We know the times they started out. Some people think there’ll be only one language by now, but I doubt it. That has to be affected by how much and in what ways the cities have been in contact with each other—trading, war, religious difference, what have you. I’m reasonably fluent in a dozen Polynesian languages, especially Maori and Tahitian, and should be able to figure out at least something of what’s happened, and when, and maybe even to whom.”

“Brute information, you mean?”

“Normal human curiosity, I’d call it.”

“Well, don’t go swimming. That’s something I do know.”

“Why not? Ocean acid, or something?”


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