The waters of space, p.3
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       The Waters of Space, p.3

           Patrick Spatz
 
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coffee. "But next time, warn me first, so I can check all the doors and windows."

 

  Speakerleg pushed one eye-stalk above the river water, looked around quickly and then retreated down the canyon wall a few meters. This late in the dry season the plant life above the water was parched and dying, and the sun beat down on the slow-moving water. Speakerleg found a patch of river weed under which to hide from the sun and wait. Holding on with four legs and one claw he rubbed his two smaller claws against his second large claw. The sound calmed him as he waited for the word to begin the attempt to reach Earth. Those-That-Spoke-First had already taught the Brotherhood much about the planet Earth and its’ people.

  Speakerleg's people were the newest members of the Brothers of Minds-Across-Stars. Yet because of fire, it would all come down to them, and Speakerleg's personal courage. When the time came, others from three planets would be there in mind-link to help him. "So," he said aloud, "nothing can go wrong." Speakerleg was one of the younger leaders. He wanted badly to succeed. He decided to spend the time reviewing what he would tell Earth about his own planet if contact was made.

  This planet would seem the most alien to Earth. Here it is not the abundance of water, but the lack of it that is the main difference. In fact it lacks much of the atmosphere that Earth has. Its' main continents are dead things, Its' highest mountains rise almost into space. There are no great oceans, but there had once been. At the bottom of the dry abyssal plains the atmospheric pressure reaches half that of Earth at sea-level. In what had been the deep ocean trenches, there are still remnants of a salty sea.

  There are rivers. Great rivers far surpassing Earth’s Amazon in both age and size. Starting in among the ice that covers much of the continents, they soon fall over the continental shelves in spectacular water falls of which earth has no like. The rivers then cut deep, steep canyons on their way to the small Seas, which they also enter in drop-offs.

  For the most part, the rivers' centers are deep and fast moving. But along the edges, the water is slower moving and filled with life. The life climbs up the canyon walls, both above and below the water line. Rain falls back down to the river below, after being fed by clouds that form between the canyon's walls. Almost everything is adapted to a world that runs vertically rather than horizontally. Speakerleg's own people are no exception to this rule.

  The word came, it was time to start. Speakerleg poked his eye-stalks above the surface of the slow moving water. He looked around thoroughly before allowing his shelled body to follow. His eyes returned into the water to check again that his retreat was clear all the way down the wall to the roots of the weeds below. Speakerleg moved a bit higher up the sheer canyon wall to get a better view of what was coming.

  Farther upstream and high on the canyon wall lighting had sent sparks and hot stones falling. The sparks had fallen into the growth that held to the canyon wall. It was dry and readily caught fire. Those that lived nearby had sent word. Speakerleg had been picked because he was both nearest and bravest. It would be his job to show the rest that his race might be young, but they could do their part to aid the older minds.

  Speakerleg could feel the first of the winds that the fire made as it sped along the cliff wall. The heat and the wind were frightening. Everywhere along the canyon walls, small animals fled for safety. In the distance the fire could be seen as a yellow wall. The smoke filled the canyon behind it. Speakerleg waited; he had never been this close to a wild-fire before, but others of his people had dared come much closer to the red and yellow death. He knew just how long he could stay and still make it to safety below the surface. This would show that his people understood fire. They knew it was no demon that would chase them with a mind of its own. It was like the water, air and stone, only...well...more so.

  He could feel the minds of his clan joining together, calling to him, "Yes, now is the time!" Together they reached across space to their Friends-Of-The-Shallow-Sea. Cairun and his group joined Speakerleg and his people, and as one they reached out to the sleeping humans.

  Within seconds, Speakerleg’s vision was overlaid with the sights of humans in their beds on the far away Earth. Some were linked and they appeared with their eyes open, watching him. Speakerleg held out a small hook and rope used to climb over some of the more difficult parts of the canyon walls, "Behold, we have tools." Some minds recognized it as a climbing tool at once, while others just thought of it as a generic tool.

  Speakerleg shuddered once to help control his body, then went to the next step. "More important, behold." He brought his eyes to focus on the wall of fire closing rapidly on his position. "We know and understand fire!"

  Speakerleg knew that he would be fighting a fear implanted in his brain long before the first of his people learned speech. What he hadn't counted on was that it was even older and stronger in humans. The fear and panic that hit him was like a blow. It knocked him off the wall. Fortunately, he was only a few feet above the water. Even so, his legs were running as he fell through the air. All intelligent thought was gone. All he could think of was to get far, far away from the fire.

  Far away, many of the human dreamers woke up screaming, convinced that what they been through was not entirely a product of their imagination. Doctor Barbara Johnson was one of them.

 

  Three PhDs in the same room, at the same time, was not all that unusual at a college. In the offices of SETI it was a rare event. At Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence, Doctor Balmorr was usually the only instructor in a roomful of under-grads. He really wished that it marked a more pleasant occasion. What he had to tell Doctors Hallaway and Johnson was not easy.

  Balmorr put down the reports Hallaway and Johnson had given him. Then he opened a drawer in the lower corner of his desk. "These," he said, putting a stack of folders down on the desk, "are most of the reports that unpaid observers have sent to us so far just this year. Since the Air Force gave up on Project Blue Book, we've ended up getting most of the UFO sightings, and so forth. I am not allowed to let these out of this office, except to take them to a warehouse, to which only I have the key. The only reason our director does not order them destroyed altogether is that we're a government contractor, and that would be against regulations."

  Balmorr opened one of the folders on his desk and flipped through it slowly. There was a longing in his voice when he continued. "There is nothing in these files that would be the least bit damaging for the public to see. What would be hurt is our budget. God knows it's not much, but it's all we've got. I'm speaking from experience here. We once had a director who assigned some students to read through these files. They were looking for any pattern that might tell us anything we should know that maybe our electronics were missing."

  Balmorr stopped at one page and smiled. "Some of the students had a good laugh at one or two of these reports. As I said before, we get them all. Some of these stories got all over the campus, and even into one of the local newspapers. At our next budget hearing, a congressman wanted to know how we could spend government money investigating a woman who said that her cat was having sex with aliens dressed like rats."

  "Funny, right?" There was a hard note in Balmorr's voice as he looked straight at Hallaway and Johnson. "Our budget was reduced 25% that year and we got a new director. Now maybe that would have happened anyway, but our new director isn't taking any chances. Anything that isn't computerized and broken down to numbers goes into this file, and is never seen again."

  The moment of anger passed and Balmorr looked again at the papers in his hand. "There are in fact, a lot of nuts in these files. Yet I would like to have seen some of them looked into. When you called and said you wanted to see me, I was hoping that you might be able to use them. If you did though, I would have had to ask you not to say where you came by them! "

  The silence in the room lasted an uncomfortably long time.

&nbs
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  The cave in which Tyiieye was building his great machine was a madhouse of workers and machines. Two large balloons nearly full of air took up a large part of the room. Pipes running up to the surface were filling the balloons with even more air. Large seaweed baskets were being woven by workers on a large table. These baskets were to be connected to the balloons, though Cairun was not really sure how.

  Tyiieye had spread out a diagram of the project on a smaller table nearby. He tried to wait patiently while Cairun read the latest revisions.

  "Surely you don't plan to include fire?" Cairun couldn't believe what he was seeing on the drawings. "Not after what happen to the Downless Ones."

  "The trick it seems is to keep the fire small. Air trapers have claimed to see it on the surface. They say that the top of seaweed sometimes has fire on it. We believe the thing to do is to get a small amount of seaweed really dry. Even if that part doesn't work, though, everything else should." Tyiieye pointed to part of the drawings. "Air trapers have been doing air-bag riding as a sport for years. I taken most of this from them. They usually just hold onto the bag until they reach the top, take a quick look around, and then drop using a
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