In the first centuries of the Diaspora, ikuts settled eighteen worlds, yet there are no longer ikuts on any of those. They were, it seems, too mild - too "nice" - for the shaggy white-furred men, who require arctic cold to destroy the parasites that otherwise debilitate them.
In the more than one hundred subsequent centuries, ikuts have settled only a few planets, of which Glaice is the oldest. Even those ikuts who settled there must have been desperate - their ships running low on life support material, the colonists' vitality sapped by too many years in cold sleep - because Glaice is a nasty place even by ikut standards. Witness the elaborate migrations they must make, from pole to pole every three years. Would even ikuts have settled Glaice if they retained a shred of hope that they might find something better?
Fenwurt MaderasVolcanos like blackened, broken teeth gnawed at the bloody sunset. The low-riding floe - flat shelf ice, hardly a respectable berg - picked up the sky's red hue and reflected it back upward, but the russet coloration of the ice was not entirely due to volcanic dust and light refraction in the air; some of it was blood.
Parnoel Press, Metok, 12,202 R.L
It was a scene out of prehistory, when the races of man had fought each other with claws and bared teeth - great white-furred ikut against lithe, brown, seal-like mantees - and as it had been then, the worst casualties were among the very young. This time they were ikut young, their soft fur no longer snowy white, but splashed with sunset and their own fluids; seventeen small bodies lay clumped and scattered about the small ice floe. Until recently it had been the site of an outing, a youthful expedition a short, supposedly safe distance from the great iceberg that was "home."
Five young bodies had already been laid reverently, with much loud wailing, in the bottoms of skin boats. The rest would follow later, when the boats returned, empty, but the ikut females would not heap their dead infants atop one another like meat.
"Meat!" snarled a big ikut male, kicking a brown and red mantee corpse off the edge of the floe to join its fellows. The cubs had given good account of themselves as they died, he reflected - there had been six dead mantees, their brown-furred skins flayed red from ankle to waist by small, sharp claws and needle-like milk-fangs. "Mantees!" he snarled. "The Ketonak are right. They aren't people at all. People would not do this. Mantees are animals. They are meat! Spoiled meat!" He would eat mantee as the Ketonak band had done, he growled, but only if it was fresh, rended and killed with his own huge, clawed hands.
At all times, at least one male watched to seaward, but no mantees arose through the dark waters to claim their own dead. The brown bodies remained close to the ice, bobbing sluggishly. "Barakh!" spat an ikut male. He thrust a spear into one floating corpse, then watched with grim satisfaction as it began to sink. He proceeded from that one to the next, until all the mantees had been punctured. They would rise again as their internal bacteria filled them with gasses, but for now, he did not have to look at them.
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MARTINEZ, CONSUL, GLAICEA few miles to the west of Metok City, a glacier groaned and dropped a four hundred and fifty ton chunk of itself from the height of its face into the cold mud of the terminal moraine. It was summer, and glaciers often did that in summer. Not many miles further away, but to the south, a fourteen thousand foot volcano vomited fire, glowing ash, and toxic gas. On Glaice, Xarafeille 132, most volcanos did that, most of the time. The sunsets were always beautiful.
Offworlders who visited Metok considered it a suburb of hell, a glass-domed anteroom opening on the nastiest world ever colonized by men - and by women, of course, but the women mostly came because the men did, and had not volunteered, and anyway, among the worlds of the Xarafeille Stream the collective nouns "mankind" and "men" referred not only to people of both sexes, but to a variety of beings whose claim to being human sprang from their genes; most hardly resembled the root stock of ancient, forgotten Earth.
Tep Inutkak - Tep, of the Inutkak band of the ikut race of man - stood over two meters tall and was covered with white fur. His loose skin covered layers of insulating fat which in turn hid muscles strong enough to bend or even break the bones of men of other races. Tep's bones were thus thick and heavy as well, because he was a wholly adapted man, a fine specimen of the ikut race. Actually, he was not a man, not yet. Outwardly, young ikut were neither male nor female until they reached sexual maturity at around twenty-five years of age, but Tep knew he was going to be a man in a few years, and that colored his attitudes and his behavior. His fellow students, most of whom sprung from other kinds of parents, considered him a man mostly because he was half again the height of a lissome mantee male, weighed three times as much as a jittery fard, and was not afraid of a good rough-and-tumble with the bors males in his dormitory - whom he resembled, though bors had black fur and tended to be roly-poly where Tep looked lean.
The almost-juxtaposed crashes of calving glaciers and roar of erupting volcanos were background music to Tep's current struggle. His paper on the food-chain paths of certain trace elements was a week late.
If he had been writing about ikut history, analyzing some aspect of the voluminous oral traditions of his folk, or about archaeological work in the ancient abandoned city of Latobak, the paper would not have been late, he told himself. But it was late, and it was not about archaeology or epics. The flow of minerals from bottom-feeding slugs that inhabited the deep ocean trenches up to the thrashing, glittering fish that ordinary ikut caught from their ice floes was steady and inexorable, but the words that described that flow came in fits and starts like the glowing effluvia of Mount Brastopan, looming on the southern horizon. Tep had filed his long yellow claws to blunt nubs that did not slip off his terminal's keys or obliterate the letters on them. He had adjusted his chair just so, to accommodate his stub of a tail. Those things helped, but they did not aid the flow of words and ideas from brain to fingers to keys, from the keys to the multi-terabyte data-storage crystals somewhere deep within the clammy basements of Metok U.
It would not be the end of the world if Tep did not get the paper in by the end of the week, but he was afraid it might be the end of his academic career. He envisioned his ignominious return to the Inutkak ikut band, and his future thereafter. About now, the Inutkak were drifting north on their ice floe, probably about forty degrees north latitude, dining on sedubik (fish native to that clime) and on fetuk, a kind of seaweed that drifted north from the equatorial isles, where it grew on offshore rocks. The Inutkak shahm, the band's medicine man, chief, and scientist, always carefully calculated the mass and extent of the floe he selected for the northern migration, but though Glaice's water and air temperatures and the incident sunlight at a given latitude were quite consistent, there were always variables that could not be predicted. For the Inutkak ikut, as for all the migratory ikut bands, the second half of their nine-month journey on the ice was spiced with the underlying concern that they might not make it to their northern hemisphere camp in one piece.
Once safe in their northern winter camp, the Inutkak would feast on foods not tasted for two and a half years. Gatherers went out seeking gitlik shrubs - bitter seasoning for stews and pottages - and hunters sought ritvak, which were small deerlike creatures inhabiting the high plateau. The band's shahm sent crews to specific locations near the faces of local glaciers to find caches dug into the ice shortly before the Inutkak's last departure. If the shahm had calculated the original placement of such caches correctly, the subsequent grinding march of the ice brought the skin-wrapped, butchered carcasses of meat animals out of the ice just where the Inutkak could find them.
Then was a time of celebration: the infants conceived in the southern camp were about to be born. The Inutkak would nurse and nurture them through nine months in the north, and with the coming of warm weather they would be fat and strong, ready for the coming migration back to the south.
There was nothing wrong with the Inutkak life, Tep assured himself. Someday when he was much older, he would be ready to challenge the old shahm, to take his place as chief of the Inutkak band. But not now. He was far too young for that, and enjoyed city life far too much.
Tep struggled with the paper for another hour before he pushed his keyboard aside and waited for a printout. "Maybe somebody down at the bar can help me with the last part," he muttered. Maybe a beer or two would loosen his head just enough so he could finish it himself, too, but he had few illusions about that. Yet his decision to go to the bar was not entirely a capitulation to his inability to finish the report; in all likelihood, someone at the bar would be able to help, because the Last Atopak Tavern was a hangout for Metok U. grad students. People sometimes joked that every original ideas for a thesis or dissertation that ended up on a graduate committeeman's desk began with a half-drunken bull session in the Last Atopak.
Before leaving his room, Tep took several small vials of pills from a drawer, emptied them one by one and counted the tiny spheres. They were dietary supplements. He - and any ikut who did not migrate - had to take them, and they were very expensive, being made offworld. Tep did not thoughtlessly indulge his considerable appetite for beer and off- campus food, because if he ran out of pill money, he would become quite ill. The Inutkak band's subsistence lifestyle did not generate large cash surpluses. Tep got almost half of the band's income from trade, and an equal share went to Fenag, his "backup," who was also a student at Metok University. They sometimes joked that their debit cards were thinner in the middle than at the edges, from having to squeeze every last credit from them.
The tavern's namesake, the atopak, was an extinct fish that had once bred in the shallows off the northern continental coasts. Now the remains of several hundred atopak decorated the walls of the tavern named for the last of them. According to campus lore it had started accidentally, and the tavern had originally been called "Mopok's Midtown Bar." It had been constructed of local stone, as were most of Metok's buildings, and one block of stone near the end of the stand-up bar had contained an atopak fossil, an impressive fish almost a meter long. Only part of a jaw was exposed at first, but once sharp-clawed bors or ikut students discovered it, nothing short of a barred enclosure could have stopped them from picking at it night after night, beer after beer, until the fish in all its skeletal splendor was fully exposed in bas-relief.
Mopok, or perhaps some subsequent owner of the bar, was annoyed at the claw-marks in the walls of his booths, which made the place look shabby. No more atopak fossils had been discovered in the stone walls, but that had not stopped drunken patrons from looking for them. Mopok - or whoever - had purchased additional stones, ones that definitely had atopak fossils in them, and had them installed in and on his tavern's walls, all at a comfortable level for clawed customers. When an atopak skeleton was fully exposed, he had it moved somewhere else, and a fresh block put in its place.
No one was still around who could say for sure just when the tavern had officially been renamed or when the "Last Atopak" sign had appeared over the door, but legend had it that not until the last atopak fossil on Glaice had been found, mounted in the tavern, and clawed from its soft stone matrix would the bar at last close down. As the atopak had been quite common, numbering in the billions, and as there were still millions of tons of atopak- bearing rocks around, owner after owner considered the name a good omen.
As luck would have it, Tep recognized a group of potentially useful fellow-students the minute he entered the bar. Also as luck would have it, they were wholly engrossed in a discussion, and did not welcome his persistent efforts to change the subject from whatever it was to food chains and trace elements.
Most of them were bors - short, heavy, black-furred people otherwise not very different from Tep. But bors were sedentary mountain folk who lived in cave towns, fine machinists and manufacturers who grew most of their food under artificial lights, in soil made from pulverized rock. To bors, a food chain was no longer than the conveyor belt from the growing cave to his kitchen, and they displayed little interest in Tep's concerns. They paid him little attention - with one exception.
"Tep Inutkak," said Velanda Torsk, a bors archaeology student, "don't you even care if the mantees kick you off your own planet?"
"Huh? Kick me off Glaice? I was born here!"
"Don't you watch the news?" Velanda and the others seemed surprised, but not excessively so. Most of them were old enough to know what it was like to be a second-year grad student. There was seldom time for anything but study. Velanda took pity on Tep, and brought him up to date.
The Ketonak band, on the other side of the planet, had purposefully disrupted their usual migration pattern so they could mate with another band that occupied the same territories, but in other seasons. Everyone knew how finely-choreographed ikut migration cycles were, and how disastrous it was if a band got off schedule. If a band missed its regular voyage through the equatorial waters, they would also miss out on certain kinds of fish they needed to stay healthy, fish that dined on other fish from deeper down, who dined on crustaceans deeper still... Tep understood all about the food chains that brought important trace elements from the ocean-bottom ooze up to the surface, where ikut could consume them. He just had a hard time writing about them.
Anyway, the Ketonak missed the southern half of their migration and ended up back in their northern camp at just the time the local mantee throng arrived there to mate on the offshore rocks. Happily for the Ketonak, the mantees contained many of the trace nutrients they had missed by not completing their voyage south of the equator. Unhappily for them, the mantees, who were as human as they were, did not willingly submit to being eaten.
"Cannibals?" exclaimed Tep. "They killed and ate other people?" Members of Tep's Inutkak band - who spend nine months out of every three years in distant proximity to Metok, a worldly place with a sizeable offworld population of non-ikut humans and with its own spaceport and high-speed rail terminal - understood that mantees, whom they called "seels," were as human as they themselves. "Are they still living in the stone age?" he asked, shaking his head. They were, his fellow students agreed.
"But that's only part of the story!" insisted Blent Dagro, another bors, a chemistry postdoc. "The Warm Stream mantee throngmother is taking them into Metok High Court. She's brought murder charges against their shahm, and there have been mantee attacks on other ikut bands, ones that didn't do anything wrong." Tep had just drained his second mug of beer and, realizing that he would get no help with his paper from anyone present, decided to go back to his room and try again. "Well, it is murder, isn't it? Mantees are people too." He stood, and set down his empty mug.
"It's killing - but murder? The Ketonak only did it to live. In the old days before there was an Arbiter's consul or a High Court, all ikut ate mantees, didn't they? You tell us, Tep. You're the expert on food chains."
"I wish I was," Tep said, sighing. "I never will be, unless I get this paper done, though, and since all you guys want to talk about is mantee stew..." He turned to leave.
"Wait, Tep!" said Velanda. "I'll go with you. Maybe I can help with your paper, and then I'll tell you the rest of the story about the Ketonak and the mantees." Tep was not sure how much help an archaeologist could offer him, but he really didn't want to walk all the way back to the dormitory alone.
"Sure," he said. "You can tell me some on the way. Especially about how what the Ketonak did affects me. I didn't eat any mantees."
Velanda told him. "It would have stopped right there - the court would have awarded the Warm Stream throng damages, and probably would have ordered the Ketonaks disbanded and scattered among the other bands, which is traditional, isn't it?"
"That's what people did centuries ago," Tep agreed. "But I don't think there's been a similar case in generations. I suppose now that there's a formal court and all, things are different. But you still haven't said how..."
"I'm getting to that. As I said, it would have stopped right there, except for Professor Rakulit, my dissertation committee chairman. He's been putting together a book on radiocarbon dating of protohistoric sites on Glaice, and..."
"Rakulit? Isn't he a seel, too?"
"Tep! Don't call them that. Professor Rakulit is a mantee. Calling him a "seel" even makes him sound like he's something to eat."
"It's just the ikut word for "mantee," Tep protested. "It doesn't mean anything bad."
"Hah! If there were an ikut encyclopedia, I wonder if "mantee" would be cross- referenced with bors and tarbeks as "other human subspecies" or with ritvak and etolat under "traditional ikut meals?"
She was joking, but Tep - even without the Ketonak incident - could have told her how close to the mark she had come. Even he, an educated person, sometimes wondered if the slim, brown, quick-moving mantees he saw about Metok would taste as good as fresh-killed, juicy specimens of the less-intelligent, non-human marine mammals ikuts also called "seels."
"So did they eat your committee chairman, or what?" he asked facetiously.
"Tep! Professor Rakulit has proved that the mantees have been on Glaice longer than anyone else. Do you know how radiocarbon dating works?"
"Cosmic rays hit nitrogen in the upper atmosphere and turn it into carbon 14, which is heavier than ordinary carbon-12," he said. "It falls to earth, and enters the food chains - see? Didn't you know I'd get my own subject in there? - and then it breaks down into carbon-12 over the centuries. Right?"
"Uh huh. And since when an animal or a plant dies, it stops metabolizing and taking in fresh carbon, something that's been dead a long time has less C-14 than something that died recently. When archaeologists measure the C-12 to C-14 ratio of a buried house post or the ashes of a cooking fire, we can tell just how long ago the wood was alive - and how many centuries ago the people that made the fire lived."
She sighed. They were almost at the dorm. She rushed to finish the tale. In short, she said, Rakulit proved that the mantees inhabited Glaice in 650 RL and that the ikut didn't arrive until around 800, and the bors a century and a half after that. That meant that the mantees were the original charter holding colonists of the planet, and the others were there only on their sufferance. The Warm Stream throngmother heard about Rakulit's work, and before long she had gotten all the mantee throngs on Glaice to join a class-action suit against all the ikut bands, to have them declared displaced persons who had to apply to the mantees for licenses just to remain on the planet where they were born!"
"They can't do that!" Tep exclaimed. Suddenly his own problem did not loom so large. "I belong on Glaice just as much as they do! I was born here too!"
"So was I," Velanda replied. "So far, the mantees haven't included us bors in the suit, but it's still scary. Where could we go? We'd have to appeal to the Arbiter himself, to find us a new homeworld."
"The Arbiter! Hah! I sometimes think the Arbiter is a myth, like the bogeyman who lives in holes in the ice, and..."
"Just for you information, Tep-with-your-head-in-the-snow, the Arbiter has opened a consulate right here in Metok. It's right down the street from the Last Atopak, as a matter of fact - and the consul himself is judging the mantees' lawsuit."
REQUEST REFUSED. PERSONAL MSG FOLLOWS.
JAKE, I CAN'T DO IT. POLICY DIRECTIVES ASIDE, I WON'T DO IT. THIS ONE IS YOURS. HANDLE IT WITHOUT TROOPS OR SHIPS. AS FOR THE SATELLITES I'LL SEE WHAT I CAN GET VIA ORDINARY COMMERCIAL CHANNELS.
The Arbiter of the Xarafeille Stream did not live in a hole in the ice, but divided his time between several grand palaces on the planet Newhome, or Xarafeille Prime. He was a young man, John Minder, the twenty-third to bear that name, and he had inherited his lofty position less than a decade earlier. His father, Rober Minder VIII, had died suddenly, leaving young Johnny quite unprepared.
Unbeknownst to John or Rober Minder, Johnny's older brother Shems (or James), who was an archaeologist, had removed seven ancient data-modules from their proper place, planning to have them translated into a current, readable data format. Unfortunately for Johnny, those modules had held the operating codes for the Arbiter's fleet of white starships and the location of the secret world where he recruited his poletzai troops, warlike old-humans who were not part of the polity of the Zarafeille Stream's thousands of worlds.
The situation arising on Glaice did not call for troops or warships. It was, as yet, an internal matter. The Arbiter only intervened where hostility between the races threatened to become race war, or where governments or corporations were attempting to build interstellar warships themselves. The Arbiter was not a ruler. He was as his title indicated, a court of last resort for disputes that proved irreconcilable, and in those cases his decisions were final.
The first Arbiter, also the first John Minder, had been a physicist living in a forgotten age long before the colonization of the Xarafeille Stream worlds. At that time there had been only seven human-colonized planets, each one chartered to an Earth-based megacorporation. A trip from Earth to even the nearest of them took years. A round trip took decades. There was little oversight from Earth - no government but corporate management, no human rights organizations, not even a chapter of the SPCA. There should have been - as John Minder found out.
Minder worked for one of those corporations, designing and testing communications subsystems for huge, slow ramscoop cargo ships that brought the bounty of colonial mines and plantations to a depleted Earth. When he realized that the troublesome anomaly in his current project indicated that his untamed electrons not only seemed to travel faster than light, but for all intents and purposes actually did so, he destroyed his notes, faked a nervous breakdown that shed doubt upon all the work he had done for the past year, and retired to "convalesce" on a retired insystem ship converted to a small orbital habitat.
If John Minder had not come from a "good family" - one with money, connections, and an old, respectable name - the subsequent history of a good-sized chunk of the galaxy might have taken a different - and more unpleasant - turn. Having control of substantial assets he was able to buy out the seven other residents of the small habitat and to initiate an extraordinary remodeling project - turning the hulk back into a working spaceship. If anyone seemed to question his eccentricity, he had only to give them a particularly silly smile that gently reminded them of his recent "breakdown."
There are no records of what materials John Minder used to "remodel" his spaceship home, or how he used them. He outsourced every vital component differently, never letting one supplier know what other sources he was using, and obscured his every trail with shell corporations, bearer-bond transactions, and other devices. Later, when he was no longer just John Minder, but was the first Arbiter, he arranged for even his faintest trails to be erased. No other living person knew what he had discovered or what he had built. When he moved his habitat out of Earth orbit into a long outward-spiraling one, no one paid much attention. When he and his vessel disappeared in the asteroid belt, few but the contractors who had supplied him mourned his apparent death.
John Minder was wholly unconcerned. He was much too busy testing the very first faster-than-light starship drive ever. It did not really "drive" a spaceship faster than light. Minder was not sure just what it did do, but after a few trials, he decided that it did not matter. When he went somewhere in the ship, it took a certain consistent amount of time to reach his destination, and as nearly as he could tell, exactly as much time elapsed where he was, where he had been, and where he was going. Thus two months after his last radio check-in with Sol Traffic Control, Minder was approaching the third planet of another star. Two months had elapsed on Earth, in the asteroid belt, on the far world that was his destination, and for Minder, somewhere in between
The place was called only TC3 in the records of the corporation that owned it, and as Minder soon discovered, it was home to several hundred thousand very miserable people. Or were they people at all? What did one call seven-foot-tall, white-furred, round-eared monsters with stubby tails? As the audio and video channels he monitored showed, the corporate types called them "teddy" if they were male, and "bitch" if female, and they only addressed them at all from the safe ends of heavy-duty cattle prods, from behind barred gates, or over an annunciator system. The managers lived in comfortable, expensive Earth- normal environments either in domes or in orbit. The teddies and their bitches lived out on the ice of TC3.
For a while, Minder himself was not convinced that teddies were human, but as TC3's surface was almost entirely ice and frigid ocean, he knew they could not have evolved there. And besides, they seemed hauntingly familiar, like short-snouted, two-legged polar bears. It took him a month to piece together what he could from the curt, businesslike radio traffic; they were humans, all right: men and women whose genes had been altered to allow them to survive on frigid, hostile, heavy-metal poisoned TC3, and they had been like that for almost a hundred years. Fish-oil-based lubricants that he had taken for granted at home, and a hundred other bulk products vital to Earth's economy and industry, came from TC3. Like everyone else, he had imagined huge factory-ships combing the bleak planet's oceans with immense nets. He had not envisioned furry white slaves living on ice floes and selling their meager catches for vitamin supplements to keep their infants alive.
Minder was enraged. Was this the cost of Earth's continuing prosperity? And this was only one "colony" planet. There were five others... Suppressing his rage, John Minder set a new course in his nav computers.
The next world he visited was populated by men and women of several disparate types. It took him a while, surreptitiously listening in on their corporate masters, to figure out just what they were - people with a few genes modified to be like those of semi-aquatic mammals. The ones who lived in the north and subsisted on fish and seaweed were not really seals, but they resembled them. In the temperate zones, they were more like otters. Further south, Minder thought, they looked like dugongs. They were, he only found out much later, all genetically similar, designed in corporate labs to function in any watery environment; over a lifetime or a generation, they could adapt to all sorts of conditions. His admiration for the cleverness of the genetic engineers who had designed them was exceeded only by his loathing for what had been done with them.
At that time he suppressed those feelings and programmed in a new course for yet another world. That one was hot and dry, and the corporate slaves that labored there looked just a bit like man-sized gerbils or African desert foxes. The next planet was even hotter, with yellow, sulfurous air, and he found himself unable to compare its denizens to any earthly creature. They were orange-skinned, tall and skinny, and the males' necks were draped with great wrinkly wattles that reddened with suffused blood when they became angry or aroused.
The last corporate world but one supported bearlike men who mined its mountains, hibernating through frigid winters (thus costing nothing to maintain them), and laboring through the only-slightly-less-harsh summer months for no more reward that the few offworld supplies and tools that they bought with their world's riches. Slipshod genetic engineering, by budget-conscious low-bidder laboratories resulted in a legacy of ills deemed unimportant by their corporate masters. One was a terrible susceptibility to the demidex mite, which caused mange, which spread rapidly in winter caves, and was always debilitating, often fatal. Another was a tendency for females to miscarry, especially during a first pregnancy. Minder's anger was like a burning sore; it would have cost almost nothing to fix those things in the labs; it would have cost only a little more to supply the creatures with cheap insecticide, after the fact, but the corporations did not do even that.
The final planet - which was so entirely earthlike that it brought tears of homesickness to his eyes - was inhabited by a race of squirrelish or ferretlike folk whose creation seemed to stem from no more than the flair and panache of their designers, for ordinary men adapted quite well to that world without any modifications at all. Yet ordinary men, he realized, could have rebelled - taken over a ship, and returned home or smuggled one of their kind on a returning ship to spread word of what was being done to them on their "colony" world. Those lithe, brown-furred, round-eared beings could not do so. They were '"aliens," and they did not even speak an earthly language, but one generated in their designers' computers to be incomprehensible even to linguists who did not have the proper "key." They could not even speak with their masters without the use of elaborate hand-carved "flutes" whose notes only computers could decipher.
The tale of John Minder's labors, of the years of preparation and the final uprisings that freed the slaves and bankrupted not only the corporations but the Earth itself was once common knowledge among the descendants of those slaves, but they were now mostly forgotten, as were the years of the diaspora when they fled first in starships rudely converted to the task, to regions of space unseen from Earth, the far stars behind the black veil of dust that hid the sparkling jewels of the Xarafeille Stream. The laboriously-developed agreement by which Minder and his descendants would arbitrate disputes between the races was not forgotten, nor was Minder's other task: to protect and control the "old-humans" who had rebelled with them, and who must not ever again be allowed to be more than fellow-men - never masters.
John Minder committed to one final obligation, one not without cost to him and his descendants. Under the careful eyes of a few trusted delegates from each race, the corporate gene-mechanics were given one last task: to modify the genes of John Minder himself so that his children would feel no driving ambition except - in an intellectual, academic way. The men who were to become the Arbiters of all human disputes could not be allowed to want the power they had, and could desire no satisfaction from possessing it. Better that they be dragged to their task than that they want it at all, let alone crave it. Most of the time, down through the generations of Arbiters, that worked just fine.
For young Johnny Minder the twenty-third, it did not work so well. Shems was his father's eldest son, and by rights he should have been Arbiter, not Johnny. But the old gene modification worked quite well and Shems, preferring the life of an obscure archaeologist to that of the most powerful man in the universe (and unable to really enjoy that), simply disappeared. If he had not taken the data modules with the code keys to the fleet and the location of the poletzai's world with him, it would not have bothered Johnny all that much.
"Is 'teddy' a bad word, Daddy?" asked Parissa Minder, the Arbiter's youngest daughter. "I have a brown furry teddy, and..."
"It's only bad when you call ikut or bors that," said her brother Rober, who was quite a bit older and impatient with the five-year-old's questions.
"Why is it bad then? Purt Bleddo is a bors, and he looks like my teddy, only black."
John Minder XXIII sighed. "Once there was a man named "Teddy," he said, "and someone gave him a toy made to look like an animal called a "bear." Everyone liked his toy, and soon children everywhere wanted bears like his. First they called them 'Teddy's bears,' then 'Teddy bears,' and finally just 'teddies.' Much later, when bad men made slaves of bors and ikut, they called them teddies because they did not consider them men like themselves. They did not value them any more than we value stuffed toys, and that was bad."
"I value my teddy!"
"Come on, P'riss!" said Rober.
"Shall I continue the story?" their father asked. "We can wait until later, if you're tired, Parissa."
"Go on, Dad," said Sarabet, the middle child. "I want to know how Tep Inutkak became involved with your problem - finding one of the data-crystals Uncle Shems took."
"Very well then. Tep, being a member of the Inutkak band, had heard all the old Inutkak stories from his father, just as you are hearing this one from me. Inutkak, in their own speech, means the 'World's Folk.' The Inutkak legends told of an age of heroes, the founders of the tribe..."
When a glacier recedes, it leaves behind more than rubble. Remember that when ice moves forward, it pushes or picks up and carries everything loose with it, but when it "moves" back, it merely melts, and everything within or upon it is dropped exactly where it was when forward movement ceased. And remember that glacial "ice" is above all dirty stuff, full of silt, sand, gravel, and boulders. It is, from the geologist's point of view, as much a "rock" as lava.
It should thus be no surprise that the creeks that run atop or within glaciers have sandy or gravelly beds much like those that run across more ordinary bedrock, that they run down to lakes or pools, and that those too have thick beds of sediment. When glaciers melt, the sedimentary topography becomes reversed: stream beds become eskers, winding ridges of gravel and water-worn rock; lakes, when the ice that supported their sediment-filled beds melts, become kames - mounds of neatly stratified sediment that are convex where once they were concave.
Fando Bumpher, PhD."We Inutkak didn't always ride the ice," Tep explained to Velanda, waving her notes from Professor Rakulit's class. He had not gone home, but instead they had gone to her room, where she had shown him the notes. "The hero Apootlak was the first to discover the migration routes, when the people were starving. He led the Inutkak on their first migration, and they taught the other bands how to fish in deep waters and to steer their ice floes through the tropical islands. This stuff Rakulit told you is keluk!" Keluk was one of the many ikut names for ice. It meant, roughly "wormholed, soft, rotten ice about to fall apart," or "end-of-the-journey ice," worthless, treacherous stuff to be abandoned as soon as practical.
Glacial Geomorphology Lecture Series, Metok University, Glaice, Xarafeille 132, 12030 R.L.
"He is a good scholar, Tep. He personally collected his carbon samples from the ikut cemeteries, and there is no question that the laboratory tests were done correctly."
"How did he get in our cemeteries? Only the shahm is allowed to go in them!"
"He had permission, and I believe your own shahm went with him."
"So much for his gratitude!" Tep snapped. "Now he wants to kick us all off Glaice!"
"He does not! He only published his findings for their historic importance. It is the Warm Stream throngmother who is twisting his work for her political ends."
"Why doesn't Rakulit talk to her, and change her mind?"
"What could he do? He only published the truth. He can't change that just because you want him too, can he?"
"But it isn't the truth! He says that the first ikut on Glaice, the non- migrating ones he calls the 'Ikut I culture,' all died out by 600 RL and the first mantees arrived to claim Glaice about fifty years later. But they didn't die out. They were us, the Inutkak!"
"The first clearly Inutkak burials are in a different cemetery, Tep, and they are dated much later, around 950 RL. If those old Ikut I culture graves were Inutkak folk also, then where are the graves of those who died between 595 and 950? That's three and a half centuries unaccounted for."
"But the sagas are quite clear! Those are our graves too. I don't know about any three century gap, but I know Rakulit is wrong."
"Well, you do have a point," Velanda admitted. "Many oral traditions are surprisingly accurate even over thousands of years. Archaeologists often study the sagas and epic tales of modern people to help them date ancient remains, with great success. But if your Inutkak tales are right, then the carbon fourteen dates are wrong, and that cannot be."
"Hah! Old Rakulit just won't admit his samples were bad!"
"Tep, would you like to talk with him? He has office hours tomorrow morning, I know. I can introduce you to him - if you promise to be polite, that is."
The Archaeology Department was in a five-story stone edifice fronted by a full-length columned porch. The spiral-fluted columns were in the style of some ancient temple or public building, and their capitals were decorated with broad carved leaves of a plant that had surely never grown on frigid Glaice, where even the "tropic" islands experienced frost at least once a year. Doctor Rakulit's office was on the fourth floor. Velanda led Tep down hallways lined with dusty showcases displaying arrays of ancient bones, pots, and other artifacts of ancient Glaice. He grabbed her arm and drew her close to one particular case.
"Look! Read that tag!" he demanded.
"'Ikut I Culture,'" she read, "'circa 450 RL, from the Tepkak Bay campsite.' So what, Tep? What am I supposed to be looking for?"
"See that slate snow-knife? That's just like the one my mother used to make snow shelters with when we were out hunting. Wouldn't the tools be different from ours if the Ikut I people were a different culture? Now look how different the snow-knives of these offworld ikut from Finnter are." He pulled her to another case displaying comparable winter-camp tools from the ikut folk who had settled Finnter, Xarafeille 1894. "See? That snow knife is shaped entirely differently."
"Come on. You can ask Professor Rakulit to explain it," she said, pulling him away from the showcases.
Professor Rakulit rose when they entered his office, but he did not come out from behind his desk. There was little room in the crowded chamber for him, all his stacks of books and papers, for a bors female who was half again his size and a belligerent-seeming ikut who was larger still. Tep eyed the mantee professor skeptically, as if anyone that small, brown, and slick-looking could not possibly be a professor at all. He had few dealings with mantees himself in recent years, and his impressions of them had been formed mostly by the other Inutkak, who thought of them as clever, hard-bargaining traders, and who did not hesitate to consider them as shifty types, at best. As a cub, he had spent a month on Seneratap, a mantee island, when contrary winds had forced the Inutkak to wait out the storm season there. He had made friends with a young mantee, Kurrolf, for a while - but even Kurrolf had, he remembered, gotten the best of him whenever they traded toys and trinkets, and his father had chastised him for that.
"How good of you to come, Sar Tep," Rakulit said, his voice sounding high and reedy to Tep, who was more accustomed to resonant ikut tones or to bellowing bors students' voices. "I, too, have a problem with just the things you have noted," he said when Tep had explained his objection to the C14 dates. "The Ikut I and Ikut II cultures seem remarkably similar, on the face of it. Nevertheless, the dates check out. I have re-run the tests several times.
"I have speculated that both waves of ikut immigration to Glaice were by folk from the same homeworld," he said, referring to the old snow-knife Tep had remarked upon. "Considering the early settlement date, twelve millennia ago, they may have both come directly from the first ikut homeworld itself."
Tep was somewhat disconcerted by the mantee's calm, didactic manner; after all, this was more than just archaeology! Peoples lives were at stake! Still, it was better this way. He had envisioned heated argument, which probably would have led nowhere. As long as mantees and ikut could discuss these things, perhaps the violence would not escalate.
"The oral histories of your Inutkak band are less easy to explain" Rakulit was saying. "It is true that the earliest tales describe ikut living a sedentary lifestyle dependent on the now-extinct atopak fish for sustenance. It is also true that they describe the disappearance of the atopak, probably due to overfishing, and the subsequent adoption of a migratory Inutkak lifestyle. I can only speculate that those tales too were brought from some previous Inutkak homeworld where conditions similar to Glaice obtained. It would not surprise me if even the noun atopak was an imported word that once meant only 'fish.'"
"That is all highly theoretical. The mantees - your people - are going to have us declared 'displaced persons' here! You must do something!" Tep's carefully-cultivated reserve was at an end.
The professor backed up a step, even though his desk was still between him and the upset ikut. "I never intended that!" he protested. "I do not approve at all. I have suggested to the planetary council that they review the original Settlement Charter and settle this for once and for all, but I have received no response from them. I have not been able to locate the Charter, or even a copy of it."
"What charter? I have seen no charter," said Tep.
"The Glaice Planetary Charter. Every colony planet in the Xarafeille Stream has such a charter, granted by the Arbiter and defining the initial ownership of land, the type of government that will pertain, and the rights of individuals and groups of all the races that settle on it. The Charter will show who settled Glaice, and when, and will clarify the rights of your people, for better or for worse. Perhaps you, as an interested party, will have better luck with the Charter than I have had."
A charter! Of course! That would settle the matter. Tep was inclined to depart immediately, to storm the rather ineffectual fortress that was Government House. It was right across the narrow avenue from the university buildings, visible from the window behind Rakulit's desk.
All streets in Metok were narrow, compressed beneath the shelter of the huge half- kilometer glass and metal domes that made the town livable for the offworlders who lived there. Tep and the other ikut who lived in Metok would have been more comfortable without the domes, which trapped far too much heat and humidity for their comfort. Mantees like Rakulit were indifferent; folk of their race were adapted to a wide range of conditions, and though winter outside Metok's domes would not be their first choice of conditions, they could endure it. Bors too could cope with winter in Glaice's northern latitudes; though the ikut' physical adaptation was considered to be ideal for arctic living and the bors to more temperate ones, bors on many worlds settled high mountainous lands that were actually chillier than the conditions Glaice's ikut endured. Of course bors' trogloditic lifestyle, which took full advantage of the planet's internal heat, mitigated the worst effects of Glaice's climates.
For members of other human subspecies, though, even the tempered conditions inside Metok's domes were intolerable, or barely tolerable. Few desert-adapted fards were seen on Glaice, and none had established permanent residency there. Of course the converse was also true; the fards on dry, desert planets like Fellenbrath (Xarafeille 271) or El Jab Al (Xarafeille 7) never saw an ikut either. There were a few wends on Glaice, because wends often congregated wherever record keepers and archivists were needed. Perhaps buried in the Arbiter's records on Newhome was an explanation for that - an Arbiter might have suggested that wends shared genetic codes with animals from forgotten Earth called "pack rats," which had exhibited similar proclivities, but the Arbiters had been quite content to leave explanations to the folk of each race themselves, who had created their own origin myths that had nothing to do with genetic manipulation, ancient corporations, or faster-than- light spaceship drives.
There were of course no tarbeks at all on Glaice. Sulfur-and-carrion-breathed tarbeks could not live in close quarters with members of any of the other races, anyway, and the most hardy of them would have sickened and died in the clammy frigidity of Metok; out on Glaice's unprotected surface, a tarbek would not have had time to sicken, but would have died in hours even in high summer.
There were a few representatives of the seventh race of man on Glaice; the Arbiter's consul was one of them: an old-human. Old-humans on Glaice all occupied official positions of one sort or another; some even taught at the university. On most other worlds, a preponderance of old-humans were seminomadic or lived in slums or ghettos on the peripheries of cities. On Glaice, there was no place in the natural environment for fragile, furless nomads, so the only old-humans there had come because they needed jobs. When they retired, they usually did so offworld. An Arbiter, reviewing his ancient history files, might have likened their position to the Jews or Gypsies of lost Earth, and though few men still knew the real origins of the races, an almost-instinctive distrust of old-humans still lingered.
Tep Inutkak did not immediately leave Professor Rakulit's office to cross the narrow street to Government House. "Wait! I must show you the lab tests and the carbon fourteen dates first." Tep did not understand why the professor thought that necessary, but he was understandably curious. Rakulit showed him not only the samples and the records of their provenance, and the test procedures themselves, but he also demonstrated how the "raw" radiocarbon dates were cross checked against other sources.
Variations in solar output caused variations in C14 production; those variations could be "read" indirectly in drill cores taken from the polar ice caps. Slices of trees that grew in layers year after year had been analyzed and the exact dates each tree-ring represented was known. Those rings were distinguishable because each year's combination of sun, rainfall, and temperature was different, and the rings varied in distinguishable patterns. Actual carbon samples of individual growth layers had been dated in the lab, providing an accurate correlation for the field-samples' dates.
Rakulit held nothing back. Here were samples of mussel shell that had been dated to 1440 R.L., and bone collagen (not soluble in soil water, as was mussel shell) from the same location, cated at 980 R.L. "I have allowed for the solution of carbon from the shells and the redeposition of younger carbon, and treat all mussel-shell dates as 'no younger than' the recorded date."
He showed Tep carefully-made drawings of his diggings. Each pit had been staked out and measured, then excavated two inches at a time. When a layer was removed, the surface was scraped clean and every artifact, every shift in soil coloration, was drawn on gridded paper, photographed, and careful notes made. The charts were scanned into computer programs that could reconstruct the excavation's contents and stratigraphy in tow- or three- dimensional form. "This is a midden site on Paldernot Island," Rakulit said, keying his computer and bringing an illustration up on screen. "See hgow the layers are defined? First the topsoil, then the midden, which is mostly mussel-shells, then beneath that, more dark topsoil indicating that there was a break in the occupation site before the midden was made..."
"What is that stuff below?" asked Tep, pointing to the next level, which the computer represented as a not-quite-natural looking jumble.
"That is the detritus of a camp or village or an earlier time. It was burned to the ground. I think it is the oldest mantee site anywhere. I wish I knew just how old..."
"You have dates on it, don't you? Isn't a lot of that dark stuff charcoal from the burning?"
"Alas! I am sorry. That matreial was contaminated by a spillage of fish-oil in transit here. I suppose I should go back and dig another pit someday, but the times are unsettled, and..."
"Was there evidence of violence in the burning?" Tep asked, suddenly intense.
"Funny you should mention that," Rakulit said, eying Tep curiously. "There was a mantee skeleton in that level. It was not laid out neatly as for burial, but was merely sprawled under the rubble of the hut, that had burned over it. But what made you suspect it?"
"The Inutkak Cantones - our oral history - tell of a battle on Paldernot Island long ago, before there were any treaties between our peoples. It would be interesting to establish an accurate date for that - if your site is indeed where the battle took place."
"Indeed," Rakulit agreed. "Perhaps when all this other unpleasantness is over, we can go there together..."
Treating Tep as he would treat another archaeologist, Rakulit showed him how every possible source of error had been accounted for. Tep had enough background in chemistry and physics to understand what he was shown, and before he left the professor's lab, he was convinced that no error of methodology had been made. Rakulit was sincere in his belief in the dates. Still, Tep was irrationally unconvinced that the carbon dates were right and the sagas wrong. Perhaps the Settlement Charter would clarify things for him.
"Are you coming, Velanda? We must hurry, before the government workers take their noon break." She followed him out, giving her professor a brief nod.
"Are you convinced now?" she asked him as they waited to cross the busy street - it was crowded with pedestrians, mostly office and retail workers hurrying to get to the restaurants before the noon rush. Few vehicles were allowed beneath Metok's crowded domes.
"I am convinced that the mantee believes his own data. I am not convinced that Apootlak the Bold never lived, or that he did so on some other planet."
"Why does a long-dead hero mean so much to you, Tep?"
"He is Apootlak! He is the one who saved my people from starving when the atopak stopped coming! He is every young ikut's idol - and besides, he is my ancestor. How can I deny him his due?"
His explanation did not help Velanda to believe in Tep's cause. Quite the contrary, she became convinced that his determination was less firmly based in his convictions about oral traditions and their accuracy than in childish emotion. She did not have a chance to say so before they arrived at the door of Government House.
A wendish receptionist directed them to an elevator. "The old records vaults are all in the second basement level," she said. "Push the button marked 'two down.'" The elevator rattled and groaned. It was an open-cage type, very old, and Tep could see the bottom of the shaft through the floor's grating - a dark rectangle spotted with light patches of paper and other trash that had gathered there. Tep did not think the paper would cushion their fall much if his massive ikut body proved too heavy for the thin cables that hummed above his head.
At last the short, tense descent was finished. The cage door rattled open. "I want to see the Settlement Charter," Tep stated to the scruffy bors clerk who sat behind a too-small desk in the hallway. He noted with distaste that the bors's black fur looked oily, and bits of dust clung to it. Did bors bathe? Velanda did not seem dirty.
"You and every other ikut - and mantee - on the planet," said the bors. "I would like to see it too."
"What do you mean? Show it to me!"
"Give me a month off from my job, and money to live on, and I will go look for it. I will start my search by asking your ikut shahms what they did with it."
"It is not here?" Tep began to understand the wend's sarcasm. "It should be here!" he insisted. "It is too important to lose."
"Tell that to your shahm, then. I can show you who took it - though I do not think that will help you much."
"I do not understand. Show me. I will let him know what I think!"
The wend said "Follow me." He led them down a corridor to a heavy metal door, which he proceeded to open.
"He is in here?"
"No one is in here. The sign-out records are in here. See? There is the book showing who took the Charter. It is still out on the table, because the last one of you did not put it back when you left."
"The last one of me? You mean an Inutkak?"
"He was a mantee, I think. A professor from across the street."
"Rakulit? Professor Rakulit?" Tep glanced at Velanda, who shrugged. She knew what he was thinking: that the professor was indeed allied with the mantees who wanted to have the ikut disenfranchised, but she did not say anything. Rakulit never said he had not looked for the charter himself. He had only spoken of the Planetary Council's intransigence.
"There," said the clerk. "You see? It was signed out by whoever that squiggle represents. That is all I know - and that it was a long time ago."
"Is that Fedary 1, 8871 RL?" asked Tep, peering at the faded ink. "That is three thousand years ago! Are you saying the Planetary Charter has been missing for three thousand years?"
"I am saying nothing of the sort. I am merely showing the sign-out book to you. If I were to say anything at all, it would be that it looks more like Fedary 18 of the year 871 RL to me, and that was not three but eleven thousand years ago. I might say also that this is not the original book, but one of many successive copies made every five hundred years or so."
"Then how can I find the charter?"
"I do not know. I know what I would do. I told you already. If you want to hire me, now... I need a vacation from this place."
"You can do nothing I cannot do," Tep snarled. "Now what does that squiggle mean?"
"I can find out for you. I will start by tracing it, and showing my copy to an ikut shahm."
"I will do that! Where is paper to copy it?"
"Right here," said the bors, waving his clipboard. "I thought you might want it." He proffered a thin, beige sheet.
"It looks like a drawing of many small bugs riding a fish," Tep commented as he carefully traced the tiny icon. "I wonder what the cone and squiggle in the background is - a volcano?"
"I thought it looked like a frankowski saw myself," said the bors. "The little bumps look like saw teeth."
"What is a frankowski saw?"
"A great chain saw for cutting rock. It is a classic machine of great antiquity. We bors use them for tunneling in our mountain warrens. I thought the cone might be a heap of ore waiting to be trucked to the smelter, which is represented by the squiggle of smoke above and behind it."
"Fah!" Tep expostulated. "Why would someone draw that?"
"I have no idea. You are probably right, though. It is most likely the name-sign of an illiterate ikut. We bors have always been an educated folk, and one of us would have signed our name."
"Fah!" said Tep again, folding his completed tracing and slipping it into a pocket of his smock. On Glaice, only old-humans wore clothing for warmth; the furred races wore belts, smocks, and vests only for the convenience of belt-packs and pockets. "I will ask someone who may know what this means," he said, motioning for Velanda to follow him.
"Who will you show it to?" she asked in the elevator.
"The snotty bors seemed to think it was an ikut sign," Tep replied. "I will ask my shahm."
"But how? Where will you find him?"
"It is almost the winter solstice. The Inutkak are now arriving in winter camp. I will take the train."
"Oh, can I go too? It is a long trip, and we will pass right by Black Peak, my home. We can stay there one night and dine with my family."
Tep thought that was a fine idea. He would check out a portable computer from the dormitory's concierge, download his files, and he and Velanda could work on his paper en route. There was no air travel on Glaice, because atmospheric craft had proven to disrupt the breeding patterns of waterfowl vital to mantee sustenance and prized by bors and ikut as well. There were the orbital shuttles, of course, but they did not go where Tep wanted to go. So it was the train or nothing. Tep did not like sleeping on the train, which rocked and swayed, though he had done so the last two times he had visited his band when they were camped by the winter ice south of Black Peak. The first time had been six years before, when the Inutkak had arrived at the end of their migration cycle. That time, Tep had wanted to stay with them. He had been in Metok for three years, and had longed for the warmth and sociability of the Inutkak. The second time, three years ago, he had only gone because it was his duty to do so. By then he had become well adapted to city life, and he hardly remembered most of his childhood friends. Still, the band paid his board and his university tuition, in anticipation of some future day when he, Tep, would become shahm of the Inutkak band; it would not have done for him to have let them fear that he was becoming disloyal.
The robed, hooded figure stepped gingerly down the icy gangplank. Rough swells slapped the high-prowed aluminum boat and the floe ice, making the railed walkway seesaw. From beneath the hem of the person's heavy, full-length garment poeeped the toes of incongruous shoes. Sandals might have looked appropriate, but not cleated, insulated boots with "THERM-O-PAK?" emblazoned in orange around the perimeter of the black soles.
"Ah, well," muttered the bors pilot, while struggling to keep the boat steady with a judicious balance of engine and rudder, "the real reason for the robe isn't to make him look like some ancient wizard, anyway." Indeed it was not. Such robes were equipped with an efficient filtration system because - as everyone knew, whether it was true or not - those hideous-looking, hairless old-humans reeked.
The ice was slick, its surface mented by the hot equatorial sun. The air was already above freezing, and it was not yet noon. The hem of the old-human's robe was soon wet at the hem. A huge ikut male led him to the place where the atrocity had taken place, and pointed at the white bundles of fur lined up there. "Eight of them, Consul," the Ketrap band's shahm growled with as much grief as anger. "Eight little ones."
"What killed them?" The consul saw hardly any blood, except a drop or two on a few tiny faces.
"Poknat ribs, tied with strips of meat," the ikut said - and then had to explain further, though it was obviously difficult for him to speak of it. The young ikuts, playing by the edge of the floe, must have been delighted when someone threw a dozen gulp- sized balls of fresh meat up onto the ice. They had swallowed the treats, and within minutes their digestive juices began working on the raw meat. The springy, sharpened and pointed strips of bone uncoiled suddenly, and slashed the little one's stomachs from the inside. They had not died quickly, but none of them lasted long enough to get help, or to tell who had given them the treats.
"There is not much I can do," said the Arbiter's consul, "unless you want me to take them to Metok for autopsies..."
"We will take care of our own!" snapped the shahm. "We know who did this." The way he said it, the consul was convinced that he meant "We will avenge our own."
"This is how it begins," mused the consul sadly, when he was again back on board the weather station's powerboat. The population of Glaice was widely scattered, and everyone but the bors in their mountain cave cities migrated. Word travelled slowly, but it got around. The dead ikut cubs weren't the last casualties he feared he was going to see. Thank the stars the news services shunned cold Glaice, and had only a few stringers in Metok. He would have hated to see holos of those dead cubs sent out, to be plastered across holoscreens on a thousand worlds. The way his boss kept a lid on news from Glaice, the consul thought John Minder would have liked that even less.
Copyright 1996-2009, L. Warren Douglas Version 1.3, April 2009
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