This is the Journal of Jarn, a R'il'nian who (in my science fiction universe) was stranded on Earth roughly 125,000 years ago during the next to last (counting the one we're in as the last) interglacial. The Journal was translated and became the original Holy Book for a number of planets later occupied by Jarn's hybrid descendants. (We are among those hybrid descendants, the offspring of those who did not follow Jarn back to space.) The first bit is from a book I may finish writing someday about the initial Kharfun epdemic; the rest is excerpts from Jarn's Journal. I'm blogging a bit at a time, so this will be updated regularly.
"Your Galactica needs practice, Faelle. Would it help if you had some chips in Galactica, until we get home? We still have a couple of fivedays' travel."
For some reason the scene with Uncle Toklas came again to her mind. "You said our Book of Jarn was based on your history," she said slowly. "Would you have anything on that?"
"His Journal, of course," Nolan replied. "We've got a Galactica translation along, I think, read by one of our better speakers. And a print version in Galactica and a couple of commentaries as well, but I think you might like to hear and read a translation of Jarn's own words. It's rather blunt in places; enough to scandalize the priests on some planets into expurgating their Holy Book." He frowned as he thought. "I think your Book of Jarn has quite a few of the more explicit bits cut out. But Jarn was simply recording what happened to him. You won't be bothered by that?"
"Not by something that really happened. And Jarn's my ancestor, isn't that right? There's a lot of prohibitions that don't hold with another Family member."
"I'll get you the chips," Celine said. "Everyone through eating? I'll put what's left into the recycler, and we'll give you a quick tour of the ship."
I am alive, which still astonishes me. I do not know enough about this planet yet to have more than a rough idea of its year length, but no doubt I will find out soon enough. If I ever get back to where designing another starship is possible, I will design it with a few more of the standard safety features. Like the block against exiting a jump point too close to a gravity well.
If by any chance I do not get back home, and this record does, perhaps I should introduce myself. I am Jarn, a R'il'nian and a designer of starships. Not, I regret to say, as good a designer as I thought, or my third ship would be around me instead of lying in pieces on the bottom of one of this planet's oceans. Indeed, it all happened so fast I am still somewhat confused, but I will try to state briefly what happened.
I was aiming for the vicinity of a G-type sun, and I exited the jump-point too close to the third planet's atmosphere, and heading into it. All I could do was maneuver into a braking orbit and try to kill enough energy that a water landing wouldn't vaporize the ship. No, I could not have teleported to safety. I never was any good at interstellar teleports, or at going someplace I hadn't been before. That's why I went into starship design.
Anyway, not only does the planet have lots of water, it also has land areas with large stretches of chlorophyll green. A huge one stretches almost halfway around the planet in the northern hemisphere, with an extension into the southern hemisphere at its trailing end, and a pair on the other side of the planet together extend almost from pole to pole. It looked as if there was ice at both poles, though it could have been clouds, and the readouts as we got into the atmosphere indicated one part oxygen to four of nitrogen. All this strongly suggested life, and it would be unethical in the extreme to let the ship destroy any more of that life than I could help.
I managed to trigger the escape capsule a minute or so before impact, which was toward the leading edge of the broadly serpentine north-south ocean, and flew it, with some difficulty, to the trailing edge of the southern extension of the larger land mass, where I am now recording this. I suppose it was a good landing, since I am still alive and sound, if shaken, but the capsule will never again be anything more than a rather crude shelter.
There is a small stream nearby, and an abundance of fibrous-looking vegetation which is being eaten by a wide variety of animals, including what appear to be perfectly good mammals. I don't have and probably never will have the equipment to test whether their proteins are compatible with my own, but a fish from the stream was tasty enough. The stream water seems reasonably pure, though the larger water areas taste salty and are probably too mineral-rich to drink on a regular basis. The atmospheric oxygen content is neither so high as to allow uncontrolled wildfires nor so low as to give me any problem in breathing, and so far there are no obvious atmospheric toxins. So if I don't swell up and die tonight from the fish, it looks as if I have the basic requirements for staying alive.
I didn't manage to get a measurement of axial tilt, so I have no idea what the weather is likely to be or what season I am in. A lot of the vegetation looks desiccated, which may indicate that I arrived during a seasonal dry period, in which case I may need shelter when it starts to rain again. Or I may have landed in an area entering a long drought. I hope the stream does not dry up completely.
I suppose I should count myself lucky, but I have no idea of what I can do beyond keeping myself alive.
I think I have stopped shaking enough to use the recorder.
First, a note to myself. Emergency kits should include warnoffs. Some of the mammals here think they are going to eat me!
I can handle the situation as long as I am aware of the attack, of course. Just implant in the predator's mind that I am not prey. But these predators, while not sentient, are in some ways quite intelligent. The one that almost got me yesterday evening was an ambush predator. Sheer luck that I heard it leap and was fast enough to reach its mind before it reached me.
This morning I saw another type of predator. This type hunts in packs, and runs its prey to exhaustion before closing in for the kill. I hope they are also territorial, in which case I can reach the minds of the local pack members and let them know that I am not prey. I think.
These pack hunters are a peculiar mottling of black, tan and white, no two alike. They have four limbs, like every other mammal I have seen here. They hunt in rather large packs, and once they have selected a victim, nothing seems to stop them. They seem to rely on sheer persistence rather than speed. They are not terribly large, but I would not want to face even one without a stunner. Which I have — I did remember to put that in the emergency kit!
The one last night was a lot faster — at least over short distances — and a lot larger. I did not get as good a look, but I think it was close to my weight, and spotted. One of the things I was able to skim from its mind was climbing trees to keep its kills away from other carnivores. Other carnivores? I haven't seen them yet, but at least one seems to be a group hunter related to but larger than the one that attacked me.
I am clearly going to have to modify the emergency capsule to provide shelter from predators as well as weather. I wonder if they fear fire? Many non-sentient animals do, and cooking would definitely widen the variety of possible foods. Especially plant foods.
At least the fish appear to be nutritious, so probably the amino acids here are left-handed. I shall have to try some of the animals the predators regard as prey. I am not sure of using the stunner too much, though — I don't have that many charges for it.
A fiveday has passed, and I am still alive. Life here almost certainly uses left-handed proteins, which is good news for me as I have only a few months' worth of provisions with me. This means I must learn to live off the land.
I have been watching what the local herbivores eat and sampling it, but the leaves and the fibrous ground cover have too much cellulose for me to digest. Fruiting bodies and seeds are much more digestible, and in some cases even palatable, but they have to be sampled with caution — some are toxic. There are a number of local herbivores probably a good deal better to eat than the vegetation they thrive on, but I cannot bring myself to call them to me to kill them. If I see one injured or in pain I would have no such scruples, but the local predators generally kill the weaklings.
Oh yes, the predators. I've seen several more. They are all afraid of fire, and I get the distinct impression some have seen it in a context other than wildfires. There are several of the ambush predators: a yellow-coated variety that weighs a good deal more than I do and hunts in groups; the spotted one I mentioned before, and a smaller, incredibly fast spotted one that seems unable to climb trees. There is a group that makes a weird noise and has a rather hunch-backed silhouette. Others resemble the pack hunters but appear solitary. Like most predators, they are perfectly willing to scavenge each others' kills.
I hope that the modifications I made to the emergency capsule are sufficient to keep them away while I sleep!
The herbivores are even more varied. Many have horns on their heads, ranging from simple knobs to daunting scimitars. These all feed on the fibrous stuff. There are some huge ones that I thought at first sight had tails at both ends. At least two varieties occur in large herds. One is horned and I think migratory. The other is one of the few animals I have seen without horns, but they have a very distinctive coat — black and white striped.
What really has my attention is that almost all of these animals are frightened of my presence. Not that I seem strange to them, but as if I am a known predator. Could there be a species here superficially similar to my own? If so, they are rare in this area.
There are times when I slap myself on the head and wonder how I could have been so stupid. Not often twice in the same day, as was the case today.
I have been worried about the local predators, with no warnoff. All the while, I have of course been recording this on the computer in the emergency capsule. Today it occurred to me to check out what else was in the computer programming.
There is a library. With detailed information on how a warnoff is made. My first reaction was "wonderful — if I could get the parts." Then it occurred to me to check whether the library had an inventory of what was in the emergency capsule.
It does. And the supplies include a limited number of all-purpose chips that can be programmed in a variety of ways. Including those necessary to produce a warnoff.
It may take some tuning, but it seems I shall soon have some defense against being eaten.
You — whoever you are that may be reading this — have no idea what a relief it was to know that I would soon have the basic protection I have been accustomed to since infancy. More than just accustomed to — it had honestly never occurred to me that anything would want to eat me.
All afternoon I labored, thinking that now I could start exploring a little farther from the capsule. Not too far; the capsule still provides protection while I sleep. Then, shortly before I finished the first warnoff, I had another "duh" moment. I can teleport. Not to somewhere I have never been, of course, but as long as I am eating regularly, I can teleport back to the capsule. So I can travel a full day's distance from the capsule and still have its safety at night. Furthermore, there is nothing to stop me from memorizing the last place I reach in the evening and teleporting to that place the following morning, to continue my exploration. Why, I could cover the whole continent!
It is growing dark, and while the surviving solar cells of the capsule keep the computer going, I do not wish to use them more than necessary. Tonight I shall try to remember all I can of what I saw of this landmass as I crashed. I think the ocean was to the west, and I should try first to find it. Then work along its shores, find a river, and follow it inland. Perhaps I can find the reason the local herbivores seem to regard me as a predator.
Whatever possessed me to think I could walk all over the continent in ship shoes?
It was no real problem to make a general warnoff. I spent a day building it, and another day or two testing it on the predators around the capsule.
None of these predators have names in R'il'nian, so I've made up some. "Felines" are the ambush hunters. The one that almost got me that first night I'm calling a leopard. It's a solitary hunter. The big yellow one that hunts in family groups is a lion, and the small fast one is a cheetah.
Then there are the canines, which have far more endurance than the felines but are generally not as fast sprinters. The ones I saw first, the wild dogs, hunt in large packs and basically run their prey down. The hunt prey larger than themselves. They are round eared, like the felines. There is also a pointed-eared variety, which hunts alone or in pairs, and generally hunts smaller prey. Those I call jackals.
Finally, the hunch-backed creatures, which turned out to have extraordinarily strong jaws — real bone-crushers. Those I call hyenas.
The warnoff, thank goodness, now works on all of them, so yesterday I decided to start exploring.
Did I mention how careful I was to exercise before and during the test voyage? Not careful enough, it seems! My legs were aching within a couple of hours, and by the time I found I had to wade across a creek, I was so tired I fell climbing up the far bank. I was hot enough by then the soaking was welcome, but my shoes stiffened as they dried. Next thing I knew my feet were in agony. I gritted my teeth and kept going, but when I stopped to eat the lunch I'd brought along, I pulled the stiffened shoes off and found my feet were bleeding.
I teleported back to the capsule, but I'd made only about a third of the distance I'd planned on. This exploring is going to be much slower than I thought. And I'm going to have to work out better foot coverings.
How do you feed an infant predator?
Maybe I'd better back up a little.
My exploration is proceeding very slowly — teleport to a place I've been before and walk for an hour or two until my feet get sore, and then teleport back to the capsule. No rain at all in the month and a half I've been here. I hope this is just a dry season, rather than the start of a drought. The stream seems to be perennial — I hope. At least there is no shortage of either water or fish, but from the increased crowding of the herbivores along its bank and my own observations, this is the only water around. There is ground water—I can perceive it—and if need be I can bore a well telekinetically.
Where there are herbivores crowded together there will be predators. It is not the season for births—that much is obvious—so I was a little surprised to see one of the smaller social predators apparently nursing young. At any rate her breasts were enlarged enough to slow her down, and one of the striped herbivores kicked her head in.
She seemed low ranking and almost fearful of the others, which puzzled me. I opened my mind, and sent out thoughts of milk—and got an answer. A tiny cub, its eyes barely open, with two others, dead of starvation. Their mother must have been desperate for food.
Admit it—I'm lonely. And if I can raise the cub, using my telepathy to convince her I'm her mother, she'd be a companion. Something to talk to, even if she can't talk back.
So how am I going to feed Patches?
If other animals had young, I could milk one easily enough—but most of the young animals, at least of the species I've seen, have been weaned. I'm doing quite nicely on fish and the occasional small mammal, along with a certain amount of scavenging (the warnoff is very handy for that) and a few seeds and fruits. So I've been trying to process fish and meat into a slurry she can swallow. She's hungry enough to swallow anything.
I wonder if the computer files have any information that would help me?
When I decided to rescue Patches, I thought my main problem was going to be finding a substitute for her mother's milk. Well, I have learned a few things since then.
Puppies are destructive. And messy. Their teeth are unbelievably sharp. They are incredibly good about getting around, over or through things I think will be barriers. And they are absolutely adorable.
Patches not only listens to me (though she clearly responds more to my tone of voice than to what I am saying) she regards me as her pack, and since she has leaned to walk, does her best to follow me everywhere I go. My explorations have been severely curtailed, as she cannot quite keep up with me. I can teleport her along, and since the first time or two she accepts it as a normal part of life. But I either have to carry her (which she begins to resent very quickly) or pause often to let her nap and explore.
Her legs are beginning to lengthen. Judging from what I have seen of adults of her species she will be quite able to keep up with me when she is a little older, so I have decided to concentrate on strengthening the mental bond between us. She does not think in what I would consider an organized matter, but her senses are superb, and she is quite happy to share them with me. Already she has begun to help me find water and small game on our exploration trips.
Water. The stream I am camped by is becoming narrower. Not a drop of rain has fallen since I came here. Animals are rarer, and tend to cluster more and more around the stream banks — and so do the predators. Is this a normal dry season, or the beginning of a drought?
I think it is going to rain.
The sun, which at first rose and set somewhat to the north, is moving farther south every day. Clouds are beginning to appear on the northern horizon, a little higher in the sky each day, and there is lightning in those clouds at night.. The stream is barely a trickle, but as I study my surroundings more carefully, I can see that the ground on which the capsule rests has signs of flooding that are not all that old. I teleported as far to the north as I have explored, and found the streams rising and the ground wet.
The capsule was actually getting crowded, so I have built a new and larger shelter on a rise in the ground that from its shape is an island during the wet season. I've been teleporting everything I need — the computer, what little clothing I have left, food preparation equipment, the deceleration couch I've been sleeping in — to the new shelter. I considered moving the capsule itself, rather than detaching the solar panels and hooking everything up at the new site, but I decided it made more sense to salvage everything I could use from it. Including much of the skin and framing members. A shelter doesn't need to be engineered to keep its occupant alive during space maneuvers and re-entry, so the capsule materials can be used to build a much larger shelter.
Patches is proving useful as well as entertaining. She is totally uninterested in her own kind, but is beginning to treat me as a pack member. She trails small animals, and turns them back toward me. Since it looks like I'm going to be staying here and will need food, her hunting skills may prove useful. Of course she is not full-grown yet, but at least she is beginning to look more like her wild cousins.
I haven't done much exploring lately; I've been too busy preparing for the rainy season. When I have time to start again, though, Patches will probably be more fitted for the hours of walking than am I. I am glad I decided to rescue her. But I wish I had someone with me who could talk back.
Patches has found a footprint.
Not an animal footprint, but one that looks remarkably like a R'il'nian footprint. Not only that; Patches thought it smelled vaguely like my footprint.
At first I thought it was my own, but I normally use foot coverings. The grass, as I've taken to calling the fibrous stuff on the ground, can be walked on now that the new growth is green and relatively soft, but it hides altogether too many things that are unpleasant to step on.
Besides, this footprint is smaller than mine, and I don't think I've been in this area before. Could a ship of my people have arrived? But they'd not likely be barefoot ....
I opened my shields and broadcast my location and my need for help, but there was no response. Yet the footprint, in damp soil deposited by a creek that is receding as the rains weaken, looks fresh.
Could Patches track them?
We had to work together, as the prints led across several swollen creeks. I kept casting ahead with my mind, and froze as I encountered something that seemed to the thinking in symbols. Not R'il'nian, but could there be a different form of sentient life on this planet? One that leaves tracks like mine?
I've worried about survival ever since I crashed here. I wasn't expecting major moral issues.
By definition a creature which is aware of itself as separate from its surroundings, recognizes its own mortality, and communicates with others of its species, is sentient.
Some of the creatures here — those I have called apes and elephants — are close enough that I am careful to avoid them — they might someday evolve into sentient beings, and under normal circumstances I would put a warnoff in orbit around the planet, to indicate that they should not be interfered with.
These are not normal circumstances.
This new species ....
We of the R'il'nai, like all star-faring species, abide by the Covenant. A species must attain star flight on its own. Many destroy themselves in the process, and it is better that they destroy themselves than destroy others. The development of star flight, after all, requires that a species go through stages when self-destruction is possible, or even likely if a species is warlike. Such warlike species are best planet-bound.
But I have seen individuals of the species that leaves footprints like mine, and even probed them, very carefully.
They are sentient.
They look remarkably like R'il'nians, except that they are not reliably telepathic.
Even their coloring is not outside the range I am used to, though the distribution of hair is a little different.
They live partly on plant foods, which they obtain and process with primitive tools, and partly on animals, both scavenged and run down. Like Patches, they show remarkable endurance, but even better cooperation and planning.
I could contact them. I could communicate with them. I need not be alone.
The Covenant forbids it.
But I can observe them.
They are nomadic, moving from part to part of their range as the animals they hunt move. I'm fairly sure they are related to the great apes, though they are far more intelligent and communicate with sounds. Not R'il'nian, of course, but I have learned a few words of their speech by listening, and I think it is advanced enough to transmit surprisingly sophisticated concepts. Certainly they teach their young to make weapons and other tools, and it is true teaching, not merely allowing the young to watch.
I have stayed hidden, of course, and nudged them away mentally when they came too close, but they have found my tracks at times, and been very puzzled by them. Especially if Patches is with me. I think they are preparing to leave, following the herds. I find myself wondering if I could learn their language ....
NO! I cannot interfere with their evolution, however much I long to speak with them.
But I will be very lonely, when they have gone.
They have left, taking with them the skins they used to cover their shelters, their weapons, the gourds they use to carry water and some foods, and everything else they can carry on their backs. I would be lonely, had they not left me with a dilemma — for they are not all gone. One was left behind.
She is a young female, injured by a leopard several fivedays ago. There has been considerable argument in the group over the last few days, and I think the gist of the disagreement was the fact that they could no longer gather enough food to survive here, but she could not be moved. They have left her with skins to cover her in a small hut surrounded by thorns. Surely they do not expect she can survive on her own! Perhaps they plan to come back for her? But she and her shelter were the only things left! If they had planned to come back, surely they would not have so loaded themselves!
I cannot interfere.
If I do not interfere, she will surely die. Her leg is broken, a compound fracture they have no idea how to treat, and the leg is mangled as well.
I have enough medical knowledge to treat her, though I am far from being a Healer. I could bring her water to ease the thirst I cannot help feeling.
I cannot interfere!
I can't stand it any more! I should not interfere—but how can it be right to abandon a child to such pain and thirst? How can I have the right to stay aloof while she is dying, and I could save her?
There are problems quite aside from the ethical ones. It is unlikely that I can teleport her from where she is to my shelter — it is at least a five-day journey, walking. She certainly cannot walk that far, nor do I trust myself to build nightly camps where she would be safe.
I find myself quite unable to think of her as another species. Perhaps I could go to her, stay there until the infection is gone and the leg properly set? The thorns around her hut would be some protection, and there is no reason I could not take the warnoff. That, together with the thorns, should make the hut safe enough.
What am I thinking? I cannot interfere.
I find that while I was recording my body was gathering food, water and the crude blankets I have made, and packing the medical kit. I cannot shut out the child's thirst, pain and despair. It seems my decision is made.
I think she will live.
I had some real worries as to whether the antibiotics I brought, which work well on my own species, would work on this alien child, but already her fever is reduced. Anesthetics were not among my supplies, but I managed to straighten and set the bone while she was still unconscious, and I believe the swelling and inflammation is down a little today.
I stayed with her last night, in the hut where her fellow tribesmen left her. I think the warnoff did more than the thorns to keep us safe, and I was reluctant to teleport back to my own shelter and trust to the thorns alone to protect her.
I could treat her much more easily back at my own shelter. Certainly I would be far more comfortable! I actually had to sleep—or rather try to sleep—on the ground last night! And the insects! Luckily I had the warnoff set to repel insects from actually biting, but with the clearer light this morning, I found that it did not stop them from laying eggs — the child's leg was crawling with maggots before I cleaned it out yesterday, and I found flies trying to lay their eggs in the wound when I rechecked it this morning!
And the smells! There is no way to clean the hut at this point, and the miasma of rotting flesh, sickness and bodily waste almost overcomes me. She would be much better off at my shelter, where I could keep her clean.
I wish I could teleport her there, but one of the first things I learned is that teleporting another sentient being, without that being's full understanding and cooperation, can produce permanent mental trauma in the teleportee.
She is still unconscious.
Could I teleport her in that state?
Never again will I try to teleport an unconscious sentient who does not know and trust me!
Oh, it worked. She is in my shelter. But it also produced a night and a day of the most violent nightmares it has ever been my misfortune to experience! And experience them I did—she has no idea of how to shield her emotional broadcasts, and she does broadcast. Loudly.
At the moment, I am a good half hour's walk from the shelter. Distance does help, a little. Patches is very puzzled, though willing to accept that the child is to be guarded, not regarded as food.
Physically, she is doing well. I can shield, though not without losing my ability to spot predators approaching, and I have been shielding and checking her regularly. She is not fevered, and aside from the occasional flailing about from the nightmares, she seems to be resting quietly. If only her mind were as quiet!
I suppose I had better get back to the shelter. The sun will be setting soon, though I doubt I will get much more sleep than last night. I made her a bed of sorts, with some of the insulation from the ship, and luckily it is on the floor. She may roll away from the padding, but at least there is nothing for her to fall off of.
I wonder what she will think when she does wake up? She looks very much like a young R'il'nian, but will she see me as being of her own species? Will she think I am merely from another tribe? Or do they have tribes? If they do, are the relations between them friendly? They must be!
They must mate with non-relatives, but in some animals one sex disperses and finds a new group.
Will she trust me enough to let me help her?
What have I done?
It's a good thing I have spied on the sentients enough to have learned a little of their language, as the child seems unable to learn mine. Hers is a pretty simple one: specific sounds for specific objects, more specific sounds for specific actions, various other sounds that describe objects and actions. R'il'nian might have been that simple, early in our evolution, but her brain does not seem wired to understand R'il'nian as it exists today.
They do have individual names, and her only difficulty in understanding me when I tapped my chest and repeated "Jarn" seemed to be that the particular sound meant nothing to her. Her own name is also the sound her people use to designate a small bird, dull colored but a beautiful singer. I find myself thinking of her as "Songbird."
In some ways she is remarkably quick. She rapidly grasped that I did not understand her language very well and set about teaching it to me, and demanding that I give her the names for things strange to her in the shelter. Rather a turnaround from what I expected, but a surprisingly pleasant turnaround! In the day and a half since she awoke, we have established far better communication than I have with Patches.
Oh, Patches. There was some initial fear, but once she understood that Patches was friendly to me and willing to be friends with her, she managed to tell me that her own people now and then tamed young animals from the wild. In fact, they seem to have a religion of sorts, and the shamans always have some kind of tamed animal—or claim to. I must confess I have my doubts about invisible animals no one but the shamans can see!
Physically the leg appears to be knitting rapidly, and all signs of infection are gone. In fact, once she was convinced that my splints would hold, it was impossible to keep her lying down. I have managed plumbing, although rather primitive, in my shelter, and a system for disposing of bodily waste. I have to say she is far more fascinated by these than by the recorder or the computer!
So far I have managed to avoid asking why her people left her to die, telling myself it is because I still do not understand her language well enough. This is an excuse, and tomorrow I will ask her.
Or perhaps the next day.
I am beginning to wonder just who rescued whom.
I am not an explorer. I have never, before this year, had to cook my own food. Oh, I knew that cooking would make the nutrients more available, and that fire could be used to cook food as well as frighten away animals. And it was no problem, once I found stands of trees and dead wood, to teleport wood to the vicinity of the shelter, where I have a fairly substantial pile. I even found a straight stick of the right length to allow Songbird to hobble around while her leg is healing.
But I know just one way of cooking. That is to hang the item to be cooked over the fire. This results in food that is raw inside and charred outside. Songbird put up with this for about three days. The fourth day, she dug a hole in the ground and lined it with large leaves. When I came back with a large fish for our dinner, she grabbed it and demanded the knife I've been cleaning my catches with.
She proceeded to clean the fish, a good deal faster than I do. She then stuffed it with a number of plants I didn't get too close a look at, and told me to transfer about half of the coals from the fire she'd started — I'd shown her how to use my sparker — into the pit. Next thing I knew, she was lowering a muddy package into the pit, scooping the rest of the coals on top of the package, and piling hot rocks over it.
"That was our supper!" I sputtered.
"Good," she agreed. "Sun touch trees."
By the time the declining sun had almost reached the trees on the horizon, the odors seeping from the pit had my mouth watering. Nor was it a vain promise. When Songbird uncovered her muddy package, it had hardened into a shell around the best fish I have tasted since I crashed here.
"Good?" she asked.
"Very good," I replied.
She looked as pleased as Patches with a fresh bone. "I cook. I can't hunt, but I prepare. You hunt? Bring plants I need?"
"Tell me what you need, and I'll find it," I assured her. I wouldn't know her words, but as long as she visualized what she wanted, I was confident I could find it.
Nor was pit-roasting her only way of preparing food. Today she took a gourd, filled it with leaves, berries, tubers, bones and chopped meat from last night, and then dropped hot stones in to heat the water. Again, I had doubts, which were rapidly assuaged by the odors rising from what she had prepared.
Tomorrow I have to ask her why she was left alone. Surely they could have done something for the leg other than abandon her!
Songbird's language is beginning to feel much more natural to me. Her views on the world do not.
I cannot help thinking of her as a dependent, as a child who needs shelter and protection.
She rather obviously thinks of me as some sort of godlike being, capable of miracles (such as plumbing and setting her broken leg) and quite incompetent at taking care of myself. She has taken over the cooking, not because she is a better cook than I am (which she is), but because in her mind it is a female's job to prepare food, as well as to procure most of it.
She also has me thinking twice about the abilities of the shamans.
Songbird's mother and her mate—Songbird doesn't seem to have a word or even a concept for "father" in the biological sense—did not want to leave her, but the shaman assured them not only that leaving was necessary so that the rest of the tribe would not starve, but that leaving Songbird was a necessary sacrifice to the gods. So far as Songbird is concerned, I am the god the shaman predicted. A rather strange and incompetent god, but still a god. Had not the shaman foreseen it?
Is it even remotely possible that the shaman has enough conditional precognition—untrained, of course—to recognize that I would rescue the child?
I have been here more than a year!
I knew it was more than a Kentra year, of course—the clock and calendar are still working. And the day-length here is close enough to Kentra's that the count of sunrises alone was enough to tell me that a year had passed on my home planet.
But today I was at my first landing place near sunset. I paused to watch the sinking sun, and it was slightly north of a notch in the hills on the horizon that framed its setting the first time I looked. First it moved north, then south, and now it is moving north again and it is farther north than when I arrived, so more than a planet year has passed. I will have to set up some means of keeping track of were it sets, and develop a local calendar.
I asked Songbird if her people would return. She said yes, they followed the gazelles, which always came back to that place with the sun.
Could they not eat fish, I asked, or any of the other wild foods she was introducing me to?
"Fish is not as sweet as gazelle meat, and besides, they will meet other groups to the north. Aardvark is old enough to mate, and his mate must come from another group."
"Does the girl go to her mate's group, or the boy?" I asked.
She looked puzzled. "The shamans of the two clans decide," she finally said, "but I hope Aardvark stays. We have more girls than boys."
The shamans again. Was keeping the sex ratio balanced one of their jobs? What else influenced them? I do not know how long these people had been in their camping spot before Patches found them. But this year I will start watching when the clouds begin massing on the northern horizon.
Songbird has decided I need new clothes.
Not that I really need them for warmth, unless I go out at night. It cools off fast in the dry season. But there are an awfully lot of thorny plants, and while I don't sunburn easily, I do sunburn. And the few clothes I had with me are falling to pieces.
That didn't stop Songbird from close examination of my one-piece shipsuit (or what is left of it) and my woven tunic. Or my crude shoes, for that matter.
She herself is wearing a kind of tunic made of two gazelle skins, beautifully tanned, fastened together at the shoulders and sides. I am not sure whether the purpose is protection from thorns, a sunshade, or simply local cultural mores — I didn't get a very close look at the females of her people. The men, at least when running down game, wear very little.
But this morning Songbird presented me with a new tunic. It is very coarse of weave, but it is woven — much like the baskets she has woven to hold foodstuffs. It seems to be woven all in one piece, like the baskets, but of softer fibers than grass. When I asked her what the fibers were, she showed me one of the plants she has asked me to gather for the seeds. She then explained that when allowed to soak in water, the fibers could be separated from the stems. Her people use it only rarely, because of the work involved, but she thought that since I am a god it would be appropriate for me.
I have given up on trying to convince her I am not a god.
The northern solstice has passed!
I have made a calendar of sorts, with Songbird's aid. There is a particular flat rock I stand on, at the top of the rise where I have built my shelter. I can see the sunset move around the horizon from that point, and though the horizon is not flat, the hills are constant. Songbird goes out with me at sunset every day, and moves until the stake she holds is just lined up with the sun on the horizon. Then she drives it into the ground. If it will not go in (which sometimes happens) she holds it while I pile loose rocks around it.
The last few days the stakes have been almost in the same place, but this evening the position of the stake was definitely south of yesterday's stake, if by only a fingerwidth.
I think the actual solstice was two days ago. At any rate that is what I will assume in figuring the year length, and in trying to estimate when the rains — and Songbird's people — will be back.
Songbird was not very enthusiastic about helping me at first, though she was obedient enough to do as I said. More of this "god" stuff, I suppose. But when I explained that I wanted to use the sticks to help me know when to go look for her people's return, she rapidly started reminding me when it was almost sunset. Her leg has healed without a trace of a limp, and I must admit that I feel rather proud of my skills as a doctor!
Of course I have not been here long enough yet to know exactly when the rains will start and the game and Songbird's people will return. But both should occur as the sun's course moves back south.
I want to see that shaman!
My calendar is coming along — slowly, but I am now fairly certain that this planet has nearly the same rotation rate and year length as Kentra. The year length is no surprise, as both the sun and the climate are very similar to what I am used to. The rotation rate, and thus the day length, are a pleasant surprise, but not really unexpected — the climate would not be nearly as much like Kentra's if the coriolis force differed much.
It is now about 90 days past the northern solstice, and it should be near the equinox. It is not as easy to determine the equinox as the solstice, but the day is as nearly as I can measure it the same length as the night, and the sun appears to be rising directly to the east, counting east as being at right angles to the pole around which the stars seem to revolve.
This should mean the sun is directly over the equator, and the rains should be at a maximum there. They will move southward now, and should be here in around thirty to sixty more days—sixty, if I go by last year. So far, the sky is cloudless, and the grass is very dry. Songbird keeps insisting that I watch for fire, and she is so concerned that I have burned off the ground near out shelter.
She has reason, I have found. Several years ago — her counting skills are not quite good enough to tell how many years ago — her people attempted to stay in the area later than usual. The herds had started their migration, but many animals remained to eat the tall, dry grass. Songbird told me what she remembered, but she could not have been more than seven at the time. Nevertheless, she gave me a very clear image of a wall of smoke and flame that very nearly wiped out her group, and in fact killed several who panicked and tried to outrun the fire. Only the shaman saved them, insisting that they lie down in the waters of a narrow creek, covered with wet hides, and let the fire burn over them.
"It was very hard to breathe," she said, "but most of those who obeyed the shaman lived."
I am getting more and more intrigued by this shaman.
She's not having nightmares, at least not yet.
I know I swore never again to try teleporting another sentient, least of all Songbird, after that first time. I didn't intend to. But I had no choice!
Clouds have been clustering along the northern horizon for several days, and I thought I heard faint echoes of thunder. I'd walk north, I thought, and check if there was any sign of the approaching rains, and Songbird insisted on going with me and Patches. By noon we were in waist-high grass, far taller than the burned stuff near the shelter, and the clouds were beginning to show above the horizon.
Thunder growled, and I thought I saw flashes of light against the darkness near the horizon. Not long until the rains, I thought, and then I saw that some of the near towers were black on top, not white, and the light on the horizon was red. Dry storms, and the lightning had ignited the grass.
Songbird saw it before I did, grabbed my hand, and turned to run back toward our shelter.
We'd never make it.
I thought of how the shaman had made those caught in a similar fire lie down in a stream, but there were no streams between where we were and the shelter. Only the firebreak, and there was no hope of reaching that before the fire caught us. I could teleport to safety, of course, but what of Songbird?
I stopped, and spun her to face me. "Songbird, listen. You know how I appear and disappear?" I try not to teleport in front of her, but I know she has seen me.
"Yes, I have seen."
"I am going to try to take us back to the shelter—vanishing here and reappearing there. You must close your eyes and imagine you are at the shelter door." I had no idea whether that would make it easier, but it was all I could think of. And I could not leave her to be burned alive!
She looked toward the fire, which was now racing toward us and so near we could feel its heat and smell the scorched grass, and then turned her face toward me and closed her eyes.
I touched her mind—very lightly, as I did when she was teaching me her language. Her image of the shelter entrance was clear and precise, and I caught her mind and that of Patches with mine and moved all three of us. The heat on our skin was suddenly gone, and her eyes snapped open as she turned back to the north. The smoke was only a faint smudge from here, but it was present.
"I think we should make the burned area wet if we can," she said.
We made sure there was nothing to burn near the shelter, and later watched as the fire swept around us. The shelter, being built mostly from the escape capsule, is fireproof, but our little island of safety was shared by a good many more animals than I really felt comfortable with. Still, we were able to close the door and sleep without further difficulty. And no nightmares, except mine.
Did knowing what I intended to do make the difference?
The rain has reached my shelter.
Songbird has been saying for several days that she can smell rain and wet ash, and yesterday even I thought I could catch the scent of storm clouds, as well as see the lighting and hear the thunder. But last night we heard a great pounding on the roof, and when I opened the door the light from inside the shelter showed ice falling from the sky and bouncing on the ground around us.
"Hail," Songbird said with satisfaction. "This rain is strong. Soon the grass will grow through the ash, and the game will return. And the People will follow them."
She returned to her sleep, apparently lulled by the drumming on the roof. I found myself wondering what I would do without her.
It is not just that she is a far better cook than I am, or that she knows much more about this world than I do. I've grown used to having someone I can not only talk to, but hold a conversation with.
At first she was a burden, and a moral quandary. Do not interfere. But I did, and I doubt that either of us would have survived if I had not. Certainly I would have had a far poorer diet.
And because I let my heart overrule my training before, I am now faced with an even deeper quandary.
I can tell myself that we are both better off if she stays with me, but I know all too well that is sophistry. She has the right to make her own choices, and what I heard in her voice, when she said that her people would follow the game....
Part of me says that she is a child, that as an adult it is my duty to overrule her when she wants something that will injure her. And surely she is safer here than back with her people.
She is better suited to this planet than I am.
And I can take her back. I know now that I can teleport her, so what would have been an impossible journey to the place where she was abandoned is no more that a short jump.
And if I take her back, I will be interfering not only with her, but with her whole people.
I will have a chance to see and speak with this shaman who has intrigued me so.
I cannot interfere.
The only thing I have decided by morning is that I should probably teleport once a fiveday to my hiding place in the vicinity of the camp and see if Songbird's people have returned.
They have returned, and Songbird has rejoined them.
How am I going to survive with no one but Patches to talk to?
I have been spying on their camp, and they returned yesterday. It must have shown on my face when I teleported back to the shelter, because Songbird at once began saying, "Are they back?"
"Yes," I said. "Do you want to go back to them?"
I was of two minds about this. Surely she was safer with me, and she was a child; it was my duty to guard her. Guard her, yes, my mind whispered, but she is not your property, and she has a mind and will of her own. Let the decision be hers.
And there was never any question of what her decision would be.
I teleported her back to the vicinity of the camp. "Go home," I told her.
"Thank you," she half sobbed, and then turned and ran toward the camp.
I did not leave at once. I did not know these people, and it was not out of the question that they would consider her a ghost or a sacrifice that had failed, and would try to kill her.
They were awed, yes—I could see that much. But the man and woman who gathered her to their arms had only joy on their faces, and the rest of the group, though obviously astonished to find her alive, appeared equally welcoming.
Which was the shaman? I wondered. Not there, or one of those welcoming Songbird back? I stayed long enough to be sure Songbird would be safe, but when two of the group started in the direction Songbird had come from, I teleported back to the shelter.
It is very lonely here without Songbird. There are so many reminders—the pallet I made her, which she promptly tore apart and remade to suit herself, the storage baskets and gourds, the tanned hides ....
The rain on the roof is maddening.
Tomorrow I will teleport back to the vicinity of the camp, and make sure she is still safe.
I kept an eye on Songbird and her relatives for three days. It wasn't as if I had anything else to do, and it salved my conscience a little over sending her back. This morning the camp was not just empty, but gone!
They don't have much, of course. A few tanned hides for shelter, fire-hardened spears for killing game, cutting tools of flaked stone, gourds and baskets for carrying food and water .... Today nothing was left of the camp but thorn barriers, and those can be cut anywhere. I searched everywhere, but there was nothing. Far less than was left with Songbird.
Why didn't I put a mental tag on Songbird, so I could be sure she was all right? All right, that would have been very wrong without her informed consent, and how could I inform her in a way she would understand? But at least I would have known that she was safe, and that the abandonment of the encampment did not mean harm to her.
What can I do? I am no tracker, and in this rain not even Patches can tell what way they have gone.
I returned to the shelter after dark, wet and exhausted. The drumming of the rain on the roof is a constant reminder of the inhospitable weather outside. Where is Songbird sleeping tonight?
Do not interfere.
I ignored that wisdom, and now it seems I am hopelessly entangled.
Songbird is back, and not alone. She has brought her whole clan with her. At least, I suppose it is a clan—they all seem to be related in one way or another. And while I never bothered to count them when they were in their own encampment, her words suggest they are all here.
I am rattled. No, incoherent. Not with rage, but with sheer bewilderment at what to do or say.
When I awoke this morning Songbird was perched cross-legged on the floor where her bed used to be, with Patches on her lap.
My mouth dropped open, and a little of the happiness faded from her face. "You are not glad to see me?"
"Of course I'm glad you are safe. But how did you get here?"
"We walked, of course."
Matter-of fact. Puzzled at my not seeing the obvious. But I have never walked directly to their camp. Pieces, of course. I explore by walking to a point I can memorize as a teleport destination, and then teleporting back to the shelter. The next day I teleport to that spot and start walking again. If there is a distinctive enough landmark, I may be able to teleport to that landmark. But direct walking? The encampment must have been several fivedays of walking from my shelter! And Songbird had never even seen the landmarks along the way!
Then my mind suddenly caught up with her first word. "We?"
"Of course. It is not safe to travel that far alone. They all wanted to meet you, and my family wishes to give their thanks." As a god, her mind said.
"Songbird, I am not a god. I am a lost traveler." I do not know how many times I have tried to tell her that.
This time was no more successful than usual. "We did not wish to interfere with your hunting or your calendar, so we set up camp an hour's walk downstream. We hope you will visit, but we did not wish to intrude."
That, I suspected, was a memorized speech. Her mind said that many of her people were frankly afraid of me and what I might do, and wished to propitiate me. That I did not want! Frightened animals are dangerous, and I suspected the same was true of Songbird's people.
"I would like you to carry a message for me. I wish to see the shaman. Here." I suspected an hour's walk for Songbird would take me several hours, and I have some thinking to do before I meet these people. And some things to check on the computer.
At least I will have a chance to meet that shaman!
The shaman is not at all what I expected. In fact, I am starting to wonder if "shaman" is even the right translation of the word Songbird used.
It occurred to me after Songbird had left on her errand that she'd told me her people were in the habit of giving gifts of food to visitors. One thing I was sure they would treasure was salt — easy enough for me to get, simply by teleporting seawater to my shelter and boiling it down. I'd replenished my stock a fiveday ago, so it was simple to fill one of my smaller gourds with the precious substance.
What else? A sweet, sticky fruit from the jungle to the north, as far away as I have memorized teleport coordinates, was at first as strange to Songbird as it was to me, but after one cautious trial it became a favorite for both of us. It was easy enough to teleport to a memorized part of the jungle, and probe mentally for the right kind of tree with a feel of ripeness. I plucked a huge leaf, teleported the fruit onto it from one of the branches too slender for the small primates gorging on the tree's bounty, and then teleported it and myself back to the shelter. Wild melons were ripening, too, and I plucked one to temper the sweetness of the jungle fruit.
Salt as a gift, fruit for refreshment. I placed both the salt and the leaf holding the fruit on a shelf out of Patches' reach and looked downstream.
Four tiny figures were just visible. I thought the smallest was Songbird from the way she was dancing around the others. Two taller figures appeared to be assisting a third over the boulders lining the stream at that point. The shaman? It had never occurred to me that the shaman might have difficulty covering what Songbird had said was an hour's walk.
As they came closer I recognized Songbird, and I thought the two taller figures must be her parents. Both wore tunics that appeared more decoration — or perhaps a way of carrying things while leaving their hands free -- than clothing. The third figure was bent and smaller, and as they made their final approach I saw that the face was wrinkled and the mouth drawn in.
My people shed and grow teeth as they age, as often as needed. I lost one tooth when I first arrived, but by the time I found Songbird it was growing back. Do these people age, like animals? Is their life span so limited that they quit growing new teeth when they themselves quit growing? Did I misinterpret the awe and respect that colored Songbird's emotions when she spoke the word I have been translating as "shaman?"
I wish this planet didn't have sentient inhabitants, or at least that they were not so much like me. "Do not interfere." Ha! How can I help but interfere?
As I thought, the two adults were Songbird's parents, decked out in their best finery, and the smaller, aged figure, even more elaborately adorned, was the person I've been calling—and might as well continue calling—the shaman. I suspect clan-mother would be more accurate, as most of her advice seems to come from experience and tradition. I do not know how old she is, but Songbird's mother is the daughter of her daughter. She is bent and wrinkled, and the few teeth she has left are worn down to nubbins—yet I think from some of the things she said that she is younger than I am.
When I asked her how she knew I would rescue Songbird, while Songbird was showing my "calendar" to her parents, she looked half puzzled. "Sometimes I know when someone is going to die. I knew I could not heal Songbird, and yet I did not feel her death coming. And we had to leave; the clans meet when the rains go north. But I hoped only; I did not know."
Untrained conditional precognition. We might be like this, if we aged.
Yet they have something rare among us, something that delights the eye. They—all of them—have creativity. Songbird wove patterns into her baskets, which pleased me, but everything these people have is decorated in some way. With us, only a few have the ability to create beauty, and those few are treasured. Is it possible that all of these people, people who grow old like animals, have that spark in their souls?
They know of me. What further harm could I do by accepting their invitation to visit?
I might as well give up trying not to interfere.
Songbird walks over from the camp every day, generally loaded down with gifts from the clan. She is quite convinced that I am a god, and that I cannot possibly do without her help in finding food (or bringing over what her relatives have provided) and cooking it. From what she said, her people—including the shaman—are just as thoroughly convinced.
And there are at least one leopard, a family of lions, and a pack of hyenas in the area, any of which would find Songbird, alone, a tasty snack.
The first two days I teleported her back to where she could walk back safely, explaining as I did so that it was too dangerous for her to make the walk alone.
She loves being teleported.
Today I walked back to her relatives' camp with her, thinking that I would explain the dangers and ask her parents to keep her in the camp.
The next thing I knew, I was in the middle of a greeting ceremony, with a number of strangers who were, to put it mildly, terrified of me.
Now I know how to shield against emotions. With animals, it's automatic — I have to think to feel them. With other R'ilnai it is a matter of politeness. But for almost two years now, the only sentient being I've had to shield against was Songbird, and I generally didn't, because I wanted to know if she was in trouble. To be blunt, it just isn't automatic any more, and being surrounded by that much fear ....
Well, I managed to excuse myself somehow. I think I babbled something about having to check the food Songbird had left cooking. But the shaman, just before I bolted, urged me to come tomorrow for a proper greeting—and from the texture of her mind, she meant a proper worshiping.
And I think I agreed.
I had better practice my shielding technique.
They seem to have decided I am a benign god, at least. The fear that I felt yesterday gradually subsided today, though the awe remained.
I teleported to the spot I'd been teleporting Songbird from. She was watching for me, though she'd been gathering foodstuffs while she waited, and proudly escorted me to the camp. This time I was shielded against emotions—not entirely, for safety's sake, but enough I could function.
They were preparing a feast. Every person in the group filed before me while I was enthroned on a large rock,, and each bore a gift. Some were very welcome indeed, like the clothing — far finer than what Songbird had made me, and beautifully decorated with bits of fur, feather and shell. Some were containers, or items of food. Some were decorations, for the head, throat, arms and legs. Others .... Well, I am still not sure what they are, but I smiled and accepted them as the honors they were intended to be.
The food was primitive relative to some I have eaten, but by far the best I since I was stranded here. Songbird is a better cook than I am, but for the first time I realized that her mother had only started to teach her how to prepare food. Not that I found everything they ate to my taste, but I did manage to eat at least a little of everything they offered.
By that time it was growing dark away from the fire, which seemed to grow brighter as the stars appeared. I was wondering how to excuse myself when several of the men of the group came into the firelight, so ornamented with feathers, animal skins tanned with the hair on, and beads that I could not recognize any of those I had met. They moved in patterns—dancing, the shaman called it—while others made sounds by pounding on shoulder blades, blowing on reeds, and doing other things I could not quite see, as well as singing.
Makers of beauty, I thought. Such are rare among my people. What have I found here?
Day 615, Morning
I dreamed last night.
I don't dream very often, but the bodies leaping in the firelight, the flash of feathers and body paint, and the singing and drumming that accompanied them followed me into sleep. This morning I looked again at the things they had given me, and again I was impressed by the fact that everything these people make is ornamented in some way.
My people love beauty. Perhaps once more than a very few of us could create it, for what we brought with us from R'il'n is more than we can create in these times.
Could it be genetic? I know the stories of lost R'il'n, that there were two suns in the sky, and astronomers warned that the smaller would eventually collide with the larger. It was already disrupting our orbit. We had star flight, and it was agreed that we should split up and search for another place where we could live. Art and culture—the creation of beauty—received very little attention, I suspect, in those years when we were building the great ships that might save our people.
And the fleet that found my world, Kentra, for some reason had mostly engineers and technicians, with very few who could create beauty.
Oh, we brought with us recordings of the great art and music of our past. With time these have become ever more precious, for all too few of us can create such things.
When we returned to where R'il'n's sun had been, to bring anyone left to Kentra, our home planet was no longer there.
Could these humans still have the spark the R'il'nai have lost?
I think I am beginning to have some handle on the seasons of this planet, and how they affect the nomads. The rains come a little before the southern solstice. It takes a few days for the flush of new growth, which is followed by the herd animals and the nomads and other predators who hunt them. Not that there aren't some predators, and animals they prey on, year round, but the migratory herds are far more numerous.
I teleported to the nomads' camp today. The shaman asked me about the fish trap Songbird had made after seeing a picture on my computer, and after I answered I asked the shaman why the nomads did not stay in one place as some of the lions and wild dogs do.
"We follow the food," she said, and I was reminded of my own early struggles to find things I could eat. I could teleport to where food was abundant, once I found where that was. These people could not. But the shaman continued. "Also, we go to meet with other clans. The young people find mates at the Gather, and it is a good place to trade ideas. But if we stayed there, as you stay at your shelter, there would not be enough food."
I was reminded of what Songbird had said, when I first asked her why her parents had left her, and the questions I had then about the role of the shamans. "If mates come from different clans, what determines which clan they stay with?"
"That depends on what they want, on the sizes of the two clans, and on the food supply. Sometimes there is a question, and then the shamans of the two tribes decide together. If a clan is too large there is a problem finding food; if it is too small it cannot fight off predators. Our clan could be a little larger, especially with the fish traps you have shown us. That is an idea we will share.
All I had done was observe that the trap in the picture worked because fish could not swim backwards. Songbird worked out how to make the trap and set it where it looked like the natural vegetation of the stream. "Give Songbird the credit," I urged.
She giggled. "You make us think, and from that comes new things."
Do not interfere. How can I stop interfering?
The equinox is close, if not here. The grass is shriveling, though not yet as brown as when I arrived — that must have been a drier than normal year. Plant food is harder to find, and some of the animals are leaving. Already the shaman has asked me if I will go with them to the Gather. I wasn't trying to read her mind, but I couldn't help picking up what a coup it would be for her group to be accompanied by a god.
I am not a god! Why can't I get that across?
Besides, I don't think I can keep up with them.
They will be walking. The longest distance I've walked, since that first disastrous day, is from here to the camp. It takes the shaman a little over an hour. I takes me two, and I'm pretty well worn out when I get there. In fact I've done it only once, the time I took Songbird home. No doubt they'd carry me, but I don't want to slow them down.
And to be very honest ....
I'm not sure I can stand the stench. They do the best they can, but water is carried from the stream, sanitation is non-existent, butchering is done in the camp ... well, let us just say that any group of people that large, carrying out their life without benefit of the amenities I have in my shelter, stinks.
It wasn't bad at first, when they had only been at the camp site a day or so. But odorous materials pile up with time.
Admit it, I'm spoiled. I like my shelter, which now has running water, modern sanitation, a comfortable bed, and smells faintly of whatever flowers or grasses I've brought in. I don't want to leave it.
Now I just have to figure out how to tell the shaman no, politely. Perhaps this journal, which requires the computer in my shelter, could serve as an excuse? But I will miss having someone intelligent to talk with.
Well, I am alone again — alone as I have not been, except for a few days, since I rescued Songbird. The nomads left this morning. I teleported to their camp to see them off, and even accompanied them for the first hour or so. But by then my feet were starting to protest, and I bade them a good journey and joy at the Gather and teleported back to the shelter.
Are my feet so different from theirs? They look the same, except that Songbird has calluses on her feet that are thicker than the soles on the remains of my ship shoes. I don't think she was born with them; a baby was born this summer and her feet looked like normal baby feet. Perhaps they grow extra skin thickness on their feet, just as I grow replacement teeth?
My feet burn on the sand, are cut and bruised by the rocks, and blister when I try to improvise something approximating shoes. In general I find it quite impossible to walk without injury. They walk and run everywhere, feet bare of any protection, without even thinking about it.
I helped them on a few hunts—not by hunting myself, but by teleporting to several points in the area and then telling them where I saw game. I'm also good at spotting the weakest animal in a herd, and Patches is good at turning back animals that are trying to escape, and even better at tracking injured animals. In return—or as an act of worship—they have presented me with several beautifully tanned hides, including one from a buffalo that is quite thick. Perhaps I could try again to make some kind of sandals? They would not be as good protection as the boots my people made for hiking, but at least they would protect my feet from heat and cuts. And making them would be something to do.
This year the nomads stayed a hundred thirty-five days. I think the year is around three hundred sixty-five days, give or take a few days, so they should be back in about two hundred and thirty days. It is going to be a long time with only Patches for company.
I have to get hold of myself and do something! I’ve done nothing but mope the last fiveday—I haven’t even kept up this journal, or marked where sunset occurs. The fact is, I’ve gotten so used to company that I’ve forgotten how to function without it.
How did I survive before I found Songbird? Mostly, as I recall, I was trying to stay alive and to explore this place where I found myself. Staying alive is not much of a problem now – at least I know what is edible, and if I can’t find it nearby, I can teleport to a number of places where food can generally be found. Exploring ….
I need shoes! Between Songbird and her people I have a reasonable wardrobe – not the kind I am accustomed to, but quite enough to protect me in this relatively warm environment. I have containers. I know now how to cook after a fashion. I have shelter. I cannot teleport to a place where I have never been, and I cannot walk very far to find places I have not yet seen—which is most of the landmass on which I find myself.
Can I make something to protect my feet?
The buffalo hide is tough enough for soles, but I need something to fasten it to the bottoms of my feet without chafing. Straps of the softer hides, perhaps?
I have teleported to really distinctive landmarks, and from them to other landmarks. That is how I found the jungle with its fruit trees, even before I found Songbird. But my ship shoes then were considerably more usable than they are now. It still comes back to footwear.
So the first “something” I have to do is to start leaning to make some kind of shoes or sandals. The second? Work out a better local calendar, so I know when to start looking for Songbird’s people to return.
I have been here two years today – or perhaps tomorrow, or yesterday. Solstice to solstice is 365 days, give or take a couple. With time, the uncertainly will become smaller. With time. I do not want more time here, I want to go home!
I can almost see R’adel’, almost hear his voice. Jarn, what were you thinking? No proximity override, no sublight emergency beacon, scarcely any supplies? The answer is simple, if painful: I was not thinking.
Oh, I can build an interstellar power plant, or could if I had the supplies. But without the resources of home? No, I am stuck here. Even if Songbird’s people come back, I can only watch them grow old and die while I live on, unaging, unchanging, with my remnants of civilization slowly decaying around me.
Time. At least I am beginning to have a feel for how it runs on this planet. Equinoxes are not as easy to identify as solstices, but I think the time from southward equinox to northward equinox is about 170 days, while that from northward equinox to southward equinox is close to 195 days. Perihelion must be close to the southern solstice – which is an interesting bit of trivia, but not of any use except to set up a calendar.
The days are close to their shortest – will be at their shortest, in another month—but still far longer than I can keep traveling, even in the crude sandals I’ve managed to make. I need to start exploring again, as I did before I first found the footprints of Songbird’s people. Who knows, perhaps I could find their Gathering? If nothing else, I can explore in the direction they went, and memorize teleportation coordinates that will take me closer to them, as well as those that will provide more food.
Year 2, day 122: Day 736 since my arrival
Last night I dreamed of flying.
It’s not something I’m very good at. I’m afraid once I decided to become an engineer and design starships I didn’t pay much attention to my esper lessons. But I’ve been forced to do a lot of esper over the last two years. Teleporting, perceiving, and telekinesis, mostly, but I’m dong all three much better than I ever did at home. So why not try levitation?
Not flying, exactly. But one of the things I’ve found I can do is teleport to a distinctive landmark. The higher I am, the better my chances of spotting a distant landmark I can use as a destination. So why not levitate to gain that height?
It does take just as much energy as I would need to climb to the same height. There is a way of getting around that, by using the energy of falling water or a landslide, but I’m going to have to learn how all over again. Even using my own energy, though, I managed to rise far enough into the air to see a distinctive tree and teleport to a spot above it. With practice, I could explore in much larger steps. And it wouldn’t wear out my sandals.
I think I will see what the computer library holds on levitation.
Much later in the day
Why didn’t my esper instructor tell me that all of that counterweighting and similar jargon simply referred to the conservation laws of physics? No wonder teleporting to a place at a higher altitude exhausts me; I’m using my own energy instead of swapping energy and momentum with my surroundings! I tried teleporting to the top of a butte while moving a similar mass of dirt and rock down, and it took almost no energy. The same with levitating to butte height. Water would work even better as an exchange medium, but for that I’ll need to find a waterfall.
So, my first priority is to practice exchanging energy and momentum with my surroundings, which should make teleporting much easier, and the second is to find a convenient waterfall. I wonder if I could locate that gather?
Author's note: Jarn has finally worked out a calendar. He's decided to start each year with the northward equinox, and to count the year he arrived as year 0.
Year 2, day 140
The headaches have almost disappeared. Score another round to my esper instructors.
They kept telling me that my headaches were analogous to sore muscles when I tried something new physically. Well, they were right. Over the last few fivedays I have seen more parts of this continent than I have over the past two years, and while my head felt as if it was going to explode the first few days, I can now go almost anywhere I have seen and levitate to a height which is uncomfortably cold with no headache at all. And once I am high enough, I can pick out landmarks and teleport to them with little effort.
It is a large continent that I have landed on. To the north, trees and watercourses become steadily more frequent until finally I find myself in jungle. By the sun, this jungle continues past the equator, bordered to the north by more savannah and eventually by true desert, drier than anything near my shelter. Farther yet, I came to a great salt sea. It may be partially enclosed, as there seem to be few tides in spite of the large moon.
South, the land again is washed by salty water, but stormier and with definite tides.
There are mountain ranges, valleys, even volcanic areas, and a great valley which makes me suspect this continent may be rifting apart. I have yet to find snow or ice, though I think I glimpsed some coming in. Still, by the height of the sun this continent is centered on the equator and even its most northerly and southerly limits are far from the poles.
I am mapping at after a fashion— it gives me something to do while I am alone. I can get both latitude and longitude from the position of the sun, though absolute distances have to be expressed in terms of the unknown radius of this planet. I keep hoping I will find the gather, but even the area green from the rains is far too large for anything but blind luck to lead me to them. I wish I knew where they were.
Year 2 Day 172
Songbird’s is not the only group of R’il’nian-like creatures here.
I’m not even sure they are the same species, as they seem to communicate more by gestures and scratching figures on the ground than by sounds. Certainly they did not understand me when I tried to speak to them in the language I learned from Songbird. In fact, they tried to attack me with their spears! But they are very similar. I will have to ask the shaman about them—it I can just figure out where this gather of theirs is!
I was exploring a lightly wooded savannah area, with gallery forests along the watercourses. It looked to me as if it would be an excellent hunting area for Songbird’s group, but not if it is claimed by another group. I wonder if they are the same species? If they can—or do—interbreed?
I should not take sides, especially as I think this new species is also intelligent. Certainly they make hunting tools and hunt cooperatively.
Do not interfere. I’m way past that. But I want company!
Year 2 Day 201
Flying turns out to be much easier than levitating and then teleporting to a landmark I can see. I just have to levitate to the height I want, set up levitation struts to keep me there, and then push backward on the ground. Memorized teleports at altitude work, too, but for exploration flying is wonderful. And I’ve found the perfect way to counterbalance!
I have been following the little stream that runs by my shelter. It almost disappears during the dry season, but it’s not hard to follow. It flows into another, and then another, and a few days’ flying downstream I would have to call it a river. Rather slow and broad at this season, but it is apparent that it runs far faster and fuller during the rainy season.
Near the end of the third day I thought I saw smoke rising, and at first I thought I was seeing another fire. It’s been getting pretty dry, and for a moment I almost teleported back to the shelter. What if fire was there, too? I haven’t set backfires to burn off the area yet. Still, a teleport to a spot nearer the smoke, to be sure what was happening, seemed a good idea.
It wasn’t a fire, but a waterfall -- one of the largest I have ever seen. I almost forgot to keep my levitation struts steady, it was so overwhelming. Once I got into a position to study it, though, I realized that here was all the vertical mass movement I would ever need. Teleport water from the torrent below the falls to the top when I want to go down; teleport water from the top to the bottom when I want to go up. Momentum might still take some work, but the potential energy would be far easier to handle than it is using dirt.
Needless to say I memorized the feel of the waterfall and the surrounding area, and made sure I could tie into the water wherever I was. With that kind of counterbalancing available, I could fly above the tribe as they migrate, keeping track of them. Maybe next year, if they only come back, I can follow them to their gather.
Year 2, Day 248
I’ve always thought of herbivores as relatively harmless. Not that you want to corner or threaten one, as they tend to take rather violent exception to anything that signals they might be eaten. But as a general rule they don’t go looking for trouble. Not these!
I have named them hippopotamus, though I will have to find out what Songbird’s people call them. I’ve seen them before, of course, when I was following the river downstream. They look like small, barren islands from above, and lumbering, clumsy brutes when they drag themselves out of the water where they feed.
They are not clumsy.
Especially when they see me watching them and decide that I am a threat.
They are very crowded, as the dry season has been more intense then usual this year, and they have retreated to the few deep scours of the river. I knew the tempers of the bulls were short, as I have seen several battles. In fact I was watching a battle, amazed at the gape of their jaws, the ferocity with which they attacked each other, and the obvious fear with which the cows herded their young out of the way. I had shielded against their emotions, so I had little warning when one of the rivals suddenly decided I was a threat and charged me.
I am ashamed to say that I totally forgot everything I have managed to learn about counterbalancing over the last few months and simply did a brute-force teleport to my shelter.
Needless to say, I am almost too exhausted to record this. I need to make counterbalancing automatic!
Year 2, Day 280
The rains are late. Either that, or they have been early the last two years.
Is it possible that they will not reach this far south, that the nomads will not return? Certainly they follow the herds, and the herds will not come south until the vegetation greens, after the rains have fallen. In the two years I have been here, the rains have come before the summer solstice. But my crude calendar says the solstice is today, and there is no sign of rain. Only of dust and smoke, which forced me to levitate to see the direction in which the sun set. I did not even see cloud tops, or dry lightning.
The stream has gone dry, and I am seeing more and more dead animals on my exploratory flights. To the west are sand dunes – I don’t explore much that way. A day’s flight north, though, it is raining in places. How much longer will the rains move southward? If they reach me, will they last long enough to turn the vegetation green? Should I go farther north, and try to find the nomads?
I have burned off most of the dry vegetation around my shelter. Not that the starving animals left much. Predators were glutted at first, but now they, too, are gaunt and starving. The warnoff has become a necessity if I leave the shelter on foot.
Luckily I can teleport myself and Patches to greener areas where I can fish and she can hunt the small mammals we both prefer as food. The large mammals would be tastier, but without the nomads I am not very good at preparing them.
I hope they come back.
Perhaps I should teleport north of the rains, and try to find them?
Year 2 Day 320
I don’t think the rains are going to come.
Oh, there have been a couple of showers, but barely enough to lay down the dust. Everything around me seems to be burning, except what is already burned. I am in no danger—the well is providing all of the water I need, and the shelter, built from the remains of the escape capsule, is fireproof. I hunt, fish and gather far to the north, where the rains have fallen and the world is green. But how are the nomads faring? Can they find enough food? Where are they?
I no longer think, or even hope, that they will return this year. What could they find to eat here? The herds have not come, and with the stream dry, there are no fish to be caught. But I cannot stand to be alone much longer, and the only other R’il’nian-like species I have found is hostile.
I have decided to try to find those I know. It won’t be easy. This is a big continent, and all I know is that they should be somewhere to the north where it is green enough they can find game. Probably somewhere north of the rains. They are a rare species—I know that, for I have been watching for them, casually, for fivedays now. It is time to intensify the search. Perhaps with the aid of Patches I can find them, or if not the group I know, some other group of the same people.
I wish I knew where their gather site was.
Year 2, Day 324
It’s now my fourth day of searching, and I still have not found them. I did see a band yesterday—not the people I am looking for, but their ornaments were similar. I thought it over last night and most of today, and decided to contact them. Cautiously. I hid where I could hear them speaking, enough to know they spoke the language I learned from Songbird, and who knew? They might have been at the gather, and be able to tell me where I should look.
Their camp was by a water hole, and I walked in with my hands spread, just before sunset, ready to teleport away at any sign they were hostile—I had not forgotten those others! “Greetings,” I said carefully. “Do you know of the band that has a child called Songbird?”
They looked at each other and the men, their ribs painfully obvious, took a tighter grasp on their spears.
“They call their shaman Storm Cloud,” I went on, and one of the men took off at a run for the center of the camp. The others continued to surround me, their spears held at the ready, but their expressions were more of fear and concern than of hostility. I found myself hoping the fear did not escalate to panic—I didn’t really want to teleport back to the shelter.
The man who had run off returned, accompanied by a panting man whose halo of gray hair was surmounted by something similar to the headdress Storm Cloud wore when she was acting in her capacity as shaman. The headdress was somewhat askew, which made me doubt that he wore it on other than ceremonial occasions.
“Great God Jarn,” he gasped, “forgive us for using your sacred knowledge to keep ourselves fed, but Storm Cloud said the knowledge was to be shared.” And he fell on his face before me. The men with the spears gave me a horrified look and backed away.
Do not interfere. To the hells with that! These people were hungry, and if any knowledge I had shared would prevent that, good!
“It was to be shared,” I said. “And I am pleased if you can use it.” What knowledge was he talking about?
As he led me into their camp, my nose provided the answer. Fish. The band I know had shared their knowledge of the fish traps, and given that game was scarce on the ground, the additional food source had been a boon to this band.
Not enough to make up for the lack of rain, I thought, given that the water hole was small. Could Patches and I drive one of the half-starved antelope I had seen toward them? Not today, perhaps, for it was already getting dark, but in the morning? But "Great God!" How am I to convince them I am merely a castaway?
Year 2, Day 325
Even the predators are hungry.
Not that I let that stop me from stealing two of their fresh kills and teleporting them to the vicinity of the camp I found yesterday. The shaman, who goes by the name of Lion, begged me to stay, and share my wisdom with them as I had with Storm Cloud’s group. Wisdom? Knowledge perhaps, thanks to the computer library, but it is these people who seem able to adapt that knowledge to their environment. Was it not Songbird who combined her knowledge of basketry with the information in the computer to devise the fish traps?
Well, I could teleport in enough food to keep them from starving from areas where the drought had not been so extreme—but visiting them occasionally would be sufficient for that. I pointed to the half-moon, visible in the daylight sky. “I will return when the moon is full,” I told Lion. “And I will join you at the Gather. But for now, I need to find Storm Cloud’s band.” I was perhaps going too far with the promise to join them at the gather—I still didn’t know were that was! But if I could find Storm Cloud, I could follow that band, no longer constrained by my inability to walk any distance.
Neither Lion nor any member of his band could tell me exactly where to find Storm Cloud’s band. They did, however, have considerable awareness of the regions each band roamed over. Not teleport coordinates, not a map, but a general awareness of landmarks, and distance (in days’ travel) and direction between them. By the time I left Lion’s band, late in the evening, I had a much smaller area to search in hopes of finding Storm Cloud and Songbird.
I can only hope they are in better condition than Lion’s band.
Year 2, Day 327
I found them! And they do not look nearly as hungry as Lion’s group, though they have piled thorny branches higher around their camp than I ever saw when they were near my shelter. Storm Cloud seemed delighted to see me, as was Songbird.
“Have you seen water near?” Storm Cloud asked me at once.
I looked at the water hole near their camp. Once it had been a deep scour in a river – I could see the dry bed stretching out in either direction. Now it was little more than a long pool, and from the cracked mud surrounding it, that pool was drying up. There were fish, trapped by the shrinking of the river, but they could not feed this group for much longer. There were also a few animal tracks in the mud, but only a few. And most of those visible were the paw-prints of predators. No wonder the thorn barrier was high and wide.
I thought back to what I had seen, flying over this land while I searched for Storm Cloud’s band. “Do you have water carriers?” I asked, because the nearest water in the direction toward greener land was a good three marches away.
In response she called out, and the people began bringing everything they had that would hold water. Gourds, mostly, and a few animal bladders and skins made into sacks. Not enough, I thought, but I didn’t believe their water hole would last much longer.
I’d about given up not interfering, and I could see only one way to help them reach the next real water source. “Take all the water you can,” I told them. “Go north. Make your trail easy for me to follow, and I will meet you when the sun goes down tomorrow. There I will take your water carriers, and bring them back filled.” I could teleport water to them, even if I could not walk with them. And as we went farther north, there would be more water. Wouldn’t there?
Year 2 Day 335
I think I’ve gotten myself in over my head.
My well supplies far more water than I need, and with counterweighting it is no great problem to teleport the filled containers to Storm Cloud’s group. Filling the containers and finding the group each day takes far more work, though they are marking their trail after a fashion. No doubt their marking method is as obvious to them as it is hardly visible to me. Another two days, and they should be in country with grass and surface water. The herds are only a little beyond them.
Lion’s group is more difficult – they seem unable to accept that I can keep them supplied with water if they leave their mudhole, which is going to dry up soon, and teleporting fresh kills to their site is simply not going to work long term – for one thing, it’s hard on the local predators. And it won’t solve the problem of water. They don’t seem able to understand that I can do some things that they cannot but that I can’t do everything, and they keep trying to argue that it would be much simpler if I just made it rain.
Worst yet, I’ve spotted two more groups of people who speak the language I’ve learned. I was going to leave them alone, since I’ve found Storm Cloud’s group, but because of what I found today I have to rethink that.
I was searching for a fresh kill to take to Lion’s group when I spotted a group of hyenas squabbling over something—and the something turned out to be a human body, emaciated to the point that there was little left even for a hyena. I teleported back to the shelter for Patches, and had her backtrack the hyenas. The trail led to a camp of sorts, with enough of a thorn barrier to slow down the hyenas, but those who had built the barrier were dead or dying of starvation. Only one was still conscious, a woman whose skin, far too large for her body, suggested she had survived this long only because she had once had enormous fat reserves.
The rest were beyond any help I could give them, but I teleported two melons and some figs to her. By evening I thought she might survive, though the rest of the group were now dead.
What can I do? She cannot walk far, or survive on her own. Nor can I teleport her without further shock which could well kill her. And will the other groups I saw end in the same way as hers?
Year 2 Day 337
I couldn’t find Storm Cloud’s group yesterday evening, or the evening before! I wasn’t too worried about them; they were getting into an area where they could find ground melons, if not surface water. But I wanted to talk with Storm Cloud about the other groups I’ve seen, especially about the one with only a single survivor.
Luckily I remembered how easily Patches backtracked the hyena, and this morning I teleported her to the last place I’m sure was on the group’s trail, and asked her to find Songbird. She set off at once, though somewhat puzzled by my wanting her to follow such an old trail. I flew above her, coming back to earth often to rest my mind, and by late in the afternoon we had caught up with the group. Obviously they did not need water; they were camped not far from a lake.
“Storm Cloud,” I said, “I need your advice,” and I poured out my problems: Lion’s group, the lone woman who was regaining her strength but was a magnet for predators, and the three other groups I’d seen. (I’d spotted another while searching for Storm Cloud’s group.)
She was a little shocked at my asking her for advice—she is still more than half convinced I am a god. But she was able to identify all of the other groups I had seen when I described their clothing, and confirm that they should also be heading for the Gather. In fact, it seems the woman who barely survived was her mother’s mate’s cousin’s niece, and Lion was some kind of a relative, too.
Songbird had been listening, and she was wiggling in a way that suggested she had something to say. “Speak, child,” Storm Cloud said.
“You could take me to see Uncle Lion,” she said. “I could tell him how you helped us.”
My doubt must have shown on my face, but Storm Cloud nodded. “I will give you a token.” She took off a shell necklace and handed it to Songbird. “Take great care of this, and bring it back to me safely, but this will tell Lion that you speak for me. When you return, we will speak of the woman.”
Did I have a choice? Songbird was the one person I was sure I could teleport safely, little though I liked reinforcing her love for being moved in this way.
Year 2, Day 337 Continued
To my considerable surprise Songbird, with the authority of the Shaman’s necklace, was actually able to convince Lion that my “godly” powers did not extend to making it rain, though I could transport water-filled containers to a band on the move. They were far more apprehensive about Patches, whom they had not seen before. Songbird laughed and hugged the animal, which seemed to reassure them a little. At least they didn’t totally panic when I had the wild dog get their scent so I could have her track them.
The sun was already low when I teleported Songbird, Patches and myself, along with a ground melon and some groundnuts, to the place where I had left the woman. She, too, was shocked, but chatted freely with Songbird while she kept a wary eye on Patches and I added a few more thorn branches to her barrier. Songbird looked carefully around her before we left. “Could you raise us up, so I can see farther?” she asked. Puzzled, I complied, letting her look around a little before I teleported us all back to Storm Cloud’s camp.
We arrived at sunset, with a hunting bird soaring overhead. “I know where they are,” Songbird told the Shaman as she returned the necklace, “and Jarn will bring them water as they move North. And I know where your sister's kinswoman is, too.” She then proceeded to give a series of landmarks I had not even noticed, followed by precise directions for reaching the half-starved woman. How had she known that?
Two of the best hunters listened carefully and then nodded. “We will bring her here, but it will take two days running to reach her, and more to bring her back. Can she walk?” They looked in my direction, though not directly at me.
“She is walking around within the thorn barrier now,” I told them. “But she cannot run. You will set out in the morning? I will bring you water, fish and figs at your night camp.” I would take the same to the woman, I decided. She would need the strength if she was to cover the distance back to Storm Cloud’s camp.
It was fully dark by then, and I was eager to get back to the safety of my shelter, but I had one more question to ask. “Songbird,” I said, “how did you know the way to where the woman was?”
She grinned. “Oh, I described where this camp is, she recognized it, and told me how to get to her camp from here. I’ll be able to do it someday, but I don’t know all of the landmarks yet.”
When I was back at my shelter and putting today’s doings into my journal I thought a bit about these people’s ability to move around their landscape, and their ability to follow an unknown trail from a single second-hand description. I could not do that. But to survive as hunters and gatherers, they had to.
Year 2, Day 339
I am beginning to wonder if I may have promised more than I can deliver. At least it keeps me busy!
Yesterday morning was devoted to filling water containers, finding food (for three groups now) and checking on the woman whose name, I have finally discovered, is Meerkat. Then I teleported Patches and myself to the last camp of Lion’s group and had Patches try to track them to their next camp. Patches can move a good deal faster than they can, and they usually stop to hunt well before dark, so I caught them just as they are staring to look for a campsite. Yesterday I spotted a good site ahead of them and guided them to it. By that time, however, Patches was getting tired of tracking. Getting her to follow the hunters from Storm Cloud’s camp toward Meerkat’s took a good deal more mental control than I really like to use, and it was full dark before we found them and delivered their water.
I hoped to break up the tracking by having Patches track the hunters partway in the morning, as they leave as soon as there is any light at all. Then Patches could rest while I took food and water to Meerkat and filled the water containers for Lion’s group. Actually finding the group was as much a matter of guessing as following Patches, who by that time was sore-footed as well as rebellious. When it came to following the hunters from where they’d been around noon, she simply laid down and dared me to drive her on.
I thought that by then they might be getting close to Meerkat’s camp, as after all they had estimated two days to get there. So I teleported their supplies to the camp and then flew back along the route I though they would be using. Luckily there was a full moon tonight, so I was able to find them. Lucky also that they had estimated the time it would take them so well. And I have seen most of the trail they will be returning over, so if they tell me each day where they will camp the next night, I should be able to teleport to those sites, leaving only Lion’s group to depend on Patches' skill as a reluctant tracker.
Year 2, Day 355
Fifteen days it took them to get Meerkat to the place where Storm Cloud’s group was encamped, and by that time most of Storm Cloud’s group had moved on. They’d left a few behind, and everyone seemed to know where they were going, so I didn’t worry too much about leaving them at the old camp site. Lion’s group had reached good grazing and water several days earlier. Everyone was feeding themselves and finding water, so all I had to do was continue to have Patches track Storm Cloud’s group to the Gather.
The Gather. Patches. Two problems for me to worry about. Do I really want to go to their Gather? Should I, or have I interfered more than enough already? And what am I to do about Patches? How easily the impulse to help can lead us into trouble!
I could have ignored the orphaned and starving puppy. Then I would not be agonizing over the moral problem of just how far I can justify meddling with Patches’ mind. She is not a domesticate, whose mind is adjusted to living with a dominant species. She is a tamed wild animal, and her instincts are telling her she should be part of a pack, challenging the dominant female for the right to breed. But she understands nothing of pack living.
I could free her, easily enough, but she could never survive on her own. No pack would accept her. Any dominant female would kill her on sight. She knows nothing of fighting; I myself have conditioned her against the very things that might keep her alive.
True, she is not a sentient, a creature that is aware of its own mortality. I can modify her mind, deepen her acceptance of humans as her pack, even reduce the instinct to mate. Perhaps that is what I should do? I cannot think of anything else. Perhaps I should not have saved her, but would I myself be alive if I had not?
Year 3, Day 1
Whatever else this planet may be, it is beautiful.
I teleported to one of the coasts I have found, far to the south, and sat for hours watching the waves roll in. Somewhere storms are raging, pushing the water into green hills, but here there is only a fresh breeze, droplets of spray wetting my hair, and the smell of salt and seaweed. Strange smells, when I arrived, but grown familiar now.
Shall I join the band I know at the gather? I open my hand to look again at the empty shell, miraculously unbroken, given to me by the waves. One of its like is the centerpiece of the necklace Storm Cloud loaned to Songbird. How long was the chain that brought that shell so far inland?
I would like to give this to Songbird, a small return for the help she gave me. Still gives me, as the incident with Lion’s camp proves. But how would that be regarded, in her culture? There was a sense of awe about Storm Cloud’s necklace. Was it because such shells are rare and precious? Because only the shamans wear them? What expectations would be raised by such a gift, to me a very slight thing indeed, but to them (in spite of all my denials) a literal gift from a god? So much I do not know!
I think I must go to the gather, if only to learn more about these people.
Year 3, Day 22
This is ridiculous.
I am not a young buck trying to impress the does, though no doubt there will be some at this gather. I am certainly not trying to convince anyone that I am a god – the People (as they call themselves) seem altogether too inclined to believe that anyway. So why am I worrying about clothes?
Worrying about footwear would make sense. My feet have still not hardened to the point I can walk any distance without covering them, though I can now walk for an hour or so in the tanned skin bags I have fashioned. The rest of my wardrobe ….
Well, my ship clothing is past repair. I have the linen tunic and a leather vest that Songbird made me, but they are getting badly worn. My tanning skills are not up to Songbird’s, and nowhere even close to her mother’s, but I’ve managed to tan — sort of – some gazelle skins for breechcloths. But compared to the men of the people, who were preparing for the gather when I visited them early today ….
I wish I could just go naked, the way I do around the shelter. But the people honestly believe that the difference between the People (they think of the word that way) and animals is that the People adorn themselves. Pigments ground from rock and plants, scarification, feathers, beads, shells, finely crafted tunics and breechcloths and even whole hides tanned with the head on. They would be shocked by my nudity. Beside, I would prefer to be as inconspicuous as possible, though my veined eyes and relatively straight hair would mark me out.
At least I think I have found the site, near a lake. Storm Cloud’s group is no more than a day’s travel away, which is no doubt why they have stopped for a day or two of preparation.
I hope they do not take my rather scruffy clothing as an insult.
Year 3 Day 25
I don’t know why I worried about clothes.
I teleported to where Storm Cloud had said their last camp would be well into the afternoon, to find them still present. Songbird caught me by the hand at once, and pulled me toward the shaman’s hut. “Hurry, hurry, she cried, “we must adorn you!” The next thing I knew I was being stripped and elaborately dressed in beautifully tanned leather, covered with designs in ivory and shell beads, porcupine quills, and carved bone. At least the loincloth they gave me didn’t chafe like mine. Perhaps I could trade for some properly tanned leather?
I managed to talk them out of dressing my hair with mud, but not out of the strongly scented fat they rubbed into it. Not that it made much difference, as they then covered it with a creation of feathers, fur and more beads that covered my head to such an extent that I could hardly see. Then they proceeded to paint designs on whatever skin was still visible. I think most of the paint was colored mud, though a thinner red color seemed to be some kind of vegetable dye.
The final step was a heavy leopard skin, complete with head and tail, to wear as a cloak. By this time I was sweating profusely in the heat, and felt more like jumping into the lake nearby to cool off than accompanying them along the shores to the meeting place, where a bonfire was already lighting up the darkening twilight.
“Ah,” said Storm Cloud with satisfaction. “Now you look like the god you are.”
I almost teleported back to the shelter.
Year 3 Day 50
It seems I am faced with a choice.
I can be treated as a god.
Or I can find some place where the People never come, and live utterly alone, perhaps for centuries.
I cannot face the second option.
I do not want to be a god. But already I have influenced these people, simply by knowing that certain things – like the fish traps or weaving clothes as they weave baskets – are possible. Can I live among them without changing them?
Some of the shamans still fear that I will diminish their authority, but most want me to stay near their gathering place. It is certainly a better place than that where my shelter is now. There is a lake, and trees, and a great abundance of wild animals. When I expressed surprise that they did not stay there, they told me that once they had done that, and the predators became too much of a problem in the lean seasons. So they wander after the herds, now, and staying in one place for more than a season is forbidden by the shamans. I am not sure they understand why.
They have made it very clear that such a prohibition would not apply to me. Am I not a god? And on a more practical point of view, I have the warnoffs, and could influence the minds of the local predators.
I could move the shelter here. After all, I rebuilt it from the escape capsule once. It would mean shutting down the computer for a while, making a new well, rebuilding the shelter—perhaps even better than what I have now.
The People would help me.
But do I really want to be a god in a temple?
Need it be that different from the summer when Songbird’s people lived nearby?
Year 3, Day 60
My first shelter was the escape capsule, where it half-crashed.
My second was nearby, my only thought to find a place high enough that I need not fear the rising water, but within easy teleport range – I’d forgotten how to counterweight, then, so it had to be close. But it was still not a particularly pleasant spot, nor one I would have chosen.
Here I am near the shore of a lake, with trees and grass nearby. Here I can watch sunrises and sunsets of surpassing beauty, with little fear of fire. Even the predators, I now suspect, are an excuse for not camping at this site, but preserving it as a ceremonial meeting place.
For it is considered sacred and thus, Storm Cloud tells me, a suitable place for me to stay.
It is volcanic, my perception tells me, and subject to local tidal waves and gas releases. Dangerous for them, yes, but I can foresee such disasters, and prepare against them. For that matter, I can to a certain extent prevent them, by making sure that the energy is released elsewhere. Some of the energy I can even use. There are hot springs here, and one of their yearly rituals involves soaking in a hot pool. It will be more than yearly for me!
It seems that I am to be treated as a god regardless of what I do. Why not live in this place?
Year 3 Day 74
These people age.
I know it, but I keep forgetting it. Animals age. My people don’t, but these People who have come to be so important to me age and die of that aging.
I knew Storm Cloud was old – her teeth are worn to stumps, her skin is wrinkled, and she moves with increasing difficulty, but somehow I didn’t realize she might be approaching her end. Until now.
Something has gone wrong in her brain, probably a blocked blood vessel. Her speech has become labored and slurred, and she cannot seem to move her left side. Songbird was sure I could help, but this is something quite different from setting a broken bone or fighting infection. I am no Healer, and I think even a Healer might not be able to help her beyond clearing the blockage.
There is no way she can continue to travel. Her clan recognizes that, and she and the rest of the shamans have already named her successor: one of her sons, Rain Cloud.
Even in this last illness she takes thought for her clan. Songbird, though still a child to me, has become a woman by their reckoning, and has a definite partiality for Giraffe, of Dust Devil’s group. He’s a few years older than she is, but a good lad, from what I can see, and fond of her. Storm Cloud has arranged with Dust Devil that Giraffe (who promises to live up to his namesake in height) will travel next year with Rain Cloud’s group.
I don’t think Storm Cloud expects to live until they leave.
Year 3 Day 90
Once, a long time ago, a R’il’nian I knew was killed (carelessness in a chemical laboratory) and left her body behind. I knew her well enough to attend her funeral, where we took turns remembering things about her. Finally we spoke the ritual words together: “Take the goodness and joy of your life with you as you go before, and let all sorrow and evil be consumed with your body in the furnace from which it came.” Then we joined together in teleporting her body into the sun.
More often, of course, people just gradually disappeared, as I no doubt have to my friends. We grow tired of life, and careless, or we think too highly of our abilities to take care when care is needed, as I did. We leave no bodies behind. But we do not simply wear out, like objects and animals.
These people are not objects or animals. They are people. They think. They dream – perhaps more than I do. They create and feel beauty. But they wear out.
How can this be?
Yet there is no doubt Storm Cloud is wearing out. She asked me to stay, to watch over her people. She sleeps now, or did when I left her. I do not think she will awaken from this sleep.
Year 3 Day 91
Storm Cloud is dead.
I am not sure how to react. Death among my people is so rare that all who know the deceased are shocked, stunned by something we do not expect.
These people see death as an enemy, yes, but as an enemy who will ultimately overcome everything alive. Everyone, they tell me, gets old and dies eventually, and Storm Cloud had lived for many years and had many daughters, daughters of daughters, and even their daughters, like Songbird. They grieve for her death, but they see it, not as a shocking surprise, but as the expected end of her life. Already they accept Rain Cloud as their leader and shaman.
I thought of offering to teleport her into the sun, as we honor our dead, but it was clear that they had their own plans. He daughters have been hidden in her shelter with her since she had died, and the men of the group, led by Rain Cloud, are digging a pit not far from the shore of the lake. A pit to roast an animal? But it didn’t look like that, somehow.
Could they be planning to cook and eat her body?
Year 3 Day 92
They bury their dead.
It seems terribly messy and unhygienic to me, leaving their bodies to be eaten by burrowing animals and worms, but they dressed Storm Cloud in all her shamanic regalia, wrapped her in a tanned antelope skin, and lowered her body into the pit they had dug. Then each of her descendants filed by the pit to add some small offering—mostly foodstuffs—before they filled in the pit with earth. I gave her the shell I had found by the sea.
By their beliefs, they are honoring her, just as we honor our dead by teleporting their bodies into our sun. It seems very strange to me, but our ways would clearly be impossible for them, and they must dispose of bodies in some way.
I teleported back to the shelter when the funeral was over, both to update this journal and to think. Does it make sense to stay here? I know now that this is beyond the range over which the People normally wander, even in good years. Would it not make more sense to move the solar panels and the computer to the vicinity of the lake? It is not quite as stable as here; the lake is in a rift valley. But I can perceive magma rising, and surely I could avoid eruptions.
Rain Cloud has told me that while they very the exact site of the gather, it is always somewhere along the shores of the lake, and if I chose to have a place there, they would find it much easier to locate me. He even suggested that Meerkat, who no longer has a group and cannot live by herself, could serve me. I am not so sure about that.
Year 3 Day 136
The computer is no help at all.
Oh, it has an architectural module. I can play all I want with floor plans, wall finishes, furniture – anything like that. But it assumes I have access to finished materials, standard furnishings, and robot builders, none of which are available here.
What I do have is plant material in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and hardness, animal skins and bones, rocks of all sizes, and dirt. Lots of dirt. Can I use the architectural program to define the shape of what I want, and somehow build walls, roof and even furnishings from what I have?
I decided some time ago on a site. It is well above the lake, with a beautiful view. I wish I had some transparent material that would keep animals and insects out while allowing me to look out, but for the moment daylight will have to come from thinly scraped skins. Beyond that, I’m still not sure what I’ll use to make a dwelling. Parts of the emergency capsule are still usable, and I’ll certainly teleport the computer and the solar panels to the new site, but there must be a better way to build a shelter!
This is one place where the people would be of little help, even if they were here. They simply do not build permanent shelters.
I wonder …. Is it possible to fuse dirt into something harder with my esper abilities?
Year 3 Day 195
I think I’ve solved the light problem. I’ve been fusing the local soil for the main structure, and have gotten pretty good at it. It takes a lot of energy, and while I can get some of that energy from the waterfall, I am still limited to a small amount of building in a given day.
In a way this has been an advantage. Since I can do only a small amount a day, I’ve noticed that different soils give different colors to the fabric of the structure, and started searching for different raw materials, just out of curiosity. And I’ve found a pale sand that is translucent when fused. In fact, today I tried really increasing the fusion temperature, and found that if I heat it until it is all liquid and then cool it rapidly, it is transparent enough to see through. I can use it at strategic points to have a view of the lake and the mountains when I am indoors!
According to the computer, this fusing followed by transparency is due in part to the fact that the liquid does not crystallize, but cools to a glassy, very viscous liquid state. I may have to reshape it periodically, but I will be able to see out.
Of course that only allows for light during the daytime. The solar panels and the lights from the emergency capsule will have to do at night, but since this shelter is to be larger than my old one, and much larger than the original capsule, I have lights and panels enough for only a single room. I may have to be content with firelight, as I am going to need the input from the solar panels for the computer.
I’m also rebuilding the calendar. This place is a good deal nearer the equator than my old one, though still in the southern hemisphere. But I can tell that today is the day of the southward equinox. I wonder—do the People wander back and forth, or in a circle that touches here only once a year?
Year 3 Day 270
My new home is almost finished – at least as far as the structure goes. I decided to cover most of it with soil and vegetation, for insulation. I do have windows, deep-set and transparent, looking in all directions, but from outside only the porch and entryway are obvious. The site is well above the lake, with both hot and cold springs supplying me with water. It’s wonderful to have a large soaking tub again!
So far it’s only a shell. I’ve been teleporting back and forth to the old shelter, recording my journal there and moving what I need at the moment to the new site. Today I found that the rains had started at the old site, so last year’s drought was a relatively short one.
Will Rain Cloud lead the group I know best back to the vicinity of my old shelter? From the steady drumming of the rain on the roof, the grass will soon begin growing and the animals should follow it to provide good hunting. I will begin planning to move the rest of the solar panels and the computer soon, but might I not stay here long enough to see if my friends come?
Perhaps I should search the area for them? I must confess I am curious to see whether Songbird and Giraffe will make a pairing, and perhaps even have a child. Of course a pairing here is only a commitment on the part of the male to protect his mate and her children; these people have no concept of biological fatherhood and that is one thing about which I have no intention of enlightening them. But Songbird is no longer a child herself, and it would be pleasant to see hers.
I wish there were women of my own species here.
Year 3, Day 275
Songbird has become a woman.
I don’t know why I am so surprised. I knew that these people mature far faster than my own species, that the females are fertile quite often – they must be, to have several children of different ages at once. I had deduced that with them, pelvic width and breast development were not a sign of rare fertile periods, as is the case with my own people, but normal once sexual maturity was reached.
Somehow I had not applied that knowledge to Songbird.
I decided to go looking for Rain Cloud’s group, with the aid of Patches. She knows them, so I just levitated high enough I could see a day’s journey in all directions, and then teleported her to the vicinity of any concentrations of game I could see. Within three days she had located the group, and I flew to them, lowered myself to the surface and walked in.
They appeared pleased, if surprised, to see me. “Are you not staying by the lake?” Rain Cloud asked me.
“I have built a shelter there, but I have not yet moved everything I need,” I explained.
They looked at me in utter bewilderment. Shelters, to them, are temporary things, intended to last no more than a few fivedays at most. Possessions are worn or carried. The idea of having more possessions than could be carried was totally foreign to their way of thinking.
I seem to need more than that: the computer, a safe and reliable water supply, protection from wild animals as well as the elements, and a place to sleep. And footwear, of course, which still totally puzzles them.
What will they think of my new dwelling?
Well, at least I had a chance to visit with old friends. Songbird seems quite happy with Giraffe, and they plan to be formally mated at the next Gather.
Why does that make me fell sad?
Year 3, Day 295
Well, they’re gone again.
I shouldn’t be surprised. They follow the herds, and the herds had gone on. I think now that they stayed in one place much longer than usual when Songbird led them to me, perhaps because Storm Cloud wanted to learn what she could from me. But I will be seeing them again at the Gather.
Songbird and Giraffe will be formally mated there, and I would not be at all surprised if Songbird is pregnant by then. Not that it will make the least difference to anyone; it is considered rather a good omen if the fertility of the bride is proven.
Meanwhile I might as well start deciding what I want to take with me and what is the best way to manage power. The solar panels are limited, they will not last forever, and I have no way of building more, so some other kind of power generation will be necessary if I plan to stay on this planet. As if I had any choice!
The computer needs electricity. It also has instructions on how to build a simple generator, though for that I will need to find copper and iron. Native copper is used by the People for ornaments, so it should be no real problem to form it into wires telekinetically. I may have to use some very delicate telekinesis to get iron from iron oxide, though.
The energy to run a generator? There are several possibilities. Direct heat from the sun, focused by a curved mirror, is one, and perhaps the best. A water wheel is a possibility as well, and the same spring that is supplying my drinking water runs into a stream flowing fast enough to use. I want something that will not require constant attention.
What to take with me? I am a little surprised at how much I have accumulated. Some of my first, rather crude containers can be left. The panels and insulation from the original escape capsule may still be useful, and of course clothing made by the People. My own crude attempts at tanning skins and using them for clothing can certainly be abandoned. Cooking utensils and the cooker from the capsule – yes, if I can manage electric power. I haven’t been using them here, but that’s because what power I have from the solar panels has to be used for the computer and lights.
I might as well start planning how to move the computer.
Jarn’s Journal Year 4 Day 1
How strange it feels to write this date, and realize that in 116 days I will have been here for four years. It is the northward equinox again, a fitting day for my final move. The solar panels are installed, I have almost completed a crude generator, and I have moved everything I can possibly use from the old shelter. It seems strange to return there now and see nothing but the calendar.
The nomads will be here in a few fivedays, if they follow the same schedule they did last year. I wonder what they will think of my new home. It is not at all conspicuous, and I can at least hope they do not try to treat is as a temple.
I have to admit that I will be happy to see them again. I need to trade for more tanned skins and weaving, and I’m afraid my cooking has not improved with time.
And to tell the truth, I am increasingly lonely here.
Year 4 Day 30
I’ve been expecting their return for the last two fivedays, and even resorted to flights over the surrounding countryside. I spotted the first group, a day or two away, three days ago, and have seen several since. There are things I can find more easily than they can, and I have laid in a good supply of salt, tropical fruits, and obsidian.
I need to trade for tanned skins and cooking. I can get foodstuffs easily enough, with Patches’ help, but the computer is not much help in telling me how to cook them. Same problem as the architecture program, but worse: the recipes assume I have a cooker that needs only to be programmed.
Perhaps I should have accepted the offer of Meerkat’s help? Her cooking could not be as bad as mine. But her company …. Not to mention the assumptions she was quite willing to make! The People are better company than Patches, and I might as well admit that company has become more important to me than tanned hides and cooking, but they are not R’il’nian.
Songbird and Giraffe were, predictably, the first to wish to see my new home, and the most charmed by it. I’ve managed a small heat pump which keeps food cool, and Songbird was amazed and delighted to see how meat would keep fresh for a few days without salting, drying and smoking. They are to be mated at this gather, and I assumed they would be staying with Rain Cloud’s group, but they seemed a little hesitant about that. They could go back with Dust Devil’s group, but do not seem enthusiastic about that, either.
I hope they make up their minds soon, Unless I am very mistaken, Songbird will be a mother before the next gather.
Year 4 Day 64
I think last year the gather was longer than usual, because of Storm Cloud’s illness and possibly because of my presence. This year I can see more clearly why they have these meetings, and that not all the scattered bands come. Two are here for the first time in several years, one sent word they were not coming, and three simply did not show up.
Mostly, the business of the gather is arranging matings, formalizing them, and recognizing and welcoming children born since the last gather. Beyond that, it seems a time for meeting old friends, exchanging information, and just plain partying.
Did I mention that they have discovered that certain half-rotted fruits affect them rather strongly? They don’t seem to affect me, and I don’t even care for the taste. Some of the young men, in particular, can get downright wild and irresponsible when indulging. I was pleased to observe that Giraffe was not among them.
I am getting quite spoiled by the cooked food they bring me, and I am doing my best to make returns by presenting them with things they have difficulty in procuring for themselves. Salt and obsidian, I have found, are always welcome, as are foodstuffs from the jungle to the north. I have found a kind of tree in desert oases that produces a fruit even sweeter than figs, and these fruits, dried, last for months. The children love them. The men are adding water and trying to ferment them.
Songbird is quite definitely expecting. Strange — I almost feel like a grandfather-to-be. I hope the birth is not difficult for her, as some seem to be for these people. I suspect their heads have enlarged faster than their hips have broadened. The women of my people broaden far more in the hips when they are fertile, but only then. Songbird would have a hard time keeping up with her band if he hips had broadened enough to have a child easily.
Year 4 Day 81
The gather is almost over for the year.
I keep telling myself, as the time for parting approaches, that they are clever animals, that their resemblance to my species is superficial, that I can have no real relationships with them.
I fool no one but myself, and I don’t do a very good job of that.
Meerkat, now plump again, has taken over the job of preparing my food and clothing. She is careful not to annoy me, but there are times, when she does not know I am watching her, that she looks strangely wistful. Did my refusal to accept her as an acolyte last year hurt her that much? She still has no real place with Rain Cloud’s group; they have taken her in because she has no place to go, but none of the males of that group would be willing to take her as a second mate. I am not sure why. Certainly her skills at cooking and clothing preparation are above average—far better than Songbird’s were when I first took her in, and even those were far better than mine. I suspect she is not willing to take second place.
I say were, because Songbird has learned a great deal from her mother since the days when she lived with me. Although Meerkat does most of the cooking, Songbird still prepares some of my favorites when she can coax me into bringing her the ingredients. Giraffe has become a good hunter, and is one of the few who seems able to work with Patches.
I will miss them, and the care they take of me.
Year 4 Day 90
Is this possible?
I have been torn between wanting the company of the People and the knowledge that I could not survive as they do. My feet will not stand walking, I am all but helpless without the computer, and I have far less strength and skill than do they. I was happiest with Songbird, but I could not keep her separate from her people. Yet now she wishes to stay with me, along with Giraffe.
Rain Cloud and Dust Devil came together to the portico of my new home this morning, trailed by Songbird, Giraffe and Meerkat. They bowed low, much to my annoyance – I hate having my home treated as a temple. Then they began a long spiel, interrupting each other frequently, about how they wished to honor me but it was difficult when they would soon be moving on after the herds. That they had something in mind that they were not sure I would accept was obvious. Meerkat again?
Songbird had been rolling her eyes for some time when they paused for a moment and she broke in. (I am afraid she learned some very bad manners while she was staying with me.) “Giraffe and I would like to stay with you, to prepare your food and clothing,” she said.
My first reaction was delight. My second, almost as fast, was panic. Songbird is quite definitely pregnant, and I have no idea of how to deliver a baby. Would even the computer have any information on that? Babies are so rare with us that I really was not sure. Furthermore, I have already noticed that these people’s hips, even at their widest, are not as wide as those of a R’il’nian woman during pregnancy.
“Meerkat would stay, too,” she continued. “My mother says she has taught me what she could, but Meerkat has knowledge she does not. And her own clan does not need her – they have others skilled at helping new life into the world.
Skilled at helping new life into the world – a midwife? Suddenly the prospect brightened. Giraffe is an adequate hunter, especially paired with Patches, and I can supplement what he hunts with foodstuffs from places out of his reach. Between Songbird and Meerket that food will be far better cooked than I can manage myself, and with Meerkat as midwife and whatever is in the computer Songbird’s pregnancy is no longer so terrifying. With Songbird and Giraffe present Meerkat is unlikely to become a problem. I can once again devote my time to exploration, to learning as much as I can about this world.
Rain Cloud and Dust Devil were looking at me as if they expected me to strike them with lightning. “I would enjoy their company,” I said.
By my calendar, tomorrow will be the anniversary of Storm Cloud’s death. I think she would be pleased by this turn of events.
Year 4 Day 150
I am going to make a proper map. Certainly of this continent; perhaps in time of this entire world.
I’ve known that the key was time since my first fumbling efforts. If I know a base time, and the exact height and direction of the sun, I can locate myself on a grid of longitude and latitude. The height and direction of the sun are no great problem, but time?
I think I have solved that problem. The computer has a mental interface, but I’m not very good at that kind of interfacing. I can, however handle the interfacing for something as simple as a time check, and give it back the exact position of the sun at my location. It can then calculate my position relative to its own. Each landmark I observe is then given a latitude and longitude based on the equator being at zero latitude, and the computer being at zero longitude.
With Giraffe hunting, Songbird and Meerkat gathering and cooking, and all three supplying my clothing, I actually have time for this.
I am still a little worried about Songbird. The computer does have some information on the birth process, but for R’il’nians and animals. Our women remodel their bone structure as they approach their fertile period, and the remodeling to give a larger pelvic opening continues throughout pregnancy. They waddle most enticingly for the last month or so, but their pelvic opening by the time of birth is quite large enough for our large-headed infants to pass through. Animals do not remodel their bones, but they produce relatively small-headed infants.
The People produce large-headed infants – I saw some at the Gather – but their hips scarcely widen at all. When I spoke to Meerkat she admitted that this sometimes causes problems – especially if the mother has not had a child before.
It will be several moons, she assures me. About four, I think, if their gestation period is similar to ours. I hope Songbird is among those who have no problem.
Year 4 Day 212
I am getting increasingly worried about Songbird. Her belly has become so large that she has to lean backward when she walks, but she waddles no more than Meerkat—less, actually, since staying in one place has allowed Meerkat to regain the weight stripped from her by starvation. Meerkat insists the pregnancy is progressing normally, but it has become obvious that Songbird’s hips are not remodeling themselves. I can only hope that her ligaments are still elastic enough to allow the baby to be born.
My mapping project is progressing well. I decided to start by flying due east, memorizing and locating landmarks along the way, until I reached salt water. From there I am moving north along the coast, which initially ran due north, with an occasional island offshore. By the third fiveday it began curving back to the west and then back northward, but not so straight, and with larger islands offshore. I have visited a few of these, and recorded their location and teleport coordinates.
At my present position, right on the equator, islands are rare, and the coast is trending more northeast. The vegetation is not actually jungle, such as I found farther west at this latitude, but healthy forest and grassland. I’m glad it’s so easy to teleport back to my new home each night.
I am more and more alternating flying and teleporting to landmarks ahead, though much more systematically than I did earlier. I am even providing some of what we eat—many of the ocean fish are fatter and far better eating than those the lake provides. I wonder how long it will take me to find the northern desert shore I visited earlier.
Year 4 Day 225
I wish I could remember Kana’s pregnancy better. She was a colleague years ago, and the only R’il’nian woman I ever saw pregnant. It seems to me she changed a lot more than Songbird, while staying much better balanced, which goes along with what little information I can find on the computer. With Songbird, I am forced to rely on Meerkat, who still insists the pregnancy is going well.
Mapping the coastline has hit a couple of snags. The northeastward trend changed abruptly when the coastline turned due west, to my relief. I know there is salt water far north of where I first crash-landed the emergency craft, and the turn to the west seemed to indicate that I was finally moving toward it. But yesterday I suddenly realized that another coastline was approaching the one I followed, from farther north. Today I found that while they approach each other, so closely that I hardly have to levitate to see the northern landmass, they do not actually meet. Rather, the approach forms a gateway to a wider sea leading north-northeast.
Do I follow the coastline to the north-northeast? If only the computer had been recording images from space, but it was totally focused on finding a safe landing spot. All I have is my own memory of a wide east-west trending continental mass with a southward extension at its trailing edge. I know I am on the southward extension, but how is it cut off from the main mass? By water?
The water north of the gateway is saltier than the ocean, so it is not a river estuary, but does it lead to the northern sea? Why did the northern sea not show tides?
Year 4 day 236
One of the bits of information that is in the computer files is that pregnant women sometimes crave particular foods, and that seems to carry over to the People. At least Songbird would very much like some dates.
The particular clone of trees I found earlier did indeed produce a fruit that the People relished, but most of the trees of that type do not. Since that clone does not currently have ripe fruit, I added testing of palm trees to my mapping--somewhat doubtfully, as the coastline I am now mapping is pure desert. Today, however, I levitated enough to get an overview of the area (and make myself very short of breath) and while I did not see any ending of this very salty sea to the north, I spotted a thread of green far to the west. A river? Could it flow into the tideless sea I seek?
It was indeed a river, and on its banks grew not only reeds, but date palms. And the river flows northward! I spent the rest of today checking for ripe fruit, feeling for high sugar content. And I found another of the trees with sweet fruit. It must be a rare mutation, so I made sure I memorized the teleport coordinates of that tree as well as gathering some of the fruit.
Shall I continue my mapping of the coastline of the salty sea, assuming that it will eventually meet with the destination of the river? Or start tomorrow from the river and follow it northward?
Whichever way I choose, Songbird (and Giraffe and Meerkat) were overjoyed to have the dates.
Year 4 Day 240
Meerkat says another moon cycle, and laughs behind our backs at both Giraffe and me. At least we can keep busy, Giraffe with supplying food and hides while I get on with my mapping and contribute an occasional exotic edible.
I decided to investigate both the salty sea and the north-flowing river, spending half of each day on one and then teleporting to the farthest point I have explored on the other. Today I reached the northern end of the salty sea, and found I could levitate high enough to see another ocean to the north, and far to my left a green, swampy-looking area that must be the delta of the river. Tomorrow I will follow the river, which seems the water route to the tideless sea.
The salty ocean does not actually connect with the tideless one, though even a slight rise in sea level would cause a breakthrough. The northward-flowing river, however, evidently does and I will switch tomorrow to following it. It’s a good thing I can levitate, as the quick look I got did not suggest that walking the bank of this river would be either easy or comfortable. If nothing else, it looks like an ideal habitat for blood-sucking insects!
I hope Songbird has her child soon, as I don’t think she’ll be able to walk if she gets much larger.
Year 4 Day 265
The river flows into the tideless sea, all right, though it isn’t as tideless as I first thought. When I checked the water level with the position of the moon over several days, it became obvious that there is a very slight rise and fall, so this salt water body must connect somewhere with the tidal sea I found far to the west. Storms and offshore and onshore winds, however, have much more effect on the water level. It is not as salty as the seaway I followed earlier, though still saltier than the open sea once I get well away from the river delta.
I have cut back a little on my exploration, studying the delta in the morning, teleporting back to my home base to check on Songbird at noon, and following the coast westward in the afternoon. So far the coast westward is primarily desert, though there is greenery now and then where there are springs. There must be mountain regions where the water table is recharged, but I have not found them yet.
The delta is fascinating since I figured out how to set the warnoffs to repel the hordes of biting insects -- not to mention the water snakes, the hippos and the crocodiles. I don’t think the People would be very happy here. Their advantage of height, of being able to see over the vegetation, would be totally lost in these reed beds.
I wish Songbird would hurry up and have her baby. Meerkat thinks it could be any day now.
Year 4, Day 271
I don’t know how much longer I can stand this.
Meerkat built a hut for the birth, and informed Giraffe and me that this was a women’s mystery and we were most emphatically not welcome.
Songbird just screamed again. How can a man do this to a woman? But they don’t know they are responsible.
The screams are bad enough, but I’m also sharing the pain. No wonder the fathers I’ve known have looked so drained after a birth! A father worthy of the name is expected to mind-link with his mate to help her through the birth process. And I think Giraffe would if he could, even though he has no idea that he had anything to do with this.
Could I trade on being considered a god to override Meerkat’s exclusion of males? But what could I do if she let me in? I am no Healer, even if the computer had any information on a birth process with no remodeling of the pelvis.
How do these People survive?
Year 4 Day 271, Sunset
There must be something I can do! The screams are driving me mad, and the terrible pain and pressure will not relent. Not to mention the anxiety, which I think is coming from both Giraffe, who has been increasingly worried all afternoon, and now from Meerkat as well.
The screams are growing weaker.
Meerkat is shouting, “Push! Push!”
I’m going into the hut, no matter what Meerkat says!
I didn’t quite make it to the hut when there was a feeling of breaking through, followed by a new sound, a high squall. Songbird’s screaming ceased. Heart pounding, I pushed my way into the hut.
The smell of blood filled my nostrils, and Songbird looked very small in the corner of the hut. But I saw her chest rise and fall, and a smile lit her face as she bent over a tiny, red creature scarcely recognizable as human, the cord connecting mother and baby still pulsing. Meerkat was bent over the two, doing something with the cord, and I backed out before she saw me. Songbird’s pain was still there, but overlain with joy, and Meerkat’s anxiety had changed to satisfaction.
I think we will all live.
Year 4 Day 272
I have to start thinking straight, instead of letting my feelings run away with me. Is not the first rule never to interfere with a sentient species? But I have ignored that rule so often that I cannot now stop disobeying it without causing further harm.
The fact remains that these People are not R’il’nians. They grow old. They die. A hundred year from now I will be much the same, but not one of them will be alive. Not Songbird, not her newborn son, probably not even his grandchildren.
I should learn to think of them as animals, aging as they do, knowing they will come in and out of my life.
Giraffe is carefully flaking the smallest spear point I have ever seen, already preparing to teach his son to hunt. Songbird is so totally lost in wonder that she has produced this tiny miracle that her happiness is making me light-headed. The baby? He looks a little more human today, but still not like much like a rational creature.
Who am I fooling?
I had better get back to determining the extent of this continent.
Year 4 Day 282
Back to mapping, and to tell the truth I’m getting a little bored. On my right is water. On my left is sand. Now and then the sand is broken by trees and even a bit of grass growing where ground water reaches the roots, or by rocks. There are mountains visible occasionally, which I presume are the source of the ground water, but it is not a very inviting place for hunters.
Giraffe is still planning how to teach his son to hunt, but we are both increasingly frustrated by Meerkat’s insistence that it would be very bad luck for Songbird to come out of the birthing hut, or for a male to enter, until the day of the new moon. How they manage if they are traveling when a child is born is beyond me, and I suspect Meerkat is taking advantage of the fact that neither Giraffe nor I have been near a birthing woman before. It should be only a few more days; the moon is a late waning crescent.
I shall have to make it very clear to Patches that the baby is to be guarded, not treated as prey. She is certainly capable of learning to regard the little one as her own cub, just as she accepts Giraffe and me as her packmates.
One thing bothers me about the mapping: I am fairly sure I am west of where I found the western ocean before, and the coastline has just turned north again. It is hazy, but when I levitate as far as I can go and breathe comfortably, I think I see mountains to the north. Am I mistaken in thinking this almost tideless sea connects to the ocean to the west I found earlier?
Year 4, Day 287
The baby is actually starting to look human. I almost said R’il’nian, but that is not true. The head is smaller, probably to fit through a smaller birth canal, and he still looks rather unfinished. But from what I’ve seen of R’il’nian babies (not much) and what I’ve been able to find from the computer files, he’s normal, just born at a little earlier stage of gestation than is usual with my people.
We had a little naming ceremony when the faint crescent of the new moon was just visible at sunset. Meerkat very officiously escorted Songbird and her new son from the birthing hut, which was then ceremoniously burned. While it was burning, and before the crescent set, Giraffe curled the baby’s hands around the tiny spear he had made and promised to teach him how to use it, and Songbird announced that his name was WildDog, after Patches. I stood by looking benign and feeling rather foolish.
Patches appears to approve the name, and (with a little tweaking of her mind) regards little WildDog as a pack puppy. Getting her to regard him as her own puppy might not be safe for Songbird—the packmate bond is strong, but not so strong that it will prevent a female from attacking a packmate she thinks is stealing her pups!
Giraffe and Songbird seem to have appointed themselves as my acolytes, and I helped Giraffe build a relatively permanent structure for the two three of them to live in. He started out with a somewhat more permanent version of the huts they build for shelter during the rainy season, a sort of brush structure roofed with grass and leaves. I suggested that if he pressed mud against the walls, it would hold it together and I could fuse the surface to stabilize it. Then he suggested that the inside walls might be daubed too, and I offered to fuse the floors. We left an open space between the walls and the roof, for light and air, but it can be filled with thorns to stop predators. In fact, Giraffe devised a very clever shutter system, so that thorny branches fastened to a frame of smooth ones can be lifted into place by hide ropes. More of the creativity these People posses.
Songbird is delighted with her new home. I need to get back to my mapping.
Year 4, Day 295
Note to myself: never fly in a thunderstorm without setting up the parameters for an emergency teleport!
In fact, never fly in a thunderstorm, period. And check the weather at the spot you’re aiming for in a teleport!
I knew I was getting far enough north that I was getting into the fringe of the winter rain belt, but between sand and dead grass I hadn’t paid much attention. I followed the coast northward until it turned back toward the west, noting only vaguely that the shoreline was steadily getting not only more mountainous, but greener. The coastlines I’ve been passing must have owed part of their condition to drought, because when I aimed a teleport at where I’d been the day before, over the coast but far enough in the air to have a good view, I landed smack in the middle of a violent updraft, surrounded by roiling clouds and lightning.
Lucky for me that it was an updraft! If I had arrived in a rain shaft, I would have been smashed into the ground before I had time to react. As it was, I spent several minutes frantically deflecting lightning and keeping myself aloft, too busy even to notice that I was soaked through. Then I was suddenly being pelted by hail. By that time I had recovered enough to realize I’d hit a downdraft and remember the “home” coordinates to get out of there!
I’d known that there was probably a winter-wet zone north of the desert; I just didn’t realize that once I followed the coast northward I’d be in the heart of it. As a result, I totally forgot that at least in theory, it is possible to check the weather at any point for which one has memorized the teleport coordinates. It wasn’t something I’m particularly practiced at, after all I hardly ever teleported at home. But I’d better see what’s in the computer and relearn that particular aspect of teleportation. I don’t want to land in another thundercloud!
Year 4, Day 330
The tideless sea does connect with the tidal sea to the west, though the connection is much farther west than I expected.
I’ve not been getting as far on my mapping as I was; there are too many thunderstorms. In general it’s not too bad in the morning, but as soon as I approach a storm, I head home. As a result, I don’t get very far on any given day.
Yesterday, however, I began seeing another landmass, very faint, to the north. The coast I was following bent north to meet it, and I feared I had come to the end of what might be only a colossal salt lake. But today I continued and found a relatively narrow strait between the coast I have been following and the one approaching from the north that leads to a slightly fresher sea with a much higher and longer swell. I cannot be absolutely sure this is the global ocean, but I went far enough to be sure it is quite large, somewhat less salty than the tideless sea, and that the current through the strait is primarily the pouring of the slightly fresher water into the sea I have been following. The climate along the shore has been suggesting for some time that more water is evaporating than is falling on the sea or running into it, so it makes sense that the water must be replenished somehow.
Little WildDog is two moons old. He seems to be developing physically at about the same rate as the computer says is normal for an infant R’il’nian, and now occasionally drags himself around the floor. He does not seem to understand speech as a R’il’nian infant would, but he does seem to recognize that it means something, and listens quite intensely when his mother is speaking. I suspect he will understand language before he is able to produce it. Certainly he babbles enough!
Songbird is asking me repeatedly when the People will return. I estimate about a moon cycle and a half, and I hope to at least have a good start on mapping the west coast of this continent by then. The weather should be drier once I turn south.
Year 5 Day 2
Still the coast runs westward, though now south as well. At least the rain has been left behind, though there is now no vegetation. Did I think I was following a desert shore before? I had no idea that such a large area as that now to my east could be so barren! Sand, mostly, varied by a few rocks and distant hills. When the wind blows, it whips up sand and dust, carrying the dust far over the ocean, and I can no more fly than I could in a thunderstorm. When I can see anything, it is clear that the sand itself is piled into huge waves by the wind. Some days I can feel the sand blowing as I prepare to teleport to the coast, and just don’t bother.
The People should be returning soon, if I am right in thinking they arrive not too long after the northward equinox, what I have taken as the start of the year. Songbird is preparing for her baby’s recognition by the group. She has nagged Giraffe into killing a gazelle fawn, and is tanning the skin to a buttery softness to make little WildDog his first shirt. He’s never worn clothes, so she is dithering about how large to make them. Luckily this is an old problem for Meerkat, who has told Songbird quite firmly to wait until the last minute to see how much he grows. And to wait also to put them on him, as he is quite definitely not housebroken, and (unlike Patches) seems to have no instinct not to soil his sleeping quarters!
I am thinking I should take a day or two off mapping and check the edible date trees I have found, to see if any are ripe. I scooped out a little hollow near the desert coast and filled it with sea water, and the sun is evaporating it so quickly that I should have a good supply of salt to bring back. Obsidian can be collected at the last minute; I’ve found several good sources. Perhaps I should collect that for a parting gift?
Year 5 Day 15
The vegetation is changing rapidly as I move farther south. I think I must be approaching the summer-wet zone as the shores are rapidly getting greener, though a green that looks somewhat wilted. Palm trees are reappearing, and where rivers flow out of the interior of the continent (as they do here) they are lined with trees. When I levitate as high as I can while still being able to breathe, it looks as if the coast is bending east ahead of me. I am still far north and west of where I crashed, but the varying climates are starting to make sense.
I think I will curtail my further exploration, though if I am right about approaching a summer-wet area it will be much harder to map in a few moon-cycles than it is now. But I find I am looking forward far more than I expected to the return of the People to the lake shore. Meerkat and Songbird are frantically making adornments for all of us, though I certainly have enough from last year. Songbird, however, insists that I must have ornaments that suit my status as a god, and apparently last year’s won’t do.
Could I possibly convince them to limit their adornments of me to body paint, and concentrate on suitable decoration for WildDog? Or perhaps I could make myself some kind of jewelry? At least I am not going to war that headdress or leopard skin cloak! They are far too hot!
Year 5 Day 20
The shape of the continent I’m on is interesting, but I have time – altogether too much of it, to be honest – and it seems just as reasonable to study the area around the gather lake. Besides, I might spot some of the People coming to the gather. So that’s what I’ve been doing the last few days, and I’ve spotted three groups coming in. I think one is Lion’s, though I was not sure of the other two.
It’s a long lake, oriented north and south, with uplands on either side. Some of them look volcanic, and I suspect the lake is part of a rift valley. It’s quite a distance northeast of my initial landing site, and even of the waterfall that first allowed me to use its energy to counterbalance levitation. The distance these people cover in their migrations is astonishing.
Today I found a fourth group – Rain Cloud’s. They saw me flying, and started waving and jumping in excitement. So I came to earth and assured them that the three who had stayed behind with me were doing well and that I was well cared for. I debated telling them of WildDog, but at last decided that Songbird and Giraffe should have that pleasure. One of the older men was no longer with them, and there was a child I do not remember, about the same size as WildDog. I assume that means about the same age.
It’s easy enough to teleport to any of the areas I’ve mapped, and I have gathered sweet-smelling sap from trees near the long, salty sea and a rich purple-red dye from shellfish I found in the tideless sea. I have plans other than gifts for those!
Year 5 Day 24
You’d think that by now I’d know that I haven’t a shred of artistic sense in my body. No, I had to try to decorate myself. Giraffe and Meerkat are too much in awe of me to laugh in my face, but Songbird could not suppress her giggles.
“Fine,” I said. “You decorate me. But I absolutely am not going to wear that mask and leopard skin!”
She fingered my skin, covered with splotches of the red-purple dye. “Can you get that off?”
Rather sullenly I felt out the structure of the dye and teleported it away. It took me a while – I’m not exactly expert in that kind of work – and while I was working at the problem, Songbird was drawing with a stick on a patch of dirt. She finished and began chewing a twig about the time my skin returned to its normal dark bronze color.
“Now, do you have more of that color? It’s different from any I’ve seen before. We’ll say it’s a holy color, just for you, and set it off with white.”
I handed her the rest of the shellfish dye, and she dipped the chewed twig into it and began painting a curving design on my inner thighs, the least visible part of my body. Gradually she extended her design over the rest of my body and face, now and then asking me to remove the dye in some small area she had painted by mistake. “There,” she said. By then it was night, and I went to one of the small glass windows I had made and looked at myself. The reflection was distorted, of course, but I was very definitely not an animal. And it was clearly adornment, the red dye and the white clay in a pattern that followed my body with symbols I had come to recognize.
“You do need a headdress,” she said. “Feathers, perhaps? I could braid them into your hair so they make a crest. And I should touch up the skin color, especially the white, just before the celebration.”
I rolled my eyes a bit, then thought of the sap. “Could you scent the feathers with this?”
At least it is better than the gear I have had to wear the last two gathers, and the sap should cover some of the other smells!
Year 5, Day 45
I think I missed a few things last year.
It seems that the shaman has more of a part in the recognition of a new baby by the group than I realized. The shaman of the group the mother is from presents the baby, and plays a part in the ceremonial naming. All very reasonable—the shaman is the one who would know who the mother is.
The problem is that Songbird was not in a group with a shaman when little WildDog was born.
And they want me to stand as shaman at his recognition.
They’re very deferential about it, but it seems that neither Meerkat nor Giraffe is acceptable. I’d be willing, but I can’t help worrying what effect this is going to have on WildDog’s status with the group. Hard as I’ve tried to dissuade them, they still look on me as a god.
I had a private talk with Rain Cloud to find out just what is expected of a shaman sponsoring a child. “Just hold the child up so everyone can see him, and say that he is the child of Songbird,” he assured me. “A child is given a token, strung on a cord around his neck – you must have seen Songbird’s – to show he is one of us. Shall I find something?” But he felt a little doubtful.
Suddenly I remembered seeing a green outcrop of rock far west of my first landing site. I’d been interested enough to smooth a face, and remembered how the markings reminded me of storm clouds. I could smooth a bit into a disk with a hole to hang around the baby’s neck. “I’ll find something appropriate,” I assured Rain Cloud.
Year 5 Day 50
How do I get myself into these things? At least Rain Cloud agreed to stand with me!
I stated that WildDog is Songbird’s child. (And Giraffe’s, though I am determined not to say anything that will puff him up any more than does being guardian to such a fine boy.) But Songbird still regards Rain Cloud as her shaman, and herself as a part of Rain Cloud’s group. So Rain Cloud accepted WildDog as a part of his clan, and I vouched that he was born into that group. And we both held him aloft between us for the recognition by the whole group. I hope that as he grows older he will not be treated differently because I took a part in his Naming.
I counted fifteen other children being Named, rarely more than one to a group. Rain Cloud’s group counted two including WildDog, and one other group also had two. There seemed a reasonable balance between boys and girls, and both were greeted with equal joy.
It is a good thing that Songbird waited until the last moment to make the adornments for WildDog, as he is growing so fast that her original plan for a shirt (really a piece of hide with a hole for his neck) would have been little more than a collar. As it was, the hide made him a garment of sorts, and between that, the white and red clay skin painting and the token I gave him, he looked very impressive and quite definitely not like an animal.
Songbird painted me, too, and while I felt rather silly, I was at least far cooler than with the mask and leopard skin last year.
I even added a bit to the ceremony. Only the People control fire, and as symbol of this a child is passed through smoke as part of the Naming. I added a bit of the sweet-smelling sap to the fire, and the smoke had a fragrance Rain Cloud said was different from any he had smelled before. Privately, he asked if this could be a part of the ceremony from now on, so I find myself committed to another task for the People. At least finding the sap is no problem, as I know exactly where to get it. I wonder what other treasures this world holds?
Year 5, Day 85
This year it is much clearer why the People do not stay here permanently.
Last year the final group hunt was highly successful, and I had to modify the heat pump to keep some of the excess meat frozen. As a result, the fish from the lake and Giraffe’s hunting with Patches were more than enough to keep us fed.
This year the final hunt brought in almost nothing, and the group dispersed early.
I followed one of their hunts, mostly flying over them, and for the first time realized that their upright stance, together with their ability to sweat freely, actually helps them hunt. Not just ability to wield spears, not just being able to see farther, but endurance.
Ever watch a four-legged animal run? They contract and stretch their bodies, and pump their lungs in the process. Breathing speed is tied to running speed. That’s not true for two-legged runners, and while two legs are not as fast as four, they can keep going a lot longer. I wonder if my own race evolved an upright stance for the same reason?
The People need a group with at least one expert tracker to keep after a single animal until it is tired, which is why Giraffe by himself cannot keep us fed. With Patches, he is able to keep track of a single animal and wear it down, and Patches is also good at picking the weakest of a group to follow. But it is Giraffe’s ability to run for hours, carrying water to avoid dehydrating himself, that allows him to chase an animal to exhaustion.
All of this, of course, assumes that there is an animal to chase down, and right now there isn’t. Luckily I can teleport to areas where game is plentiful, find a pride of lions hunting (usually at night) and teleport a quarter of zebra or wildebeest away from them once they’ve made a kill. With the modified heat pump, I can freeze the meat and only have to “hunt” about once each two fivedays. I still have too much empathy for the prey animal to make a kill myself, but we are eating quite well – well enough that I think I can resume my mapping.
Year 5, Day 92
WildDog is teething. So am I.
His mouth probably hurts more – I’m merely replacing a worn-out molar which is just about ready to fall out. There’s not much actual cutting involved, though the loosened tooth is a problem, and my bite will be uneven for some time. His tooth, an incisor, is working its way through the gum, and from the crying he is doing, it hurts.
I took Giraffe aside and explained what was happening, and he seemed considerably relieved to know it was normal and not a sign that his son was becoming a weakling or a coward. I also levitated – carefully – into the anvil of a thunderhead and collected a grass basket of ice crystals.
They use hides rather than woven stuffs for the most part, but WildDog seems quite content to chew on a thin piece of hide wrapped around a handful of ice crystals. I can even store the crystals, as I do frozen meat. Come to think of it, I could actually make ice with the heat pump. But I don’t really want to do it when the whole group is here; I’d be doing nothing but making ice for teething babies!
Songbird, Giraffe and Meerkat are all fascinated by the solid crystals that melt into water, and astounded that clouds have such stuff in them. I thought of explaining that the crystals are the seeds that make raindrops, but had second thoughts. I have already given them far too may ideas; there is no excuse for going further than necessary.
Year 5 Day 112
The coast has been running east for some time, though I am still far north of my initial landing site, and north of the equator. Its character has changed completely, from sand waves to a riot of green. It’s lucky I can levitate, as I have some real doubts as to whether I could penetrate this much vegetation on foot. I have caught glimpses of animals that have some remote resemblance to the people, and marked their location on the map I’m making. But I’m getting eager to finish the outline of this continent.
The coast must turn southward ahead somewhere, and meanwhile I can only observe a coast covered with trees. No doubt some are edible, and others are medicinal. But which? I have been taking samples back to Songbird and Meerkat, but with few exceptions, they can only say that these plants are unfamiliar.
I’m having better luck with the fruit, especially those varieties that the local animals obviously relish. They aren’t familiar, either, but some do appear to be edible. Meerkat is very cautious about sampling them, first binding them against her skin and then later eating a very small piece. After a few days she will ask me to bring more of that variety, and she will have begin to cook with it, or have all of us eat it. Some are truly delicious, and I have marked the locations of those trees. But this near the equator, the fruiting season seems to vary from tree to tree.
I am also getting wet. It seems to rain almost all the time here, so I don’t explore every day. Besides, it is getting entertaining to watch WildDog as he grows older.
Year 5 Day 133
I haven’t gone mapping every day, but today I found what I think is a huge river delta, as large as the one I found when I found the tideless sea. It’s not at all the same, though. The earlier delta was in a desert climate, the only water being the river itself. Vegetation was mostly plants that grew well with flooded roots, and generally not very tall within the delta itself, and limited to palms and other desert vegetation back from the delta islands.
This delta is rain forest, and from the air looks very much like any other rain forest: green, green, green. Different tree heights, different shades of green, but all green. The watercourses are barely visible from the air, but they are there.
Even more exciting, I followed the outer coast for quite a distance to see how large the delta was, and I think the coast finally swings south beyond it. The delta seems to form a bump—quite a large bump—in a corner where the coast goes from trending east to trending south. I teleported to where I found the ocean off a desert coast far to the south, and this is indeed close to the same longitude. My map is beginning to show the shape of this continent.
WildDog is fascinating to watch, but I am reminded of my first impressions of Patches: destructive, messy, sharp teeth, good at getting over, around, or through barriers, and adorable. Except that Patches got over her messy stage much faster than WildDog (assuming he gets over it) and he is getting steadily more destructive. I have to admit his teeth aren’t quite as sharp as Patches’s were. Meerlat says he is a normal baby; Songbird and Giraffe are quite besotted with him. I am still wondering how he will interact with others of his species.
Year 5 day 200
At least it is not raining any more. More accurately, I’ve gotten out of the equatorial rainy zone.
For a while it was so wet I almost dreaded my coastline mapping, even though after the delta the coast turned more or less southward. Things have become gradually drier over the last fiveday, and I’ve increased the length of coast I’ve mapped each day. Today I think I’m back in desert, although a considerably rockier desert than the sand dunes far to the north. In fact, I rather think this may be the same desert I found when I was first exploring.
I knew there were predators such as crocodiles in the inland waters as well as on the land. But today I realized for the first time that ocean predators can be a real threat to mammals that live partly on land. I came on a group of mammals unlike any I have seen before, obviously adapted to the water. Fish are abundant along this coast, no doubt because of the cold current offshore, so there is a rich marine food supply and these mammals are adapted to take advantage of it. They are streamlined, with very dense, oily fur, their limbs are reduced to flippers and they are as awkward on land as they are graceful in the water. They are not small; even the females mass more than I do.
I watched as a mother left her pup and headed out to sea to feed. She never made it much past the first line of breakers. A great fish, with rows of sharp teeth in a gaping mouth, leapt from the water to seize her. It was so hot I had thought of dipping myself into the water, but not until I have tested that the warnoff will work with this creature!
Year 5, Day 271
WildDog is a year old today, by my reckoning.
We don’t celebrate birth dates, at least not as adults. There would simply be too many of them! But we do celebrate a few important ones, and one of these is when a child completes its first year. Friends of the parents come together, and the child is given its first taste of sweets.
Little WildDog is still getting almost all of his nourishment from his mother’s milk though he does have teeth, as my fingers can attest! I am not sure why, as he certainly cannot chew anything, and they merely make nursing him uncomfortable for Songbird. She is beginning to chew food and then give it to him, and it occurred to me that it has been a long time since I brought sweet fruits to my helpers. So I teleported to the sites of several palms that have had sweet fruit in the past, and brought dates for Songbird to give WildDog. I also teleported a bit of honeycomb from a wild bees’ nest – from a healthy distance!
I had a hard time not laughing at the results. WildDog screwed his face up and prepared to cry at the strange taste in his mouth, as he usually does when Songbird gives him something new. Then his eyes went wide and he blinked a time or two, working his mouth. The final stage was a beatific smile, and a mouth eagerly opened for more. “That’s a special birthday treat,” I told him firmly. “I know it tastes good, but it won’t help you grow strong.
I am not sure how much he understands, as I refuse to employ my mind-reading talent. But I could swear he looked disappointed.
Year 6 Day 1
I now know what this continent looks like. Meekat and Giraffe looked at my map with total bewilderment, obviously not seeing any relationship to the ground on which they stood. I tried to explain to Songbird, the only one who had ever seen the ground from high above. “You know how things look smaller when you are far above them? Well, this is how the land would look if you were very, very high. So high you could see water on all sides.”
I should have known better. Being Songbird, she immediately demanded that I take her up that high.
“There isn’t any air that high,” I told her. “You couldn’t breathe.”
She looked at me, puzzled. “But you can always breathe.”
I started to mention difficulty in breathing on top of mountains, and almost immediately realized she had never been up a mountain high enough that she would be short of breath. And most of my exploring has been along the coast; the great waterfall, my original landing site and the lake we live on are almost the only internal points marked on my map.
Maybe the shamans will understand. They should be here soon.
Year 6 Day 32
Well, they’re back.
I tried to explain my map, now transferred to a hide with Songbird and Meerkat’s help, to the gathered shamans. Songbird seems to have figured out that the map in some way corresponds to where I have been, though for the most part she considers it some sort of incomprehensible magic. Rather as I regard their ability to find their way around by using landmarks, I suspect.
The general reaction of the shamans could be summed up as “But we are standing here, on grass. How can we also be standing on that piece of hide?”
It might be possible to teach WildDog what a map means, but would it be wise? In fact, is it wise to let him grow up here? There are no other children here, and it has taken him only a few days to discover friendship with other children coming in. Songbird and Giraffe, likewise, are delighted to renew bonds with their old friends. Is it fair to them, to keep them here?
I need to think more deeply about this.
Year 6 Day 46
I sat at the entry to my home, and watched Songbird, Giraffe and WildDog happily interacting with their friends. To their left, Rain Cloud was toiling up the hill toward me, and I waved and gestured him closer. He paused once, looking where I was looking, and then frowned and continued up the hill.
“They do not show you proper honor,” he said, but I shook my head.
“They have missed their friends, and WildDog needs to play with others his age,” I replied. “They have aided me well. But it is not fair that I take all of their time. I think that perhaps I should make a rule that no one with a child should stay with me more than the time from one Gather to another.
His brow creased. “But surely we must find a way to honor you!”
Before we could carry the conversation farther, there was a sudden commotion in the camp as a runner arrived. He was shouting and waving his arms, and he came from the direction toward which a hunting party had left this morning. Several of the group, including a fair number of women, were grabbing carry lines and hides and jogging along his back trail, probably to bring back meat, but that did not seem to explain the agitation of the runner. I glanced at Rain Cloud, and we both started down the hill.
“Is something wrong?” Rain Cloud called as we got within shouting range.
“Little Gnu is injured,” the runner called back. “An elephant attacked us as we were stalking a zebra. It caught Little Gnu up in its trunk and we thrust our spears in its belly to distract it. We killed it — there is much meat – but Little Gnu cannot walk.
There was one person in the camp that I could find and teleport to anywhere. “Songbird,” I shouted, as loudly as I could. “Go with them. Think at me when you have found the hunters. Leave WildDog; Meerkat will care for him.”
She nodded and took off, running after the others.
Year 6 Day 46 evening
I am not a Healer, though there are times I have wished I were. Today was definitely one of those days.
I knew it would take Songbird a while to reach the hunters, so I intercepted the runner and had him tell me what he could about Little Gnu’s injuries – which wasn’t much. The runner was the youngest of the hunters, and from his description, Little Gnu (named for his shortness of stature, not his age) had been tossed in such a way that he had landed with his leg doubled under him, and the bone was sticking out. No telling what kind of internal injuries he had sustained, and at his age, he couldn’t be expected to recover as fast and as thoroughly as Songbird had. All I could do in preparation was check everything available in the computer about compound fractures, find several suitable splints and bandages, and pull together the handful of remedies I had been able to make with the computer’s help. These, thank goodness, included a wound dressing that minimized infection.
I stayed open for Songbird while I wrapped all of the things I thought I would need, including an extra warnoff, in one of the hides Meerkat had tanned for me. Meerkat herself had deputized one of the other women to watch WildDog, and was making up a pallet for the injured man in her dwelling. “His mate will tend him,” she told me, “but this place is easier to clean.” The arrangement would give her a good excuse to be important in the temporary village, I thought with some amusement.
Just then Songbird’s mind touched mine, and I picked up the hide bundle and teleported to her.
It was a good thing I had thought of the warnoff. Hyenas, jackals and a couple of scavenger birds were already encircling the carcass, and the women could not have taken the meat back to camp safely without the aid of the hunters. Several spears had been broken in the desperate attack on the elephant, and the hunters were mostly using thrown stones to keep the scavengers back.
Little Gnu was barely conscious when I teleported in. A few of the hunters has seen me teleport before but most had not, and I was afraid I would have to waste time reassuring them. But Songbird promptly started explaining that this was simply the way I traveled. And I was able to concentrate on the injured man.
Setting the leg was not beyond me, and I hoped that with the aid of the wound powder it would heal properly. I suspected that Little Gnu would probably have a permanent limp, though. I thought getting him back to the encampment would be the real problem, but the other hunters had already rigged a stretcher. Their main concern was the scavengers, since several who would normally be protecting the group would be needed to carry the injured man.
I had set the warnoff to maximum range, and the scavengers were staying well back. When they moved Little Gnu to the stretcher, I bound the warnoff to it, as well. “This should tell the scavengers to stay back,” I told them. “Take him and the meat you have butchered back to camp.
The first runner had already come back with more hunters and replacements for the broken spear shafts, so I decided to leave my own warnoff with Songbird and teleport back to camp.
Year 6 Day 50
I would never hunt an elephant, or encourage the People to do so. Elephants are too close to sentience. This killing, however, was in self-defense and it made sense to salvage the meat, though I can’t say it was particularly good. Very strongly flavored, I thought, but that might have been because the animal was in musth.
Little Gnu is recovering, and I am having a hard time discouraging him from hobbling around with the aid of a stick. I don’t think he will ever be able to walk evenly or run again, and he is very unlikely to be recovered enough to stay with his group when they leave. His mate and daughter are caring for him, and aiding Meerkat in preparing my meals. Which has led me to a possible change in my life.
“WildDog is really enjoying a chance to play with the other children,” Songbird said to me, and her voice was a little sad.
“Would you and Giraffe like to rejoin Rain Cloud’s group?” I asked. “I’ve been thinking perhaps I should take acolytes for no more than a seasonal cycle, and Little Gnu is not going to be able to travel for a while. He will be able to kill small game Patches turns his way, and his mate is a good cook. It is the cooking and clothing I cannot do for myself, and Giraffe should get more practice hunting with others.”
I wasn’t sure how she’d react, but she and Giraffe were both eager to go back to the nomadic lifestyle they had been raised with. Little Gnu’s mate, at least, was glad he would not be trying to keep up with a group traveling to new hunting grounds, and his shaman was delighted. So I have a new household.
I hope this group works out as well as did Songbird, Giraffe and their son. To be honest, I am not sure how much longer WildDog can be kept away from the computer.
Year 6 Day 85
Well, they’ve left.
I keep telling myself not to become attached to individuals of the People, because they age quickly and will die all too soon. On that basis, it is a very good thing that Songbird, Giraffe and WildDog will not be staying with me this year.
I will miss them.
I will even miss Meerkat, who has finally realized I have no interest in her as a mate, and set out, very much behind my back, to seduce Lion, who lost his mate to a fever last year. I hope Lion knows what he is in for!
Not that Gazelle, the mate of Little Gnu, is not a good cook and clothing maker, or that her daughter does not remind me of Songbird as I first knew her. Gazelle has also taken to the fish traps, and we eat well even without a hunter.
Little Gnu has turned out to be remarkably adept at knapping stone. Giraffe did make a small spear point for WildDog, but he spent a great deal of time doing it. Little Gnu has almost finished his supply of stone, and every tool he has made is a success. He is not very talkative, but he has managed to make me understand that different tools are best made from different types of stone.
“If I bring you several kinds of stone,” I said, “can you show me what each is best for?”
He beamed as he has not done since the elephant attacked him. I think I may learn more about stone tools than I had intended.
Year 6 Day 105
Almost any stone will do for pounding, Little Gnu assures me, but for tools to cut, the stone and how it is shaped depends on what is to be cut. Most of the cutting tools he showed me were some form of microcrystalline quartz: chalcedony, flint, jasper or even agate. A few decorative pieces, more for showing off or for grave offerings than for use, were of colored quartz. But his real prize, used only for the most delicate of tasks, was a carefully chipped piece of obsidian as sharp as any steel knife.
“The stone is rare,” he told me, “and not easy to work. Sometimes I can arrange to trade a worked piece for a much larger piece of the raw material. But sometimes a thorn or a piece of wood is driven into the body, and this is the best kind of knife for cutting it out.”
“It is also,” Gazelle remarked, “the best thing for cutting hides. When I can get my hands on it.”
It took me a moment to remember that Little Gnu was not at the gather the year I presented them with obsidian. “Would you like some raw stone to work?” I asked. "I know where I can find some, and it would be easy enough to get it. You could make knives while you cannot walk.”
He was delighted at the suggestion, and so was Gazelle. “If he has more of that stone, perhaps I could have a knife of my own,” she said, “just to use for cutting tanned skins.”
Year 6 Day 151
Little Gnu is walking again, and even running, though I doubt he will ever have his old speed or agility. Unlike Giraffe, who worked well with Patches, he seems unable to grasp the idea of hunting with a non-human partner. But without hunting partners he cannot hunt mammals effectively, so we were mostly eating fish and small game we could snare.
We did need hides, so I took to stripping the hides off fresh lion kills. At first I mostly relied on a local pride, counting on my warnoff to keep them away long enough for me to separate the hide telekinetically and then leave the carcass to them. Then I realized that they were actually backing off their kills as soon as I appeared, apparently hoping that I would strip the hides and give them easier access to the meat! After some discussion with Gazelle as to the most desirable parts of the carcass, I now teleport some of the better meat as well as the hides back to our home. If they are benefiting from my removing the hides, it is only fair that they pay something!
I have also started rotating which species and which individuals or groups of predators I target.
Little Gnu may not be able to hunt, but we are amassing so many tools that I suspect he will do quite well giving them to more able hunters. These people do not seem to have trade as such, but they gain status by giving gifts, and generally are given gifts in return. Meat is a prized gift, but so are exceptionally well-made tools. I’ve seen a couple of individuals who are crippled to some extent so specializing, and there is no reason Little Gnu cannot become one of them.
Year 6 Day 193
Snow! At the Equator! How have I missed this?
Of course it’s high—very high. I can’t stay this high long without altitude sickness. But it’s the first snow I’ve seen in years.
I decided to map more of the landmarks in the interior of the continent. I find flying is easier the more I do it, so I started by teleporting to the equatorial east coast and flying west, pausing to use the stars to get coordinates whenever I saw a place I thought I might want to visit again. It took remarkably little time to spot a snow-covered mountain.
I was night flying, to avoid the heat, but I won’t need to worry about that on this mountain!
I think I will go back in daylight and see if this snow, like the rare snowfalls we had when I was a child, will pack into snowballs.
Year 6 Day 230
I am hopeless at flint knapping.
All I managed to do with the obsidian was cut my hands, but Little Gnu said that was a difficult stone to work with and finally showed me a sample of the easiest stone to use for simple tools: a variety of chalcedony. “I’ve seen stuff like that in my mapping,” I said, and brought him a sample. “Yes,” he said excitedly. “Could you bring more? I will show you how we make our tools.”
I brought him an armload of the stone, and he produced a simple butchering tool so fast I could hardly follow what he was doing Then I tried.
It’s a good thing I had brought him plenty, because I spoiled at least half of what I had brought. I wonder if I could shape it with my mind?
Jarn’s Journal is the journal of a fictional human-like alien stranded in Africa roughly 125,000 years ago. He has been adopted as a god (much to his annoyance) by a group of primitive humans, and is using his esper abilities to map the continent. His story to date is on my author site.
Year 6 Day 329
I’ve been using the waterfall for four years now, but I have only seen it once. I understand enough of the seasons here to know that I saw it in the dry season, and it was more than impressive then. It should be in its rainy season now, and since I am remapping all of the teleport coordinates I found earlier, I thought I would teleport there today both to get the latitude and longitude, and to see what it looks like in the rainy season.
All I can say is magnificent. The river above the falls is now a barrier to animals such as elephants that were formerly able to wade it. The hippos have spread out, and are in much better tempers. The river is alive with birds. The falls themselves?
I knew that the mass of water dropping into the gorge was greatly increased, and that the water actually running through the gorge was far more turbulent – I could feel the change in the energy. But actually seeing it was awe-inspiring. And to think I’d been using this beauty merely as an energy source!
Year 7 Day 110
It’s amazing how quickly the seasons fly by. I’ve come to count them in part by the coming and going of the People, and begun more and more to realize how brief their lives are. Many of those I first met as elders are gone, while many of the children are now adults with children of their own. Little WildDog is thriving, with a new brother or sister on the way, Little Gnu’s daughter is happily enjoying every opportunity of meeting others of her own age. Especially boys. Not that the boys of her own age are taking much notice yet!
I am being urged to choose a new acolyte for the coming season. Little Gnu has amassed an unequalled store of fine blades, and the women in particular are eager to get them for hide working. With his skills, I do not think he will have any problem keeping his family fed, even though his leg has never healed quite straight. He will be more comfortable back with his own group.
Of course that leaves me with the problem of choosing a new acolyte. I wonder ….
Year 7 Day 123
These People are not warlike, though they have their share of disputes. As a general rule the shamans deal with these, but now and then the shamans are the problem.
It’s a matter of group size. If a group is too small, there are not enough hunters for their preferred method of running down game in relays. If the group is too large, they must range over too large an area to find game. But the prestige of a shaman is to some extent linked to the size of the group for which he or she is responsible.
This works fine as long as the shaman is more interested in the welfare of the group than in his or her own prestige. Now and then, however, a Shaman inherits a group larger than that person is ready to handle and refuses to let relatives find mates in another group. None of the shamans I have known well have made that mistake. This year, however, we have two fighting over the eventual affiliation of two young people who want to stay together.
Year 7 Day 124
Both the shamans are men, of course. Most of the female shamans I’ve known seem to have a better feel for their own abilities. But neither Haboob nor Stillwater is willing to give up a single group member, even though neither of them is, at least in my opinion, capable of handling the group size they have. The only thing I see as keeping their groups together is the lack of anyone else capable of leadership in either group.
Certainly neither Rhinocerous nor Torch Flower show any capacity for leadership. Rhinocerous has all the power of his namesake, but seems satisfied with the adulation of every girl in the camp. His choice, Torch Flower, is likewise the center of attention of the young males at the Gather, but is decidedly not a challenge to Haboob, though I suspect he has his eye on her for a second mate. But Stillwater will not allow Rhinocerous to join another group, nor will Haboob allow Torch Flower to leave.
“If the shamans keep it up,” Songbird predicted darkly, “Rhino and Flower will take off on their own and they’ll both starve.”
I groaned. “If they either one knew anything ….
Songbird grinned as she put her youngest child to her breast. “Well, Flower knows more than I did when you rescued me. Her mother saw to that! And Rhino’s quite good at hitting what he throws things at. He just needs to learn what to throw at. And he’s not all that fond of fish.” Her eyes sparkled with malice.
Somehow, I thought to myself, picking an acolyte has become a way of helping the People, rather than my own convenience.
Year 7 Day 200
I must confess my latest method of choosing acolytes has not been terribly successful. Torch Flower cooks after a fashion – well, better than I do. Certainly the food is edible, though not nearly as good as that Meerkat or even Gazelle prepared. But Torch Flower is clearly used to being the center of attention, and has much more on her mind than preparing my food. In fact, I would say she is doing her best to seduce me.
I don’t think Rhinocerous cares about her enough as a person to be greatly bothered. She was the girl all the young men wanted, so he had to have her. He’d object if she went to another man, but to a god? I would only enhance his self-importance.
At least he has learned to bring down small game with a sling or a thrown stone, so we have some change from fish.
He resembles the rhinos here before me in more than strength and bulk. I am protected by a warnoff, and even with one I am careful not to approach too near. The four-legged rhinos are faster than they look, short-tempered, near-sighted and rather stupid. It’s a good thing I have my mapping as an excuse to stay away from my “helpful” assistants!
Year 7 Day 295
I think I’ve found another relative of the People, though not nearly as R’il’nian-like as they are. This one is much more massive, and while it can rise and travel on two feet when it needs to carry something, it more often travels on feet and knuckles. It apparently lacks the ability of the People to form bonds with other species, and while a certain amount of communication among individuals certainly takes place, it is not nearly as good a communicator as are the People.
It certainly does not have anything like the People’s delight in adornment, nor does it appear to decorate itself.
Unlike the People, who seem to prefer savannah and forest edge habitats, these gorillas, as I am calling them, live in dense forest and even swamps. Neither Torch Flower nor Rhino seem to know what they are, but that may be because of their youth. I will ask the shamans when the People return.
Meanwhile, they are clearly not the same as the chimpanzees I found earlier. Not only are they much larger, but the gorillas are much more vegetarian than the chimpanzees, who hunt the smaller monkeys. It would be fascinating to uncover their evolutionary history, but it is clear that the People have evolved under this sun, and are not some lost branch of the R’il’nai. Yet in many ways they are so much like us ….
Year 8 Day 1
Thank goodness the groups will be back soon! Surely I can find some couple as acolytes who can hunt, cook, make clothing, and do not have and are not expecting a very small and inquisitive child. Rhino and Torch Flower are already borderline on the food and clothing, and I can only hope that Torch Flower waits until Meerkat or someone of similar experience returns before she has her baby!
It has not discouraged her efforts to seduce me. Indeed, by the standards of the People she is at her most desirable when very obviously pregnant. Not by the standards of mine! Broad hips and full breasts, yes, but actual pregnancy …. How shall I put it? It elicits protectiveness, care, but not physical desire.
In the case of Torch Flower, even the protectiveness is muted.
At least Rhinocerous, though he has very little more intelligence than his namesake, is able to learn. I have finally gotten across the idea that if he is to hit a moving target with a projectile, he must aim at where the target will be, not at where it is. And that when it is a living target, he must use his imagination to tell which way it is going to move.
Nor is there anything wrong with his stamina, and we are eating much better. Or would, if Torch Flower were up to cooking.
At least I’ve gotten a lot of mapping in this year. I have a very good feel for this continent now, and may look over the one to the north next year.
Year 8 Day 35
They were so late leaving last year that I persuaded myself they would be late arriving this year, but about half of the People are already here. Haboob, who is named for a dust storm, arrived with a much diminished group. In fact, his mate, her sister, and their children are just about it. The rest of the group arrived today, led (at least nominally) by Gray-crowned Crane, the older sister of Torch Flower’s mother. Keeping the peace between those two groups is even more of a problem than being treated as a god!
At least Torch Flower’s mother knows something about delivering babies!
I have seen several who were part of Stillwater’s group, including Rhino’s parents, come in with other groups. Has this group dissolved completely, or split into two or more warring factions? At any rate, it appears that Gray-Crowned Crane is willing to take the couple in as a part of her group. Now I just need to find someone who can cook and make clothing. (photo credit Dick Daniels)
Year 8 Day 50
Torch Flower had a daughter, and has named her Pelargonium after a local wild flower. The name is also homage to her aunt, since the plant is sometimes called cranesbill from the shape of the seed pods. I’m just glad Torch Flower’s mother arrived before Pelargonium did! One birth of these large-headed, narrow hipped People is quite enough for me! Since Gray-crowned Crane was present at the birth, I was able to stay out of the naming ceremony. (Photo credit Winfred Brunken)
I think this will be a good group for the couple. Crane seems well aware of Rhinocerous’s strengths and weaknesses, and willing to use the strengths while not putting him in a position where his weaknesses will harm the group.
I have spoken with several of the shamans about my own needs – mostly for help in cooking and clothing. I can, after all, teleport to wherever the game is plentiful and snatch fresh-killed prey from under the noses of the local predators, and I have found a number of sites where fruits and nuts are plentiful. It is the preparation of food and hides that gives me problems.
“What you need,” Lion said finally, “is a woman whose children are grown. Were Little Gnu and Gazelle not what you needed? But once Little Gnu was able to travel, he preferred to rejoin their group. I am not so sure Gazelle felt the same way.”
“Rainbow,” one of the shamans suggested. “Her mate was killed hunting two seasons ago, but she is skilled at cooking and making clothing. Her daughters have gone to other groups, and she had no sons. And with her foot, she has trouble keeping up with the group.”
Another Meerkat? I do not need any more attempted seductions!
Year 8 Day 61
Rainbow may be just the helper I need. And she is definitely not interested in trying to seduce me.
In fact, I get the impression that her former mate treated her rather roughly, and that her only real regret at his death was the loss of the meat he provided. Certainly she is scarred and somewhat lame, but that makes no difference to me. What is important to me is that she is an expert at tanning and sewing hides and a more than passable cook. She is reasonably adept at butchery, and her cooking of small game such as birds and fish is mouth-watering.
So far as she is concerned, staying in one place and caring for a single person is a welcome respite from her duties to the group. Gazelle and Songbird have been advising her as to my needs (and quirks, I suspect) and my tendency to spend much of my time away exploring. I worry a little about the lack of company for her once the People leave, but Rainbow assures me she will enjoy the rest.
What is more, she likes Patches, and Patches likes her. This is a welcome change from all of my acolytes except for Songbird and Giraffe. Patches is starting to be a little stiff in the mornings, and while I plan to explore the landmass north of this continent next year, I am doubtful about the wisdom of taking Patches along. If she can provide company for Rainbow, I may be able to leave her here. The warnoff has an area effect, so they should both be safe.
Year 8 Day 72
I stopped by to watch Rainbow prepare a hide this morning, and found myself wondering what she got out of the relationship with her mate. Her scraper was little more than a rock, and while she used both the scraper and a cutting tool with skill, the tools were scarcely more than chipped pebbles. I could do as well, and I am hardly an accomplished flint knapper!
One of the things I have done over the past year is collect types of stone for Little Gnu, so this afternoon I went by to present him with my finds. I hadn’t intended to bargain, but when I mentioned the state of Rainbow’s tools, he smiled. “Then I will make her new ones,” he said. “It is little enough return for such fine stone, but if she is to make your clothing and prepare your food she should have tools of the best.” He picked up a dulled scraper, and it took him only a few blows to blunt the back and sharpen the edge. “Here,” he said, handing me the resharpened tool. “Give her this for the moment. It is better than what she has, but hardly a finished tool. Have her bring what she has to me, and I will see if any can be saved. If not, her tools will help me design what she can best use.”
“And if she is to prepare your food,” Gazelle said firmly, “she will need tools for that, too. I know you can provide salt and fruit, as well as meat, but she could use a better fish trap. Songbird is still the best at that, and you, Gnu, must make her a good gutting knife. And awls, for sewing. Sinew – who is best at preparing that, I wonder? Perhaps some flax? And porcupine quills for decoration ….
I have a feeling that the whole camp is going to see that Rainbow is better equipped than she was living with her mate.
Year 8, Day 90
Little Gnu and Gazelle may have started it, but I suspect it was Songbird and through her, Rain Cloud, who spread the word to the shamans. The People want to serve me, to keep me placated, I suspect. But a year away from everything they know is a major sacrifice. (Well, it would be for most of them, though I am not so sure of Torch Flower.)
Materials for Rainbow to use in making and repairing clothes and food, however, are a way of showing me honor without much pain to any one person. Surplus tanned hides, furs, sinew, linen thread, tools, fish traps and storage baskets have been pouring in. It’s a good thing I designed my home with a number of extra rooms!
Torch Flower had not taken good care of the building I originally built for Songbird and Giraffe. I had designed it, like my own home, with a warnoff to keep small pests from moving in and multiplying, and both Songbird and Gazelle had kept it clean. Torch Flower had unthinkingly assumed that scavengers would clean up any dropped food, and the place was beginning to stink.
Rainbow took one look, or rather one sniff, and began cleaning. By the time she had the place spotless down to the fused walls and floor, which she regarded with delight, a new sleeping mat had been left on the portico. Then she tackled the roasting pit, and soon had it in better condition than when Songbird initially supervised its construction. In fact, now that people have started to leave for their treks following the herds, we are in the best condition I have ever been in at this time of year.
I will definitely extend my mapping to the area north of the tideless sea this year.
Year 8 day 106
I’ve decided to map the northern shoreline of the tideless sea, as a first step toward exploring the continent to the north. I already know that there a a strait to the west connecting the tideless sea with the tidal ocean that surrounds this continent, so the logical place to start was the great river delta to the northeast. Besides, I wanted to see what Rainbow could do with the rare clones of sweet dates I have discovered.
I think part of her problem with her mate was that she is too intelligent. She is, for instance, one of the very few who has some fuzzy grasp of what a map means. She can’t quite get her mind around the idea of something as big as the continent we are on. But when I zoomed the computer map out until the local area was visible, and showed her where the landmarks were located on the map, she was able to figure the direction to one she hadn’t seen. Compared with those who cannot understand a map I am not standing on, this is genius.
I get the impression, however, that she considers my mapping a harmless diversion that she is quite willing to put up with as long as it gets her food and skins. Especially dates. She has devised a way of stuffing a local bird I am fond of with those, and the result is almost enough to distract me from my mapping. She is thrilled to get the birds, a rather stupid type of ground-dweller that competes with us for plant food. I find them fairly easy to trap.
Year 8 Day 111
Exploring, like many other things in life, is mostly boring. There are surprises, both fascinating and terrifying, but mostly I am flying along coastlines that are very much the same.
I started at the great river delta to the north, assuming I would spot the linear sea to the south if I bore east. I’d hoped to find something but desert, but this direction is as self-similar as the coast to the west. Sand and occasional rock to my right, the tideless sea to my left, and heat. I think this may be the wrong time of year to explore here, since it’s close to the solstice in this hemisphere. On the positive side, I haven’t encountered any major storms.
The coastline is beginning to swing north, rather before I thought it would. I didn’t follow the eastern arm of the linear sea, but I took it for granted that it also would approach the tideless sea to the north. The coast is turning north too fast, though. Of course I was following the west shore of the linear sea, before, and didn’t get too good a look at the eastern arm – perhaps I should check out that arm further?
In fact, I think I’ll do just that tomorrow. It was getting very hot for flying, even high, so I teleported to a known clone of the sweet dates and brought Rainbow a supply. She is combining them with other, tarter fruit to make a sauce for fish that is almost as good as the stuffed grouse. It’s just as well I am expending a lot of energy flying and teleporting, or I would get fat on her cooking!
Year 8 Day 112
The northeastern extension of the linear sea ends even farther south than the northwestern branch I checked out earlier, but it is in a valley that continues northeastward. Could it reach the tideless sea with only a narrow bridge of land separating the two, as does the western branch? I needed more height!
I foresaw two problems with getting high enough to see far ahead. The first was getting enough oxygen, and the second was balancing the air pressure in my inner ears and sinuses against that of the atmosphere. Oxygen debt takes time, so I could probably look for about as long as I could hold my breath. Air pressure was actually more of a problem, but with some practice I have found that I can hold a sort of second skin over my body that prevents my eardrums from popping and my blood from boiling. I’ve never done it at more than mountaintop height, but I have the principle and I was confident that for a short time I could manage to survive and look around above about nine-tenths of the atmosphere.
It had not occurred to me that the desert heat would feel so welcome when I got back down; it’s cold up there!
I also got my look, and as I warmed up I tried to make sense of what I had seen.
The tideless sea is indeed where I expected to find it, ahead and to the left as far as I could see. To the right, sand and mountains. But straight ahead, bordered by steep sides and even higher mountains, is what I can only describe as a trench in the land, . I think I saw water ahead, separated by higher ground from what lies below me, but I saw no sign of any connection to the tideless sea. Neither can I see an end to the trench.
I’ve wondered before if the continent on which I crashed might be rifting apart, and indeed if the lake on whose shores I now live might be part of that rift. Is it possible that this vast linear trench is part of the same system?
I am going to investigate this rift.
Year 8 Day 113
It was hot yesterday above the rift valley, so today I started very early this morning – barely sunrise at the lake where I live, but already uncomfortably warm at the north end of the linear sea. I flew up the rift valley toward the glint of water that tantalized me yesterday, and before long crested a few low hills to find the valley dropping away before me.
How low? Oh, perhaps a hundred and twenty times my height above the sea surface, far lower than the walls of the valley. What surprised me was that I was soon at the level of the sea surface behind me, and still going down. And down. By the time I got a good look at the surface of the water ahead – and it was water – it was clear that it was farther below sea level than the hills were above it. Certainly it was not connected with the tideless sea!
It had to be a salt lake, and one with no signs of life within it. There were a few freshwater springs in the slopes bordering the rift, and these provided a few pockets of greenery on the shores, but there were no fish visible, no tracks except near the springs, and hardly even any insects.
I managed to find a dry branch near one of the springs, and tossed it into the water. It floated high, confirming my suspicion that the water must be very salty. If I had any doubts, they were rapidly erased by the discovery of a beach of translucent pebbles. I assumed at first they were quartz, but a mental probe found salt – the pebbles were almost pure halite. I dropped a handful in my collecting bag to show Rainbow.
I was tempted to try a swim, as it was getting very hot. But I’ve seen lakes in closed basins that were so alkaline they’d burn skin. Could I bring a sample of the water back for testing?
At home ten years ago I’d never have considered trying it by esper talents alone. Here I’ve been forced to rely on them, and I thought I could hold a globule of water together, teleport back to my laboratory (such as it is) where I had a bowl of the same fused sand I’ve used to make windows, and dump the water in the bowl. To my astonishment the water was not alkaline, but had almost the same acid pH as my skin. I think I will start tomorrow morning with a swim!
Year 8 Day 117
Rainbow never complains or makes demands. She merely looks martyred.
I would probably have noticed earlier if I had not been so fascinated by the salt lake. For several days I’ve been up before dawn and teleporting to the rift. There I alternate exploring with swimming until it becomes so hot that even swimming in the relatively warm water cannot cool me down. At that point, usually before noon, I teleport back to my laboratory with generous samples of water, halite pebbles, salt crusts from various shores and occasional salt-tolerant life forms.
I have found mountains of halite – literally – and brought back small boulders. Salts other than halite are common in the crusts along the shore, and the water, while quite undrinkable, is actually healing to my skin.
I thought until this evening that my failure to taste salt in the food Rainbow was preparing was due to my being so surrounded by salt that my sense of taste was overwhelmed. It finally occurred to me that the gifts of the group had not included salt, probably because I generally supply it.
When I asked her if she could use any salt she told me, very apologetically, that she had almost none left.
I could not help laughing, which made her look even more martyred.
“I’m laughing at myself, not at you,” I assured her once I got myself under control. “I’ve been surrounded by salt lately – pebbles to mountains. I’ll bring you several forms, and you can decide if pebbles, crusts, or evaporated lake water would be the most useful for you. But please, if you need something you don’t have, tell me. I had no idea you needed salt.”
I hadn’t even remembered to show her the pebbles, I thought. But she has seemed to have so little interest in what I am doing. Perhaps I should mention anything that might help her with food preparation or clothing.
Year 8, Day 131
I’ve made a point, lately, of asking Rainbow each evening if there is anything she would like me to watch for in my explorations. Last night she asked, rather uncertainly, if I could find a different kind of fish. “The ones here are not coming to the trap,” she said.
“Try moving the trap,” I suggested, but at the same time I felt a little guilty. I’ve spent so much time swimming and exploring the possibilities of the salt lake that I haven’t done much else. There are no fish in the lake, of course, but there is a freshwater river flowing into it from the north, along the trench I saw earlier. I should really check out its source, I thought, and I could keep my senses alert for fish on the way.
It’s still hot, since it’s close to the middle of summer here, so I flew fairly high to escape the worst of the heat. Even at altitude I could see that a ribbon of greenery bordered the river, and coming lower, I found actual trees. To both sides were mountains, with desert beyond them, but ahead was another lake, this one, from the evidence of the river, fresh. Not a large lake, and in fact much smaller than the salt lake, but one teeming with fish.
The water is warm, though not as warm as the salt lake, and the surface of the water is still well below sea level. The river runs through it, and a very quick exploration of the river northward suggests it comes from a marshy lake which gathers water from the surrounding hills. It is still in the trough, with no connection to the tideless sea.
I should adopt the same strategy I used in exploring the river and the linear sea earlier and spend half the day mapping the coast to my west and half following the trench. Meanwhile, I reached for my quarters and brought the basket I had left there. The fish were so numerous I had no problem teleporting a couple to the basket for Rainbow to prepare.
Strangely enough as I prepared to leave, I found what looked like a stone tool near the shore. It was even cruder than the ones I make, and not at all in the style Little Gnu tried to teach me, but it was quite definitely shaped purposefully. Could there be more of the People here?
Year 8 Day 150
I’ve been getting lazy, but with all the time in the world ahead, there’s no use hurrying. Mornings I take a swim in the salt lake and explore northward along the trench. Then I teleport high enough I can see both the trench and the tideless sea , fly out to the coast and map the coastline to the north, often finding a good swimming beach and having a second refreshing dip.
I keep an eye out for things Rainbow might use in food preparation or clothing, and spend about one day in five at home, checking both my building and food for the two of us. But all in all, it is a very placid existence, compared to what I had with Rhino and Torch Flower.
Vegetation along the coast has been getting steadily denser, especially on the seaward slopes of the coastal mountains. I’ve been seeing good-sized trees for several days, and two days ago I examined them closely for the first time. They aren’t at all like the tall trees of the jungle, having needle-like leaves and a unique but very pleasant odor. The odor even extends to the wood itself. Rainbow has been experimenting with using a couple of the tools Little Gnu made her to carve wood, and I brought her back several pieces to see what she could do with them.
She says that the wood carves well, and if I will bring her more, she will make me a storage box for my clothes.
Year 8 Day 165
I’ve found the end of the trench.
It’s been running pretty well parallel to the coastline, but both the northward trend of the coastline and the trench stopped with a jumble of mountains trending east-west, as far as such a jumble can be said to have a trend. The coast turned abruptly westward at almost the same latitude.
My geology is pretty shaky, but I checked the plate tectonics in the computer. If the trench is an incipient opening between two plates, as I suspect of the lake I live on, the jumble ahead, which looks very new and raw (geologically speaking) probably represents a plate colliding with the separating pair. A triple point.
Once again I went very high to survey the mountains ahead, and found some areas that merely looked crumpled and earthquake-prone, and others with some very odd looking erosional features. Although it is still hot and dry, I suspect from the vegetation I am in a winter-rain area. Allowing for the considerable elevation, this area may even be prone to snow in the winter.
Several of the trees have what looks like unripe fruits and nuts of varieties new to me. I will have to check them out later in the season, and perhaps bring some samples back to Rainbow. But on the whole, this mountainous plateau doesn’t look very hospitable.
Year 8 Day 180
I think I’ve been over-rating myself as a geologist, at least as far as explaining this planet in terms of plate tectonics.
Oh, some of it’s all right. I know that rift valleys generally indicate that plates are pulling apart, mountains are most likely where plates have collided, and that linear features are most often faults. I haven’t seen any island arcs on this planet, but I expect there are some. But how do I explain what looks like an underwater jumble of mountains? The computer has the basics of plate tectonics, and I’m pretty sure plate tectonics are what controls the geology on this planet, but the basics don’t include underwater mountain ranges aside from midocean ridges.
I was following the coast west when the mountain jumble to my right was replaced by a jumble of islands. I went high, as I usually do when I want to get a good look, and found that the coastline turns north, but the sea to its west was an unbelievable tangle of islands. Some looked volcanic, though not in a proper arc, and when I tried to sense the sea bottom I found it almost as rough as the land to the east. Ocean floor shouldn’t to that! It’s supposed to be too thin to support much in the way of mountains!
The area is still part of the tideless sea, and seems to be bordered by mountainous terrain to the north and west. The weather is still hot and clear, though the southward equinox is approaching and I suspect from the vegetation that this is a winter-rain area. Is it worth while trying to map all of these islands before going on to the land to the west?
I wish my old friend Nal was here. He used to study planetology, and I suspect he could explain this sea of islands.
Jarn, of course, would hardly have gone high enough to see the Aegean Sea as a whole, and the French names of island groups, seas and countries are out of period by about 125 millennia. But his ability of perception would have allowed him to tell that the sea bottom was as much a jumble of heights as the mountains of Anatolia. Unfortunately the best bathometric map of the area I could find was this one, from Wikimedia.
Year 8, Day 195
The landscapes and shorelines are very different on this northern side of the tideless sea. Not only is the ocean bottom so jumbled it produces a maze of inlets and islands, the land mass to the west is cut into a similar form, with peninsulas and water surrounding a mountainous interior. Farther west, the coast again trends northward and west.
The animals differ, as well. There are creatures like zebras, but only faintly striped and making quite different sounds. Others vaguely resemble buffalo, while still others look rather like antelope with branched horns, or warthogs without the warts.
The trees are similar to those I’ve been seeing since well north of the salt lake, including two varieties with large seeds which are now turning from green to brown and dropping to the forest floor. The warthogs-without-warts were gobbling them up with great enthusiasm, so I put samples of both types in my collecting bag. Given their tusks, I was glad of the warnoff.
It was close to evening and I was resting with my back against a tree when one of the hogs came staggering into the clearing where I sat, straight towards me. Blood was dripping from its mouth, and while I was not sure whether it was its own or if it had used those formidable tusks on another, I stopped its heart in self-defense. Warnoffs don’t always work on an animal already in a blood-lust.
What to do with the carcass? Warthogs can be good eating if they have been feeding on seeds and fruit, though if they have been eating carrion or fish – well, I prefer my fish first hand. If this one had been eating the large seeds, however ….
I decided to see what Rainbow could do with it, and teleported the hog, which turned out to be a fairly young sow, to her.
Year 8, Day 211
It’s taken me quite a few days to locate Little Gnu’s group and talk to him, but he has confirmed my suspicions. Neither of the weapon points was made by the People.
Maybe I’d better back up a little, since it’s been a while since I updated this journal.
When I teleport whole game to Rainbow, I let her do the cleaning and then teleport away what she says is waste. I tried leaving the innards behind, but it seems she has uses for some of them. At any rate, the pig (which was excellent eating, by the way) had a spear point and a short length of broken shaft in its lungs.
The point looked rather like the one I had found earlier, on the shore of the fish lake. They looked to me as if they were made in quite a different way from the method Little Gnu taught me, so I tracked him down and asked him. He agreed that there were others who looked like the People and made tools, but did not think that these chipped stone points had been made by any of them. In particular, he found the fastening of the bit of shaft to the point totally strange.
So what am I to make of this information?
Some creature similar to the People – and myself – put that spear in the animal’s lungs. Probably they planned to track the injured animal until it was slowed by loss of blood and shock, which by the way it was staggering when I first saw it would have immobilized it very shortly. If they had anything like the skill of the People in tracking, they would have tracked it to where I had teleported the carcass away, and possibly found my footprints. They must have been quite puzzled when both the pig and my footprints vanished.
I don’t think I should go back to that exact area, even if Rainbow has suggested that another pig (and more of the nuts) would be welcome.
Year 8 Day 230
I think I saw one of the northern hunters today.
It was quite a distance from where I met and killed the pig – I’ve been careful not to go back to the immediate vicinity of that spot. True, I have interfered with one sentient species, and I will continue to do so. I cannot stand to be alone again. But one species is enough. I will not bear the guilt of a similar interaction with this new species.
The People travel in search of game, following the rains. The northern group I saw seem to migrate also, but in response to temperature rather than moisture. There is now snow on the higher peaks, and the group or possibly family I saw appeared to be traveling toward the warmer coastline. They wore furs, which are so warm as to be punishing among the People, but I found myself coveting them in the mountains.
This species is even less R’il’nian-like than the People in many ways. Their skin and hair are lighter than that of the People, who are toward the darker end of the R’il’nian spectrum. Reasonable, as the People live in a very sunny climate. This area is a good deal cloudier, especially as we move toward the local winter, so heavy pigmentation would actually be somewhat of a handicap.
They are also built somewhat more heavily, with barrel chests and heavily muscled limbs. It’s hard to be sure of relative size at a safe distance, but I suspect they are not too different. Probably they mass more, though I imagine there is overlap between the two species in height.
The faces are quite different, with heavy brow ridges, large noses and little forehead, but with a great deal of brain case at the back of the skull. This suggests a difference in the brain organization, but without careful observation I cannot know what the difference is. Some of the differences appear to be cold adaptation, but not all. For the moment, I had better leave them alone.
Year 8 day 252
How do these northerners manage to preserve fur so it remains supple and wearable? And warm?
Several days ago I found the leopard skin the People had once adorned me with, which at the time I had found unbearably hot. That heat was what I craved for exploring the northern continent, especially now that the southern solstice is approaching, but the hide was far stiffer than the tanned skins they use for clothing.
I asked Rainbow if there was any way of softening the furred hide.
“Why?” she asked. It has become one of her favorite words, and one I encourage. So I explained – or tried to – that the northern continent I was exploring was very cold, so cold that there was snow on the ground in places, and that I needed warmer clothing.
The idea was totally beyond her. The coldest she could imagine was a cool night, perhaps cool enough that several of the People would snuggle together to share warmth. Clothes, to her mind, are for adornment and occasionally for protection from the sun, not for warmth. Why would anyone want to leave the fur on hides, except for occasional festival adornment? In preparing hides for clothing was not the first step to remove all flesh and hair, so that only the skin remained?
Were the furs worn by the northern hunters as stiff as my leopard skin?
Today I found proof that they are not.
I have been spying on the hunters when I find them, but keeping out of sight. Today, however, I found where one of the hunters, probably too old to dodge his prey, had been killed instead of killing. A pack of wolves was feasting on his remains, but I used the warnoff to drive them away long enough that I could examine the body.
Physically, I found nothing to contradict my earlier impressions. But the furs he wore, however crudely tailored, were as soft as my loincloth.
He had no further use for them, I told myself, and took them to show Rainbow that hides could indeed retain the fur and still be flexible. But I made sure not to teleport back any of the living creatures that infested them. Fleas and lice I do not need!
Year 8 Day 285
I suspect I am going to need warmer clothes in this area even in summer, no matter what Rainbow says.
The mountains here are not merely snow covered, they are glaciated – there are small amounts of rock peeking through deep rivers of ice. The hunters are not here, which is hardly surprising as there is little or nothing for them to hunt. But I’d still like to map the area.
I don't have any forcewebs, of course, but I wonder if I could not make some kind of physical support for my feet, and try skiing? This area seems far more suitable than the one mountain I have discovered with snow on the continent where I landed.
At least Rainbow is no longer insisting that supple furs are impossible. Her method involves chewing the hides to soften them, which I can see would be difficult with furry skins. I’ve been spying on the camps of the northern hunters, and come to the conclusion that they scrape the skin side of the fur and then make it into a bag which they fill with the mashed brains of the animal. Then after a through soaking they keep working the fur until the skin is elastic, and finally smoke it.
Rainbow is experimenting with the hide of a jackal. I suspect that animals that live in the snow would have warmer fur, but I hate killing a healthy animal. I will, however, keep my eyes open for winter carcasses or fur-bearers that threaten me.
Start of Year 9
It’s the beginning of spring, here in these northern mountains, but you’d never know it by the temperature of the air. Oh, the sun is riding higher in the sky and the days are now as long as the nights, but the snow is still dry beneath my skis, at least on the higher terrain.
I was right about the animals growing coats to fit the climate. Those that live here in the snow, like the foxes, grow coats so thick and warm they can lie on the snow and sun themselves. In fact all of the small to medium predators have wonderfully thick coats. Even those herbivores that the local hunters kill for food have far denser and warmer coats than those I am familiar with.
I am not going to let the northern hunters know of my existence if I can help it. I have, however, set up a peculiar form of trade for tanned furs. I have observed that they use salt as a preservative, and that it seems to be the thing in shortest supply when they are preserving hides. I realized this when I saw them saving and reusing the salt with which they treated skins, even at times evaporating salt solution in hides staked over a fire. So one day when a group ran off to help bring a butchered animal back to camp, leaving a tanned fur in plain sight, I stole it. Well, not quite stole it – in its place I left a pile of salt sufficient to preserve a number of much larger pelts.
They obviously observed the substitution, and I watched carefully for any sign that they considered themselves threatened. I think the men were somewhat upset. The women, however, seemed delighted with the salt. From that time on, whenever they have had to leave a campsite for a day or two (usually to haul in meat) tanned furs were left out in plain sight.
Rainbow is trying, but so far her efforts are not creating anything like what these northern hunters produce. But the rest of the People will be back soon, and some of them may have some suggestions for copying the furs I can show them. And Rainbow can surely construct me some warm clothes for next season.
Year 9, Day 34
I don’t know why I even spent time wondering whether I should tell the People about the northern hunters. I’d asked Little Gnu about the spear tips. I had Rainbow trying to tan fur and make me warm clothing. And I unthinkingly assumed that only those two knew?
I might as well have stood up at the most populated part of the Gather and announced everything I knew or had surmised about the hunters. It probably would have taken longer for word to get around. Everyone seemed to arrive knowing of my explorations. They may call themselves the People, but I have to say the Gossipers would be a better name!
Granted, it was fresh news to most of them, and the salt pebbles and stories of the salt lake were of far more interest than the northern hunters. The exception, of course, was Songbird, who was rather obviously pregnant again. The soft-tanned furs and my tales of skiing the mountain snowfields fascinated her.
“If you took me to watch the women preparing furs, I might be able to learn by watching them,” she said hopefully.
I looked at her protruding belly. “I can teleport you, yes,” I said. “But right now there are two of you, and I cannot teleport both of you together.” I wasn’t really sure, but I did not want to take the risk. “Besides, the season for the best furs is past. It is getting warmer, and the fur animals are beginning to shed their winter coats.”
“Here we have rainy and dry seasons. In the far north, they have warm and cold seasons. In the cold seasons, the animals grow thick coats. When it becomes warm, they shed them. Right now there is shed hair caught on every twig. The skins would not make good furs.”
She thought a minute or so. “My child will be born soon, probably before we leave. How soon will it be cold again there?”
“The cycle of seasons – warm to cold to warm again – takes about as long as the time from gather to gather. So it will always be warming up there at the time of a gather here.”
She frowned and thought a little. “So the furs would be getting thick again when the new baby has teeth? But before it can walk?”
I was stunned. The People simply did not think ahead that far. At least, the men did not.
Songbird looked at my face and giggled. “I am a woman,” she informed me loftily. “We must think ahead, for our children. So can you take me to see the snow and these northern hunters when I begin to chew food for my baby? I know you can find me.”
I sighed and gave in. “Yes. But remember we must stay hidden. They do not know of my existence, and I do not want them to find out.”
What have I gotten myself into now?
Year 9 Day 46
Well, Songbird had her baby today.
I’m just as glad I was at the salt lake. Salt is still an eagerly accepted gift, and to my surprise the salt pebbles are very popular – perhaps because they can be carried so easily in skin bags.
Giraffe went out with a group of the men early this morning, as a small herd of gazelles had been reported not far away, and is not back yet. Luckily there are at least two experienced midwives here, though from what they will tell me, this birth went a lot easier than the first.
Songbird and her new baby, a girl they tell me, are still confined to the birthing hut. At least this time the moon is a late crescent, so new moon is only a few days away.
I’d better see what is upsetting Patches.
Thank goodness I responded to Patches’ vocalization and feeling of distress! Songbird’s birth pains had come quite quickly, and she had assumed that the women watching the children would continue to watch WildDog. They did not, and with the men away hunting, the little boy had wandered down to the shore of the lake. When I found Patches, she was trying to drag him away from a crocodile which he apparently wanted to approach! So Giraffe had quite a greeting when he returned with a gazelle quarter over his shoulder – news of a new daughter and a good deal of teasing that his son didn’t seem to know that a crocodile was dangerous. Most of the latter seemed to slide right off him; he was far to relieved to get the news of a new daughter. He may not know anything of biological paternity, but he is turning out to be a good father.
At least I should not be needed for the naming ceremony this time!
Year 9 Day 62
The People don’t look like much as newborns, but Songbird and Giraffe seem proud enough of their daughter. They’ve named her Swallow, and she’s been formally accepted as a member of Rain Cloud’s band. I did not, I am glad to say, have to take any part in the ceremony, though I did provide the token to hang around her neck. It was a bit of rock, flowstone from a fascinating part of the northern continent.
The area is not too far from where I encountered the pig and the northern hunters. It is a region of lakes, cascades, sinkholes and springs, and this particular bit of translucent rock, formed from the calcium in the water, looked almost like a bird in flight. The cascades certainly do not involve anything like the sheer mass of water in the falls I am tapping for counterbalancing, but they are beautiful. I am tempted to show them to Songbird, but I am already perhaps going too far in planning to let her try to understand the northerners’ method of fur tanning.
There is not a great deal of game near the lake this year, so the People will probably not stay much longer. I have assured the shamans that Rainbow has been more than satisfactory in meeting my needs, and she seems quite happy to stay.
Year 9, Day 102
How long do wild dogs live?
It’s been almost nine years since I rescued Patches. For much of that time, she has been my only constant companion. Oh, Giraffe used to borrow her to help him hunt. But Little Gnu and Rhino didn’t want her around, so I took her exploring with me.
This past year Rainbow has felt much safer with Patches’ nose and eyes to warn her of trouble when she is gathering, though I have assured her that the warnoff that I insist she wear makes that unnecessary. But the area I was exploring at the time was so hot and dry that I thought Patches was better off with Rainbow, and later I didn’t want to risk her being found by the northern hunters. So I hadn’t paid her much attention until the People left.
I knew she was getting a little fat; Rainbow insists on giving her treats. But it wasn’t until this morning that I noticed that she was a little lame when she first woke up. Had she strained something?
I needed to replenish Rainbow’s meat store, and Patches seems to enjoy these scavenging trips so I teleported her with me to an area with dense herds of game and several prides of lions. She stopped limping as she warmed up, and I decided she had just gotten into an awkward position while she slept. But this evening she seems stiff again.
I know it’s not uncommon for the older People to be stiff when they first get moving in the morning, and those really old sometimes stay stiff all day. Could Patches be getting old?
Year 9, Day 116
I’ve been here ten years today!
Needless to say, I did not remember this: the ship’s computer did, and reminded me that it was time for a deep-space check. I had totally forgotten that I defined year one of my calendar as starting on the first northward equinox after my crash landing.
Which, among other things, means that Patches is almost 10 years old. For a mammal species of her size, that’s close to an expected life span.
She seems perky enough today, though, so I compared the results of my exploration to date with my first impressions of the planet, including those recorded by the escape capsule – if any. I really didn’t expect to find much, as most of the computer capability would have been busy trying to get the capsule down in one piece, but to my astonishment the crashing ship had acquired considerably more data than I had realized, and transmitted it to storage in the escape capsule’s library. I’d been far too busy staying alive those first few fivedays to query the computer about something I didn’t even know was there, and even now I did not expect a lot of new data.
The areas I had mapped agreed with the data in the computer’s memory, and usually with more detail – clouds had hidden a great deal of the surface. One thing I was pretty sure of after studying the computer data, though. This planet does indeed have ice caps at both poles. The one to the south is considerably south of this continent. But the continent to the north, where much of the land north of the region I have explored is snow-covered in the winter and even has perennial snow on the mountains, might even extend to the ice cap. This is the ideal time to explore – late summer in the northern hemisphere. If I quit trying to map the northern shore of the tideless sea for a few fivedays and flew directly north from the mountains, I could find out. Why not? I certainly have enough time!
Year 9, day 195
If there’s a northern ice cap I haven’t found it yet, though I’ve seen a lot more of the northern continent.
I’d already observed that the northern shore of the tideless sea was very different from the southern one. I’ve come to the conclusion that the equatorial continent on which I landed is quite different from the northern one, and not just in latitude and climate.
The equatorial continent has a relatively smooth outline, at least on a large scale. Few islands or peninsulas, to start with. Then what mountains exist are mostly volcanic or associated with rifting and thermal uplift. This continent is spitting apart. I’m pretty sure at this point it is also crashing into the northern one, which helps explain all the mountains to the north.
The northern continent is very irregular in outline, with so many embayments and peninsulas I can hardly keep track of them. I haven’t mapped the whole coastline yet, or the islands offshore. But I’m now mapping the north shore of the continent, which is considerably closer to the pole than any part of the equatorial continent. My calculations indicate a latitude around 54°, rather low for an ice cap, though some of the higher mountains are glaciated year-round. But this morning I ran into a peninsula heading north, and when I followed it to the end, near sunset, there were more mountains to the north.
There is an arm of salt water to cross, though it seems less salty than most of the ocean. But I think I’ll fly north to this new land tomorrow.
Year 9 Day 201
I still don’t know whether this is a very large island or part of the northern continent, but is very mountainous and very large. Large enough to support large predators, and large enough that at I am fairly sure it extends north of the Arctic Circle. There is no sign of an ice cap yet, though.
I have been following the western coastline, which is forested and cut by deep fjords. It is getting quite cold at night, and the deciduous trees are starting to change color. I am glad that I traded for furs as I did, and that Rainbow was able to make them into warm clothing – I need it here. In fact, I have reached the point when I envy some of the predators their coats. Especially the large one I saw today.
It had the teeth of a carnivore, but it was stuffing itself on dried berries. Luckily I can levitate, because when I inadvertently disturbed it in its feeding, I thought for a moment it was going to attack me in spite of the warnoff. Once I was out of its reach the warnoff took effect, and it went back to feeding. But the northern hunters must regard this animal as their greatest enemy.
I didn’t try to trade for the larger skins, though now I have a better idea of their origin. If I had one, I could wrap up in it at night, and study the nightlife around me. On the equatorial continent many of the animals, especially the predators, are most active at night. I really ought to check here.
Perhaps a number of the smaller furs, sewn together, would make a robe to keep me from freezing at night. If not, I will have to postpone my further explorations until next year.
If I had a distort, I thought, I could take Songbird to watch the northern hunters without worry that they might see us. Provided I could convince her to be quiet.
Not that she couldn’t be quiet. That was something children of the People learned early, when stalking small animals. Songbird might not hunt large animals, but I’ve seen her capture enough fish and small rodents to know how silent she could be. But that wouldn’t top her from being seen, and I was certain the hunters had much better vision than most animals.
The computer had the instructions for making warnoffs, I thought, and I still had a number of un-programmed chips. Could a distort possibly be as easy to make as a warnoff was?
I tried asking the computer for “distort.” Nothing. I tried describing it. How do you describe something like a distort? Finally I remembered someone – I don’t even remember who – saying that the effect was caused by bending light rays around an object. The computer gave me an explanation of mirages, which I didn’t really need, but there was a footnote at the end of the article that referred to “artificial mirages.” It was a long shot, but I tried it.
Turned out that was it. Invisibility took two chips, with different programs. The first would cause electromagnetic radiation in a relatively limited band of wavelengths to bend around an object, producing a semitransparent effect. That would affect a recording device, but it wouldn’t confer complete invisibility – anyone looking (or an optical recorder) would see a rather wavery image with odd color fringes but there would still be something there. The second would be programmed similarly to a warnoff, but the message would be closer to “nothing there,” instead of “I’m harmless and I’ll make you sick if you try to eat me.”
It took several days but it worked. Somewhat more to my surprise, Rainbow took it for granted. Was I not a god?
Year 9 Day 212
If there is a northern ice cap, it is not land-based anywhere on this northern continent or on this island or peninsula whose coast I have been following, and it’s getting too cold to continue northward. As far as I can tell, there is nothing but ocean to the north, anyway, and I’m well above the Arctic Circle here. From the time of year and the sun’s height at noon, I’m around 71° N.
The word is barren, but there’s no ice in sight. Or land farther north, for that matter, even when I levitate as high as I can go. Just salt water, and very unfriendly-looking salt water, at that.
So what shall I do next? The fur-bearers are well along on growing their winter coats, though I think it will be a few more fivedays before they’re at their best. I wonder if Songbird has weaned her daughter yet, at least enough that she could be gone for a few hours? Watching the northern hunters (or rather their women) tan furs was her idea, but I find I am looking forward to it. Maybe I can even figure out how they tan the really big hides, like the one on that carnivore I ran into the other day.
Could there be a floating ice cap?
Year 9 Day 235
If I had a distort, I thought, I could take Songbird to watch the northern hunters without worry that they might see us. Provided I could convince her to be quiet.
Not that she couldn’t be quiet. That was something children of the People learned early, when stalking small animals. Songbird might not hunt large animals, but I’ve seen her capture enough fish and small rodents to know how silent she could be. But that wouldn’t top her from being seen, and I was certain the hunters had much better vision than most animals.
The computer had the instructions for making warnoffs, I thought, and I still had a number of un-programmed chips. Could a distort possibly be as easy to make as a warnoff was?
I tried asking the computer for “distort.” Nothing. I tried describing it. How do you describe something like a distort? Finally I remembered someone – I don’t even remember who – saying that the effect was caused by bending light rays around an object. The computer gave me an explanation of mirages, which I didn’t really need, but there was a footnote at the end of the article that referred to “artificial mirages.” It was a long shot, but I tried it.
Turned out that was it. Invisibility took two chips, with different programs. The first would cause electromagnetic radiation in a relatively limited band of wavelengths to bend around an object, producing a semitransparent effect. That would affect a recording device, but it wouldn’t confer complete invisibility – anyone looking (or an optical recorder) would see a rather wavery image with odd color fringes but there would still be something there. The second would be programmed similarly to a warnoff, but the message would be closer to “nothing there,” instead of “I’m harmless and I’ll make you sick if you try to eat me.”
It took several days but it worked. Somewhat more to my surprise, Rainbow took it for granted. Was I not a god?
Year 9 Day 240
I found a group of the northern hunters yesterday, and the distort seemed to work. What’s more, several of the women were tanning furred skins, both salted from last year and a fresh one. Time to contact Songbird, I thought.
No problem locating her, and I teleported to her vicinity. Rain Cloud’s band was relatively used to my appearing out of nowhere by now, and most kept on with their tasks while Songbird ran to meet me.
“Are they tanning furs now? Will you take me to watch? Swallow is old enough now I can leave her with my mother for most of the day, and she’ll watch WildDog, too. But once I figure out how to tan furs she wants me to teach her.”
“First we need to be sure that the distorts I improvised work,” I told her. “Is Giraffe around?”
In response she turned to WildDog, trailing her as usual, and said, “Find Giraffe and tell him the god Jarn wishes his presence.”
I’ve about given up on protesting at being called a god. They make gods of everything else they don’t understand, after all.
I’d made a pendant with the two chips, and I placed it around Songbird’s neck. “When you press here,” and I indicated the sensitized patch, “No one will see you. I hope.”
She didn’t wait for me to tell her to press it; she simply disappeared. I could still perceiver her, of course, but when Giraffe came up, with WildDog riding his shoulders, he did not even look in her direction. “You wished to see me?” he asked politely.
“Do you see Songbird?” I asked.
He looked around puzzled. “No, he said slowly. “She must have just left, though. I can smell her.” By my side, Songbird giggled.
“It works. Now how do I turn it off?”
“Touch the same spot again,” I said, and she reappeared.
“That’ll make watching the others tan furs much easier. Are you going to take me there?”
“Tomorrow, if it’s all right with Giraffe and your mother. Rainbow has made you some warm clothes – at least I hope they’re warm enough. They’re small furs sewn together. And I’ve stored them with tree branches from where they live, so they should smell familiar to the northern hunters. But you must be very quiet.”
“Oh, I wanted to let Giraffe know where I was. I can be quiet. So will you come at sunrise tomorrow?”
“A little before noon. The sun rises later there.”
Giraffe had looked doubtful at first, but he had seen some of the tanned furs and he seemed quite pleased with the idea that his mate should learn the secret of their fashioning.
Year 9 Day 241
“They’re hot,” Songbird said when I insisted she put on the garments Rainbow had made. “And these bags on my feet are hot and clumsy. How do you stand them?”
“You’ll need them where we’re going,” I said. “Ready? Turn on the distort. Now let’s go.” And I teleported her invisible self to a small clearing, not far from where the hunters had been yesterday, but far enough to be out of hearing. Don’t speak aloud, I cautioned her mentally. Just think at me if you need to communicate something.
She blinked a time or two and squatted down to touch the snow-dusted ground. It’s like the stuff you brought WildDog when he was teething, she thought at me. She didn’t actually sub-vocalize it, but I also picked up her decision that those hot clothes might be a good idea, and that in fact it was going to be hard to warm her hands. I grinned and handed her a couple of fur-lined bags just big enough for her hands.
I opened my mind to the hunters, and nodded in satisfaction. The men are off hunting, I thought at Songbird. The two older women are in camp, preparing hides. I’ll teleport us to where we can watch.
Songbird watched the two women like a vulture searching for carrion. After what seemed a very long time to me, she thought, Can you put their thoughts about what they are doing into my head?
It took me a little time to find what she wanted, because it was not near the top of their minds. Tanning hides was something they had learned from their mothers, and was done simply because that was the way it was done. They did not have to think about it, any more than I thought of how my starship worked when I flew it, or how to walk. But I did manage to find the knowledge that went into their hands without thought, and passed it on to Songbird.
I felt her satisfaction, followed by sudden tension. Listen.
The hunters were returning, at least two of them were, and they were shouting at each other. The third, the leader? I touched minds with one of the shouters, and stiffened. The leader was dead, trampled by the antlered creature they had been hunting. The two were in a race to seize the bearskin he wore as a symbol of leadership, but had left behind at the camp.
I didn’t realize that I was still feeding the mental images to Songbird until she ran forward, grabbed the bearskin, and screamed mentally, Get me out of here! The distort hid the skin as well as Songbird; to the hunters bursting into the clearing the skin had vanished before their eyes and they were too startled to continue their argument. I was too startled to do anything but get Songbird, myself, and the bearskin away.
You can’t just steal things like that, I thought at her.
She grinned. It stopped the fight. The owner’s dead, and you need it. Leave them some salt where the skin was, if you want.
Year 9 Day 285
“Find me a large skin,” Songbird suggested, “and I’ll see if I’ve learned their methods for tanning right. Look for a prey animal. I think that’s what they use mostly, the hides of the animals they kill for food.”
There are some animals with branched antlers that seem quite comfortable in the snow that covers the area I am now exploring, and when I saw one break through river ice and swept under, I managed to lock onto the body and teleport it to my side. The coat was indeed dense, with hollow hair that promised warmth with a minimum of weight.
Songbird had emphasized the importance of removing all flesh and membranes from the inside of the hide, so I did that while I was teleporting the hide clear of the body. I brought her the head, too, along with the meat, extra salt, obsidian and sweet dates as payment.
It took her many fivedays, but today she presented me with the tanned hide.
“Suppose you teleport me to the lake to work with Rainbow in making you body coverings?” she suggested. “I studied the way the northern hunters made them, and I think I could do better than the ones she made for me.”
I thought this over. Songbird is still the only one of the People I feel safe teleporting, and she still can’t leave her daughter for more than half a day. “An afternoon at a time,” I told her, “and only if you can Rainbow can work in harmony. Tell her what you have observed.” Rainbow is learning to make me fitted garments, and with clothing made from this hide, along with the bearskin, I will actually be equipped to explore the cold northern continent even in the local winter.
The video is the wrong place and the wrong time of year, but it does show the right animals.
Year 9 Day 295
I finally have clothes suited for a cold climate!
Between Rainbow’s experience, Songbird’s observations of the clothing of the northern hunters, and a painfully small amount of information I managed to get out of the computer, the two women managed to combine the reindeer hide and a number of the smaller hides I’ve traded for to make me a fitted, furred pullover and a sort of trousers made of furs wrapped and tied around my legs. The major problem with what Rainbow was doing was bulk under the arms; use of the smaller, thinner skins in those areas has given me a tunic that is warm but lets me move freely.
I’ve tested them out with a short trip to the far north – only a short one, because at this time of year, fifteen days after the southern solstice, there is no daylight. Animals are active. I heard wolves howling, and in the moonlight saw a fox, its ears turning like radar dishes, ghosting over the snow. After a moment it gathered itself, dived headfirst into the snow, and came up crunching something. Feeling with my mind through the snow, I found a number of small, active rodents tunneling under the snow, just as the ones I know tunnel under the earth.
It’s far too cold to stay there for any length of time, but if I wrapped myself in the bearskin I could watch how the animals deal with the Arctic night.
Those familiar with anthropology will have noticed that I have assumed that the Neanderthals of Europe wore fitted clothing, in contrast to the wrapped and tied skins assumed by Jean Auel. Well, the Neanderthals were adapted physically to a cold climate. Further, anthropologists are now beginning to consider that homo sapiens sapiens may well have borrowed some technology, especially in preparing skins, from their Neanderthal cousins. I’ve assumed that the Neanderthals were adapted culturally as well as physically to the cold, and that part of that adaptation was fitted fur clothing. Such clothing would not have been needed in much of Africa, especially during daytime. Clothing would probably have been for adornment and protection from the sun, if used at all, and any need for warmth at night would have been better served by fire, huddling together, or whole hides used as blankets.
Year 10 Day 1
My instruments (those that survived) told me that this planet has a magnetic field, and those same instruments told me that its sun is mildly active. I knew that at least in theory those were the elements needed for auroras. I hadn’t really thought much about it; one hardly expects to see auroras at the latitude where I was living, and I hadn’t been that impressed when others told me about these moving lights in the sky.
Last night I saw them.
It’s the northward equinox, and the People will be here for the Gather before long. I’ve continued to explore the northern continent, though I never know what weather I’m going to teleport into. It’s now half day and half night, and I thought I’d have a look and see whether the animals behave the same way during a normal night as they do during the long polar darkness. I took the bearskin as well as my winter clothes, and wrapped up to watch.
I knew the moon would be a late crescent by now, but I arrived in a clear evening. The stars brightened slowly as my eyes adjusted to the dimming light, and I began to worry about keeping awake.
Then the lights began.
Just a flicker of something that was not stars, at first. Then a green curtain, waving over my head and showing other colors as it brightened. I watched open-mouthed as it came and went, constantly changing color and form.
How can anyone describe this? I wondered at first that I had been so unimpressed when I heard of this phenomenon, and then decided that those who told me of it could no more put words to it than can I.
I wonder how long it will be before other intelligent eyes see this?
Again, this is the wrong place (in Alaska) and the wrong time period (try to ignore the planes, cars, and telephone poles.) And it’s time-lapse, which means the aurora appears to be moving a little fast. But there are times when the northern lights do appear to dance across the sky.
Year 10 day 3
I haven’t tried to explore the oceans, for the simple reason that they don’t have landmarks. For some reason it was not until early this morning that it occurred to me: couldn’t I teleport directly to a given latitude and longitude? I wouldn’t dare do it over uneven ground, of course, unless I teleported to a point high enough there was no chance of arriving underground. But a latitude and longitude where I had been before, where I knew there was nothing but water beneath me ….
I checked the coordinates I have recorded, and found two points from which I had gone high enough to be sure there was nothing but the tideless sea in sight, and where I could triangulate to a point at a latitude and longitude that I was sure was over water. It worked! So if I flew directly north from the northernmost land mass I have found, and teleported back to my home when I was tired, I could resume flight the next day from the latitude and longitude I had reached the day before.
I’ve been worrying about whether there was a northern ice cap, and this way I can find out.
I’m confident now it does not reach the peninsula I have been exploring; there is a warm current from the south washing its shores. But if I head due north, I can at least find out if the pole is ice-free. The northward equinox is the ideal time; I will have enough sunlight to see easily but any ice will not have melted yet.
Besides, it will give me something to do until the People return.
Year 10 Day 6
I saw a little floating ice yesterday, but it was near the end of the day and in rather small pieces. Today ice grew steadily more common as I flew north, until most of the water was covered with flat pans of ice, ice with cracks, ice ridges where two sheets of ice have collided, and a few irregular masses of ice that might have broken off glaciers. From space, as I first saw it, this could well be an ice cap, albeit a floating one.
I’m not sure what shape it is. When I first saw ice, it seemed as much west as north of my flight. Perhaps I should map its extent? It would be easy enough to fly along with the denser pack to my right and the ocean water just visible to my left. I’d have to fly fairly high, but with the warm clothes I have now I could easily enough go high enough to see the edge.
At least as long as the weather stays as good as it was yesterday!
Jarn’s Journal Year 10 Day 10
The denser ice, to the north and west of where I first encountered it, is indeed almost continuous, with only narrow (and often fast-closing) lanes of open water. It even looks like snow-covered land, with rough ridges as well as flat plains of ice. There are animals living on top of the ice, too, though most of those I have seen until today were obviously at least in part aquatic, with streamlined bodies, flippers rather than legs, and only a hint of land adaptations. I suspect they live on fish, which in turn live under the ice.
I’ve glimpsed others though. White foxes, for instance, though with the white on white color I’ve not been sure of them. Then today ….
Remember the animals I called bears, on land? Today I saw a white one, slightly more streamlined than the massive brown beasts I saw on land, but with the same powerful jaws and teeth and if possible even larger. And they are swimmers; I saw one swim across one of the lanes of open water, drying itself afterwards by rolling in the snow on the other side. From what I saw they hunt the seals I saw earlier, though the hunt I saw was not very successful. Still, this is not a predator I would want to face in its own environment!
Year 10 Day 16
If there was one thing I was not expecting in the middle of all this floating ice, it was a column, no, an enormous cloud of black smoke. At first I wondered what could be burning, but as I drew closer, I realized that the ice was piling up along a coastline. It was a clear day for a change, so I went as high as I could and realized that I was looking at a huge island, and that the “smoke” was in fact a violent volcanic eruption.
The island wasn’t ice covered, but there were huge glaciers and ice sheets over most of the high ground. The volcano appeared to be erupting through an ice sheet, and I was glad I was not on the surface. Ice and fire is not a comfortable combination. Heat turns the ice to water, and that meant flooding on a massive scale. For the moment, my main concern was staying well out of the plume. I know enough about volcanoes to guess that most of the “smoke” was probably shards of volcanic glass – not the best thing to breathe in! And that plume reached higher into the atmosphere than I could levitate and still have air to breathe.
I’m used to volcanoes; after all, I tap one for hot water and the place I live now is in a rift zone. But this explosion of ice and lava is in a class of its own.
Year 10 Day 26
There are times I wonder if I remember anything.
I had just returned from exploring more of the volcanic island when Rainbow asked me, “Are you bringing salt this year?” It took me a moment to realize that while I was exploring the far north partly because the light was good and the sea ice still at its maximum this time of year, the equinox was also shortly before the time the People would return. In fact, I’d started exploring northward partly as a way to occupy myself until they did come back. And I’d “traded” quite a lot pf the salt I had in storage for tanned skins.
“Salt,” I said, deciding the volcanic island could wait. “Wrong time of year for Northern meat; the animals will be coming out of winter thin. In fact, most of the northern plants will be out of season, too. Dates, figs, and I might help the men collect honey. I can keep the bees from stinging. Have you seen any sign of the People yet?”
“Two scouts. Giraffe was one.”
So tomorrow I will have to visit the salt lake again, and check the few sweet date trees. I might also check the fig trees to the north, and perhaps collect more of the sweet-smelling gum. I wonder what will be new at the gather this year?
Year 10 Day 27
I checked the major routes in to the lake early this morning, and sure enough there were several family groups converging on the gather site. Definitely time to prepare, I thought, so I teleported to the land east of the linear sea for the sweet-smelling gum, to the tideless sea for the shellfish that produce the purple dye for adornment, and to the great river for the sweet dates.
I still needed salt, so this afternoon I teleported to the salt lake and gathered salt pebbles, lake water to evaporate, and a few salt boulders. There was still daylight, so I explored the valley to the north of the lake.
They will want me adorned; I know that from experience. I’ll have to ask Rainbow for help, but I want something, like last year, that is not fiendishly hot. I think I found it in the valley. There are flowers enough near the lake, but none quite like some that I am finding east of the tideless sea.
Would they stay fresh, if I put the cut stems in water? I can try.
Year 10 Day 29
Am I letting the People depend too much on me?
Salt is a necessity; not having to gather it themselves is a luxury, but I don’t give them so much they cannot find it for themselves. The same is true for obsidian and fine chert. Perfumes and sweets are greeted with delight by all ages, but they are recognized as special. Aside from the occasional fermentation of some fruit, they certainly do not become habituated to these treats. 5
Perhaps I could bring them something special that would have no shadow of possibility that they could consider it a normal part of life? But what? The furred skins are of interest to few in this hot climate, even for decoration. The shamans would no doubt appreciate the results of the tanning methods Songbird has managed to copy from the northern hunters, and I plan to encourage her to share this now knowledge with other women, but I doubt that many would willingly wear the hot, heavy cloaks that result from tanning a leopard of lion skin with the hair on. 9
Then it occurred to me. Ice! Songbird is unique in having seen snow. How would the children of the People react if I managed to teleport one of the large, tabular pieces of drift ice into a local depression that drained to the lake? The runoff would be quite pure, and if I chose an area with a gravel drainage channel, it would supply drinking water as well as a new experience for the children.
And I think I know just where to put it.
Year 10 Day 31
Next time I have a bright idea I’m going to figure out the energy required before I decide to go with it.
It takes energy to control energy. Not as much—an exchange teleport, where I’m swapping two things of equal mass, doesn’t take anything like the actual potential energies involved. But it does take something. Quite a lot, when I’m exchanging that much mass over that much distance. Rainbow has been astounded at the amount I’ve had to eat.
The place I had in mind as my ice field seemed even better on a second look. It was once a pond, but it cut through a ridge of gravel and cinders to drain to the lake. The drainage channel is conveniently located, and can easily be bridged by a couple of palm trunks. I had to abandon the tabular iceberg idea because of the salt near the base of the drift ice, but a chunk of land ice from the island, upwind of the volcano (which is still erupting) seemed a reasonable substitute.
What I had not calculated in advance was the sheer mass of ice it would take to replace the mass of silt I removed from the former pond bed.
I wound up doing exchange teleports of partial ice masses over several days, with frequent breaks to eat. About half of the People had arrived by the time I added the top layer of snow and staggered back to my home to demand more food from Rainbow.
Year 10 Day 33
Most of the People have arrived, but the valley where I put the ice is not a place where they normally go. They have discovered the outflow stream, and there is a good deal of conversation about both its purity and its coldness, but so far they have not discovered its source. Until today.
Songbird, Giraffe and their children were with the group that came in last night, and I could not deny myself the pleasure of seeing how WildDog and Swallow reacted to snow. Quite a number of the others joined us as we followed the cold stream uphill, and more than a few enjoyed the novelty of walking in the cool water. I knew what was coming, so I kept my feet dry.
Only Songbird recognized the white coldness when it came in sight. “It’s snow! But how did it get here?” The rest of the People just looked confused. Hardly surprising, since she’d used the word I’d taught her for snow, which was a nonsense syllable to most of them.
“Is that what you’ve been talking about?” Giraffe asked her. “How did it get here?
“I brought it. This is what covers the ground in winter far to the north, and the tops of the mountains when they are white. It covers the ground in winter in my homeland too, and children play in it. It will melt soon, since it is so hot here, but it will give cool breezes and cool water for a while, and it will be something new for the children. Look.” And I gathered a handful of the damp snow into a ball, and then began to roll it along the snow surface.
WildDog’s eyes widened almost as fast as the growing ball. He seized a double handful of snow himself, patted it into a ball, and began to copy my rolling it. Soon others joined him, squealing with delight and surprise at the coldness of the snow.
Some of the more serious adults grumbled that the children should be doing something useful like looking for food, but most seemed to find the snow as fascinating as did the children. Torch Flower, to my surprise, looked as if she were thinking for once.
Year 10 Day 34
I think I may have underestimated Torch Flower.
When she approached me, I really thought she was trying again to seduce me, but her first question was, “Don’t you keep things cold to preserve them?”
“Yes,” I agreed. “Meat especially, but even plant foods keep better if they’re cold.”
“Couldn’t part of the ice and snow you brought us be used to keep things fresh for the feast?
I blinked in surprise. “I think it would come better from the shamans. They’re meeting already, aren’t they?”
Rain Cloud, Lion, Crane, and several other shamans were talking together when Torch Flower and I arrived. “Torch Flower has an idea,” I said, “and I think it’s a good one.” I looked at her.
She gulped and stammered, “Couldn’t part of the ice be reserved for keeping food cold? Especially the food for the feast? Jarn says it’ll keep longer that way.”
Rain Cloud looked thoughtful. “We could dig a pit for food,” he said doubtfully, “but how would we keep wild animals out?”
“Dig the pit in the harder ice under the snow,” one of the younger shamans suggested. “Pile snow and rocks over the foodstuffs,” said another. I could almost see them considering this new idea of storing food, even for a short period.
Crane got to her feet. “Let’s go and find where the children aren’t.”
Year 10 Day 40
I think I’ve made another job for myself.
I honestly thought the snow and ice would be a short-lived novelty for the children. The food storage caught me by surprise. The People do not normally store food, for several reasons. First, they can only carry so much when they travel. Second, on this hot continent food doesn’t keep very well, and they certainly cannot use ice for long-term storage. (Note to myself—do the northern hunters use ice to store food in winter?) Here they use drying, smoking and salt, though all are limited. But they are thinking more about the problem. Then came the slings.
I should note that almost all of the People are very good at throwing stones and hitting stationary targets. A few can throw spears and have them go into what they’re aiming at, though most spear work uses a thrusting technique. A very few have mastered throwing stones from a sling. There is, however, a problem in learning to use a sling, which is why most of the shamans discourage it. In the early stages of learning, a slung stone can go anywhere, even behind the slinger, and fast enough to pose a real danger.
A couple of days ago one of the children “borrowed” his father’s sling to throw snowballs. The father saw what he was doing, started towards his son, and (by accident, I suspect) got hit by a fairly sloppy snowball. He blinked in surprise, marched up to his son, and informed the youngster he was going to learn to use a sling properly.
With rocks, there is some danger in teaching the use of the sling. I would not want to be the teacher! But with rather sloppy, soft, snowballs as ammunition and a stuffed hide as a target, he proceeded to teach not only his son, but several other youngsters, how to use a sling properly. Today his class had expanded to include a number of adults, including Giraffe.
“I think,” Songbird said as she watched, “they’ll be expecting snow every year, now.
Year 10, Day 116
It’s strange. As the time of the gather approaches each year, I am afire with eagerness. Who has been born? Who has died, or been injured? What new pairings will be acknowledged? Will they enjoy the thank-gifts I have brought them? What can I do for them without interfering? Above all, I look forward to the relief they bring from aloneness.
When they leave, as the last did yesterday, I am just as relieved to see them gone for another year.
I think ice and snow, like the salt pebbles, will be expected from now on. I had intended only a little amusement for the children, but the People quickly found other uses for what was supposed to be only a toy.
So what shall I do while the People are following the game? Rest, I think, to start with, but I know I’ll get bored with that soon enough. Continue west from the volcanic island, to see if I really glimpsed a continent of ice? Turn east from the northern peninsula, to find if it’s a peninsula or an island? Map the interior of the northern continent, which so far I have seen only in fall and winter? I’d have to be careful about that, as I do not wish to influence the northern hunters as I have the People.
Perhaps I should spend some time with Patches, who at the moment is very heavy on my feet.
Year 10 Day 118
I should have looked at Patches when I felt how heavy she was on my feet.
She is only marginally self-aware, but she is most definitely capable of learning. And she has learned that if she looks at someone eating or preparing food, while drooling slightly and pretending to be starved, she will often be fed.
Especially by the children.
Especially if there is a surplus of food, as there was this year thanks to the ice.
I managed to get across to Rainbow that too much food would make her sick, but the rest of the People—well, I am not sure who has been feeding her (probably everyone) but she looks like a stuffed hide for target practice.
I caught on when I tried to teleport her to one of our favorite walks, near the waterfall. I had to balance her mass for the teleport, and there was close to twice as much as normal. I poked her sides, and found no ribs. Further, as a general rule I have trouble keeping up with her. Today she was panting and lagging before I was tired, and compared with the People I’m still a pretty sorry specimen.
“You,” I told her, “are going on a diet. And an exercise program.”
Which means I will have to do a good deal more walking than usual myself. I wonder how the foot-bags would work, of if I could find a cooler place to walk?
Year 10 Day 126
There are times when I wonder if I’m even as smart as some of the People.
When they are not here, I swim for exercise. Mostly I go to the salt lake, though it’s a little warm this time of year. Certainly not the lake by my home; it’s far too good a habitat for crocodiles. Yes, a warnoff would protect me, I think, though they don’t have much brain to affect! But I do not want to set a bad example for the children of the People, and I have implanted in Patches’ mind that she should never swim in or even drink from the lake.
So I’ve been taking Patches for long walks, and while I am keeping in as good condition as I can expect, my feet are killing me. I don’t think I have the genes to grow the kind of tough soles on my feet that they seem to take for granted.
This morning it finally occurred to me. Patches can swim; all mammals can. The crocodiles in the local lake make it unwise, but there is no reason at all I cannot take her with me to the salt lake and let her exercise by swimming with me. There are no predators in the salt lake, and as long as I implant in her mind that she should not drink the water she is swimming in, she should get plenty of exercise.
This morning I tried it.
I wore her out pretty quickly, and had to cut my own swim short. But there is a little fresh-water pool, too small for crocodiles even if the bottom weren’t visible, fairly near the shore of the lake and draining into it. We took a brief dip in that to wash the salt off both of us before teleporting home in time for lunch – a very small lunch, in Patches’ case. This schedule leaves my afternoons free for exploring. I think I may fly all the way north, and determine if the drift ice extends to the pole.
Year 10 Day 132
Patches and I are swimming every morning before it gets too terribly hot, but in the afternoons I’ve gone back to exploring. I’ve decided the ice cap (or whatever it is) at the North Pole should be my next priority, so I’ve been flying due north from the volcanic island near the edge of the ice. Today I spotted snow-covered land to the west of my flight path, though so far it does not appear to bend around to the north of me. Of course, between the clouds and everything being white it’s rather hard to be sure, but there are definitely mountains. Is there a glaciated continent at the pole, or is this merely another large island? Or is this a continent that does not reach the pole?
So far, it is merely glaciated mountains below me and to my left, but never out of sight of the ocean to my right. If the clouds clear I might be able to get high enough for a better view, but the top surface of a cloud deck is not very informative.
A clear day at last, and I was able to get some altitude. I couldn’t get high enough to see any end to the ice sheet west of me, but the coast certainly appears to bend back to the west of the line northwards. I don’t know which is worse, the frustration or the cold. Maybe I’d better just concentrate on making distance northward.
Year 10 Day 142
Well, I have a new puzzle.
The ice cap at the North Pole is very definitely floating. It’s not smooth; in fact collisions of large, flat areas of ice have resulted in ice ridges tall enough to be called small hills. But when I try to perceive land under them, there is nothing but salt water. Deep salt water.
This doesn’t make sense. Water is much more efficient than air at carrying heat from the equator to the poles. Given an ocean at the poles that is open to equatorial water, warm water from the equator will quickly thaw any temporary winter ice. Certainly the polar ocean is open to the warm ocean to the east of the continent where I am living; I’ve flown over it. What is happening on this planet?
I went back and studied the few images I have of the planet from space. It’s hard to tell the difference between clouds, snow-covered land, and ice, but I cannot rule out the possibility of land almost surrounding the frozen ocean aside from the corridor I’ve followed. It’s relatively warm now in the north, and there are about another eight fivedays before the sun sets at the North Pole, so I suppose I had better spend that exploration time following the coastline from the northernmost land I’ve found to the east. At least I should find out whether the mountain range where I saw the aurora is part of an island or a peninsula.
Year 10 Day 195
I am beginning to think this polar ocean may very well be landlocked, or nearly so.
Now and then I fly north, and find drift ice. Sometimes I don’t even need to fly north; ice extends to the shore. If I fly south I can find stunted trees. But mostly I find low vegetation: low bushes, sedge, grass, and bog. Occasionally I see reindeer, huge hairy elephants, animals like buffalo or other really strange ones with large noses, but they are relatively rare. Nothing that looks like the People.
Frankly, it is even more boring than the desert coast I was exploring a few years back.
Today is the southward equinox, the start of autumn here. The sun is setting at the North Pole; I teleported there to see the sun roll around the horizon. I’ve come more than a third of the way around the planet, and it’s getting cold. Already I’ve seen one snowstorm. At least I now know that the mountains far to the west are on a peninsula, rather than an island.
I think I’ll wait until the northward equinox to continue mapping this coast.
Year 10, Day 211
I’ve added my observations of the shore of the northern ocean and its floating ice cap to the world map I’m building up in the computer. I find I’ve mapped more that a third of the way around this world. The eastern coast of the ice-covered mountains is a good 55° west of the lake where I live; the spot where I decided it was too cold to continue this year is nearly 105° east. Close to halfway, and while there were a number of river mouths and deep inlets, the only though connection to the ocean so far is the relatively narrow strait broken by the volcanic island. Perhaps the isolation of this northern ocean is the answer.
The proof will have to wait for next year. For right now, Rainbow is hinting she would like another of the wild pigs from the northern continent, not to mention the nuts I found last year as well as dates and figs. The fruit and nuts are no problem. The pig ….
They’re mostly eating acorns now—I checked. If they taste like what they eat, as the warthogs do, they should be quite tasty. But I will kill one only in self-defense, like the first time, or if it is badly injured. Perhaps I could rob a predator of its kill?
Year 10 day 213
I couldn’t get the taste of that pig out of my memory.
My people do eat meat, though they make sure the animals live a happy life first, and are killed quickly and without fear. The People follow an animal to its exhaustion – hardly a death without fear, but I do eat the meat they bring in. Still, I cannot bring myself to hunt a healthy animal.
If one is attacking me, or injured so badly that I know it will die soon, I feel justified in using my abilities to give it a swift, painless death and then eat it. But hunting? My skills as a hunter are not up to giving a clean death, and I cannot help but feel it would be a misuse of my mental abilities to kill a healthy animal that means me no harm.
That leaves scavenging, usually a sick, old, or very young animal, as these are what most wild predators target.
Perhaps a very young pig?
I teleported to one of the areas where I knew the wild pigs were common, on the northern continent. The acorns and pistachios are ripe and abundant, and the pigs are eating them greedily. I opened my mind to pig, alert also for any feeling of pain or fear. There – for an instant I was paralyzed, feeling the leopard’s fangs at my neck. The years must have hardened me, for I came out of the paralysis almost at once, to end the young pig’s life and teleport it to me. It would not have lived long, I saw, the leopard’s fangs had almost pierced its spinal cord.
I teleported the carcass to Rainbow, together with dates, nuts, and honey. We will eat well tonight, and for days to come if I freeze most of the meat.
Year 10 Day 298
I’ve wondered before how long wild dogs live, but now it has become a matter of some urgency. I think Patches is dying.
Her appetite has not been good the last couple of weeks. It’s even hard to get her to drink water. I am not much of a healer, but when I try to feel what was going wrong with her, I think her blood cleaning system is shutting down. She’s lost interest in swimming, in chasing game, in all of the other things that used to be her consuming interest.
It’s strange to remember her as the orphan pup that came into my life even before I knew the People were here. She has become very much a part of my life. I remember how destructive she was, yet at the same time, how adorable.
She is an animal, I tell myself. So are the People, some part of me answers. They, too will grow old and die. Is it my fate to live on, alone?
Year 10 Day 300
I can’t explore to the north this time of year. Not only is it bitterly cold, there is no sunlight. But in studying the images the ship captured as we crashed, there appear to be ice caps at both poles. And at this time of year, a little after the southern solstice, the southern polar regions should be at their warmest and brightest.
Granted, this continent I am on does not extend very far south – barely 35°. I can see nothing but ocean south of it, no matter how high I levitate. The images, which were taken at nearly this point in the seasonal cycle, are not much help, as there are too many clouds to tell whether I am looking at land or ocean.
That many clouds, of course, translates to stormy. After a day of flying due south from the southernmost cape, I was soaking wet and exhausted. I considered teleporting to the pole, which I could have done – I’ve learned that much. But what if this south pole is not water? What if it is high, perhaps even as high as the snow-capped mountains I have seen? Teleporting myself into sold rock, or even solid ice, is not a good idea. Even I know that!
So I will teleport each day to the coordinates I left the evening before, fly southward until I am soaked and cold, and then teleport back to my home. If I teleport into a region of thunder and lightning I will leave, but so far these clouds seem not to belong to that kind of storm.
Year 10 Day 345
It’s a good thing I’ve learned to check the weather at a teleport destination, and set an automatic “return home” if I feel any danger. In nine fivedays I’ve actually managed to fly all day southward on no more than a handful of days.
Other days? Well, Patches has good days and bad, and when she has good days and her memories of favorite places touch my mind, I take her to those places. She doesn’t do much but lie in the sun, but she feels happy.
I never teleport into a lightning storm. That’s a lesson I learned years ago. But I decided that if I never teleported into cloud or wind, I’d never get very far south. Yes, the northern oceans are stormy, but not like this!
I’ve reached about 50° South, and with no sign of ice or land. I did, amazingly enough, see a bird today. It was soaring, rather than pumping its wings in flight, and it didn’t look as if it needed to land very often. It seemed to be getting its food from the water, which was teeming with life. Could it really be that far from land?
Year 11 Day 45
Some images stay in your head forever.
I think I will always remember WildDog, sitting on the ground next to the snowfield I teleported in for the Gather, with Patches’ head in his lap. I knew she was failing, but she so obviously wanted to go with WildDog that I didn’t even think to object. I don’t think WildDog encouraged her to overdo, it, either. It was just that her time had come.
Death is nothing new or strange to the children of the People, and WildDog looked up at me with tears running down his face, but with complete understanding that his companion was gone. “She just laid her head in my lap and died,” he said.
“She was old,” I told him. “I think she hung on to see you again, and I believe her last moments were happy.”
He looked down at Patches’ head, and gently stroked her half-bald ears. “Can we bury her?” he asked. “Or is burial just for people? Because she’s sort of people too.”
Yes, the People buried their dead, but my own people teleported their dead into the sun. I couldn’t manage that; my esper skills weren’t up to it. But I could wait until night fell and send her body toward the stars, and that somehow felt right.
So I told WildDog to look for Patches in the stars, where she would be guarding him as she had done since his birth.