"Present your identification, please."
Derik Wright sighed, then shifted his rucksack so he could get his hand to his back pocket. His
own fault, he supposed; he'd known he'd have to present his ID to get into the site. He fished out
the neoleather folder and flipped it open for the Polezi robot to scan.
"Thumbprint verification is required," the humanoid 'bot informed him in its tinny, artificial
voice. Fully natural voice-synth was well within even the most basic 'bot's processing capacity;
Derik never understood why the programmers never gave the units anything but the inhuman,
vaguely-threatening tones of generations-old machines. Even Native Motavians could speak in a more
personable fashion, though they had beaks instead of Palman lips.
Derik pressed his thumb against the reader plate in the security robot's palm.
"Your identity has been verified, Derik Wright. You are authorized to enter Paseo Excavation Site
"Thanks ever so."
Derik shoved the ID back into the pocket of his utilitarian blue carbonsuit and went through the
checkpoint. Site #2C-A had been an open plaza the week before, edged with flowerbeds, but now it was
a large black hole. More robots surrounded the pit or stood on the scaffolding that descended into
the site like a crazed sculpture. Derik identified massive Cooley-61s, used for heavy work, as well
as utility models built on a humanoid pattern. Undoubtedly the latter 'bots were for fine work;
unlike the pair of giant earthmovers, their bipedal frames let them get up and down the metal ladders.
As Derik walked out onto the scaffolding, he heard a clanging noise from below. It came nearer and
nearer, until a gloved hand reached up and grabbed the rail at the top of a nearby ladder. A few more
rungs brought a woman up out onto the scaffold platform with Derik.
"You're Wright, then?" she asked.
"I am, which means you are, too."
She grinned at the pun, raising her a notch or two in Derik's estimation. Not that she needed much
raising; she was in her mid-thirties and pretty, with black hair cut just short of shoulder length
framing her face. Her pants were rugged fiberdenim, but her work shirt appeared to be of some
ordinary fabric rather than carbonsuit material. She peeled off one dirt-caked glove and extended a
hand, which he shook.
"Cara Watson, dig supervisor."
"Pleased to meet you. Call me Derik."
"Why not?" She put her glove back on and turned to the ladder. "Come on; there's lots to see.
Maybe you'll have something for Mota News Online after all."
"That's why I'm here. Exciting historical discoveries in the middle of Paseo and all that. It
makes a nice newsblip, and I'm hoping there's more--enough to expand into a full story."
"Well, if I'm any judge, I'm sure you'll find it--though of course I'm biased. A little good press
would be nice to help keep funding coming for the Academy."
"I suppose archaeology isn't the easiest pursuit on a planet that's been terraformed from top to
bottom. I mean, the Plate System even leveled out Mota's mountain ranges."
They started to descend the ladder into the pit, boots echoing on the metal rungs.
"You're right, but it's more than that."
"The truth is, people just don't care about history any more. To be brutally honest, they don't
even care about 1275, let alone 275. They say, life is perfect under Mother Brain, so why should they
care about when it wasn't? What lessons are left to learn?"
If he hadn't been clattering down a ladder at the time, Derik might have shrugged.
"I can't say that you're wrong. Although when you get right down to it, the value of history is to
shed light on what we need to do in the present, what ideas worked and what mistakes not to repeat.
Today's citizens don't really need that, so history becomes a collection of stories that happen to be
true. On that basis, literature works better to expand the mind and genre fiction--video, audio, or
prose--works better to provide entertainment."
They descended deeper, past the level of Paseo's pipes and wires and utility conduits. Luminous
bars were fixed to the scaffolding at regular intervals, and while they provided good light to see by
it was impossible to miss the change as they descended from the sunlit world into this underground
"Yeah, I've heard that too. I can't say I believe it, but I've heard it."
"All right, then, enlighten me. The first thing our viewers are going to want to know, after all,
is why should they care to spend their valuable time on this story?"
"Let's say society really is perfect now--and I'm not saying that it is, but that's a sociological
and anthropological question. Even so, we need to know how we got here and how to avoid slipping away
from it. Change is the one constant in Palman society, and I don't think any of us wants to wake up
ten years from now and find that we've had perfection in our grasp and lost it."
Descending even deeper now, Derik saw what looked to be tunnel openings extending into the rock.
There was a surprising regularity to their shape, which at first Derik put down to the mechanical
precision of the excavating 'bots, but then he realized that the tunnels appeared to be lined with
stone blocks. No current construction would do that, and besides no archaeologist, from what he
understood, would build anything permanent in the midst of a dig site. Cara and her team had stumbled
upon--perhaps by accident, perhaps by calculation, and he wasn't yet sure which one would make the
better story--a genuine historical find.
As they continued to descend, Derik continued to think over what he and Cara had discussed. The
idyllic living conditions on Mota were due entirely to Mother Brain, the incredibly advanced AI that
served as the chief executive of the Algo system government based on the planet Palm. Mota was
technically a military-controlled colony, though its settlements now covered the entire planet, and
this had given Mother Brain free rein to do as she saw fit. Her changes were in no way small.
Originally, Mota had been a desert planet. Under Mother Brain's rule, it had become a lush, green,
temperate paradise. Weather was controlled from the Climatrol system so that no impulse of nature was
allowed to interfere with the desired plan. There were no regional variations--the polar and the
equator were neither hotter nor colder than each other. It was...perfect.
The next step had been to eliminate the bulk of the human work force and replace it with 'bots
under Mother Brain's supervision. Rather than generate massive poverty, the efficient administration
of the planet, combined with the low population density, had made distributions of food, water,
clothing, shelter, and a regular stipend of meseta for personal spending possible, so that the bulk of
Mota's population lived without working. Government functions, the sciences, and the arts were the
only areas where mechanization was exclusively kept to a support role. Even small businesses often
used robotic clerks. Palmans performing manual labor, even skilled labor, was almost entirely a thing
of the past.
Some people, mostly artists and philosophers, argued that the Motavian lifestyle was stifling
Palman ambition and drive. They claimed that a person needed to strive against challenges to live and
grow. Their opposition pointed to the slums of Palm's archopoli and asked the philosophers if the
people living there would rather live on Mota or keep the opportunity to strive against challenge.
Derik wasn't sure where he came down in that argument, figuring that both sides had points worth
"Here we are, bottom level," Cara announced, and stepped off the base of the ladder onto the
ground, which appeared to be a stone-flagged floor. She triggered the lamp in her exploration helmet,
then picked up a similar helmet from a nearby shelf and handed it to Derik as he got down.
"Put this on. These tunnels are mostly intact, but there are places where earth movements have
broken them up, shifted them during the terraforming. I wouldn't want something to dent your skull."
"Might hurt the chances of me doing a favorable story. Or any story, depending on the size of the
rock. Let me just get the C-set going, though."
He dug a light-frame headset out of his rucksack and slipped it into place. It molded to the right
side of his face and had an extension covering his right eye with an irised lens. The holographic
video camera and microphone headset, C-set for short, did the job of far bulkier film equipment from
the old days, and could record audivis data to chip for twelve hours straight without a recharge.
Beyond its obvious benefits, it was so unencumbering that the helmet slipped into place without
"All right, then, I'm up and running. And since I am, allow me to ask the most obvious question:
what is this place?"
"That's an answer we're looking for, too," Cara told him. "You remember the days before Mota was a
"That's just a bit before my time," Derik joked to cover up the fact that he didn't know the
answer. He doubted that Cara had fallen for it.
"Yes, I'd have to agree, it being over four hundred years ago. During that period, Mota was ruled
by a civilian executive, a governor. Sometimes this position was appointed, other times elected--it
depended upon the Palman government's laws. Even then, Paseo was the capital of Mota, and this very
spot was the site of the Governor's mansion."
Derik looked up at the rows of tunnel openings stretching up for several levels.
"It looks more like a catacomb than a mansion to me."
"The original building was razed in 954; it had been damaged during the Esper rebellion and
restoration efforts eventually failed, so it was torn down. These tunnels are beneath where the
"How did you find them?"
"By accident, really. The government was rerouting some utility conduits, and the engineer
discovered open spaces while running geoscans for the project. He told a friend, who told another
friend, and eventually it reached the Academy in Piata. We filed a request to carry out an
"So you're with the Academy, then?" Derik cut in to establish the background detail.
"That's right. Professor Watson would be the formal title, but I'd prefer if you stayed with just
He didn't think he'd have a problem with that. Cara was an attractive enough woman that Derik
definitely wanted to be on a first-name basis.
"Anyhow, the government originally opposed the request, since it would throw their project off
completely if we started digging up the place they wanted to run the conduits through. We pushed back
as hard as we could, then went on the offensive, using people like you."
The answer came not from her but out of the mouth of one of the passages.
"The media, Mr. Wright. The power of public opinion, a force strong enough to make even the
military bureaucrats on the Review Board shake in their boots. Or in this case, the threat of
The voice was sharp and clipped, the diction precise and formal--just the sort of voice used to
portray a stereotypical academic in any broadcast. The man who emerged from the darkness fitted the
model, too--long white coat over his carbonsuit, tall and lean with thinning hair pulled back from his
forehead and a sharply aquiline nose.
"You have me at a loss," Derik remarked.
"I doubt that." The academically-appearing man adjusted his helmet. "Cara, the light's gone out
again on this thing. The charge simply can't last as little time as it has of late." He glanced back
to Derik. "Oh, and of course I recognized you from your broadcasts, if you were still wondering."
"Trevor, there's no way that lamp can be defective," Cara told him. "That's the second you've had
trouble with, while Joro and I haven't had any problems. You just don't deal well with technology."
"Cara, dear, I have been engaged on field excavations on three planets since before you were
misspelling 'cat' in your toddler's educational group. You may be in charge of this project, but
please do not make me out to be some kind of technophobe."
"I didn't say you were afraid of technology," Cara replied sweetly. "In fact, I think it more
probable that the technology is afraid of you."
How cute, Derik thought. I just got here, and already my first spat, caught on
camera. His editor would probably insist on trying to work up a thread about it; Steve always
went for the soap-opera melodrama.
"So," he asked, "just what are these tunnels doing here? They look like some kind of dungeon."
Hopefully this would bring them back on track.
"Yes, they do, don't they?" Trevor agreed. He selected a new helmet from the same shelf where Cara
had gotten Derik's. The lamp flashed on. "It's quite reminiscent of certain antiquated buildings on
Palm, where a dungeon or prison was located beneath the castle or manor, but fell into disuse as
society progressed so that the strongholds of reigning nobility were not the centers of the
government. Now," he added as if speaking to a student in class, "can you tell me what is wrong with
that hypothesis, Mr. Wright?"
"I think so. While they may not have had Mother Brain, the first Palmans to come to Mota did so in
spaceships. They'd hardly be building stone castles."
"Precisely. These tunnels do not represent the technology level of any known era of Palman
settlement on Mota."
"By the way," Cara said, "I'd like to introduce Trevor for the record as Professor Trevor Bates,
one of Mota's leading experts on archaeology. He's one of the best in the field, so his participation
means a lot for this project."
"Why thank you, Cara dear," Trevor replied less than graciously.
"Of course, that means we have to put up with him, but into every life..."
Derik grinned. He was starting to get a better handle on these people's relationship now. His
first guess, he figured, had been way off. The insults and barbs weren't meant to wound but were
instead bantering, as if they'd known each other for a long time. Perhaps they'd even been teacher
and student. None of which made Trevor Bates less pompous, but at least Derik's fears of having his
story on the excavation turned into an underground edition of Temptation and Tempest were
"So you think that Motavians built this place?"
"That is the logical conclusion," Trevor replied.
"Unfortunately, it runs headalong into another assumption," Cara took up the dissent. "The
Motavian culture we know of was semi-nomadic before Mother Brain's changes in the environment. They
lived in tents, farmed, kept herds, and had very few permanent structures. Certainly nothing on this
"That we know of," Trevor amended her statement.
"So, this discovery could either shed new light on native Motavian culture, or on the history of
the early Palman colonists, or both depending on how it turns out," Derik summed up. His brain was
already turning over ideas for the story.
"Exactly," Cara told him.
"So, what have you learned so far?"
"You get right to the point, I see. Come on; we'll show you."
Cara led the two men down one of the passages leading out of the open pit area.
"You see those green markers?" she said, pointing to a small bar on the wall that glowed dazzlingly
when the light fell upon it.
"We put those up every ten feet in the tunnels that we've explored and charted so far. You see a
red marker, stop; that's the limit of our exploration. We've run across more than one pit trap so
far, traps that were originally designed to drop a person down a level. Not only could you take a
nasty fall, but what we haven't found this far are staircases leading up. The only way out is
the central excavation, or of course extreme measures like an escapipe."
"All one-way? Down but not up?"
"That's right. Suggestive, isn't it?" Trevor noted.
Derik knew what the man meant. He didn't have an explanation, not even the ghost of one, but it
bothered him. Without mystical power or artifacts, a person could only descend ever deeper into this
labyrinth, finally arriving at...what?"
"And, just to make things more interesting, take a look at this."
Cara turned and shone the beam from her headlamp on one of the blocks that made up the right-hand
wall. Unlike the bare stone around it, this one was intricately carved with a mural. Derik moved
closer to examine it for himself, and immediately wished he hadn't.
"That's horrible!" he explained, disgusted.
The imagery definitely fell into the category of "too disturbing for sensitive viewers." In his
profession Derik had seen a great deal, but he would have had to consider himself very disturbed.
Writhing victims being torn apart on stone altars by shapeless fiends with tentacular growths or
bladelike spurs of bone or chitin were the least nauseating of the scenes carved with astonishing
precision into the two-by-three block.
It had a kind of hypnotic fascination, based upon the extraordinary quality of the artist's
technique contrasted with the awful nature of the actual images depicted. Despite his revulsion, the
reporter found himself having to tear his gaze away by an act of will.
"Interesting, isn't it?" Trevor said dryly.
"I'm impressed with your dedication to archaeology," Derik responded. "I'd have smashed it to
powder by now. Is that the only one down here?"
"No, there are other carved blocks."
Trevor shrugged in response.
"Equally unpleasant, and of the same artistic quality--by the same hand, we all concluded--but each
an individual image, not a copy. Someone, it seems, had an extremely unpleasant imagination."
"You can say that again." Derik shook his head. "I don't understand, though, how stone could be
carved with such absolute precision by ancient tools."
Cara looked at him, her good humor fading.
Derik looked back, confused.
"Okay, I'm not quite sure how, but I'm missing something important here."
"No, you're understanding just fine. We examined some of these blocks using our field gear.
Though the equipment is limited, we found unmistakable impressions of--well, I won't say modern, but
technologically advanced precision cutting tools. It isn't a question of artisanship; there are cuts
simply more precise than is possible with a human hand alone. Mechanization was necessary."
"What about magic?"
"Magic," Derik repeated. "I mean, this scene is the kind of thing you'd expect from some kind of
cult, right? Religious mania, even demon worship. Isn't that the kind of thing the Espers were into
when they fought against Mother Brain centuries ago? Maybe some Esper cast a spell to bring his
artistic vision out of the stone or something like that?"
"I can see how you made a name for yourself in the media, Mr. Wright. You do not lack for
Derik's face flushed hotly, and a sharp retort was on his lips when Cara touched him lightly on his
"Actually, Derik, that's more or less the same reaction that I had, and Joro had, and yes, Trevor
had too upon seeing these blocks for the first time. I'm convinced that there must have been a
diseased mind behind them, though religious mania isn't the only explanation."
Derik relaxed slightly, though he still shot an angry look at Trevor. The elder professor had no
business mocking him, especially not if he, too, had had the same thought. And it had only
been a thought, after all--an honest question. What business did Trevor have to--
Okay, take it easy, Derik told himself. There's no way this guy is worth blowing your
stack over. What's the matter with you, anyway? It's not like you've never done an interview with an
obnoxious subject before. Steve could've sent a rookie if he wanted someone to make dumb
The thoughts anchored him, brought his temper back into line, but they didn't make him any more
pleased about being around Trevor. Somehow the professor just got under his skin, like an angry barb
that couldn't be ignored until it was removed.
"Anyway, Derik, to answer your question, our tests did reveal that tools, not spells, were used to
make the designs."
"I guess that rules out the Motavians, then," he ventured another suggestion, shooting a quick look
at Trevor as if expecting him to mock this comment as well. "At least, I've never heard that they had
anything but a pre-industrial society before the Palmans' arrival, like you said before."
"As far as we know, they haven't. When we get some samples back to the Academy labs, we'll be able
to pin down the actual date of construction, and that will settle the question of whether Palmans
could have been involved," Trevor explained. Although he hadn't been his usual condescending self in
any way, Derik couldn't keep himself from riposting.
"Why hasn't that happened yet? From what you say, I'd think it would have been an obvious first
"Bureaucracy again," Cara said with distaste. "Everything we do has to go through the Review
Board, and so far we've been denied permission to remove any artifacts from the site. There's the
usual arguments: concern about looting and black-market resale, the issue of possibly disturbing an
important cultural or religious site, that sort of thing. Valid concerns, but the kind that are
supposed to work hand-in-hand with proper archaeological method, not against it."
"Until the authorities make up their minds, we're stymied," Trevor contributed. "Of course, there
are things we can do here and we are pursuing those angles, but there's only so much that can be done
on-scene, with portable equipment. Speaking of which, Cara, shouldn't we be checking on Joro? I'd
like to know what he's come up with, and I'm sure it would be of interest to Mr. Wright."
Cara led the way down the passage, around a right-angle bend, then another, and stopped next to a
spot in the wall.
"What's here?" Derik asked. "I don't see anything."
"You wouldn't, not just walking along. Step back and face the wall directly like I am."
He followed her instructions and after a moment realized what she meant. The camera eye actually
spotted it first, the unit's contrast-enhancing filter making what looked like a rectangular section
of the wall stand out, the blocks forming a neat right-angled outline instead of being set in
overlapping rows. Looking straight at it, it was fairly obvious, but walking along he'd have missed
it nine times out of ten.
"Is that a concealed door?"
"Double doors, actually," Cara said, and pushed open the doors to reveal a large room. This,
though, was like nothing else Derik had seen, in or out of the tunnels. It was a huge domed vault,
and the walls, ceiling, and floor were made of obsidian, black volcanic glass. If it were not for
places where the obsidian was broken and cracked, the illusion of being adrift in pure blackness would
have been all but perfect. Shining his lamp on undamaged sections of the walls was no different to
Derik's left eye than shining it into black emptiness, and even through the camera it took effort to
distinguish the difference. He could not even detect seams or marks between individual pieces of
obsidian; as impossible as it sounded, it was as if the entire room had been made out of one single
piece of black glass.
"Incredible," he breathed. "What is this place? Some kind of temple or crypt?" It had, Derik was
sure, to be something special. He couldn't conceive that a room like this could be for anything less
than some vital function.
"We don't know," Cara said. "We're working on it, though. Come on and meet Joro."
In the center of the room was a folding metal table and a few chairs. An assortment of
experimental apparatus and a portable computer all but filled the table, and a figure sat hunched
over, engrossed in its work.
"Hey, Joro, put that down for a second and come meet Derik Wright!" Cara shouted.
The figure popped his head up and climbed down from the chair. Joro, it seemed, was a native
Motavian rather than a Palman. Typical of his race, he was under five feet tall, broad across the
shoulders, and covered head to toe in shaggy blue fur. His eyes were round and red without
discernible pupil or iris, he had a short, curved yellow beak instead of a nose and mouth, and tufted
ears poked up through holes in the top of his hood.
"This is Derik? It's a pleasure to meet you! I've seen your work many times!"
Joro spoke quickly, the words all but tumbling out of him one over another. This was by no means
unusual for his race; sometimes Derik thought the entire species was suffering from a permanent sugar
rush. In truth, the Motavians had not dealt well with the Palman assumption of control of their
planet. Their lifestyle and customs had been adapted to the desert, not the green paradise Mota had
become. They'd lost much of their culture without even adopting Palman ways in its place or changing
their own society to meet the new conditions, and most existed as fringe citizens, rarely possessing
even the most basic of an education. Only Mother Brain's beneficence and care kept the natives from
suffering the ravages of direst poverty, such as would be found in a slum on Palm. It was a tragic
state, Derik thought.
Joro, clearly, was one of the rare exceptions, an educated Motavian with a drive to do more than
"I'm pleased to meet you."
"Cara, you'll never believe this! I have the answer to the question of the hour. Two of them,
"You'd better make it three, because I have another one for you: why aren't you wearing your
"It gets in the way when I'm carrying out tests, and besides, the lamp burnt out."
"There, Cara, you see that it is not merely a matter of the old man being able to cope with modern
life. The equipment truly is faulty."
"Actually, no," Joro corrected him. "It's not the equipment's fault; actually I think these are of
quite good quality or else they wouldn't have lasted as long as they had, and anyway that's one of the
questions I have the answer to--well, what, not why."
"I don't really follow."
"Well, I'm explaining it backwards. Remember the samples we found here? Oh, wait--I'll get one to
show Derik." He scuttled off, then returned with a fist-sized chunk of black rock clutched in one
paw. The stone wasn't from the walls; instead of the glossy black of obsidian it was a dull
blue-black that seemed to suck at the light. Admittedly Derik had a pretty good imagination and the
excavation site had it working a bit more than usual, but there was something about the rock which
just seemed...wrong to him, as disquieting in its way as the scene carved into the wall had been.
"We found a number of these--five, of varying sizes--which had been hacked or blasted off violently
from something else. They were the only thing in this room other than pieces of the walls and
ceiling--some of which, by the way, showed the same kind of signs of violence," Trevor explained.
"Joro, are you saying that those things are causing the power drain from the lamps?" Cara asked.
"And pretty much anything that comes near them. The power cells on the scopes and other equipment
are shielded, but even they are showing a pretty steady although small rate of increased drain. The
lamps don't have any shielding--why would they?--so even a fresh power cell goes woof in under two
Trevor rubbed his sharp chin.
"Intriguing. A mineral with energy-draining properties. I don't believe I've ever heard the
Joro's tufted ears twitched rapidly in what Derik believed to be the native Motavian equivalent of
"And you haven't now, Trevor."
"Am I the only one who did not understand that remark?"
"Energy-draining properties, yes. Mineral, no." Joro's gaze swept the three Palmans. "These
things are one hundred percent organic. Well, more organic than any other definition I can put on
Derik shook his head as the three scholars started to discuss issues of biochemistry that almost
immediately grew too technical for him to follow. The gist of it, as far as he could tell, was that
the material mirrored biological creatures with a cellular structure, a genetic code, but it was still
made of something "unnatural," chemically unexpected. He'd have to have a sit-down with some of the
news agency's technical and scientific consultants to help him boil it down to something accurate but
that the viewing public could understand.
"But it's definitely biological?" he cut in, confirming what little he understood. "It's the
remains of some creature?"
"Yes. It's not any kind of mineral structure we've ever encountered," Joro explained. "It's
nothing like I know of, either. I'm not certain, but I'd bet when I link up to the databases at the
Academy and run comparisons, I'll find that we've never encountered anything like this genetic
"Wait a second, Joro," Cara said. "I'm not quite sure that I follow you."
"You don't either?" Derik asked her. "I know that it's all over my head, but I'm just a
reporter, not a scientist."
Cara grinned at him, and shrugged.
"Trevor and I are archaeologists--we know history, anthropology, how to extrapolate social
conclusions from physical evidence, and the technical aspects of running a dig site and making sure
that as little as possible is missed or disturbed. We only know a smattering of hard science like
geology or biology, though. Joro is an expert at both; he's here to deal with technical issues that
extend beyond our usual scope--such as the discovery of unidentified organic samples."
"I get it." He turned back to the Motavian. "So, you're saying that these chunks of black rock
are really part of the body of some organism science has never encountered?"
Joro shook his head.
"No, no, not just that. It's that...well, as you probably know, all DNA is made up from a limited
set of, well, let's call them genetic 'markers,' resulting in the millions of combinations that our
genetic code can take. This thing's DNA has, it appears, an all-new marker, a completely alien factor
existing in its genetic makeup. I'm dying to show this to my colleagues at the Biosystems Lab to see
what they can make of it."
Genetic engineering, Derik knew, was one of the main functions of the Biosystems Lab, the research
center responsible for the creation of many of the specially designed plant and animal species that
had completed Mother Brain's transformation of Mota. Their advanced research was as cutting-edge as
anything going on at any of Palm's biotech corporations, probably more so.
"When you say 'alien,' do you mean...extraterrestrial? Not native to Algo?"
The little Motavian's head bobbed up and down eagerly.
"Exactly! But that's not all, there's more! I was trying to classify the sample, to get an idea of
what type of being it might have come from. The closest thing I could compare it to is a virus,
although viruses are single-celled and this is clearly thousands of times more complex than any virus
I've ever studied. Can you see why I'm so excited about this?"
"So this is, what, some kind of alien germ?"
"Oh, no, not like that--but there is a certain similarity. A virus will insert its genetic
material parasitically into a host cell and use that cell to produce new viruses. I tried adding a
few drops of my blood to a tiny sample of this material, and the new material affected the blood
cells--but not in the same way. The alien cells would bond with my cells and not take over, but
reprogram the blood cells' genetic code. I didn't wipe out the host DNA, but altered it to be
more like its own. Unfortunately I couldn't go into specific detail, but I'm pretty certain that
although there are some physical changes as well, the area of the genetic code attacked is primarily
that concerning the operation of the brain."
Derik couldn't suppress a shudder. The Motavian's excitement at his new discovery was obvious, but
the implications terrified him. Alien DNA? DNA capable of changing the genetic code--perhaps
even actually altering the physical body to match--of infected cells? It sounded to Derik like the
root cause of some kind of plague. Could it spread from person to person? And how did this process
work in conjunction with the energy-leeching effect? Were they different conditions entirely, or
"Joro," Trevor asked seriously, "given what you've said, is this material safe? Could it infect
your DNA while you're holding it now, for example?"
"Oh, no. It's not going to happen except in controlled conditions, so far as I can tell. Mere
contact between the cells of this sample and other cells won't do it. I think it relies to a certain
extent on being transmitted by some special vector in its natural state, though I have no idea what
that would be. This is all so new, and I really need to get in touch with the Bio-plant. My
equipment here's just a set of toys compared to the systems they have. It's just so confusing.
There's even a suggestion that its DNA isn't even complete--that if you cloned it, you wouldn't get a
complete animal but only inert matter. But that doesn't make any sense--even an alien life form would
have a complete genetic code." He clicked his beak, an expression much like a Palman's shrug. "This
calls for expert help."
"Then we'll get it," Cara said. "Do you have your data compiled yet?"
"It's on the computer, if that's what you mean. I haven't gone so far as to write up a formal
"That's close enough. We'll just make a call and let them sort things out."
Cara pulled out her visiphone and dialed.
"Central Tower, Department of Interior Security," came the ruthlessly chipper response from the
"This is Professor Watson at the Paseo dig. May I speak to Agent Rawlinson?"
"I'll see if he's available, Professor."
The screen went into a soothing hold pattern for fifteen seconds, then changed to reveal a
silver-haired man in the blue uniform of a supervising security agent of the military authorities.
"Professor Watson," he said in a dry voice that reminded Derik of Trevor's. "Are you attempting
once again to grease the cogs in the bureaucratic machine?"
"No. Well, yes, but not in the same way. We've made a discovery down here and need to send test
results and samples to Biosystems. This is big, Agent Rawlinson."
"I've told you before, Professor, that approval from the Review Board--"
"I know, but trust me, this one they'll shoot through right away. We'll need scientists and
technical experts to bring in their recommendations on this."
"I presume you have data?"
"Okay, Joro; link up with the wireless and stream your data to the Agent."
The Motavian's fingers flew across his computer keyboard.
"Take a glance at that, Agent, and I'm sure you'll send it right to the Board. Bye now."
She disconnected, put away the phone, and grinned at Derik.
"Well, then, it looks as if we'll have an exciting story for your broadcast after all. Maybe even
the dawn of a new age for Algolian science!"
* * * * *
Agent Henry Rawlinson skimmed wide-eyed through the reports he'd been sent. Although he was not a
biologist, he was as shocked and impressed by the data the excavation team had unearthed as Professor
Watson had been. Alien biology on Mota? What did this mean?
"She's right about one thing," he murmured aloud to himself. "We need to get trained biologists to
work on this now."
He started to send the data on to the Review Board together with his preliminary report and
recommendation for immediate action when his computer beeped and a message flashed on-screen. It
seemed that the Board was to be bypassed in this matter. Any further details concerning the project
were to be forwarded directly to Mother Brain herself for an immediate decision.
She knew, Rawlinson thought. Mother Brain knew there might be something there. The
agent wasn't surprised, though. Mother Brain was supposed to know these things. Her ability to
assemble an enormous amount of data and draw the proper conclusions from it was why she'd been named
chief executive of Palm. I'm glad she'll be dealing with this instead of the Board. Mother Brain
always knows what's best for us.
* * * * *
The Polezi was the backbone of the mechanized law-enforcement brigade on Mota. Human agents were
used, of course, to carry out actual investigations, but security "grunt work" and tactical
enforcement was much more efficiently handled by the tireless 'bots. Perhaps because of its humanoid
form, the Polezi was accepted more easily by the masses than the conical Whistle, and although not so
powerful or advanced as other robot models the Polezi was workmanlike and efficient, never hesitating
to risk itself in the line of duty.
The Polezi robots at the excavation site were no exception to that rule. They descended the
scaffolding in accordance with the precise orders they had received. Packs of dynamite charges were
placed in specified locations at tunnel mouths. Others were affixed to the walls of the excavation
The noise from the cave-in could be heard for miles across the city.
* * * * *
"Mota News Online regrets to inform our viewers of the death of one of our own. As reported
earlier today, the Paseo Excavation Site #2C-A collapsed at 2:54 P.M., sealing underground the entire
investigation team. It now appears that reporter Derik Wright, researching a story on the excavation,
is among those trapped. The authorities have reported the incident as a tragic accident caused by
unreliable construction methods and unstable ground. The Archaeological Review Board will be meeting
at the request of Mother Brain to discuss the implementation of new, more stringent standards for
excavation practices to help prevent any repetition of this horrible tragedy. We at Mota News Online
wish to offer them all our support, for it is unacceptable that even one life be lost in the pursuit
of an already dead past.
"In other news, the suicide of Agent Henry Rawlinson is being attributed to..."