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Chapter 11

Whatever the future might bring, the change in authority set loose an immediate whirlwind of activity.

The first thing Joseph did, after re-establishing the training program, was to institute a systematic policy of exploration and reconnaissance. Despite the fact that it had been twelve years since the humans arrived on Ishtar, they really knew very little about the planet except the immediate vicinity of the valley. Julius had often expressed a desire to explore further, but the press of immediate concerns had always led him to postpone the task.

The task would no longer be postponed. Nor was there any need to postpone it. Grudgingly, Julius admitted to himself that he had fallen into a pattern of inertia and routine. The truth was that the cultivation of the upunu fields did not require all that much of the colony's labor. In fact, the fields were producing a surplus well above what the owoc in the valley needed, even without the colonists engaging in constant toil. In the first years of upunu agriculture, the colonists had been kept very busy exterminating the uduwo-snails that proliferated every few months. But years of systematic slaughter had done their work. For the past three years, they had only found snails on rare occasions. And those were obviously recent immigrants from outside the valley—which only emphasized the importance of learning more about the region surrounding them.

The first exploring expedition was led by Joseph himself. The explorers were gone for only four days. (The limit was set by the length of time that childfood would last without spoiling. Julius had once tried to find a way to prepare the childfood for longer storage— "puke jerky," he called it—but his experiments had not succeeded.)

When they returned, Joseph reported that the valley was nestled on a plateau atop the huge mountain, near to its southern crest. They had only been able to explore the southern and western crests of the mountain. According to Joseph, the western slope of the mountain was very steep and rocky. Humans could climb it, with difficulty, but the boy doubted that gukuy could manage to do so.

Nor was the steep slope the only obstacle to potential invaders. A river, coming somewhere from the north-west, curved around the western edge of the mountain, before disappearing to the southeast into a gigantic swampy jungle. The jungle stretched west and south-west almost to the distant horizon—many, many kilometers away.

The danger lay to the south. There, the mountain's slope was much shallower, and divided by many canyons which—from a distance; they had not gone down into them—seemed to provide relatively easy access to the plateau above. One of those canyons must have been the route followed by the invaders.

Joseph intended to explore those canyons, and soon. But his next project was to complete the circumnavigation of the plateau.

After resting for only a day, Joseph and his explorers set forth once again.

Four days later, they returned with exciting—and disturbing—news. The mountain plateau contained three more valleys like the one in which the colony was situated. Two of those valleys were of approximately the same size, but the third was much larger. It was located on the eastern side of the plateau. And there were owoc living in it. And gukuy.

"Gukuy?" demanded Julius. "Did you . . . Was there any fighting?"

Joseph shook his head firmly.

"No, Julius. We first saw them from a distance, while we were still coming down the slope into the valley. The gukuy were doing some kind of—dance, I guess you could call it. In front of a big hut of some kind, in a clearing on the floor of the valley. There were some owoc there, too. The owoc weren't participating in the activity, they were just browsing. But they didn't seem at all nervous. Their mantles were gray, with even a touch of green.

"We tried to sneak up and spy on the gukuy, but they spotted us once we got close."

Julius grunted. That was not surprising. If the gukuy were like owoc—and there seemed no reason not to suppose so; they were obviously cousin species—their vision would be better than that of humans. The beings' color sensitivity was especially acute, naturally enough. But they were also even better than humans at detecting movement.

"Then what happened?"

"It was the strangest thing, Julius. The gukuy started whistling, and they all turned red. But instead of fleeing, they—well, I know this sounds weird, but I'd swear they started trying to herd the owoc into the fern groves. As if they were trying to hide them, or something. And then some of the gukuy went into the hut and came back out carrying those whip-like weapons. But they weren't threatening the owoc with them. Instead, they started to come toward us. We left at that point. I didn't want to do anything further without discussing it with the council."

"It sounds like they were trying to protect the owoc," commented Indira. "That's a hopeful sign."

Hearing an odd noise coming from Julius, she eyed him quizzically.

"You don't agree?"

"Well, yes and no. Or maybe, yes or no. Oh, hell! The point is this: I agree that the gukuy were trying to protect the owoc. But I don't necessarily see that as a good sign."

"Why ever not?" demanded Indira.

Julius sighed. "Am I the only one around here with a dark and evil imagination? Indira, not everyone who protects someone else does so from good motives. Ranchers on Earth protect their calves against coyotes. So that they can eat the meat themselves."

Indira gasped. "You can't be serious!"

He shrugged. "I'm not saying that's what's happening here. I'm just suggesting we not jump to conclusions."

At the council meeting that night, it was decided that another expedition would be sent to the big valley. A larger expedition—a full platoon, in fact. But the size of the expedition was simply to protect Indira. Julius was unhappy at the idea of her going. But it was a fact, which he admitted, that she was still the best linguist in the colony. Her owoc accent would never be as good as that of the younger generation, but she was far better trained and equipped than they were to learn a new language.

It was also agreed that the colonists would attempt to convince one or two of the owoc to accompany them on their journey. The presence of owoc would, hopefully, reassure the inhabitants of the other valley. They would also make it possible to extend the length of the trip. One or even two owoc could not, of course, feed an entire platoon. (The colonists had found from experience that one owoc could feed three humans.) But they could enable the expedition to stay out for a few extra days.

To Indira's surprise, the owoc agreed readily to the trip. She had thought the timid beings would be fearful of undertaking such a journey. But it seemed that they had developed a mystical confidence in the ability of humans to protect them. It was, as always, difficult to understand the owoc. But she knew that the beings had, over the years, woven the existence of humans into their concept of the Coil of Beauty. The term which the giant creatures used for humans was "the Shell of Beauty." The term had not made much sense to her before. But now she understood.

For a mollusc, a shell is that which protects. So help me, we've become the guardian angels of their quasi-religion.

The real problem, in fact, turned out to be that all the owoc wanted to come. Oddly enough, Kupu was particularly adamant. She seemed quite upset (judging by the mottled blue and brown of her mantle) when Indira insisted that she could not accompany the expedition. It would be hard enough for any of the owoc to manage the trek through high country, much less the huge and bulky mother.

"Why in the world would she want to come?" Indira asked Julius later. "Kupu usually never leaves her oruc grove. What's so funny?"

Julius was howling.

"Don't you get it?" he gasped. "The other owoc want to come because they think it would be nice to pay a social call on their neighbors. But Kupu—"

He stopped speaking, choked with laughter. Indira waited impatiently.

"But Kupu wants to come because—" Wheeze, wheeze. "Because she's a swinger."


Indira was not amused, until the next morning, when Julius' little joke came to life. More than anything else, it was the dumbfounded expression on his face when she told Julius that the owoc were now insisting that Kupu had to come along.

"You mean—?" His rubbery face twisted into a befuddled scowl. "It's not possible! They're primitives. They can't possibly understand the dangers of inbreeding."

Indira was grinning from ear to ear. As much as she loved Julius, she often found him excessively opinionated.

"Don't ask me, O great biologist. But the owoc are quite clear on the matter—much clearer than usual, in fact. Kupu has to come along because, and I quote, 'the clan needs to twine itself further into the Coil.' Sounds like a clear argument for exogamy to me. But what do I know? I'm just a lowly historian."

Julius' glare was a joy to behold.


The trip was long and difficult. Not arduous, for the humans. Joseph had found that the mountain valleys were all interconnected by passes and gullies which posed no more than a mild challenge for humans in as good a physical condition as the colonists were. But it was hard for the four owoc who accompanied them, especially Kupu. Seeing how terribly the trip strained the ungainly mother, Indira was amazed at her stoic determination to continue.

I never fully realized just how ill-suited the owoc are to live in the mountains.

She turned and looked to the south. She could not see it, of course, but Joseph had described the vast, lush, flat plain which stretched south of the mountain to the distant horizon.

What horror must live on that plain, to drive these poor beings here?

The trip took so much longer than anticipated that Indira began to wonder if the humans could sustain their activity on the small amount of childfood they each received every day. When the expedition arrived at the first of the valleys which Joseph had found, however, the owoc immediately began gorging themselves on the uroc which grew thickly there. At first, Indira thought they were just indulging themselves in their favorite treat. But when she saw the great quantities of childfood which they produced, she realized that the beings had understood the problem. Not for the first time, she had underestimated their intelligence. The owoc were perhaps not as smart as humans—they certainly did not think the same way—but they occasionally showed an uncanny grasp of things.

They stayed in the valley for an entire day. The owoc clearly needed the rest, and the humans were glad to eat more than rations. The next day, before they left, the owoc spent most of an hour tearing off succulent oruc leaves, until they each had as much as they could carry. When the humans realized what they were doing, they immediately made lashing material out of various vines which they found in the area. In the end, the owoc set off with their broad backs piled high with leaves.

Finally, on the seventh day of a trip which the humans alone could have easily managed in two, the expedition came over the crest of a pass and onto the slope leading down to the big valley.

God, it is big, thought Indira. Three or four times the size of the one we live in. So much for my occasional worries about overpopulation.

Then she remembered that this valley was already populated, and felt a sudden shame.

We are not conquerors, to do with this land and its people what we will. Let it never be so. Conquistadores are an evil of our past.

(It did not occur to her, then, that humans might not be the only conquistadores on Ishtar.)

As they descended into the valley, Indira gradually realized that this huge valley was much less thinly populated than their own. Even before the humans had arrived, the small valley to the south had been fairly thick with owoc. Twelve years of human agriculture had produced a bounty of food beyond the owoc's wildest dreams. That surplus, combined with the high numbers of surviving spawn, had resulted in a population density which sometimes reminded Indira of her visits to her mother's Bengali homeland.

Eventually—still at a distance of well over a kilometer away—she spotted the "big hut" Joseph had described. Joseph's description, she now understood, had been inaccurate.

He's never seen one before, of course. But if that's not a temple, I'm going to resign in disgrace from the World Historical Association.

The structure was quite large, given the limitations of the bamboo-like plant which the colonists had found to be the only suitable wood on the mountain for construction. On Earth it would have been labeled "three-stories." From what Indira could see at a distance, she doubted that the building actually had stories, as such. It was built along the lines of a simple A-frame. A shallow ramp led up to a terrace, which stretched across the entire width of the building. From a distance, she could not see into the building itself. The terrace was covered by the sloping roofs, but she could not tell how far back it ran.

Perhaps it runs all the way through. There might not be any interior walls at all. The building may just be a place for congregation. In this warm climate, the only real reason for shelter is to keep off the drizzle. And personal privacy. We humans have even adopted the dress of Polynesians. Sarongs.

She smiled wrily. Since Janet died, Indira was the only woman on the planet who covered her breasts. The young women simply wrapped the sarongs around their waists.

As they neared the building, Indira began to spot owoc and gukuy moving about. There were not many of them, and they were not engaged in the "dance" which Joseph had described. (Which, she now suspected, was some kind of religious ritual.) The handful of owoc she could see were scattered about, browsing on patches of oruc. The gukuy—she counted three of them—were all clustered in a field of upunu. Now that she was closer, she could see that the field had a cultivated look about it. Yet there was something odd about its appearance, which nagged at her memory until recognition came.

That field's absolutely infested with uduwo snails. Why don't they do something about them?

(It was not until later that she remembered what Julius had told her. The beaks of the gukuy were adapted for eating meat, not vegetation. The gukuy cultivated upunu fields not for the plants themselves but for the snails which fed on them.)

Indira now began rehearsing her speech of peace and well-wishes. Halfway through the rehearsal, the speech became a moot point.

The owoc, it turned out, had their own ideas on proper social behavior.

Suddenly, the four owoc with them began hooting loudly. Kupu's hoots were especially deafening.

Immediately, the owoc and the gukuy in the valley stopped what they were doing and looked up.

Within a few seconds, hoots were being exchanged back and forth between the owoc on the slope and the owoc in the valley. Indira understood the hoots of her owoc companions—poetic variations, basically, on the general theme of "howdy." She could almost understand the hoots which came in return.

It's a different dialect. But I don't think—a sigh of relief—that it's a separate language.

At first, the gukuy observing the scene showed no reaction but a mild mottling in their mantles. Green, Indira noted with relief. But then they spotted the humans; and their mantles turned, in an instant, scarlet and ochre.

Fear. Indecision. What frightening creatures we must appear to them. Nothing on this planet looks remotely like human beings.

The owoc in the valley seemed totally unconcerned about the humans (whom they had certainly spotted, at this distance). The beings were lumbering toward the interlopers, issuing hoots which Indira could generically recognize as happy greetings. And their mantles were now solid green, untouched by even a trace of any other color.

But the three gukuy in the upunu field suddenly broke and raced toward the "temple," whistling loudly. A moment later, four other gukuy emerged from the building. A rapid exchange of sounds and whistles.

Everything seemed to be happening at once. By now, the two groups of owoc had met and were beginning to intermingle. Formality, Indira noted, did not seem to be a prominent feature of owoc culture. But her attention, for the moment, was on the temple.

A moment later, as she had feared, the seven gukuy in the temple re-emerged and began hurrying toward them.

Bearing weapons. The same type which the raiders had carried—those stone-tipped whips and long-spiked morning stars. (Flails and forks, the gukuy called them, as she would learn later.) And as they neared, she saw that blue was beginning to ripple in their mantles. Blue was a color rarely seen in the mantles of owoc.


She saw the other humans in her party grow stiff and tense. Suddenly, at Joseph's command, the youngsters—

They're not youngsters anymore, you damn fool! They're warriors, and if you don't think fast they're going to react like warriors.

—reversed their grip on the spears.

Indira sighed with relief. Until she remembered that the grip which holds a spear in the point-down position of peace is the same one used to hurl it. And each of the—warriors—was carrying three spears.

She had not paid much attention to the military exercises, but she knew enough to know that Joseph had trained his people to start an attack with a cast of spears.


The youth did not look at her; his eyes remained fixed on the approaching gukuy. But he gestured with his hand, in a manner which simultaneously conveyed acknowledgement and surety. Then, when the gukuy were no more than thirty meters away, he hooted loudly:


we not good
is break are


The gukuy suddenly stopped. The ochre in their mantles strengthened. Red fear remained, but the blue began to fade.

Joseph hooted again.


we must owoc
us be are


The owoc from both groups suddenly began hooting back and forth. The exchange was too rapid for Indira to follow, even if she had been able to understand the dialect of the new ones. But whatever they were saying, there was no mistaking the reaction of the gukuy. The blue disappeared entirely, as did the red. Ochre remained, but it grew slowly dimmer. And within minutes, faint traces of dappled green began to appear.

That's one of the great advantages chromatophoric beings have over we poor humans. Even if they can't speak another's language, they can still read their emotions. What must they make of us, I wonder?

Incongruously, she snickered.

A bunch of miserable monsters, whose leader is always implacable about everything and one of whom is always in heat.

She glanced at Jens, and had to suppress an outright laugh.

Not far from the truth, actually. It's amazing how the youngsters adapt to the owoc. Even though they know that human color means nothing, they can't help reacting unconsciously to Jens' white skin. I think every youngster in the colony has shared either Jens or Karin Schmidt's bed. Or both.

(She'd mentioned that to Julius, once. The biologist had laughed, and said: "Yeah, I know. On this planet, the myth is going to be that white people are hyper-sexual. Give it a few generations and I wouldn't be surprised to see pale skin make a genetic comeback. I doubt if the Nazis would be pleased, though, given the circumstances. Unless they decided the owoc were honorary Aryans.")


Eventually, expressing themselves in owoc hoots which Indira and Joseph were able to interpret, the gukuy invited the humans into the building which Indira thought to be a temple. Indira immediately accepted.

The minute she walked up the ramp, and saw the interior of the building (as she had suspected, it was open all the way through), all doubt vanished. There was no mistaking the meaning of the huge figurine which rested at the center of the temple.

It was not a carving, but a construct—a wicker-like framework of some kind, embellished and decorated with shells, precious stones, and carved—horn?

She was deeply impressed by the artistry of the piece. The style was in no sense naturalistic. It rather reminded her of the exaggerated style of ancient African carvings. Except for the intricacy of the detail, which had a vague resemblance to the ornate idols in Hindu temples.

But even more than the stylistic resonances, she was stunned by the essence of the figurine itself. It was the statue of a gukuy, in repose. Deep green, in color. She thought that the curl of the arms had meaning, as well.

But whatever the specific significance of any particular detail of the statue, the sense of the whole was unmistakable. Light years apart, and thousands of year later in time, an alien race had produced a being whose vision could not have been so different from one glimpsed on Earth.

Staring at the statue, she took a deep breath. Then, for the first time since entering the valley, felt the tension wash out of her completely.

Siddartha Gautama. The Buddha.


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