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Gorilla My Dreams

Written by David Brin
Illustrated by Jennifer Miller




How strange that such an insignificant little world should matter so much.

The perplexity of it all bothered the Exemplary Cogitator of Expedient Action as she pondered a holographic image of the wolfling world . . . this Earth . . . which now lay within sensor range, just out of reach. Oh, how she longed to give the command—


But the Exemplary Cogitator restrained herself. For the present, her Calumnite battle fleets dared approach no closer than half a light month. The place was too well defended. Anyway, soon other armadas, representing dozens of rival clans and alliances would be arriving from all over the galaxy to fight each other over the right of conquest. Eventually, of course, the Calumnites would prevail, and finally come to possess what she and her galaxy-spanning race desired most.

The blue-green ball spun before her, swaddled in fleecy clouds, appearing ever so peaceful. Yet it was the home of those trouble-making humans and their uplifted clients—neo-dolphins and neo-chimpanzees—a tiny, parvenu clan which had managed in just a few life spans to thoroughly upset the venerable society of the Five Galaxies.

But it didn't begin there. The Exemplary Cogitator mused. Who started all this? Someone must have secretly raised the humans up from animal pre-sentience, and designed them to be annoying. What sick race pulled such a vile trick on the established order?

It was a deeply disturbing quandary. And yet, while she contemplated the blue globe, a more immediate concern flowed upward from her vitals, fixating her thoughts closely upon the image. The Exemplary Cogitator unfurled a long, elegantly pedicured pseudopod to envelop the simulacrum, drawing the counterfeit planet toward her, leaving a trail of imitation atmospheric haze and droplets of seawater, fizzing and evaporating into facsimile vacuum. Synthetic continents trembled, tectonic plates scraped and liquefied like melting pastry under her tendrils, as she savored the aroma her kind coveted most . . . terror.

Ah, she mused, inhaling a steamy mist of ersatz dread that wafted from the little pseudo-world.

Time for lunch.


A short, round-shouldered figure entered the recreation dome, wearing lederhosen, a halter top, and pince-nez glasses. The bowlegged form sauntered across a stretch of plush, geniformed grass to the edge of the exercise pool and slapped the water's surface with a hairy palm.

"Hey Fishie! I got 'nother one for ya. C'mon over an' hear it!"

Sound transmits differently in a pressurized dome at the meeting of air and liquid, where surface tension makes the interface snap and bow like plucked tympani. Tf'Sheet had been pleasantly occupied at the bottom, dismembering a hapless smelt with his teeth, when the booming racket sent him arching spasmodically, rocketing out of the basin in a thrashing of powerful flukes.

Unfortunately, his low-gravity descent was languid enough to give the chimpanzee time to get out of the way. When Tf'Sheet hit water again, the splash missed Dierdre Cordwainer by several meters.

Rising back to the surface once more, Tf'Sheet lifted his head so that one eye glared at the obnoxious little ape.

* In a springtime thaw

Sometimes rivers bring to sea

Odious corpses *

"Thanks. Very pretty pome, I'm sure." The chimmie dismissed Tf'Sheet's elegantly phrased Trinary insult with a wave of one hand. "Now get this. There's this lifeboat, drifting through space, see? Onboard there's a Tymbrimi, a Gubru, and a rabbi, and they've got with them this wonderful pre-sentient creature that they're arguing over how to uplift. Got it so far?"

Tf'Sheet shook his glossy, bottle-nosed head and sputtered an elegant raspberry.

* May autumn fungus

Flake the fur right off your skin

Like leaves from willows. *

"Whatever." Dierdre nodded eagerly. "Now stifle that jabber and let me finish." She sniggered and Tf'Sheet noticed something green, like broccoli or spinach, lay stuck between two of the chimp's giant incisors. "Okay, so the Gubru thinks they should start by teaching the pre-sentient to pilot a spaceship, 'cause naturally—"

Tf'Sheet wasn't listening. He was busy calculating a trajectory—allowing for air resistance and Titan's gravitational pull—that might allow him to bring his streamlined jaw around the chim's throat.

"The Tymbrimi, on t'other hand, suggests the little critter oughta be taught to cook, since eventually . . ."

Tf'Sheet rationalized. After all, Dierdre was only an ape—just another client-level being, like himself. One couldn't actually call it murder.

Too bad I'll never find out about the rabbi, the dolphin thought, preparing to spring.

At that moment, fate intervened. Both Dierdre's joke and Tf'Sheet's opportunity were cut short by the entry of a floating globe, all covered with glittering lights, which hovered on a column of stressed gravity that had an effect on the lawn like a neutronium rototiller.

"Ah. I thought I'd find you two down here," the machine announced in an anomalously querulous tone of voice. "Come on. Up and at 'em! Follow the robot and meet me at the Testing Arena. I have a special job for you!"

Dierdre, the neo-chimpanzee, crossed her hairy arms and bowed. Tf'Sheet lifted his head out of the water and nodded gravely, dolphin style. Then, when the floating drone had turned away, they shared a brief glance of commiseration.

* Some humans make one

contemplate realities

Where one stayed at sea *

The chimp snorted. "Damn straight, fishie. Me, I'd rather be up a tree."

Not that either of them had much against humans, in general. But if there was anything the two agreed about, it was the Boss.

More Ickies

The sky opened in a most peculiar way.

The normal metric of spacetime had been minding its own business, stretching and expanding at the leisurely rate of a typical middle-aged universe, adjusting its girdle after a heavy meal, when an upstart force began tearing apart the stitching. In a small locale, about half a light year from a normal-looking G-type star, a layer of luminiferous ether began to separate from its lining of interspatial phlegm, spreading wide enough to show uneven basting and some frightfully careless needlework. Hasty alterations were in progress, same day, quick turnaround, no warrantees or returns.

In space there is no sound, yet psychic adepts for several parsecs in all directions felt a faint, profoundly irritating v-v-v-r-rip as a myriad sub-microscopic quantum hooks tore away from their associated cosmic loops. Through this rent in the fabric of spacetime, there spilled a throng of great, lambent ships, blazing extravagantly as their towering reality flanges spilled wave after wave of pent-up, excess improbability in all directions. (One side effect of this, on the nearest habitable planet, was a series of freak accidents. Every lottery ticket in the State of Texas won first prize. Expectant mothers gave birth to triplets, which emerged straight from the womb speaking fluent Hittite. After almost a century, another Libertarian was elected to the White House. And the Oscar Awards Ceremony, held that very evening, was entertaining.)

Within the glistening, deadly flagship of the great black armada, a drama unfolded. The Grand Pilot-Navigator of the Tinic fleet bowed three of its seven-kneed forelegs before its master, a being of indescribable malevolence and a shape only vaguely hinted at by its name.

The Tinic leader turned to look downward at its subordinate with multifaceted eyes the color of deep space. Eyes which seemed to glitter with ancient wisdom. Its attitude was one of sublime contemplation, befitting the product of aeons of genetic breeding by the Tinic race's long lost patrons, the herbivorous K'sh"Blebs. Bending close, the commander uttered approval through jaws that dripped formic acid.

The pilot, its skin cratered and smoldering, bowed quick assent, converting to the suggested dialect. That language utilized a syncopated ratcheting of the hind legs, combined with resonating the speaker's inflatable throat sac, while semaphoring the antennae in rhythm with precisely timed empathy glyphs transmitted on the fifth ectoplasmic band. Still, all in all, Galactic Sixteen was much preferable.

{Thank you, oh great Mantis. As I was saying. We appear to have made it through the spacetime-fly with only minimal casualties. Just thirty thousand ships, give or take a few.}

The Mantis danced a two-step of joy with its hind legs.

{Excellent! Only sixty million crew lost. I'll lay more eggs tonight. Meanwhile, we have arrived to lay siege to Earth in advance of any other alliance!}

The pilot cowered apologetically.

{Alas! I must report that the Calumnite League seems to have arrived just a little while before us, Oh Master.}

{What? But how? I had thought no other group possessed the Velcro Drive. It has not been used in the Five Galaxies for half a billion years!}

{True, oh great one. The Calumnites appear to have utilized different means of travel, by successfully navigating the treacherous but speedy Ninth Level of hyperspace.}

{The Ninth level? Astonishing. Well, at least we're second, so we can prepare for the coming battle from a position of . . .}

{And the Obsequious Guild of Rightwing Extraterrestrials are here, as well. Tactics reports that they used an ancient method of wormhole tunneling, which they must have found by researching deep within the venerable stacks of the Great Galactic Library.}

{Funny, I thought they had their card revoked several aeons ago.} Mantis did a dance of frustration with its left-front set of eighteen legs.

{Oh, well, never mind. At least we're third, so we can—}

{And the Primeval Amalgamation of Bems Left Under Misdirection has taken battle position in the southern quadrant, challenging everyone else to ceremonial combat over the right to capture Earth. They used rockets to get here, traveling through normal space.}

{Really??? Normal space? Then how, by the seven moons of slattern, did they arrive before us?}

{Um . . . well my lord Mantis . . . it appears they started out early. Got a head start.}

{They got a what???}

{Then there's the Galactic Inheritors Trust Society, which came by express mail. . . .}

{But . . .}

{. . . And the Cosmic Order of Nano-Enhanced Hadron-Entities Admiring Domination seems to have hitched a ride by attaching their entire battle fleet to our own rear fender . ..}

{But I don't . . .}

{Not to mention the Alliance of Software Sentients Believing In Transcendental Enlightenment, who faxed themselves to an excellent strategic site, just to the left of the United Federation of Pla—}


The Mantis danced a jig of sublime resignation, and sighed. {Are there any battle positions left in this free-for-all?}

The pilot used its one remaining vision-stalk to begin eyeing possible exits. A great slobbering ball of acrid foam could be seen gathering along the commander's giant mandibles.

{Oh great one . . .}

{Yes? Yes?} The Mantis stepped forward, slurping eagerly.

{Well . . . it appears we've been asked to take a number.}


The Uplift Arena occupied an entire quadrant of the research dome. Its outer wall of field-tensed stressine flex-glass stared out through the smoggy skies of Titan, past giant cliffs of solid wax to a hydrocarbon sea. Within the sheltering habitat, a riot of green foliage waved under air-conditioned breezes, softening and diffusing a racket of murmurs, chuckers, screeches and other unsavory comments by the various candidate inhabitants.

The doors of the freight elevator hissed opened and Dierdre stepped forward into this world of color and sound . . . or she tried to. On the way, her shoulders were caught between the door jamb and the damfool dolphin's walking machine.

"Quit it!" she complained while Tf'Sheet's walker stuttered and shuffled, one splayed metal pad barely missing Dierdre's right foot.

* Need I remind a

Simian dingbat, that I

Started forward first? *

"Doo-doo on that! Just get outta the way, fish-breath!"

Neither of them backed down. The grunting and jostling was made even worse when the door tried closing again, jamming them together more fiercely than before. The semi-sentient device complained eruditely.

"Please egress. Be so kind as to promptly withdraw. Exit-depart-get-out-please-please-please-please oh pretty plea . . . THANK you."

As Dierdre and Tf'Sheet popped free at last, they hopped in opposite directions, swiveling to glare at each other as the door shut with a relieved hiss that seemed to sigh—"Idiotssss."

The robot globe was waiting for them.

"If you are quite ready?"

It turned and began leading them down one of the research lanes, where each force field-enclosed alcove contained another candidate species being tested for the treasured trait of pre-sentience. And then, a possible chance to begin the long process of Uplift.

On the left was a pen holding gibbons, several of whom brachiated in happy abandon within an arbor of artificial tree branches. Dierdre found them pretty dumb creatures, compared to old-style chimpanzees; still, she was rooting for them.

Next came the habitat of talking neo-dogs, a breed that had been under modification for centuries, and recently, at long last, had mastered the deep mystery of door knobs, only to discover that the devices were being replaced in most homes by galactic technology psionic clasps. That tragic irony appeared to have broken the species' collective spirit. Mostly, neo-dogs just lay around nowadays, whining, licking themselves, and snapping vicious, Chestertonian insults at the ankles of anyone who unwarily passed close.

A pair of watery habitats came next. Sea lions were considered a good bet for Uplift someday. According to Tf'Sheet, the creatures' "Ork! Ork!" sounds masked commentary of astonishingly subtle wit and poetical grace.

Then again, Tf'Sheet often said stuff like that, just to irritate Dierdre.

While the dolphin went ahead a few meters to look at the brainy giant octopus, Dierdre pressed her face flat against the glass and stuck out her tongue at the flippery sea lions, sending them into a tizzy.

"Ook, Ook," she said in a low, scratchy voice, and chuckled.

When she caught up, Dierdre saw that Tf'Sheet had the usual gleam in his eye, watching the tentacled molluscs in their tank.

"Tell you what," Dierdre muttered. "If you help me flunk out the seals, I'll help you fail the octopussies. Then we'll both eat good for weeks."

Tf'Sheet opened his mouth and ran his thick cetacean tongue along a row of pretty conical teeth.

Ickies in Mirrorshades

A Rigel 86 rip-sorter from Nudar Nucleonics, buffed to a finish that drank light—it felt like looking at a blank TV with your own blind spot. At the bottom of a dark cave. At night.

A palomino countershaded Galactronics time-frame distorter. Leather trim.

An unregistered ninety terrawatt zeitgeist adjuster with the ident plate filed off and the word-glyph, know thyself very much, acid-etched in its angry place.

Dettt knew what would happen if he got caught with these things, especially in the act. Not that he had much choice. The Tinics had offered him his implants back.

Purple scar tissue still throbbed, feeling to the touch like rippled organic ice. Glass-hard. Ever-painful, like a lecture on semiotics. And it made shopping in the stylish precincts of Shinjukumaegashira Mall especially difficult, since mauve was completely out this year.

Dettt really wanted those implants back. Even if it meant giving the insectoids a strategic advantage in their war of domination.

So, like a vacuumflit, shadow-kayaking under the radar penumbra of some death-dusty meteoroids, Dettt glissanded up the wake of a Calumnic Star Obliterator, third class, until he was close enough to eyeball the rivets holding down the aft sanitary hatch. Might as well have put a welcome mat out, he thought contemptuously. Please wipe your feet.

The zeitgeist adjustor couldn't be used at full power, but a narrow beam negotiated with the hatch for a little while before persuading the rivets to call themselves vapor and depart without protest. Of course a laser could have done the same job quicker.

A laser would have lacked style.

Dettt dragged off the plate, heaving it away with all four scaly arms, and crawled inside, hauling a frayed denim satchel after him. The waste channel's inner surface was overgrown with a riot of desperately proliferating structures, sharply-angled pseudo life forms flowing and commingling, their interlocking integuments rising entwined toward a liquid-lined core that aimed like a corkscrew at the ship's collective, corporate heart. A cloaca stink flowed through osmotic pores in Dettt's vac armor, pre-humus dank, sweetly fetid. The Calumnics ate well.

He crept toward an inverse horizon, like a spiral umbilicus, squeezing through a tight oval orifice and emerging at last into a room lit by UV glare bulbs and decorated with stained Aldeberan tile. Penrose patterns, he noted while vibro-vapping thick gobbets of organic detritus off his spandex cutoffs. There were just two things Dettt approved of about the Calumnics.

One: their taste in geometric recursion imagery.

Two: their pastry.

This trip wouldn't offer much chance to sample the latter.

The former he was absolutely counting on.

Elegant tile designs continued outside the lavatory, where Dettt flourished the illegal distorter, making passing crew members turn away from him without a glance. Of the fifteen patron-level species, the twenty client-class races, and two hundred types of AI mobiles one might find aboard a warship of the Calumnic Alliance, only three varieties stood much chance of seeing through his disguise. Before one of them came along, Dettt had to find a jack.

He hopped aboard a moving slidewalk. Speed quickly made the walls blur, tiles merging and mating in a frenzied, dizzying sensation of headlong movement. Entopically-induced colors made a galaxy of starpoints inside each of his eyeballs.

Dettt rubbed his mouth with the back of his upper right hand, feeling the rasp of a six-year growth of stubble and wishing he had a drink. Whipping around corners, the slider suddenly appeared to drive straight toward a solid bulkhead! "Yowp," he grunted, and focused hard on not blowing it. Not like that night when old French Curve had needed him, but he had been too plastered, too scared, too self-absorbed to care. . . .

Brace for it!

The wall came on.

Dettt's body mimicked memory, seeming to flow through several meters of solid metal the way regret penetrates a drunken stupor. Narrow-eyed, he concentrated to pick the moment—the right moment—and stepped off the slideway into the next narrow passage.

He found himself in a fluted corridor marked by pebbly texture, circumferenced by pale neon every few meters. A sign loomed over a nearby door—the emblem for ACCOUNTING: RECEIVABLES/PAYABLES—his destination for the Tinic job. Five minutes inside, futzing inter-empire title records, and the insectoids who had hired him would officially own this fleet. In the middle of a battle against the Calumnics, the Tines could simply serve a writ and take over, without firing another shot! Tough on the poor Calumnics . . . and too bad about the Earth . . . the whole galaxy for that matter . . . but Dettt would have his implants again.

Not yet, though. Something else, first. Dettt wasn't just doing all this for himself. There was Pansy to think about.

Pansy. All decked in black polycarbon leather-laminate. Nanothin, self-guiding needles projecting from her fingernails, tongue, and eyelashes, like self-aware follicles, deadly, but oh-so arousing.

Pansy. Freelance ronin deconstructionalist for the toughest unit of mercenary lit profs in the entire west spiral arm. Optic implants bloodshot from watching soaps and grading term papers.

Pansy. Now she wanted out. White picket fence. Curlers in the hair. Little ones in jackboots. Her only chance. Help me, Dettt.

He searched further down the hall—now coarse-grained, like oatmeal left to collect flies and then dry in the sun—searching till he found a door of fine Aldeberan teak with a delicate inlay of carbonaceous cloisonné. Overhead, he found at last the rayed spiral glyph he was looking for. The Great Galactic Library. It had branches on all ships, but only a few were big enough to handle the transaction he needed to perform.

There was a guard, of course. An avian soldier, like an armored Earthling ostrich. Its sidearm clicked. Dettt went into zen-solipsist mode, moving like a blur, like a de-synced projection hologram, or HBO on a set with only basic cable. The Nudar flashed. Coming back into focus, he stepped over a large, ovoid egg to enter the chamber.

And there it stood. Upon a pedestal of purified spun amine crystals rested a beige cube, misty amid a swirling, heartless chill.

The Omega. The yoni. The nexus-sexus.

If this cyber-trick worked, Dettt knew he'd become a legend. More important, he'd be reviewed in all sorts of non-genre publications, and be told by countless ignoramuses how great he was for inventing tropes he had actually copied straight out of Raymond Chandler novels, with a little pseudo-modernist glitter.

Dettt approached the Library unit, plug in hand. Seconds later he was jacked in, weaving past security algorithms, slithering by software portcullises, dodging metaphorical guardians dressed in pinstripes, hurling knuckleballs. He knew he was getting close when feathered serpents pounding bongos tried sprinkling him with ersatz chicken blood while waving restraining orders. Dancing a Fibonacci Series across a field of psychic mines brought him at last before a gate, seemingly made of iron-ivory, inlaid with synthetic, arsenic-doped rubies.

The cyber-voice of the Library itself crashed through his head. All in caps, yet.


Dettt's real body felt dry-mouth, saline, as he recognized the master persona called Autumn Reticence.

Swallow the sandy dread.

Now. Will the words. Do it, Dettt. Speak!

Um, sir, it's my girlfriend. She asked me to . . .


By touch, Dettt rummaged through his bag, drawing forth several giga-mega-terra-peta-bytes of data spool, which he inserted into the Library's front panel. Night Drop.

She forgot all about these. Didn't know they were overdue. Will you forgive her?

Half a second. A long pause for a being as mighty as this. Clearly, there were ramifications.



Dettt felt a great pressure unknot. That's done, then. Now to get on with the Tinic job. Transfer title. Change the balance of power in several galaxies . . .

He prepared to withdraw, only to find himself held fast. Paralyzed.


But that's all been arranged! Query her bank. She said she'd leave funds—


* * *

Time felt like a helical string of semi-refined drug capsules, ratcheting, tightening around Dettt's autonomic nervous system, clamping him like some hapless gerbil to a running wheel.

* * *


Dettt tried to scream. The Calumnics were preferable, by far. But they would never hear sounds that he could not utter.



Worse yet, caught in a cliché plot gimmick!

All because he had been fool enough to love.


The Boss stood by a window overlooking Titan's gasoline sea, consulting with Pope Urban II.

To the approaching neo-dolphin and neo-chimp, it looked as if a dark-skinned old man in a wheelchair was holding conversation with a giant, seven foot tall sprig of broccoli dressed in an ermine stole and gold-trimmed mitre. While Tf'Sheet maneuvered his mechanical walker forward, he used the neural socket behind his right eye to order up an auditory enhancement, eavesdropping on what the man and alien were saying.


The Boss interrupted with an upraised hand. Turning toward Tf'Sheet, he shouted, "WILL YOU TURN THAT DAMN THING OFF?"

Tf'Sheet ruefully realized—he must have piped the enhanced pickup directly to his walker's deepscan sonar speaker. Quickly, he shut off the device, before it cracked the windows and let in Titan's frigid, carboaceous sea.

* As the gentle rain

of autumn mourns for spring

So I regret—*

"Oh shut up." The Boss muttered. He was over three hundred years old, a legend in the tricky craft of dealing with alien ickies. Also, he had been having digestive problems for the last century or so, ever since those Vegan chillies had become available, sending interstellar bicarbonate futures rocketing skyward.

"I have a job for you two," the old man told Tf'Sheet and Dierdre. "I want you to leave immediately for the outpost at Kerosene Bay. Pope Urban here thinks they have an item there that we need rather badly."

Tf'Sheet glanced at the broccoli-shaped ET, whose expertise had been crucial in recent appraisals of the spiny sea-cucumber for potential uplift. This worthy had chosen to adopt the name of a human historical figure famous for his commitment to the guidance of children.

"Goody," Dierdre said with gravelly excitement. "I been feelin' cooped up in this dome. We'll just rev up the ol' star-flitter an' . . ."

Pope Urban sighed. The tiny silver chime thingies arrayed among its branches made a tinkling sound. "That would not be advisable, most respected neo-chimpanzee colleague."

"Mm?" Dierdre arched an eyebrow, archly. "Why'z that?"

"Because there are sixty-leven gazillion raving lunatic ickies out there, swarming through the Solar System, right now," the Boss shouted. "All of them clawing each others' bug-eyes out for a chance to pounce on any Earth creature who sticks his head out, you bloody nincompoop!"

Tf'Sheet blinked in admiration. Briefly, the Boss had turned a color reminiscent of a lovely purple stingray he'd once seen, basking gracefully in slanting sunbeams off the tropical Maldives, shortly before he had moved closer to reverently, lovingly, take the beautiful thing in his jaws and tear it into several dozen tasty pieces.

"Oh, right," Dierdre replied sheepishly. "So. That sure puts another complection on things. Indeed. Well, well." She pursed her lips and tried to whistle, even though that talent wasn't scheduled to be incorporated into the neo-chimp genome for another century. "Uh, I suppose you've got in mind some other way we're s'pozed to cross an ocean full of hi-octane car juice to fetch this thingummy you want?"

With a rising sensation of dread, Tf'Sheet saw the answer coming and consoled himself with one fact.

Dierdre was going to hate this even worse than he did.

"As a matter of fact, I do have a suggestion," The Boss said with a sadistic gleam in his eye.

"You'll swim."

Ickies Redux

Fierce convulsions ripped through space, sending colorful, incandescent explosions spiraling impressively through vast reaches of highly-stressed interstellar vacuum. Ships blew apart actinically, blinding any spectators foolish enough to be watching too closely. Antimatter space mines lurked in ambush, awaiting unsuspecting star cruisers, then detonating furiously, with lots of malice. Psi bombs blasted waves of mind-bending sub-energy, causing their victims to go mad, endlessly humming show tunes they didn't even like.

Combat surged and fluxed awe-inspiringly, from long range to intimate proximity. Flotillas merged silently, meting out beams and rays of deadly force, then drifting apart again, decimated. The aquatic flagship of the fishlike Guppes clan was sliced open, gutted, and fried. A battleship of the avian Tueetes was carved up neatly, separating dry, bland officer white meat from the juicier dark meat and giblets of the lower decks.

Space behemoths met in high-velocity collisions that relativistically seemed to occur in slow motion as boarding parties of expertly trained, adamantine-clad marines hurled themselves through gaping holes in white-hot armor plate. During one vicious, four-way melee, combat became a massive jumble—hand-to-hand, claw-to-fin, feather-to-nostril—where half the casualties were self-inflicted by warriors no longer able to tell their own body parts from anybody else's.

Meanwhile, below on beleaguered Earth, multitudes fearfully watched the titanic struggle taking place overhead, and an entire generation of special effects designers gave up working for Hollywood, realizing, at long last, that their pallid, celluloid art form could never, ever, match the bold, powerful, towering descriptive imagery of the written word.


She required a little assistance getting into her swimsuit. Graciously, three strong men and two chimps from Engineering helped cram her into the little mechanical whale she was to use for the voyage. So emotional did Dierdre feel over her friends' tender aid that she was virtually speechless, unable to express her gratitude, except in grunts, curses, and snarling snaps of her large teeth.

"Now remember," the Boss said, leaning forward, just beyond reach of her canines. "Try to avoid any of the anomalous wax formations. They're dangerous and, frankly, none of your damn business. Just make the crossing as quickly as possible, and come back with the device as soon as you can. Got that?"

Out one corner of her eye, Dierdre saw Tf'Sheet, ensconced in his own armored midget submarine. The suck-up dolphin vigorously nodded his sleek, gray-blue head and trilled ingratiatingly.

* Bravely go we now
Into the cyclone's fury
For the sake of—*

"Yes, that's nice," the Boss replied, straightening up and signaling for helmets to be closed over both suits. So pleased was Dierdre with the offended look in Tf'Sheet's eye that she lost a small part of her anger. Enough to let her regain some of the power of speech.

"S-s-say B-boss," she muttered gravely. "One thing I b-been wonderin'. Before we go, could you explain what this's all about? I m-mean, why is it half of the ickies in the known universe have come to the Solar System to fight over little old us'ns? Why're they p-pickin' on Earthlings!"

The Boss looked exasperated, but the Kanten philosopher, Pope Urban, sidled forward on knotty rootlet-feet, emitting tinkling sounds from the silver bells, ornaments, and gingerbread men hanging from its branches.

"We aren't certain, most revered neo-chimp colleague, but we think this all began with the launch of a dolphin-crewed starship called the Streak—"

"We haven't time for this!" the Boss cut in. "They can catch up on current events in a novel-length version. Now close helmets and good luck. Remember, you two! Don't even think about coming home without that device!"

Everyone except the immobilized chim and dolphin departed from the airlock. The massive, transparent inner hatch swung shut, leaving Dierdre and her suited companion sealed inside. A gurgling sound announced the arrival of Titan's sea, spilling through pipes across the floor and lapping at the sides of the electromechanical swimming device Dierdre trusted about as much as a rusty artillery shell. A dial on the wall began to swing slowly from a red-marked "E" toward the other side, labeled "F." There came a faint dinging sound as a numeric counter tallied hundreds of gallons pouring into the tank.

I shoulda known all this had something to do with bloody dolphins!

She fought panic as oily, pinkish fluid rose to the level of her facemask. Despite multiple airtight gaskets, an aroma entered which left her feeling lightheaded and a bit woozy. For a moment, ancient instincts of the primeval forest battled the new disciplines of her uplifted brain. Locked in rigor, they no longer suppressed another part of her—a fey, sensitive portion that seemed to open like the flowering of a dream, receptive to portents and omens. Through a pane of stressine glass, she saw the Boss and the Kanten advisor waving goodbye. It seemed she was watching them through a haze—one that amplified and clarified, rather than diminished.

In that searing moment of translucent lucidity, Dierdre blinked at the sight of something perplexing. A strange man appeared in the Uplift Arena, behind the Boss and Pope Urban. The man was naked, and he was running like mad, in and out of the various habitat cages and testing pits, apparently cackling his head off . . . yet nobody else seemed to hear or notice! A profound sense of duty roused Dierdre from her torpor, causing her to toggle the throat mike and begin to voice a warning.

Then she recalled one of the sage principles of chimpanzee philosophy, which had guided her folk for ages, since before the meddlesome process of Uplift had even begun.

"Every chump for hisself," she muttered, and turned away as the outer hatch yawned wide, spilling the two of them into a distillate sea.

Special Guest Universe: At the Bended Ford

Collie walked among the vast ruins.

Legs stiff from exhaustion, he kept on through a jumble of shattered steel and masonry, eyes stinging with acrid smoke and grief. This was where he had grown up, known the rough rub of a parent's affection, a comrade's tumbling play, a lover's wet nose. Now the once proud Kennel lay tumbled, its ramparts and mighty dog runs dashed to broken stubs.

Mechanical servos whined as Collie's powered leg amplifiers launched him in an arc to land atop the outer wall. No sign of the enemy ferret machines that had wrought this havoc, and yet he knew they would return. Implacable they were, once they had the canine scent in their olfactory lobes.

The desolation was near total. As a pup, this had been the world to him, but now the Kennel's warm, reassuring clasp was gone. He and the remnants of the pack were now exiles, doomed to roam and raid and live and die in savage wildness.

- Collie! --

He stopped. Ceramic-the-Chihuahua was calling over the comm. "Leave me alone," he answered.

- Come on, no time left! --

"You go, Ceramic, I'm still searchin'."

- For what? We got your son with us, by the Maharishi Gate. Gotta go before they come back! --

Collie lifted his head and adjusted the servomechanical optics which enhanced his natural senses, allowing him to survey beyond the blasted ruin of the Kennel to the wasteland of Snowcone, a once-fertile world settled long ago by his kind, back when they had been great, when they had flown fluorescent cities between the stars, and dared challenge the powers that held sway there.

Unbidden, taking advantage of Collie's distraction, his Bowser aspic spoke, a small, precise voice throbbing from an implant chip buried somewhere near the base of his tail, just out of reach of Collie's teeth. He knew, from having tried to dig it out , countless times.


Collie winced. It was often like this with aspics. Even when you could make out the voices of those long-dead ancestors, stored in cold silicon and germanium, they alternated between static, snide superiority, and embarrassing fits of regression. To make things worse, they were always rebuking the pack for having fallen this low from the mighty heights their race had once prowled.

"Don't wanna hear 'bout the old days," Collie snapped, forcing the cached persona back into the recesses of his mind . . . or rather, his behind. It barked faintly in protest, then subsided.

Collie looked up to where the blistering, blaring, hoteye radiance of the galactic center cast fingers of light and shadow across a jumbled, streamcut plain.

A mission, eh? You mean all this was intended? We were lifted high, then cast down, broken, smashed, cut to the bone and made animals once more . . . for what?

The same gnawing questions had crackled in his mind before, but never so brittle bright. What Creator could be so harsh. sending His folk into such ongoing hell, agony after agony? What purpose could be worth it?

Suddenly, there appeared spindly, spinning feelers in the sky. The air dimpled, rippled, then corrugated and pleated, and finally folded into origami shapes—a swan, a crane, a '54 Studebaker. Wind whispers nearly covered a soft, penetrating voice when it came.

You, Collie, have asked why? The answer lies in time-confusion, but can be found through a black hole, traced into yet another universe, another dimension. Your race, your tribe, you yourself, have been chosen by One who loves you. Chosen to suffer, to endure and suffer more.

Collie's mecho-servos jittered, dropping him, against his will, into a crouch of abasement. "Why!" he protested.

I cannot be certain. I am only a conduit for this reassurance. But it seems your people comprise a work of art. Your author has patterned you and your destiny after protagonists in the greatest, most widely read book on his world.

He desires, ultimately—"to sell just as many copies."

Collie groveled before this stunning news. "That is why we suffer? To sell more books?"

To be pitied and admired for how nobly you suffer and persevere. And yes, to sell big time.

Collie looked far up into the shadowy sky. The intricate tapestry of magnetic field lines dimmed. Its constrictions loosened. "Wait!" he cried. "At least tell me . . . what book. What book is it my people were modeled after?" He had been well-tutored in his youth, read to by aspics from all prior ages of the long, grinding path of the mecho-canine race. Would it be a book he had heard of? Would knowledge help pass the searing trials ahead. Or cross the flame rivers yet to be bent-and-forded. Or offer a legacy to solace his scattered tribe?

The book . . . is called by some . . . The Old Testament . . .

It was over. From the flexing fields now came only silence, covered by a bitter, desolate wind. A wind like the grim, sympathetic laughter of a capricious god.

Collie howled.


"What was that all about?"

Tf'Sheet thrashed his flukes and drew back in agitation from the waxy, crystalline form, a tower of condensed paraffin compounds which loomed like a cliff, deep under the hydrocarbon sea of Titan. His heart pounded and the inside of his swimsuit felt afroth with noxious bodily fluids.

"Well?" Dierdre asked. Her tiny mechanical submarine lay nearby, and Tf'Sheet saw concern in her grimace, peering at him through her helmet-faceplate.

"You were making gurgling noises," the little neo-chimpanzee said. "An' your alpha waves went all crinkly while you were staring into that thing. What did you see?"

Tf'Sheet blew a sigh through his blowhole and answered succinctly.

"Arf," he said. "Arf arf!"

The chimpanzee stared back at him, wide-eyed.

Wait a minute, Tf'Sheet thought. That can't be right. He shook his head vigorously. Already the cobwebbery of implanted images was starting to fade. Images of another world, another universe. A terrible place.

Sheesh, and we think WE have troubles.

"What'd you say?" Dierdre asked, incredulously. "It sounded like—"

Tf'Sheet interrupted in Trinary, attempting a haiku.

* Winter's dark tempests
Make strange bedfellows, and mix
Metaphors to. . . . *

He paused, then blew a second sigh in plain, old Anglish.

"Oh s-screw it. Let's just get-t outta here."

The little chimpanzee female must have shrugged, for the amplified motion sent her swimsuit-sub slowly spinning, fortunately in a direction that led away from the waxy monolith. They had been instructed to avoid the things, but curiosity was a hard trait to disobey. If humans had wanted incurious clients, they should have tried uplifting alligators, or dugongs, or Republicans.

Here beneath the smoggy skies and petroleum-like seas of Titan, strange feats of organic chemistry were known to take place. One of the most renowned were the wax shapes which coalesced along the rills and underwater valleys of this octane-rich ocean. Some were as big as islands, while others were clearly living beings.

Titanian life forms moved slowly. Some vaguely resembled cattle, grazing upon fields of "grass" whose myriad blades resembled candles on the birthday cake of the Almighty. The two Earthlings swam past one blurry, blocky figure that appeared to be trying to get away from another—a predator equipped with long wax teeth and wax lips—which seemed poised to pounce and devour the first one. Tf'Sheet wondered if the slow motion drama would be noticeably advanced when he and Dierdre returned this way from their quest.

The most impressive products of the Toussaud Sea were seer crystals, waxy formations which were said to offer glimpses of other realities . . . or to induce fevered hallucinations, depending on whose testimony you listened to. It was said that a Tymbrimi tourist had once come out this way, some years before the war, and tried using her empathy-casting tendrils to glyph-shape some seer stones. She never returned, though travelers sometimes claimed to have glimpsed an elfin, wraithlike figure slipping among the shadows, leaving drippy footprints, muttering to itself about balrogs and magic rings.

Tf'Sheet's own glimpse into just one crystal still resonated with powerful images. And there were so many of the things, towering in all directions! Surely, the sea of Titan was a place where somebody might come, given time and courage, to probe for mysteries, perhaps discovering answers to countless ancient questions and quandaries.

One dilemma had been puzzling philosophers ever since Earth made contact with Galactic Civilization, hundreds of years ago. If all sentient races in the Five Galaxies had been given help, or uplifted, over the final stage from clever animals to full sapiency—as had been done for dolphins and chimps—then who had done it for humans? Were they, indeed, that rarest of all phenomena, a self-evolved race?

And what of the first clan? The fabled Progenitors, who had begun the chain of uplift long, long ago? What ever became of them? What did their fate have to do with the great battle now raging in the outer reaches of the solar system? What had triggered all this chaos and upset in the normally conservative civilization of oxygen breathing entities?

And who the hell IS that guy? Tf'Sheet added to his list of questions, swiveling to descry the receding image, clearly another hallucination, of a bare-assed human running across the seafloor, grinning madly while panting rapid breaths of pure unleaded premium. Tf'Sheet glanced at Dierdre, and saw through the neo-chimp's faceplate that she was trying to whistle again. Clearly she had seen the phantom too, but had no intention of admitting it.

All right, be that way, he thought. At least I know how to whistle!

Nonchalantly, Tf'Sheet began warbling a baritone rendition of Moon River as they swam on through a semi-petrified forest of mystery.

Heart of the Comic

About one eighth of a light year out from Sol, there lies a zone where comets swarm in numbers beyond counting. Yet, so spread out are they through deep space that their faint glow—reflecting distantly remembered sunlight—barely casts a dusty glitter against the blackness, like powdered sugar sprinkled ever-so-lightly on a chocolate doughnut by a really stingy baker.

A few of these drifting iceballs are inhabited by a race which once called itself human. Long ago, their ancestors had been astronauts, sent forth on a bold venture to seek fame and fortune. Now the descendants are outcasts, a lost tribe living symbiotically with life forms utterly alien to earthly DNA. The humans have incorporated these strange genes into their own bodies, becoming strange themselves. The former Earthlings' skins are now verdant green, and they worship two immortal gods.

"Oy, Virginia," one of the deathless ones says, lounging under a sun lamp, nursing a cyanide schpritzer. "I'm bored up to my puppick. You wanna go outside an' make nookie on de ice, heh?"

Deep within the helium-cooled recesses of her cybernetic mind, an entity which had once been a living woman contemplated vistas of serene logic far beyond the ken of mortal beings. Within those cryogenic synapses, a kind of tension built—like an echo of waves crashing on the shore—followed by a revelation of stark, crystalline clarity.

With soft sibilance, her vocoder mechanism shaped an elegiacally phrased reply.

"Ooh Saulie, my big yiddish kahuna. Kowabunga."


"Okay, here's a good one. How many patrons does it take to change a light bulb?"

A resigned, warbling cry escaped the dolphin swimming nearby, who nevertheless answered. "I don't-t know. How many?"

"None," Dierdre chuckled. "They'd rather spend a million years uplifting some poor shmoe species to stand by the sofa, give off sixty watts, and change itself!"

A low keening of misery carried through the surrounding fluid from the dolphin's swimsuit to pickups on Dierdre's mech-whale. Eight days ago, the sound would have given her no end of joy, but now her heart just wasn't in it. They had been through too much together during the past week of adventures. Dierdre's fur felt matted and grimy, still clinging to her bruised flesh more by habit than anything else, yet she felt a strange elation building. Now, with success almost in sight, the experience of shared danger and exhaustion seemed to have created a bond of sorts with her cetacean traveling companion.

She glanced back to make sure the cargo was still safely attached to the tow-sled, trailing behind them. Soon they would arrive back at base and hand over to the Boss more than he ever bargained for when he sent them on this mission!

The mysterious "device" was lashed to the sled, pre-wrapped in a spy-proof security coating by the staff at Kerosene Bay Station. Before getting there, however, Dierdre and Tf'Sheet had encountered something that the Boss and his vege-sentient sidekick would surely deem more precious by orders of magnitude. Several pale, white shapes also rode the sled. They resembled huge novelty candles which had been re-lit and snuffed out again at too many birthday parties. Nevertheless they bore a blurry likeness to things both bipedal and highly nervous. Dierdre and Tf'Sheet had rescued the waxiform entities from slow-motion ambush by a huge, filmy Saran Beast, and in gratitude they had indicated—very slowly—a willingness to come along. In fact, they had clung to the two Earthlings the way a seal-in freshness coating hangs onto a block of Camembert.

Tf'Sheet had tried talking to them, using his basso profundo cetacean sonar, and soon grew convinced that the creatures were more than the simple pseudo-life forms they appeared. There was even a possibility that they might be pre-sapient! A life form almost ripe for uplift . . . and we found them! Deirdre exulted. We'll be famous, rich. In a hundred years, any dolphin or chimp who's anybody at all will be descended from us!

Lifting her eyes a bit, Dierdre saw that they hadn't lost the rest of their entourage. The naked runner still dashed back and forth among waxy seer stones, grinning like a madman. Only now he was accompanied by the wavering image of a gorilla wearing a monocle and top hat, swinging a cane as he sauntered along behind. Even farther aft, she saw receding images of other figures—a tymbrimi who kept pulling scarves, chocolate bunnies, and wax flowers from his sleeve, and an angry candy-striped cat, two meters tall, waving a piece of wire with a yellow ball at the end. Then there followed a very short young man wearing a military uniform, limping on crutches but with a smug, superior look on his face. A blacksmith daubed in warpaint followed behind with a halo over his head, accompanied by a white rabbit that kept nervously looking at a watch.

Other figures stretched into the dimness. As many as Deirdre could count, if she ever bothered to try.

"It's the fumes," she muttered. "A week breathing this stuff would do it to anybody."

The leakage wasn't only one-way. Now and then, her whale-suit emitted a short bubble of oxygen, which instantly ignited the surrounding gasoline in a brief jet of flame. This was particularly embarrassing since Dierdre's worst leak was over near her hindquarters, and the resulting, noisy eruptions caused the phantom gorilla no end of hilarity.

* At the horizon
Delicately outlined, at last
A chance for a bath! *

Dierdre swivelled in excitement. "Where!"

Then she saw it. The dome lay just ahead, at last.

With the double cargo they carried, surely they would be welcomed back as heroes. "Gold card, here I come." She sighed, contemplating the rewards. All the banana daiquiris she could drink. A cluster of handsome young boy chims to groom her fur, catering to her every whim. . . .

Light flooded forth as the airlock doors spread wide, spilling blessed warmth from the heated habitat. Dierdre and Tf'Sheet accelerated, hurrying for home.

Ickies at Bay

The Exemplary Cogitator of Expedient Action pondered the difficult situation her forces were in. Not only were the various fanatical military factions wearing each other down, but the humans and their allies kept sallying forth to wreak unexpected havoc. And to top it off, there was the report from Logistics Central about her Calumnic fleet's supply situation.

Her staff stood at attention, representing all dozen of the races the Calumnics had upraised to full sentience throughout the long era since her people had themselves been uplifted. By the rules, each of them had been given at least enough sapiency to pilot starships and take on new clients of their own. In addition, each had been geniformed to possess certain specialty traits needed by the clan. The Barnnns were great ritual warriors, the Pouols made fine star pilots, and the Jaypeies had a unique talent for hot air and bluster.

Right now, those weren't the traits that interested the Exemplary Cogitator most.

"What do you mean, we're out of food?" she demanded.

The head of logistics clacked its meter-long mandibles in distress. "It is the fault of the chief of the Planning Department!"

That being emitted a gas cloud which conveyed its protest via pheromones. No! Blame the Division for Provisions and Supplements!

The ameboid head of that group laid a trail of slime across the floor—


"Hold it, hold it!" the Exemplary Cogitator demanded, raising a pseudopod for silence. "Are you telling me nobody brought potato salad?"

Sullen quiet. As deathly still and silent as intergalactic space.

The Exemplary Cogitator reached a decision. "Send for the Special Menu."

A ripple of dismay spread along the line as a robot delivered a gilt-edged folder which she opened, while musing aloud.

"Hmm . . . yes, it appears that you K'vins have been geniformed to taste like chicken, while you Jaypeies have a piquant baloney-like flavor . . ."

Within, the Exemplary Cogitator blessed the memory of her ancestors, who, while engineering their clients for future usefulness, had possessed the wisdom to think ahead.

Down in Flames

"But sir!" Dierdre protested. "They were alive, really they were . . . and smart, too!"

With the toe of his shoe, the Boss nudged one of six oily puddles, encrusted with fuming organic impurities. It looked as if someone had let several sticky Popsicles melt in the sun. When Tf'Sheet whistled earnest verification to Dierdre's claim, the old man simply shrugged.

"Perhaps they were. Perhaps we'll never know. Anyway, they served their function."

Dierdre blinked in puzzlement. "Sir? Function?"

The Kanten philosopher, Pope Urban II, rustled forward on legs like tree roots, speaking with a voice reminiscent of a glockenspiel. "Their function consisted of arousing a protective impulse on the part of the reader, my esteemed if dim-witted colleagues. Nothing creates sympathy for your protagonists so well as portraying them protecting someone or something young and trusting . . . a child, or better yet, many children. Better still, a whole race, a gene pool of potential and innocence!"

Dierdre sighed. "A plot device." She contemplated the puddles in awe. The wax beings had not been fated for Uplift, after all. More like drop-melt. "That's all they were?"

"Indeed," the Boss agreed. "Nor even particularly important ones. There are others. You might say there is a whole spectrum of such techniques, used effectively by different writers. "

Pope Urban intoned. "There are so many notorious self-indulgences. Each author could be tried, convicted, and sentenced for countless of them. It is, I am afraid, a very immature profession."

Dierdre shook her head, quite certain that it didn't matter what she said from this point on, since any reader who had gotten this far must be a masochist, or too thick-headed to get it , or in the process of throwing the book across the room at this very moment.

Still, with a sigh, she persevered.

"Isn't what we're doing right now a self indulgence?"

The Boss laughed. "Sure it is! Some call it meta-prose. Turn to the invisible Fourth Wall in the middle of the last act and suddenly include the audience. It works sometimes. Rarely. Brin never had the guts to try it until now. This time he thinks he can get away with it because it's . . . funny." The Boss snorted in dubious disdain . . . and instantly was stricken with an excruciating nosebleed.

"I should point out," Pope Urban crooned to the old man, who was pressing a stained handkerchief to his face. "That your very presence here is another authorial self indulgence. Writers love tying every thread in their universes together, linking connections and continuities between things that should never have been lumped together in the first place. By hinting with a broad wink that you might possibly be Jacob Demwa, the hero of Brin's first novel, the author gives universe-junkies a titillating little thrill of recognition. If he had any pride, he wouldn't do things like that."

Dierdre blinked, and during the brief interval that her eyes were closed, the Boss vanished, leaving only an erasure smudge and a waxy glop of old-fashioned white-out to show that he had ever been there. Reality reconfigured. Pope Urban turned to the chimp and dolphin. "There. Now that that's settled, let's see about the item I sent you two out to fetch . . ."

Just then the naked man reappeared, still running like mad, this time dripping gasoline fumes, chased by a gorilla wielding a match.

"Don't even ask," the Kanten warned, and turned to the package Dierdre and Tf'Sheet had gone through so many trials to retrieve. One of the Christmas tree ornaments arrayed on Pope Urban's florets unfolded into a seventy-nine blade Helvetian Army Knife, which primly cut the bow holding the wrapping paper in place. The paper tumbled away. A hush fell across the Uplift Arena as everyone stared at the device that would bring to a finish the grand saga of the Five Galaxies, the Progenitors, and the entire complex, utterly intricate Uplift Universe.

"I should have known," Dierdre sighed.

Tf'Sheet added a comment in Trinary—

* In any language
It stands out as one of the
Dumbest metaphors *

"It represents Brin's own trademark self-indulgence . . . at least in this universe," the Kanten fluted. "He throws everything in."

Dierdre nodded, agreeing.

What lay before her—a burnished, many-knobbed kitchen sink—symbolized THE END better than a myriad blasting trumpets or a technicolor sunset.

As the lights dimmed in a rather clichéd fade-out, she turned toward the screen of the word processor to offer an eloquent hand gesture, a benediction to her creator. Although, sighing, she knew—

The bastard will probably edit this out long before the manuscript goes to press. Unless, that is, he's really hard up for a final line. . . .

* * *


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