Authors: Julian May
Marc Remillard whirled about, his heart pounding. He had been aware of no one approaching him, sensed no aura. But standing behind him was a very tall elderly man with a neatly trimmed white beard and a patriarchal halo of snowy hair. His eyes had a preternatural brightness, set deep within dark sockets.
Marc suspected immediately that he was not human. The mental signature was totally absent, even to a third-level probe delivered at point-blank range. But what kind of exotic was he?
Marc turned, his mental screen strengthened to the maximum. “Do—do I know you?”
The tall man laughed but did not answer the question.
By Julian May
Published by Ballantine Books:
The Saga of Pliocene Exile:
Volume I: The Many-Colored Land
Volume II: The Golden Torc
Volume III: The Nonborn King
Volume IV: The Adversary
Volume I: The Surveillance
Volume II: The Metaconcert
THE GALACTIC MILIEU TRIOLOGY
Volume I: Jack the Bodiless
Volume II: Diamond Mask
Volume III: Magnificat
Aux les bons copains—enfin!
A Del Rey Book
Published by Ballantine Books
Copyright © 1991 by Starykon Productions, Inc.
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States of America by Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 91-53176
This edition published by arrangement with Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made!
My soul knows how marvelous are your works.
You were aware when my very bones were formed
Growing secretly inside my mother’s body
As a plant’s root grows beneath the earth.
You knew me before I was born
The days of my life were all written in your book
Before they had ever begun
Whereas in the familiar closed systems of physics the final state is determined by the initial conditions, in open systems, as far as they attain a steady state, this state can be reached from different initial conditions and in different ways.
A Systems View of Man
God writes straight with crooked lines.
SNOW GROTTO PLANETARY PARK, KANNERNARKTOK TERRITORY
SECTOR 14: STAR 14-661-329 [SIKRINERK] PLANET 6 [DENALI]
GALACTIC YEAR: LA PRIME 1-400-644 [17 MAY 2113]
T WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT, AS SO MANY NIGHTS WERE
on Denali, where topography and climate conspired to produce some of the Galaxy’s worst weather. Worst from a human point of view, of course, unless that human was addicted to Nordic skiing …
The mind of the supervising Lylmik entity named Atoning Unifex smiled as Its material essence hovered above the blizzard-lashed park. Denali was a rugged planet, wintery throughout most of its year, the veritable haunt of the Great White Cold celebrated in a certain Earth song that was very familiar to the First Supervisor. On most of Denali’s continents, glaciers and permanent snowfields spread wide amidst a fantastic landscape of dazzling peaks, black precipices, and crags that thrust up like the broken tusks of primordial monsters. Denali had no sapient indigenous lifeform. No rational creatures had as yet evolved on it when it was assigned to the Human Polity by the world evaluators of the Galactic Milieu. Its most famous honorary native son, Saint Jack the Bodiless, was conceived before the first Earth settlers arrived.
The hardy people who originally colonized Denali in the mid-2000s had hailed from Alaska and other parts of the United States having severe winters. They were quickly
joined by Canadians, Siberians, Samoyeds, Lapps, and a host of others who craved a life of challenge that could be lived in a setting of wild natural beauty. The World-Mind those human colonists engendered might have been expected to be as dark and moody as Denali’s weather; but for some reason the very opposite mental climate prevailed, and Denali was an invigorating place with an aether that fairly glowed with friendliness and verve. The original rationale for establishing the colony had been the planet’s deposits of valuable gallium ore, and this was still a major economic resource. But Denali had also become a popular vacation resort, first appealing mainly to Human Polity winter-sports fans (including the famous Remillard clan of New Hampshire) and later attracting hordes of like-minded Poltroyans as well.
Atoning Unifex let memories crowd to the fore of Its consciousness, recollections that had been repressed for aeons. This small planet had been loved by both of them …
She, of course, had been born here, living and working in the colony’s capital city of Iditarod until a fateful tragedy had taken her to Earth, where the two of them had so improbably met. On the very brink of their great adventure she had spoken casually of her own experiences as a native of Denali, and they had laughed together over the unexpected mutual reminiscences. The shared laughter had come to an end long ago, but the memories remained in a deep level of the Lylmik’s ancient mind, guarded and cherished and eventually becoming almost too precious to contemplate. The pain that had once darkened these memories had long since faded, and their scrutiny at this particular time was now actually appropriate.
And so Atoning Unifex lingered there in the middle of the storm, Its mind in a state that a human being would have recognized as part reverie and part prayer, thinking of a person who had once been a woman, who had twice loved deeply, and who had mothered Unity in countless nonhuman minds in a distant Galaxy.
Finally the Lylmik uttered the mental equivalent of a deep sigh. The epilogue of the comedy was nearly complete, but One waited upon the inimitable Uncle Rogi, who kicked at the goad as usual, dawdling while cosmic destiny hung suspended.
Unifex focused Its mind narrowly on the subsurface snow cavern that sheltered Rogatien Remillard from the raging snowstorm. It saw a hunched, lanky man sitting beside a tiny tent, taking off his ski boots. Like other members of his famous family, Uncle Rogi possessed the genes for self-rejuvenation. His face was that of a raddled fifty-year-old, belying his actual age of 167 Earth years. His gaunt cheeks were frost-reddened, and his nose and eyes watered a little when he forgot to mop them with the red bandanna handkerchief he carried up the cuff of his old L. L. Bean Penobscot parka. He had tossed aside his knitted toque, and sweaty silver curls straggled over his forehead and ears. He was whistling as he peeled off the archaic twentieth-century ski garb and stripped faded red long johns from a pale and sinewy body. Then he lowered himself with exquisite care into a geothermal pool in the center of the small snow cave. The telepathic emanations from his ever obstinate and uncoadunate mind were happy ones.
Uncle Rogi said to himself: If the storm lasts, I’ll forget about the final leg of my trek and call the park’s shuttlebug and go wallow for a week in the lodge’s après-ski entertainments casino cabaret string quartets Lucullan food good company perhaps a new science fiction novel savored in the Wintergarden while the bar waitrons keep the drinks coming and I check out the snowbunny crop!