By Gregory Benford
Published by Aspect
March 2004; 044653059X; 288 pages
It began with strange droplets coasting on the air, shimmering, murmuring. Floodlights had ringed a gray, chipped slab, where she worked with Kurani. Recently opened passages far into the Library labyrinth had yielded complicated new puzzles in data-slabs. They were reading out a curious string of phrases in a long-dead language, from a society that had reached the peak of mathematical wisdom, or so the historians said.
The floating, humming motes distracted her. Unlike the familiar microtech that pervaded the Library performing tasks, these shifted and scintillated in the hard spotlight glare.
Kurani ignored them. His powers of concentration were vast and pointed. He had just discovered that these ancient people had used numbers not as nouns or adjectives, but to modify verbs, words of action. Instead of "see those three trees," they would say something like, "the living things manifesting treeness here act visibly as a collection divided to the extent of three."
She remembered Kurani's furrowed brow, his quizzical interrogation of distant resource libraries as he struggled with this conceptual gulf. These ancients had used number systems that recognized three bases-ten, twelve, and five-and were rooted in the body, with its five toes and six fingers. So grounded in the flesh, what insights did the ancients reach in far more rarefied pursuits? Scholars had already found a deep fathoming of the extra dimensions known to exist in the universe. The slab before Cley and Kurani spoke of experiments in dimensional transport, all rendered in a strangely canted manner.
Cley had kept her focus as tightly wrapped around this problem as she could. She found such abstractions engulfing.
But the motes ...and suddenly she looked up at a new source of light. The motes were tumbling in a field of amber glitter. Sharp blue shards of brilliance lanced into her eyes. The motes were not microtech but windows into another place, where hard radiance rumbled and fought.
She had turned to Kurani to warn him-
-and the world was sliced. Cut into thin parallel sheets, each showing a different part of Kurani, sectioned neatly by a mad geometer.
But this was not illusion, not a mere refraction in the air. He was divided, slashed crosswise. She could see into his red interior, organs working, pulsing. She stepped toward him-
Then came the fire, hot pain, and screaming. She remembered running. The motes swept after her, and she was trying to get away from the terrible screams. Only when she gasped for breath did she realize that the screams had come from her.
She had made herself stop. Turned, for a moment that would haunt her forever. Looked back down a long stony corridor that tapered to infinity-and Kurani was at the other end, not running. Impaled on blades of light. Sliced. Writhing.
And then, to her shame, she had turned and run away. Without another backward glance. Terrified.
The memory came sharply into her. The bare fossil outlines of later events swelled up, filling her throat, the past pressing to get out.
Finding a dozen of a neighboring Meta cowering in a passageway. Fidgeting with fear. They had to shout themselves hoarse in the thundering violence.
Then the booming eased away. Crackling energies came instead.
The other Naturals said the attacks raged through all the valleys of the Library. They were being pursued by a rage beyond comprehension. Let the Supras fight it if they could.
They would be hunted like rats here. She agreed-they had to get out, into the forest.
The seething air in the passageway became prickly. A sound like fat frying grew near. No one could stand and wait for it.
She went down a side tunnel. The other Originals fled toward the main passage. Better to run and hide alone than in a straggling rabble. But the tunnel ceiling got lower as she trotted, then walked, finally duckwalked.
She cowered far back in the tunnel, alone in blackness. Stabs of virulent lightning forked in the distance and splashed the tunnel walls with an ivory glow. Getting closer. In one of the flashes she saw tiny designs in the tunnel wall.
Her fingers found the pattern. Ancient, a two-tiered language. A . . . combination? Plan?
She extruded a finger into a tool wedge and tracked along the grooves. It was telling a tale of architectural detail she could not follow very well, reading at high speed through the tool. She sensed a sense-phrase, inserted in the middle of an extended brag about the design. It referred to an inlet-or maybe outlet. A two-valence, anyway. Okay, okay-but where?
More snapping flashes, emerald now. Nearer. Could they hear her?
She inched farther into the tunnel. Her head bumped the ceiling; the rough bore was narrowing. In another quick glimmer, followed by an electrical snarl, she saw a web of symbol tracks, impossible to follow. So damn much history! Where's the door?
She scrunched farther in. The web tapered down into a shallow track, and she got her finger wedged in. Ah! Codes. She twisted, probed-and the wall flopped open into another tunnel.
She crawled through, trying to be quiet. A glowing brown snake was coming after her down the tunnel. She slammed the curved hatch in its face.
Pitch-black. At least the lightning had shown her what was going on. She sat absolutely still. Faint thunder and a trembling in the floor. This tunnel was round and-a soft breeze.
She crawled toward it. Not even height to duckwalk. The slight wind got stronger. Cool to her fevered brow.
Smells: dust, leaves? A dull thump behind her. She hurried, banging her knees-
-and spilled halfway out into clear air. Above, stars. A drop of about her height, onto dirt. She reversed and dropped to the ground. Scent of dry dirt. Flashes to the left. She went right.
She ran. Snapping crashes behind her. Dim shapes up ahead. Trees? A rising sucking sound behind. A brittle thrust of amber fire rushed over her left shoulder and shattered into a bush-exploding it into flames.
Trees-she dodged left. Faint screams somewhere.
The sucking sound again. Into the trees, heels digging in hard.
Another amber bolt, this time roasting the air near her. It veered up and ignited a crackling bower of fronds.
Screams getting louder. Up ahead? Glows there. She went right, down a gully, splashing across a stream. Not deep enough to cover her.
A spark sizzled down from the air into the trees up ahead. She went left and found a wall of brambles. Distant flickering gave her enough light to pick her way along, gasping. Around the brambles, into thick trees. She crossed the stream again. Deeper here. Downstream went back toward the open, toward the excavated tunnels. She ran upstream. The sucking rush came stealing up behind. She dodged, ducked, dodged. Stay near the stream. If the water got deeper-
The pain swarmed over her and pushed her into blackness.Copyright © 2004 Gregory Benford
Reprinted with permission.
Cley is an Original, a genetically pure member of the most ancient Ur-Human beings. Like others of her forest-dwelling tribe, she expects to spend her few centuries working in the great subterranean Library of Life. Then catastrophe strikes when strange, transdimensional life-forms obliterate the Library and kill all of Earth's Originals-except Cley. These uncanny beings also attack the planet's most advanced human species, the highly evolved Supras, who cannot reconstruct the knowledge and DNA lost in the Library's ruins. Nor can they protect Cley...
Forced to flee, Cley must begin a desperate quest for survival, answers, and hope. Joined by a raccoonlike companion called Seeker, she will journey across the myriad environments of her wildly transformed world.and then far, far beyond.
For somewhere-past planets that have been reengineered, past sentient ship-worlds evolving deep between stars, past creatures the size of solar systems-waits the Malign. A being so powerful that it can escape a black hole, the Malign is destroying the galaxy as it hunts down the one thing it fears...
Cley.(back to top)
Gregory Benford was born in 1941 in Mobile, Alabama. In 1963, he received a B.S. from the University of Oklahoma, and then attended the University of California, San Diego, where he received his Ph.D. in 1967. He spent the next four years at Lawrence (Calif.) Radiation Laboratory as both a postdoctoral fellow and research physicist.
He is a physicist and astronomer at the University of California, Irvine, where he has been a faculty member since 1971. He is a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and was Visiting Fellow at Cambridge University. and in 1995 received the Lord Prize for contributions to sciences. His research encompasses both theory and experiments in the fields of astrophysics and plasma physics.
A two-time winner of the Nebula Award, Benford has also won the John W. Campbell Award, the Australian Ditmar Award, and the 1990 United Nations Medal in Literature. He is one of the leading exponents of hard SFA in which, no matter how fantastic it might seem, never violates established scientific laws.
His television credits, in addition to the series A Galactic Odyssey , include Japan 2000 . He has served as scientific consultant to the NHK Network and for Star Trek: The Next Generation.
He lives in Laguna Beach, California.