On Jevlen there was a group of several large, tropical islands known as
the Galithenes. Inland, they were mostly mountainous, but the wider valleys
and the coastal plains supported dense canopies of rain forest that excluded
all but a feeble twilight. And in the midday gloom of the two most northerly
islands of the group, there lived a peculiar flying creature called the anquiloc.
About the size of a pigeon, it had strongly developed hind legs; modest,
clawed forelegs with rudimentary grasping abilities, which it used, when at
rest, to attach itself to vertical surfaces such as tree trunks; and black,
scaly wings that glistened like wet asphalt. In its basic structure, it conformed
to the general, bilaterally symmetric, triple-paired limb pattern of the Jevlenese
animal classification corresponding roughly to terrestrial vertebrates.
The anquiloc's face had a narrow black snout that bulged at the end like
the nose of a hammerhead shark, into an organ that luminesced in the infrared.
Below its eyes were two large, forward-directed, concave areas, formed from
a mixture of reflective and absorbent tissues that functioned both as variable-geometry
focusing surfaces to produce a crudely directed beam that could be steered by
moving the head, ans as receivers tuned to the reflections Thus, it navigated
and hunted by means of its own system of self-contained, thermal radar.
The anquiloc's main prey was a small, wasplike octopod known as the chiff.
The chiff possessed IR-sensitive antennae that evolution had shaped to operate
in the same general range as the anquiloc's search frequencies, which gave rise
to an unusual contest of every-changing strategy and counter strategy between
the two species. The chiff's first, simple response on detecting a search signal
was to fold its wings and drop out of the beam. The anquiloc countered by learning
to dip its approach in anticipation when it registered a chiff. The chiff reacted
by skewing its escape to the left, and when the anquiloc followed, the chiff
switched to the right; when the anquiloc became adept a checking in both directions,
the chiff reacted by climbing out of the beam instead of falling; or of gong
left, or maybe right. Whichever was adopted, all the possible ensuing variations
would unfold in some order or other and them maybe revert to an earlier form,
producing an ever-changing pattern in which new behaviors constantly appeared,
lasted for as long as the were effective, and gave way to something else.
But what made the anquiloc more than just "peculiar" was the
way it came preprogrammed with the right maneuvers to deal with the latest to
have appeared from the chiff's repertoire of routines for evading it. And it
was not simply a statistical effect, where newborn anquilocs possessing all
possible varieties of behavior appeared equally, and only the ones that happened
to be "right" at the time survived.
Newborn individuals exhibited the same response pattern as the latest
that the parents had learned up to the time of conception. Since that pattern
changed depending on the current mode of chiff behavior, the mechanism represented
a clear case of inheriting a characteristic that had been acquired by the parent
during life and not carried by the gene linea flat contradiction of the
principles determined by generations of researchers on Earth. Jevlenese and
Ganymean scientists had long before settled the point by training anquilocs
in certain tasks and testing their offspring for the ability after separating
them at birth, and there was no doubt of it. Neither was it the only instance
of the phenomenon that they had encountered int their probings of the nearby
regions of the Galaxy.
But for the biologists of Earth it was a revelation that went against
all the rules, throwing some of their most precious tenets into as much disarray
as their colleagues from the physical sciences were already having to come to
* * *
Professor Christian Danchekker operated a tracker ball on the control
panel of the molecular imager and peered at the foot-high hologram as it rotated
in the viewing space in front of him. He tapped a command key to create a ghostly
sphere of faint light, about the size of a cherry, and turned the tracker ball
again to guide the sphere until it enclosed a selected part of the image. Then
he spoke in a slightly raised voice toward a grille in the panel to one side.
"Voice on. Magnify by ten." The part of the image that had been
inside the sphere expanded to fill the viewing space and resolved itself into
finer detail. "Reduce by five . . ." Danchekker rotated the image
some more and repositioned the sphere slightly. "Magnify by ten. . . .
Increase contrast ten percent. . . . Voice off."
For a few moments he sat back and contemplated the result with satisfaction
tinged by a dash of undisguised amazement. He was tall and sparse in build,
with a balding head and antiquated, god-rimmed spectacles perched precariously
on a hollowed, toothy face. The assistant seated on another chair called a set
of neural mapping charts, heavily annotated with symbols, onto one of the auxiliary
display screens while she waited.
"There it is, Sandy," Danchekker murmured. "The base sequence
has altered. Run a delta-sigma on the code and correlate it against the map.
But I have no hesitation in predicting, now, that you'll find it embedded there.
This is how it transfers."
Sandy Homes leaned forward and studied the enhanced section of the molecule's
structure now being presented. "It's a cumulative progression from what
we had before," she commented.
Danchekker nodded. "Which is what one would expect. As the learned
routine is registered by the nervous system, the encoded representation impressed
into the messenger increases. We're actually looking at transferable memory
They had taught some anquilocs, brought from Jevlen, to adapt to artificial
patterns of IR return signals resembling chiff evasion responses. The changes
written into the configuration of circulating electrical currents in the brain
as a permanent imprint of the learned behavior could then be identified and
mapped by the established techniques of neural psychotopography.
But the molecule that they were studying represented a step far outside
the bounds of familiar terrestrial biology. It was created in specialized cells
of the anquiloc's nervous system and carried a chemical encodement of the changes
recorded in regular memory. Acting as a messenger, it transported the code to
the reproductive cells, where it was copies into the animal's genetic control
molecules as they replicated. Hence, it provided the equivalent of reprogrammable
Danchekker went on, "The possibilities of further evolutionary refinement
of such an ability are intriguing. For example, can you imagine"
The call-tone from the terminal on a table by the far wall interrupted him.
"Damn. Go and see to the wretched thing, would you, Sandy?" he muttered.
The girl got up, crossed the laboratory, and touched a key to accept the
call. A woman's face appeared on the screen, mid-fortyish, perhaps, with hair
tied straight back in a matronly fashion that added to her years. She had a
long, sober face with beady dark eyes, high cheeks, and a large nose, and stared
out with a commanding sternness.
"Is Professor Danchekker there, Ms. Homes?" Her voice was shrill
but firm, brooking no nonsense. "It is most imperative that I speak
"Oh God," Danchekker groaned, over by the imager console. It
was Ms. Mulling, the personal secretary who had come with his appointment as
director of Alien Life Sciences, calling from her domain in his outer office
on the top floor, from where she ruled the building. Danchekker shook his head
and made frantic to-and-fro motions with a hand to indicate that he had spontaneously
evaporated off the planet.
But the movement in the background over Sandy's shoulder only caught Ms.
Mulling's attention. "Ah! You are there, Professor. The budgetary review
meeting is due to begin in M-6 in thirty minutes. I presumed that you would
want reminding." She rolled the rs and spoke with as much of a hint
of disapproval in her voice as a personal secretary with a strict sense of propriety
Danchekker rose from the console and advanced toward the terminal, stopping
halfway across the floor as if wary of too close a proximity, even to an image.
Sandy withdrew discreetly out of the viewing angle. "Can't Yamumatsu deal
with it?" Danchekker asked irritably. "He understands convertible
assets, depreciation ratios, and other such intricaciesI am only
a scientist. I spoke to him this morning, and he said he'd be happy to substitute."
"It is customary for the departmental director to chair the quarterly
review," Ms. Mulling replied in a tone as yielding as the hull armor of
"How can it be customary?" Danchekker challenged. "The
department is new. The division itself is barely six months old."
"The precedent derives from UNSA Corporate standard procedures, which
predate the new organizational structure and have not been changed." Ms.
Mulling's eyes moved up and down to take in his full length. "What on earth
are you doing in those?" she demanded before Danchekker could respond.
Following her gaze, he looked down at his feet. To save time getting to a black-tie
dinner that evening which he had been unable to evade, he was already wearing
evening dress underneath his lab coatexcept for his shoes, which were
of white, rubber-soled canvas.
"What do they look like?" he riposted. "They are popularly
referred to, I believe, as sneakers."
"I know. But why are you wearing them with evening dress?"
"Because they are comfortable, of course."
"You can hardly appear at the Republican Society dinner like that,
The light glinted of Danchekker's spectacles and teeth. "Madam, I
have no intention of doing so. I shall be changing them before I depart. Do
you wish me to produce my patent leather pair from the closet and show them
to you as proof?"
"That won't be necessary, thank you. But such a combination wouldn't
be appropriate for the review meeting, I'm afraid. After all, both the deputy
financial comptroller and the executive vice-president of planning will be attending."
Danchekker stood before the screen, seeming to crouch in the attitude
of some scrawny bird of prey, his lab coat hanging from his hunched shoulders
like a vulture's wings and his fingers curling by his sides like talons, as
if he were about to pounce on the terminal and tear it to pieces.
"Very well," he granted, finally conceding. "Would you
kindly arrange for the agenda, and whatever figures I might need, to be ready
for me to collect?"
"I've already seen to it," Ms. Mulling replied.
* * *
Ten minutes later, Danchekker exploded through the door into Caldwell's
office high up on the far side of the complex. "You've got to do something!"
he insisted. "The creature isn't human. Can't you transfer her to one of
the Martian bases or a deep-space mission probe? I cannot continue with my work
under these conditions."
"Well, maybe it doesn't matter too much anymore," Caldwell said
over his interlaced fingers. "Something else has come up, and"
"Doesn't matter!" Danchekker stormed. "I'd sooner
be married to one of the Gorgons. The possibility of retaining any modicum of
sanity at all is utterly out of the question."
"I talked to Vic yesterday afternoon. He's probably been looking
for you. There's"
"The situation is preposterous. Now I'm even being subjected to dress
inspections, for God's sake. I am adamant: She has to go."
Caldwell sighed. "Look, transferring her wouldn't be so simple. She
was with Welland for thirteen years and came with his personal recommendation.
He might be retired, but he still has a lot of pull though the old-buddy net.
It could cause complicationsespecially at a time like this, when we've
got all kinds of people looking for career opportunities ind slices of the new
"I have no interest in the adolescent attention-seeking antics and
Machiavellian inanities of other people. If this woman"
The door opened and Solomon Cail from the public-relations office appeared.
"Oh . . . excuse me, Gregg. I didn't realize. Mitzi thought you were alone."
"I was away for a couple of minutes," Mitzi's voice called from
"It's all right, Sol," Caldwell said. "Chris just stopped
by. Is it something urgent?"
"As a matter of fact, it was Chris that I wanted to talk about,"
"Me?" Danchekker looked suspicious. "What about?"
"Senator Greeling's wife has been onto us again. It's this woman's
discussion group that she runs. We've as good as promised them a tour of the
alien-life-form labs, and she wants the director to look after them personallymostly
to impress her friends, I guess." Cail shrugged and showed a palm. "I
know it's a drag and all that, Chris, but Greeling did a lot of work for us,
getting the college sponsorship program through. We don't want to upset a friend
like him if we can help it. She'd like an afternoon next month, maybe?"
"God help us," Danchekker moaned bleakly.
A call-tone sounded in the outer office. Mitzi answered, and a moment
later Ms. Mulling's voice rang through. "Is Professor Danchekker there,
by any chance? He has an imminent appointment, and it is most imperative
that I find him."
And the Hunt appeared in the doorway on the far side of Mitzi's desk,
carrying a sheaf of papers in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. "Hello,
what's going on here? Ahah, Chris! Just the man."
"Sol, give us a minute, would you?" Caldwell said, at the same
time relieving Cail of any choice in the matter by rising and coming around
the desk to steer him back toward the outer office. He waved Hunt in and closed
the door behind him, holding up a hand to stay Danchekker before Danchekker
could start talking again. "Yes, I've been aware of the problem for some
time, Chris. But we needed a tactful solution that wouldn't create more hassles
than it cured."
Danchekker shook his head and waved a hand impatiently. "I'm being
turned into a club treasurer. We've got enough tally clerks and ledger keepers
who can take care of that kind of thing. I was under the impression that this
establishment was supposed to be dedicated to the advancement of the sciences.
I've seen more"
"I know, I know," Caldwell said, nodding and raising a hand.
"But something's come up that"
"Now they want to make me a tour guide for women's tea-party outings.
The whole thing has become farcical. It's a"
"Chris, shut up," Hunt interrupted calmly. "Delegate the
lot. That's what being a director is all about. You haven't got the time now,
anyway. Gregg's got an off-planet assignment for the two of us."
"And not only" Danchekker stopped abruptly and sent Hunt
a questioning look. "Off-planet? Us?"
Caldwell grunted and nodded at Hunt to continue.
"On Jevlen," Hunt said. "There's a Thurien ship in orbit
that's due to go back there shortly. Just think of it: a whole planetful of
alien biology, literally light-years away. I think that a director of life sciences
should be breaking new ground in the field, don't you?" But it was clear
already that Danchekker needed no further convincing. His expression had the
rapture of a revivalist seeing the light through the parting of the clouds.
They came out of Caldwell's office a few minutes later. "I think
we're going to have to come up with some other arrangement," Caldwell said
to Solomon Cail, who was still waiting. "Chris is going to be tied up on
a priority project." He indicated the door of his office with a nod, and
Cail disappeared inside.
Danchekker strode over to the terminal where Mitzi was still holding Ms.
Mulling at bay. "Ah, there you are, Professor," the image on
the screen began. "The review meeting"
"Find Yamumatsu and get him there," Danchekker said. His voice
rang with the newfound confidence of the reborn. "Also, contact the secretary
of the Republican Society and give them my apologies, but I shall be unable
to attend. Maybe Yamumatsu would like to stand in for me there, too."
For a few seconds Ms. Mulling was too shocked to reply; she stared back
at him form the screen, open-mouthed, like a mother superior who had just heard
the Pope proclaim his conversion to atheism. She recovered herself falteringly.
"I don't understand. . . . What's happened? Is something wrong?"
"Wrong?" Danchekker replied lightly. "Not at all. Quite
the contrary, in fact. Effective immediately, I shall be preoccupied with other
matters. Have Grady come to my office, would you? Get out all the plans, charts,
budgets, and other wastepaper that holds up the walls over there, and tell him
he'll be deputized as from tomorrow morning. I"Danchekker spread
both hands in a careless throwing-away motion"shall have flown."
Ms. Mulling looked confused. "What are you talking about, Professor
Danchekker? There are urgent things to be attended to."
"I have no time for anything urgent. There are too many important
things to be done instead."
"Butwhere are you going?"
"To Jevlen. Where else can a science of alien life be practiced?"
Danchekker lifted a leg to dangle a sneaker-shod foot in view of the screen
and waggled it provocatively. "Far, far away, Ms. Mulling. Beyond the horizons
of imagination of the entire Republican Society, the verbal compass of a gaggle
of senators' wives, and even, if you are capable of comprehending such a thing,
beyond the reaches of the sacred UNSA Corporate Procedure Manual."
"Jevlen? Why? What are you going to do there?"
But Danchekker wasn't listening. Hunt and Mitzi could hear him singing
tunelessly to himself as he ambled away down the corridor beyond the open door.
"Far, far away. Far, far away . . ."