From the web of communications links interconnecting UNSA's manned and unmanned space vehicles with orbiting and surface bases all over the Solar System, to the engineering and research establishments in such places as Houston, responsibility for the whole gamut of Navcomms activities ultimately resided in Caldwell's office atop the Headquarters Building. It was spacious and opulently furnished, with one wall completely of glass, looking down over the lesser skyscrapers of the city and the ant colony of the pedestrian precincts far below. The wall opposite Caldwell's huge, curved desk was composed almost totally of screens, giving the place more an appearance of a control room than an office. The remaining walls carried a display of pictures showing some of the more spectacular UNSA projects of recent years, including a seven-mile-long photon-drive star probe being designed in California, and an electromagnetic catapult being constructed across twenty miles of Tranquillitatis to hurl lunar-manufactured structural components into orbit for spacecraft assembly.
Caldwell was behind his desk, and two other people were sitting with Lyn at the table set at a T to the desk's front edge when a secretary ushered Hunt in from the outer office. One was a woman in her mid to late forties, wearing a high-necked navy dress, and over it a wide-collared jacket of white-and-navy check. Her hair was styled in a frozen sea of auburn that stopped short of her shoulders, and the lines of her face, not unattractive in a natural kind of way beneath her sparse makeup, were clear and assertive.
Her companion, a man, wore a charcoal three-piece suit with white shirt and two-tone gray tie. He had a fresh, clean-shaven look about him, and jet-black hair cut short and brushed flat, college-boy style, although Hunt put him at not far off his own age. His eyes, dark and constantly mobile, gave the impression of serving an alert and quick-thinking mind.
"Vic," Caldwell announced, "I'd like you to meet Karen Heller from the State Department in Washington, and Norman Pacey, who's a presidential special advisor on foreign relations." He made a resigned gesture in Hunt's direction. "This is Dr. Victor Hunt. We send him to Jupiter to look into a few relics of some extinct aliens, and he comes back with a shipful of life ones."
Hunt took the chair at the end of the table facing the desk, and watched Caldwell's head of wiry gray hair while the director frowned down at his hands and drummed the top of his desk with his fingers. Then he raised his craggy, heavy-browed head to look at Hunt directly. Hunt knew better than to expect much in the way of preliminaries. "Something's happened that I wanted to tell you about earlier but couldn't," Caldwell said. "Signals from the Giants' Star started coming in again about three weeks ago."
Even though he should have known about such a development if anyone did, Hunt was too taken aback for the moment to wonder about it. As months passed by after the single reply to the first message transmitted from Giordano Bruno at the time of the Shapieron's departure, he had grown increasingly suspicious that the whole thing was a hoax-somebody with access to the UNSA communications net had relayed a message back from some piece of space hardware located in the right direction. It had seemed the most likely explanation for the fourteen-hour turnaround time.
"You're certain they're genuine?" he asked dubiously. "It couldn't be some kind of sick joke?"
Caldwell shook his head. "We have enough data now to pinpoint the source. It's way out past Pluto. UNSA doesn't have anything anywhere near it. And we've checked all our signals traffic. It's clean. The signals are genuine."
Hunt raised his eyebrows and exhaled a long breath. So he had been wrong on that one. He frowned. Then another thought struck him. The original reply had been composed in the ancient Ganymean language and communications codes dating from the time of the Shapieron, and translation had required considerable effort on the part of Don Maddson, head of the linguistics section lower down in the building, short though it had been. Hunt knew of no one else who could have handled the more recent signals that Caldwell was talking about. If Maddson was in on this, Hunt sure-as-hell should have known about it too. "So who did the translating?" he asked suspiciously. "Linguistics?"
"There wasn't any need," Lyn said simply. "The signals are coming through in standard datacomm codes. They're in English."
Hunt slumped back in his chair and just stared. Ironically, that said definitely that it was no hoax; who in their right mind would forge messages from aliens in English? And then the answer came to him. "Of course! They must have intercepted the Shapieron somehow. Well, that's good to . . ." His voice trailed off as he saw Caldwell shaking his head.
"From the dialogue over the last few weeks, we know that's not the case," Caldwell said. "So if they haven't talked to the Ganymeans who were here, and they know our codes and language, what does that say to you?"
The others were watching Hunt expectantly. He thought about it, and after a few seconds his eyes widened slowly. "Je-sus!" he breathed softly.
"That's right," Norman Pacey said. "The whole planet must be under some kind of surveillance-and has been for a long time.." Hunt was too flabbergasted to reply at once. No wonder the business had been hushed up.
"That supposition was supported by the first of the new signals to come in at Bruno," Caldwell resumed. "It stipulated that nothing relating to the contact was to be communicated via lasers, comsats, datalinks, or any kind of electronic media. The scientists up at Bruno who received the message went along with that and told me about it by sending a courier down from Luna."
"What it means is that at least part of the surveillance is in the form of tapping into our communications network," Pacey said. "It also means that whoever is sending the signals, and whoever is running the surveillance, are not the same people . . . or whatever. And the ones who are talking to us don't want the others to know abut it." Hunt nodded, having figured that much out already.
Karen Heller leaned forward, resting her elbows on the edge of the table, and took it from there. "The scientists at Bruno established early on that they were indeed in contact with a Ganymean civilization descended from migrants from Minerva. They inhabit a planet called Thurien, in the system of the Giants' Star-or Gistar, as it had come to be called now. While this was going on, UNSA in Washington reported the matter to the UN. A working party reporting to the Secretary General was formed to look into the issue, and a decision was eventually reached that further exchanges would be handed by a delegation of selected representatives from the permanent-member nations of the Security Council. No outsiders would be involved for the time being."
"That was why I couldn't tell you any of this before," Caldwell interjected, looking at Hunt. Hunt nodded, feeling a little better on that score.
But he was still far from completely happy. It sounded as if there had been a typical bureaucratic over-reaction. Playing safe was all very well up to a point, but surely this supersecrecy was taking things too far. "They didn't want anybody else included?" he asked. "Not even a scientist or two-somebody who knows Ganymeans?"
"Especially not scientists," Caldwell said, but volunteered nothing further. The whole thing was beginning to sound nonsensical.
Heller continued, "Norman and myself were assigned as the U.S. representatives on that delegation. For the most part we've been at Bruno, participating in the exchange of signals that has been continuing with the Thuriens."
"Everything's being handled locally form there?" Hunt checked.
"Yes. The ban on communicating anything electronically to or from Earth is being strictly adhered to."
"So what are we talking to the Thuriens about?"
Heller motioned with her head to indicate a lockable document holder by her elbow. "Complete transcripts are in there. Gregg has a set of copies. To sum up, the first messages from Thurien expressed concern about the Shapieron's condition and the well-being of its occupants, their experiences on Earth, and so on. Whoever was sending the messages seemed to consider us a threat for some reason." She paused, seeing the bemused look that was spreading across Hunt's face.
"Are you saying they didn't know about the Shapieron until we beamed that first signal out from Farside?" he asked.
"So it would appear," Heller replied.
Which again said that whoever was handing the surveillance were not talking to whoever was sending the messages. Anyone tapping into Earth's news nets over the past six months could hardly not have known about the alien ship that had arrived at Earth.
"And that's not the only strange thing," Heller went on. "The Thuriens that we are in contact with seem to have formed a completely distorted picture of Earth's history. They think we're all set for World War III, only this time interplanetary, with orbiting bombs, radiation and particle-beam weapons . . . you name it."
Hunt was growing more puzzled as he listened. He could see now why the Shapieron couldn't have been intercepted-at least, not by the Thuriens who were talking to Earth: the Ganymeans from the ship would have quickly cleared up any misunderstandings about Earth's being a threat. But aside from that, the Thuriens doing the talking had an impression of Earth nevertheless, which they could only have obtained from the Thuriens handling the surveillance. The impression they had obtained was wrong, which meant that the Thuriens passing on the story were not passing it on straight. But that didn't make a lot of sense either. Ganymeans didn't play Machiavellian games of intrigue and deceit. Their minds simply didn't work that way. . . . Unless the Ganymeans who existed on Thurien had changed a lot. That was a thought. Twenty-five million years was a long time.
"It sounds strange all right," Hunt agreed after he had sorted that much out in his head. "They must be pretty confused by now."
"They were confused already," Caldwell said. "The reason they reopened the dialogue is that they want to come here, to Earth, physically, to straighten the mess out. That's what they've been trying to get the UN people to arrange."
"Secretly," Pacey explained in answer to Hunt's questioning look. "No public spectacles. It seems that they're hoping to do some quiet checking up, without the outfit that runs the surveillance knowing about it."
Hunt nodded. That much made sense. But there was a note in Pacey's voice that hinted of things not having gone so smoothly. "So what's the problem?" Hunt asked, shifting his eyes to take in both Pacey and Heller.
"The problem is the policy that's been handed down from the top levels inside the UN," Heller replied. "Briefly, they say they're worried about opening this planet up to a culture that's so far more advanced. We'd disintegrate, be deluged with technology we're not ready to absorb-that kind of thing."
"That's ridiculous!" Hunt protested. "They've just said they want to come here and talk." He made an impatient gesture. "Okay, I'll accept that we have to show some caution and common sense, but what you're describing sounds more like a neurosis."
"It is," Heller said. "The UN is being irrational-there's no other word for it. And the delegation at Farside is following their policy, going slow and stalling everything." She waved toward the folder. "You'll see for yourself. Their responses are evasive and ambiguous, and do nothing to correct the wrong ideas that the Thuriens have got. Norman and I have tried to fight it up there, but we're outvoted." A faction inside the UN had tried hard to prevent the Farside transmissions being continued after the first, unexpected reply came in, Hunt remembered, but had been overruled by an outcry from the world's scientific community. That same faction seemed to be active again.
"Worse is what we suspect might be behind it," Heller continued. "Our brief from the U.S. State Department was to move things smoothly toward broadening Earth's communications with Thurien, taking account of this country['s interests where appropriate. The Department didn't really agree with the policy of excluding outsiders, but was bound by the UN ruling. In other words, we've been trying to play it straight so far, but under protest."
"But there's more to it than just being frustrated by slow progress," Hunt guessed from her tone of voice.
"There is," Heller confirmed. "The Soviets also have a representative on the delegation-a man called Sobroskin. Given the current world situation, the advantage that either side could bet from access to Ganymean know-how would be enormous. So you'd expect the Soviets to be as impatient to kick some life into this damned delegation as we are. But they aren't . Sobrosking goes along completely with the official UN line. In fact, he complicates things further. Now, when those facts are laid out, what do they seem to say to you, Dr. Hunt?"
Hunt thought it over, but in the end tossed out his hands with a shrug. "I don't know. I'm not a political animal. You tell me."
Pacey answered. "It could mean that the Soviets are setting up their own private channel to fix a landing in Siberia or somewhere, so that they get exclusive rights. If that's so, then the UN line would suit them fine. Which fits with the way Sobroskin is acting."
"And even more sobering is the way the UN's policy seems to fit," Heller added. "It could mean that the Soviets have ways we don't know about of pulling strings in the top UN levels. If that's true, the implications for the U.S. are serious."
The facts were certainly adding up, Hunt admitted to himself. The Soviets could easily set up another long-range communications facility in Siberia, in orbit, out near Luna, and operate their own link to whatever was intercepting Farside's signals outside the Solar System.
Any reply would probably be in a wide enough beam by the time it got to Earth for anybody to pick it up and know that somebody somewhere was cheating. But if the replies were suitably encoded nobody would be able to interpret them or know whom they were intended for. The Soviets might be accused, of course, in which case they would deny everything. . . . And that would be about as much as anyone would be able to do about it.
Hunt thought he could see now why he had been brought in. Heller had given herself away when she said the U.S. had been playing straight so far. As insurance, the State Department had decided that it needed its own private line too-but nothing so crude as to be detectable within a few hundred thousand miles of Earth. So who would they send Heller and Pacey to talk to? Who else but someone who knew a lot about Ganymeans and Ganymean technology, somebody who had been among the first humans to receive them on Ganymede?
And that was another point. Hunt had spent a lot of time on Ganymede, and he had many friends among the UNSA personnel out there with the Jupiter Four and Jupiter Five missions. Jupiter was a long way from Earth, which meant that receivers in the vicinity of Earth jwould know nothing of a beam aimed toward Jupiter from the fringe of the Solar System. And, of course, the J4 and J5 command ships were linked permanently to Earth by laser channels that Caldwell and Navcomms just happened to control.
Hunt looked up at Caldwell, then turned his head to gaze at the two people from Washington. "You want to set up a private line to Gistar via Jupiter to arrange a landing here, before the Soviets manage to do the same thing," he told them. "And you want to know if I can come up with an idea for telling the people at Jupiter what we want them to do, without the risk of any Thuriens who might be bugging the laser link finding out about it. Is that right?" He looked back at Caldwell. "What do I get, Gregg?"
"Ten out of ten," Caldwell answered.
"Nine," Heller said. Hunt looked at her curiously. She was smiling. "If you can come up with something, we'll need all the help we can get handling what happens afterward," she said. "The UN might have decided to do without its experts on Ganymeans, but the U.S. hasn't."
"In other words, welcome to the team, Dr. Hunt," Pacey completed.