Terry Pratchett - Strata (text) v1.0 TRANSWORLD PUBLISHERS LTD 61-63 Uxbridge Road, Ealing, London W55SA TRANSWORLD PUBLISHERS (AUSTRALIA) PTY LTD 15-z5 Helles Avenue, Moorebank, NSW 2170 TRANSWORLD PUBLISHERS (NZ) LTD 3 William Pickering Drive, Albany, Auckland First published 1981 by Colin Smythe Ltd Published 1982 by NEL Published in paperback 1988 by Corgi This edition published 1994 by Doubleday a division of Transworld Publishers Ltd Copyright � 1981 Cohn Smythe Ltd The right of Terry Pratchett to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. All of the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. ISBN 0385 404751 This book is sold subject to the Standard Conditions of Sale of Net Books and may not be re-sold in the UK below the net price fixed by the publishers for the book. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers. This book is set in 11/14pt Palatino by Phoenix Typesetting, Ilkley, West Yorkshire. Printed in Great Britain by Biddles Ltd, Guildford and King's Lynn I met a mine foreman who has a piece of coal with a 1909 gold sovereign embedded in it. I saw an ammonite, apparently squashed in the fossil footprint of a sandal. There is a room in the basement of the Natural History Museum which they keep locked. Among other oddities in there are the tyrannosaurus with a wristwatch and the Neanderthal skull with gold fillings in three teeth. What are you going to do about it? Dr Carl Untermond The Overcrowded Eden It was, of course, a beautiful day -- a Company brochure day. At the moment Kin's office overlooked a palm-fringed lagoon. White water broke over the outer reef, and the beach was of crushed white coral and curious shells. No brochure would have shown the nightmare bulk of the pontoon-mounted strata machine, the small model for islands and atolls under fifteen kilometres. As Kin watched, another metre of beach spilled out of the big back hopper. She wondered about the pilot's name. There was genius in that line of beach. A man who could lay down a beach like that, with the shells just right, deserved better things. But then, perhaps he was a Thoreau type who just liked islands. You got them sometimes; shy silent types who preferred to drift across the ocean after the volcano teams, dreamily laying complicated archipelagos with indecent skill. She'd have to ask. She leant over her desk and called up the area engineer. 'Joel? Who's on BCF3?' The engineer's lined brown face appeared over the intercom. 'Guday, Kin. Let me see now. Aha! Good, is it? You like it?' 'It's good.' 'It's Hendry. The one who's the subject of all those nasty depositions you've got on your desk. You know, the one who put the fossil dino in--' 'I read it.' Joel recognized the edge to her voice. He sighed. 'Nicol Plante, she's his mixer, she must have been in on it too. I put them on island duty because, well, with a coral island there is not the temptation--' 'I know.' Kin thought for a while. 'Send him over. And her. It's going to be a busy day, Joel. It's always like this at the end of a job, people start to play around.' 'It's youth. We've all done it. With me it was a pair of boots in a coal measure. Not so imaginative, I admit.' 'You mean I should excuse him?' Of course he did. Everyone was allowed just one unscripted touch, weren't they? Checkers always spotted them, didn't they? And even if one went unnoticed, couldn't we rely on future palaeontologists to hush it up? Huh? Trouble was, they might not . . . 'He's good, and later on he'll be great,' said Joel. 'Just gnaw one ball off, eh?' A few minutes later Kin heard the machine's roar stutter and stop. Soon one of the outer office robots came in, leading-- --a squat fair-haired youth, tanned lobster pink, and a skinny bald girl hardly out of her teens. They stood staring at Kin with a mixture of fear and defiance, dripping coral dust onto the carpet. 'All right, sit down. Want a drink? You both look dehydrated. I thought they had air conditioning in those things.' The pair exchanged glances. Then the girl said, 'Frane likes to get the feel of his work.' 'Well, OK. The freezer's that round thing hovering right behind you. Help yourself.' They jerked away as the freezer bumped into their shoulders, then grinned nervously and sat down. They were in awe of Kin, which she found slightly embarrassing. According to the files they were both from colony planets so new the bedrock had hardly dried, while she was manifestly from Earth. Not Whole, New, Old, Real or Best Earth. Just Earth, cradle of humanity, just like it said in their history books. And the double-century mark on her forehead was probably something they'd only heard of before joining John Company. And she was their boss. And she could fire them. The freezer drifted back to its alcove, describing a neat detour around a patch of empty air at the back of the room. Kin made a mental note to get a tech to look at it. They sat gingerly on the float chairs. Colony worlds didn't have them, Kin recalled. She glanced at the file, gave them an introductory glare, and switched on the recorder. 'You know why you're here,' she said. 'You've read the regulations, if you've got any sense. I'm bound to remind you that you can either choose to accept my judgement as senior executive of the sector, or go before a committee at Company HQ. If you elect for me to deal with it, there's no appeal. What do you say?' 'You,' said the girl. 'Can he speak?' 'We elect to be tried by you, Mizz,' said the boy in a thick Creed accent. Kin shook her head. 'It's not a trial. If you don't like my decision you can always quit -- unless of course I fire you.' She let that sink in. Behind every Company trainee was a parsec-long queue of disappointed applicants. Nobody quit. 'Right, it's on record. Just for the record, then, you two were on strata machine BVN67 on Julius fourth last, working a line on Y-continent? You've got the detailed charge on the notice of censure you were given at the time.' ' 'Tis all correct,' said Hendry. Kin thumbed a switch. One wall of the office became a screen. They got an aerial view of grey datum rock, broken off sharply by a kilometre-high wall of strata like God's own mad sandwich. The strata machine had been severed from its cliff and moved to one side. Unless a really skilled jockey lined it up next time, this world's geologists were going to find an unexplained fault. The camera zoomed in to an area halfway up the cliff, where some rock had been melted out. There was a gantry and a few yellow-hatted workmen who shuffled out of camera field, except for one who stood holding a measuring rod against Exhibit A and grinning. Hi there, all you folks out there in Company Censure Tribunal Land. 'A plesiosaur,' said Kin. 'All wrong for this stratum, but what the hell.' The camera floated over the half excavated skeleton, focusing now on the distorted rectangles by its side. Kin nodded. Now it was quite clear. The beast had been holding a placard. She could just make out the wording. ' "End Nuclear Testing Now",' she said levelly. It must have taken a lot of work. Weeks, probably, and then a very complicated program to be fed into the machine's main brain. 'How did you find out?' asked the girl. Because there was a telltale built into every machine, but that was an official secret. It was welded into the ten-kilometre output slot to detect little unofficial personal touches, like pacifist dinosaurs and mammoths with hearing aids -- and it stayed there until it found one. Because sooner or later everyone did it. Because every novice planetary designer with an ounce of talent felt like a king atop the dream-device that was a strata machine, and sooner or later yielded to the delicious temptation to pop the skulls of future palaeontologists. Sometimes the Company fired them, sometimes the Company promoted them. 'I'm a witch,' she said. 'Now, I take it you admit this?' 'Yarss,' said Hendry. 'But may I make, uh, a plea in mitigation?' He reached into his tunic and brought out a book, its spine worn with use. He ran his thumb down it until the flickering pages stopped at his reference. 'Uh, this is one of the authorities on planetary engineering,' he said. 'May I go ahead?' 'Be my guest.' 'Well, uh. "Finally, a planet is not a world. Planet? A ball of rock. World? A four-dimensional wonder. On a world there must be mysterious mountains. Let there be bottomless lakes peopled with antique monsters. Let there be strange footprints in high snowfields, green ruins in endless jungles, bells beneath the sea; echo valleys and cities of gold. This is the yeast in the planetary crust, without which the imagination of men will not rise." ' There was a pause. 'Mr Hendry,' asked Kin, 'did I say anything there about nuclear-disarmament dinosaurs?' 'No, but--' 'We build worlds, we don't just terraform planets. Robots could do that. We build places where the imagination of human beings can find an anchor. We don't bugger about planting funny fossils. Remember the Spindles. Supposing the colonists here turn out like them? Your fossil would kill them, blow their minds. Docked three months' labour. You too, Miss Plante, and I don't even want to know for what reasons you were helping this nitwit. You may go.' She switched off the recorder. 'Where are you going? Sit down. All that was for the benefit of the tape. Sit down, you look dreadful.' He was no fool. She saw the embryo hope in his eyes. Best to scotch that now. 'I meant it about the sentence. Three months' enforced vacation. It's on the tape, so you won't talk me out of it. Not,' she added, 'that you could.' 'But we'll have finished this job by then,' he said, genuinely hurt. Kin shrugged. 'There'll be others. Don't look so worried. You wouldn't be human if you didn't yield to temptation. If you feel bad, ask Joel Chenge about the boots he tried to lay down in a coal seam. They didn't ruin his career.' 'And what did you do, Mizz?' 'Hmm?' The boy was looking at her sidelong. 'You sort of give the impression I've done something everyone else has done. Did you do it too?' Kin drummed her fingers on the desk. 'Built a mountain range in the shape of my initials,' she said. 'Whee! ' 'They had to rerun almost half a strip. Nearly got fired.' 'And now you're Sec-exec and--' 'You might be too one day. Another few years they might let you loose on an asteroid of your very own. Some billionaire's pleasure park. Two words of advice don't fumble it, and never, never try to quote people's words against them. I, of course, am marvellously charitable and understanding, but some other people might have made you eat the book a page at a time under threat of sacking. Right? Right. Now go, the pair of you. For real this time. It's going to be a busy day.' They hurried out, leaving a coral trail. Kin watched the door slide across, staring into space for a few minutes. Then she smiled to herself, and went back to work. Consider Kin Arad, now inspecting outline designs for the TY-archipelago: Twenty-one decades lie on her shoulders like temporal dandruff. She carries them lightly. Why not? People were never meant to grow old. Memory surgery helped. On her forehead, the golden disc that multiple centenarians often wore -- it inspired respect, and often saved embarrassment. Not every woman relished attempted seduction by a man young enough to be her great-to-the-power-of-seven grandson. On the other hand, not every elderly woman wore a disc, on purpose . . . Her skin was presently midnight-black, like her wig -- for some reason hair seldom survived the first century and the baggy black all-suit. She was older than twenty-nine worlds, fourteen of which she had helped to build. Married seven times, in varying circumstances, once even under the influence of love. She met former husbands occasionally, for old times' sake. She looked up when the carpet cleaner shuffled out of its nest in the wall and started to tidy up the sand trails. Her gaze travelled slowly round the room as though seeking for some particular thing. She paused, listening. A man appeared. One moment there was air: the next, a tall figure leaning against a filing cabinet. He met her shocked gaze, and bowed. 'Who the hell are you?' exclaimed Kin, and reached for the intercom. He was quicker, diving across the room and grabbing her wrist politely yet agonizingly. She smiled grimly and, from a sitting position, brought her left hand across and gave him a scientific fistful of rings. When he had wiped the blood out of his eyes she was looking down at him and holding a stunner. 'Don't do anything aggressive,' she said. 'Don't even breathe threateningly.' 'You are a most unorthodox woman,' he said, fingering his chin. The semi-sentient carpet cleaner bumped insistently around his ankles. 'Who are you?' 'Jago Jalo is my name. You are Kin Arad? But of course--' 'How did you get in?' He turned round and vanished. Kin fired the stunner automatically. A circle of carpet went wump. 'Missed,' said a voice across the room. Wump. 'It was tactless of me to intrude like this, but if you would put that weapon away--' Wump. 'There could be mutual profit. Wouldn't you like to know how to be invisible ?' Kin hesitated, then lowered the stunner reluctantly. He appeared again. He wiped himself solid. Head and torso appeared as though an arm had swept over them, the legs popped into view together. 'It's clever. I like it,' said Kin. 'If you disappear again I'll set this thing on wide focus and spray the room. Congratulations. You've managed to engage my interest. That's not easy, these days.' He sat down. Kin judged him to be at least fifty, though he could have been a century older. The very old moved with a certain style. He didn't. He looked as though he'd been kept awake for a few years -- pale, hairless, red-eyed. A face you could forget in an instant. Even his all-suit was a pale grey and, as he reached into a pocket, Kin's hand moved up with the stunner. 'Mind if I smoke?' he said. 'Smoke?' said Kin, puzzled. 'Go ahead. I don't mind if you burst into flame.' Eyeing the stunner, he put a yellow cylinder into his mouth and lit it. Then he took it out and blew smoke. This man, thought Kin, is a dangerous maniac. 'I can tell you about matter transmission,' he said. 'So can I. It's not possible,' said Kin wearily. So that was all he was -- another goldbricker. Still, he could turn invisible. 'They said that it was impossible to run a rocket in space,' said Jalo. 'They laughed at Goddard. They said he was a fool.' 'They also said it about a lot of fools,' said Kin, dismissing for the moment the question of who Goddard was. 'Have you got a matter transmitter to show me?' 'Yes.' 'But not here.' 'No. There's this, however.' He made a pass and his left arm disappeared. 'You might call it a cloak of invisibility.' 'May I, uh, see it?' He nodded, and held out an empty hand. Kin reached out and touched -- something. It felt like coarse fibre. It might just be that the palm of her hand underneath it was slightly blurred, but she couldn't be sure. 'It bends light,' he said, tugging it gently out of her grip. 'Of course, you can't risk losing it in the closet, so there's a switch area -- here. See?' Kin saw a thin, twisting line of orange light outlining nothing. 'It's neat,' said Kin, 'but why me? Why all this?' 'Because you're Kin Arad. You wrote Continuous Creation. You know all about the Great Spindle Kings. I think they made this. I found it. Found a lot of other things, too. Interesting things.' Kin gazed at him impassively. Finally she said, 'I'd like a little fresh air. Have you breakfasted, Jago Jalo?' He shook his head. 'My rhythms are all shot to hell after the trip here, but I think I'm about due for supper.' * * * Kin's flyer circled the low offices and headed northward to the big complex on W-continent. It skirted the bulk of what had been Hendry's machine, its new pilot now laying down a pattern of offshore reefs.