Survey pilot John Bandicut is ready for the worst when he sets out across the surface of Triton, his head spinning with silence fugue. But no way is he ready for the alien presence that is about to invade his mind, or for the winds of chaos set to blow through his life.
It is humanity's first contact with an alien presence--and Bandicut can tell no one about the disembodied quarx that has taken up residence in his mind. The quarx, part of an eons-old interstellar civilization that uses advanced chaos theory to predict catastrophic events, seeks to prevent a cometary collision that threatens the Earth. But it must have help ...
THE CAVERN WAS cold, even in the slow energy flux of the translator’s alien mechanisms. The quarx did not feel the near-absolute-zero cold, but was aware of it, as it awakened to the silence of a still world. Its first impression was not of place but of time, vast corridors of time through which it had floated in an almost coffinlike existence.
What did millions of years mean when one was asleep, when one’s life process was held like a cup of electrons in the hands of an angel? What did the passage of time mean—except that once more, all the mortal lives it had known were gone?
The awakening was difficult and confusing. There was so much to remember . . . and so much more to learn. The quarx’s translator had anticipated its confusion and was ready with information and explanations—not too much at once, but enough. They were in the planetary system of a yellow sun, though at such a remove that the sun was a mere fleck of light in the sky. But there were other planets, closer to the sun; and there was life there, venturing outward.
The quarx and its translator watched, and listened, with growing interest. There was much to know, but always with the mission to be considered. The mission. The quarx trusted that the translator knew what the mission was. The quarx, who had known the translator for millions of years, still did not entirely understand the mind of the thing . . . or the minds of its creators. It might have understood those things once; but much of what the quarx had once known, it had forgotten. How many worlds had it visited, how many suns, how many life-forms? It didn’t know, couldn’t remember.
But it knew enough to trust. It was the translator that swept the skies with its tendrils of awareness, the translator that computed the almost infinitely complex algorithms of chaos . . . the translator that recalled in its deepest memories just what it was they had been sent here to do.
Footsteps! Visitors! It had been only a short wait—no time at all, compared to the eons that had passed before. The translator had seen to it that remnants of the moon’s past had convected upward to its icy surface, where traces might be noticed. Once the visitors were nearby, the quarx and its translator kept their hushed silence, but began searching . . . for the right individual, for one who would be willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of the mission.
The mission. The quarx already felt a sense of urgency. The computations were proceeding, but not yet complete. But it knew that lives were at stake—as ever—more lives than it could count. And it knew that its own life—as ever—was expendable.
And it knew that it could not act alone.
There were few enough candidates with the right combination of qualities—the right potential. But they needed just one. And soon. They had grown accustomed to the glacial slowness of geologic time, but things were about to change drastically; things were about to happen with lightning speed . . .