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sensation of terror he d felt just the day before, trapped inside the dying
body of the behemothaur Sansemin.
It was a frustrating process. He kept on putting down the stylo - the same
damn stylo that had led to him being here now waiting on an alien spaceship
that might never come - and tried to work out what had happened to Sansemin,
why the Culture agent - if that was truly what he or she had been -
had been here in the first place, whether there really was a plot of the sort
that had been described to him, and what he ought to do if it transpired that
the whole thing was some sort of joke, hallucination or figment of a mad and
tormented creature s mind.
He had napped twice, scrubbed six attempts at the poeglyph and (having come to
the tentative conclusion that it was mar- ginally more likely that he had gone
mad than that the events of the last few days had been real) was debating with
himself the relative merits of suicide, Storage, transcorporation into a group
entity or a request to return to Yoleus and resume his studies -
suitably physically altered and with the elongated lifespan he d been
considering earlier - when the Jhuvuonian Trader ship, an unlikely arrangement
of tubes and spars, hove to on the far side of the Portal.
Jhuvuonian Traders were not at all what he imagined. For some reason he had
expected squat, rough-
looking hairy human- oids wearing skins and furs, when in fact they resembled
collec- tions of very large red feathers. One of them floated through the
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Portal, encased within a mostly transparent bubble itself held inside a
finger-like intrusion of air forming a tunnel reaching back to the Portal and
the tubular vessel outside. He met it on a terrace of the mega fruit husk.
46 Zhun grasped the parapet at his side, watching the encased alien approach
with the air of a creature sizing up potential nest-building material.
 You are the Culture person? the creature in the bubble said, once it was
hovering level with him. The voice was faint, the Marain accent tolerable.
 Yes. How do you do?
 You will pay the worth of our ship to be taken to your destination?
 Yes.
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 It is a very fine ship.
 So I see.
 We would have another identical.
 You shall.
The alien made a series of clacking noises, talking to the Interpreter at
Uagen s side. 46 Zhun clacked back.
 What is your destination? the alien said.
 I need to send a signal to the Culture. Just get me in range to do that,
initially, then take me to wherever I might meet with a Culture ship.
It had crossed Uagen s mind that the ship might be able to do this from here,
without having to take him anywhere, though he doubted he would be so lucky.
Still, in the next few moments he experienced a frisson of hope and
nervousness until the creature said,  We could travel next to the Beidite
entity Critoletli, where such communication and congregation might both be
accomplished.
 How long would that take?
 Seventy-seven standard Culture days.
 There is nowhere closer?
 There is not.
 Could we signal ahead to the entity on our approach?
 We could.
 How soon would we be in range to do that?
 In about fifty standard Culture days.
 Very well. I d like to set off immediately.
 Satisfactory. Payment to us?
 From the Culture upon my safe delivery. Oh. I should have mentioned.
 What? the alien said, its assemblage of red filaments fluttering inside the
bubble.
 There may be an additional reward involved, beyond the payment we have
already agreed.
The creature s feathery body rearranged itself again.  Satisfac- tory, it
repeated.
The bubble floated up to the parapet. There was a second bubble forming beside
the one enclosing the alien. It was, Uagen reflected, just like watching a
cell divide.  Atmosphere and temperature are adjusted for Culture standard,
the alien told him.  Gravity within ship will be less. This is acceptable to
you?
 Yes.
 You can provide your own sustenance?
 I ll manage, he said, then thought.  You do have water?
 We do.
 Then I ll survive.
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 You will come aboard, please.
The twinned bubble bumped against the parapet. Uagen stooped, picked up his
bags and looked at 46
Zhun.  Well, goodbye. Thank you for your help. Wish Yoleus all the best.
 The Yoleus wishes me to wish you a safe journey and a subsequent life which
is pleasing to you.
Uagen smiled,  Tell it thank you, from me. I hope to see it again.
 This will be done.
13
Some Ways of Dying
The ship lift sat underneath the falls; when it was needed, its
counter-weighted cradle swung slowly up and out from the swirling pool at the
foot of the torrent, trailing veils and mists of its own. Behind the plunging
curtain of water, the giant counter-weight moved slowly down through its
subterranean pool, balancing the dock-sized cradle as it rose until it slotted
into a wide groove carved into the lip of the falls. Once home, its gates
gradually forced themselves open against the current, so that the cradle
presented a sort of balcony of water jutting out beyond the river s
kilometre-wide drop-off point.
Two bullet-shaped vessels powered upstream from either side like giant fish;
they trailed long booms which stretched out to form a wide V that funnelled
the oncoming barge towards the cradle.
Once the gates had closed again and the barge was safely enclosed, the booms
retracted, the cradle opened its side caissons to the onrushing force of the
water and the extra weight slowly overcame the balancing mass of the
counter-weight, now deep under the pool beneath. [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]




 

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