Mavra stared at him. “Nathan? What are you going to do?”
“After we make a few adjustments in the Glathrielian Way, ones that will start them on a new track, I’m going to upgrade it from nontech to semitech. Since doing this would cause the Ambrezans to contemplate genocide, I’m going to downgrade the Ambrezan hex to semitech as well. By the time the Glathrielians rise, the Ambrezans will have reworked their own system to adjust. They’re agriculturally based, anyway; they won’t suffer in the long run from this.” He paused a moment. “And I’m going to upgrade Erdom to high-tech.” “What!” both Lori and Julian cried at once.
“The same lovable climate and people-changing that is a lot more complicated-but with a major difference. And, oh, yes, it seems that there’s going to be an epidemic there soon. It won’t bother most people more than a bad cold. But it won’t be curable by partaking of the women’s curative milk supply. It’s going to infest the males mostly, with their lack of natural immunities, but it’s going to find itself allergic to testosterone and related substances the males have naturally. All, of course, except the castrated ones. I’m afraid it’s going to be very fatal to them very quickly.”
“You-you’re wiping out the priesthood!” Lori said, mouth agape. “I’m afraid so. They’ve kept that place in the dark too long. Now, if a couple of people, one male, one female, maybe married so that they’re socially acceptable, knew this and also knew that high-tech works there now, well, who would be the only two there who really understand the new technology that will be brought in? And what is needed? Who will have to be the founders of the first university of the new electronic age? .If you’re sharp enough, and clever enough, and work together on this, you might just pull it off. You might not, and things aren’t going to change overnight, but they will change. You two want a challenge?”
“It-it’s more than we could hope for,” Lori told him. From minor associate professor to founder of a new technological civilization. Not bad. “That’s what I always went for,” Julian told them. “Challenges. It sounds like a big one. I hope it’s not too big.”
“Well, these things seldom work out the way you plan, but sometimes they work. Give me a week and then check it out. I’ll send you a little gizmo when I throw the switch so you can know it’s started.”
Julian winked out, but Lori stayed. “What-where’d she go?”
“Suspended in transit. I wanted a word with you alone. When she emerges, she’s still going to be that bombshell Kraang made her, but I’ve removed that stuff that idiotic pair of butchers did to her head. You saw how he made that attitude adjustment, too. I don’t think Julian can ever completely conquer her own egocentrism, not on her own. I decided the hell with it and did it for her. It’s nice to be able to shortcut these things. She’s going to be just as smart as she ever was-smarter, I think, than before-but she’s going to forget that she ever was a man. She’s going to find us males as inscrutable as every other female. And the next time she sees you, she’s going to realize that she’s maddeningly, passionately, completely in love with you. She won’t question it or reflect on it as any sort of change: she’ll realize it’s been there all along. You, on the other hand, I want to remember your life as a woman, what it meant. You won’t ever forget it again. You forgot it once, and it didn’t help Julian’s mental health or your own. That race is the most sexually interdependent on this planet. Use it when you go about reforming the system.”
Lori stared at him. “Thank you,” he said, and vanished. Mavra nodded approvingly. “Well, you did that pretty well. I hate to put building a new society in the hands of two physics majors, but what the hell. I guess you work with what you got.”
“What about us?” Terry asked. “What happens to us?”
“You have the biggest job of all. Both of you.” Brazil told them. “Gus, you remember what you told Kurdon? Bring in the press? Take all the pictures? Let everybody see what this filth is all about?”
“Yeah, I remember.”
“Well, that’s your job. Yours and Terry’s, and others, from many races, if you do a decent recruiting job. I’m sending you both-all three of you, actually-to a place you haven’t been. It’s called Czill, and the creatures there are walking, talking plants. No kidding. But they have one great purpose-they’ve assembled the most massive, highest-tech library and information resource on this planet. They’re going to know you’re coming-their computers will tell them. And they’re going to know just what your job is going to be. The idea will be so fresh, so new to them that they’ll love it. They’ll fall all over each other helping you get it going.”
“Yeah? What … ?” Gus asked, not really following.
“An independent news source. Printed where it has to be, broadcast where it can be. Carried all over with the same speed and efficiency with which the cartel dealt its poison. You’ve already got a few stories, including the hex changes and the cartel. You’ll have more right off. A number of very high-ranking councillors are going to have serious health problems very soon, and some of their associates back home are going to suddenly find that there’s a lot of evidence in the open on just how corrupt they were. But that won’t stop the evil. It’ll flare up again in a different form. It’s endemic. If everybody here is a reflection of his or her creators, well, you’ve met the Kraang.” “You mean a syndicate? A worldwide news organization?” Terry gasped. “And we’d be running it?”
“That’s right. And training others and sending the scholars from all the races who come to Czill to study back with the knowledge of what a free press can do. You two think you’re ready for that kind of job?”
“Are you kidding?” Terry responded. “Jeez! From naked little twerp who couldn’t even talk to Ted Turner!” She turned to her old friend. “And with you right there, just like old times!”
“As much as the Dahir’s talent for hiding is handy, I don’t think being a Dahir is right for this job, though,” Brazil continued. “If you can’t go back to Glathriel, at least for a while, maybe it’s better if you were a pair.” “You mean I get to be me again?” Gus exclaimed. “Yeah!”
“Well, not quite. But if you don’t like it, go through the Zone Gate in Czill any time in the next seven days and you’ll be pretty much as you were born. If you don’t, then my revisions stick. Okay?”
“Yeah, well, I guess that’s fair enough.”
“Good luck, then. I’m counting on both of you. All of you! Oh-by the way, Dillia’s not that far from Czill. You might check in with our friends there from time to time.”
“Okay, we will. Hey! Wait!” Terry called. “I’m not gonna be a guy, am I?” “No, you’ll be who you want to be. I promise. Farewell.”
They winked out, and Nathan and Mavra were alone. “What did you do with them?” she asked him. He adjusted the program and put her back into the matrix. Almost immediately she became a smaller version of him.
“At least the stool fits now,” she said. She looked into the Well and traced Gus and Terry and the as yet unnamed child to Czill. “Wow! Gus is nothin’ to complain about, is he? I may go to Czill myself!”
“You can’t. The only way out for us is back out into the universe.” “Oh, yeah. But where’d you get that stud’s picture from?”
“Terry’s mind. It’s her idealized fantasy male.”
“I see you didn’t make her any different.”
“No need. He loves her. She already is what he wants. Besides, she has absolutely no competition.”
“You got that right.” She sighed. “So here we are again, sitting here just like before, doling out happy endings like some fairy tale and solving all the problems of the universe except our own.”
“Seems like,” he agreed.
“Nathan-you’re remaking all sorts of parts of this world, but you keep putting our universe back the same old way again.”
“I can’t help it. This world’s easy. It was designed as a lab. All the controls and instructions are available. But Mavra, I wouldn’t have the first idea in the cosmos of how to rework something as complex as an entire planetary civilization and ecosystem, let alone all of them. It took the whole damned race working together with this thing to do that. I’m a button pusher. If I can push a button and do something or throw a switch or issue a command, that’s fine. Even the Kraang knew better than that. He was going to be god, but he needed disciples to do his dirty work.”
She sighed. “I see. So it’s back to that crummy old Earth again, is it? After we fix up a few more things here?”
“Pretty much. Now. we could go other places, of course, but there’s no guarantee they’d be any better. I tried it once, and it was worse, if you can believe it. Don’t think about all that past, either. Where we’ll be going they’ll have electricity and aircraft and video and all sorts of stuff you haven’t seen in ages. It’s still violent, and it’s hardly close to perfect, but it’ll do if you watch your back. The same evil strain that shows up here sometimes shows up there as well. Besides, it will be different this time in the long haul. The Kraang’s interference seems to have caused some rifts in the usual probability program, at least for Earth, and I’m sure as hell not going to push the reset over that!”
“You mean-you don’t know where things are going, either, this time?” “Not really. I was shocked at the changes in the Well World from last time. You saw those streamlined Dillians, for example, and many of the others were equally refined.”
“They’re evolving, Mavra. Changing. Becoming something newer, maybe better, maybe worse, but different. Even here change is coming. Back on Earth-well, I no longer know the specifics, but in general things will work out. There’ll be wars, and violence, and hatred, and drugs, and things we haven’t even thought of yet, but science is already on the fast track, technology is already running wild. Eventually they’ll pick up the pieces, put themselves together, and head out for the planets and then the stars. They have to. It may take a while, but we’ll be a little more comfortable getting there. They already have women captains of aircraft, so you’ve got some potential right off. It’s no more or less dangerous or risky than it was, but it’s a damn sight more comfortable at this stage.”
She sighed. “Well, okay, maybe. At least we can play for another tie, huh? Accelerated change, everything, everywhere, even here. Everything and everybody but us and this big old machine.”
“Well, somebody’s got to be around to appreciate it. That’s what’s so damned wrong with all this, all this time, I think. The worst possible sin happened to me long ago, and I just couldn’t deal with it.”
“No, even worse. This endless, unchanging perspective turned me from an artist into a damned art critic!”
She laughed. “You never told me what you did with Campos. I’m going to see.”
The Jungles of Eastern Peru
JUANA CAMPOS WOKE UP AS IF FROM A DREAM AND SHOOK HER head as if to clear it. She suddenly remembered what had happened and started, then sat up and checked herself.
She was still female, but she was human again! And, well, if she had to be a woman, what a body! This figure was a killer; she knew that without having to examine it further.
She felt her face, and it seemed normal, too, not horrible or disfigured. Her skin was smooth but copper-colored, and it looked rather nice. She got up, still puzzled that Brazil would have made her like this and looking for the snake. There could be one here, that was for sure. It was jungle, dense and deep, much like back home.
She walked on a little way and then stopped and gasped. It was home! There was the airstrip over there! And there the house where, as Juan Campos, she’d been born!
A truck full of her father’s men roared toward the back end of the airstrip, when somebody looked over in her direction and shouted. The truck stopped at once, and suddenly they were all piling out, staring at her.
“Ai! Would you look at that?’
“That is the most stacked Indian bitch I ever seen!”
“I think I’m in love!
She didn’t turn. She knew them all. Pablo, and Carlo, and Juan Pedro, and Pipito Alvarez …
She started to shout to them, to tell them she was not what she seemed, but when she opened her mouth, nothing came out! She tried again to shout, to talk, to make any sort of sound, and she couldn’t do it! She was mute!
They started coming toward her, leering.
Writing. Maybe something, anything! But how? And what to write? How did it go, anyway? She couldn’t remember!
They were still coming, and now Carlo started into a running trot and the others followed. No! No.’ I’m Juan Campos, you fools! she wanted to shout, but nothing came, nothing at all.
Suddenly she was filled with panic. She turned and started to run back into the forest, back to where she could hide.
But she’d waited too long. They were too close, and she knew it. They already had their pants off by the time they caught her, and they took an awfully long time, before they picked her up and took her back toward the compound, exhausted, bleeding, and nearly unconscious.
Hell, this bitch was good for the whole damned bunch of campaneros! With a little more seasoning and discipline, why, she might last for monthsl Don Francisco wouldn’t mind. The only danger was that the old boy might take her for himself!
The Beach Near Cannes
Mavra Chang came our of the water, happy but Exhausted, and looked around for Brazil. It wasn’t great yet, but this was definitely more like it! And with the film festival only three weeks away, she could look forward to some real glamour around.
She spotted Brazil and still had to chuckle. Nathan Brazil, infallible god, provider of happy-ever-after endings, always the same old stickin-the-mud himself. Wise as Solomon, ancient as history itself, always confident. For the first time in his five-plus billion-year life the great man had goofed. A minor goof to be sure, but from her standpoint an absolutely perfect one. They’d spent the week redoing the hexes, adjusting, tinkering, fine-tuning, trying to think of every little detail that they actually could do something about. They’d taken several days to check it out and run simulations to ensure that they’d gotten it right.