Rainbow Mars

Larry Niven

Tor Books

Willy Gorky’s coming was announced. The Institute for Temporal Research had two hours to prepare.
The atmosphere as Svetz arrived was low-intensity frantic. Hum of techspeak, hum of power, three techs swearing quietly over yellow lights on a display. Some looked up from die Guide Pit as he and Wrona passed. Nobody particularly wanted to talk to Hanville Svetz, but Wrona was still a curiosity.
The Director. saw Svetz in a corner quietly eating a bowl of dole yeast. He said, “Get the dog out.”
Svetz nodded and stood. He rubbed Wrona between her ears. “Home,” he told her, and turned back toward the door. She laughed with her tongue lolling.
“Home, my ass,” Ra Chen bellowed. “I need you here!”
“Make a decision, Boss.”
Ra Chen took two seconds to think. Wilt and Hillary both got along with Wrona, but Svetz Could see both techs on duty in die Pit. They couldn’t take her. The Zoo dogs fought with her.
“The dog stays. Good idea anyway. We’ll have something to show Gorky.”
“Yes, sir. Why are we showing off for Willy Gorky?”
Ra Chen looked toward the Guide Pit. It looked impressive, and busy. He said, “Waldemar the Tenth liked extinct animals. Waldemar the Eleventh likes planets and stars, they say, and he’s not a mental deficient.”
Svetz flinched. Nobody would have dared to use that term when Waldemar the Tenth was Secretary-General!
A whisper of wind from outside: limousines setting down in the drive.
“The Institute for Temporal Research has been transferred from Bureau of History to Bureau of the Sky Domains—that’s the new title for Space Bureau. Willy Gorky’s the Director. He’s our new boss. Are you ready for that?”
Svetz smiled sourly. “Time will tell.”
* * *
Four Space Bureau guards flitted through the Center examining everything. One of them appeared ready to shoot Wrona. As Svetz stepped in front of her he found Ra Chen and Zeera at his elbows.
The guard listened to Svetz’s assurances, but he was looking at Wrona. Wrona looked back. On command she sat, then lay down, snout on paws.
“Tie her up,” the bodyguard said, and turned away.
“We will do no such thing,” Ra Chen said.
The guard froze, then kept moving. Discussion must have taken place outside.
Willy Gorky entered with three more of his entourage. He was Svetz’s height, centimeters shorter than Ra Chen, but thick through the torso, arms and legs. He was half again Svetz’s weight.
“Ra Chen, a pleasure to see you again! Lovely pond,” he said.
He meant the rectangular pool outside. Ra Chen said, “It’s not an extravagance. When we’re pulling an X-cage home we need somewhere to dump the heat. Otherwise expensive parts melt.”
Svetz’s impression was that Gorky barely heard him. He bestowed a wonderful smile on one and all and shook their hands. Svetz felt bone-breaking strength held dormant.
Wrona offered her paw. Gorky didn’t notice. He was looking into the Guide Pit.
The Guide Pit was inside a knee-high wooden wall, symbol rather than barrier. There was room for five to sit and work the instruments that guided extension cages into the past. From here the Institute could run both X-cages at once, though that was rare. Gorky must have heard descriptions. It was the heart of the Institute, and now it was his.
Two men with him wore tech uniforms, white coats lined with a score of bulging pockets, scanner sets on their heads. The woman wore something else, a loose one-piece, brilliantly patterned and covered with zipped pockets. She was an inch shorter than Svetz, and slender, topped with two centimeters of ash-blond fuzz.
She came straight to Svetz, or maybe to Wrona. None of Bureau of the Sky Domains seemed to know how to treat Wrona. They’d never seen a dog.
“I’m Miya Thorsven,” she said, smiling at them both.
“Hanville Svetz, pleased to meet you. You’re an astronaut?”
“Yes. And your…companion is a visitor from the past?”
“Somebody else’s past. Wrona’s people evolved from wolves. The X-cages sometimes veer sideways in time when they’re coming home. It’s a quantum mechanical thing,” Svetz said as if he understood it.
“Why does she look so much like Dog?”
“You’ve been in the Vivarium?”
“Not yet. There’s a Web site that has holograms.” Miya looked wistful. “Your achievements are wonderful.”
Svetz had captured most of the Vivarium’s animals. He preened.
She asked again. “Dog?”
“Dogs never went extinct. They’re contemporary. If you think of a dog as a wolf that’s been civilized, then intelligent beings civilize each other. Intelligent wolves must have done that too.”
Miya nodded happily, and Svetz thought how strange it was to be lecturing an astronaut on nonhuman intelligence. He asked, “Have you met aliens?”
“No,” she said.
“How far have you been?”
“Only Mars?”
Space Bureau techs were examining the Center .and talking to the Institute techs on duty. The ITR techs were reluctant to answer. They looked to Ra Chen. Ra Chen and Willy Gorky ignored them all.
They were both hand wavers. Svetz saw Ra Chen’s arms sweep around him to include the entire Center. Gorky stopped talking then. So did Miya Thorsven. She looked to her boss, and her worry mirrored his.
Gorky spoke briefly, gathered his entourage and left.
The Center’s personnel gathered around Ra Chen.
“Good news and bad,” he said. “The Center really could be shut down. Gorky wants to save us, he says—” Ra Chen ignored the collective cynical sigh. “His ass is on the line too. He wants to talk. He’ll bring a man, I’ll bring a man.
You, Svetz. Don’t bring Wrona. Zeera, can you keep things going here?”
Zeera Southworth scratched Wrona behind the ears. “You and me,” she told the dog.
Copyright © 1999 by Larry Niven