The ceiling of ice hung thirty meters above Marya's head. She could not see it, but she knew the ice was there, and the thought of it weighed down on her.
It was the same with the Arctic cold. She was in a drysuit, warm and sealed off from the frigid water. But the sound of the air cycling in her helmet and the moist condensation of her own breath drove her imagination, until she felt oppressed by the cold and the dark.
The only illumination of the sea floor was the web of beams from her helmet and those of the two divers on either side of her. The lances of light cut through the haze of sediments stirred up as they slowly trekked across the ooze. Marya stopped and played her lights over the sea bottom. The site was level, the sediment rippled by currents. A few crustaceans crabbed sidewise at their leisure. A sea bass drifted into Marya's lights, gave her a startled look, and shot off. Marya sighed. This would be difficult.
But she felt the presence, which was definitely strongest here, much stronger than at the previous seafloor sites. Marya spoke into her mike. "All right, Luther. Let's try it." She switched off her light. The other two divers followed suit, leaving her in darkness. The slight current pulled at her like an unseen hand.
Luther's quiet voice said, "Turning up the P-amps slowly."
Marya sucked in a deep breath and blew it out. Her arms floated effortlessly in the buoyant water. She counted down to the familiar trance and tried to imagine herself, this place, above air, a cold, xeric tundra, a cutting wind, thousands of years ago...
Without full amplification Marya felt only a touch of the presence, a tugging at her eyes and throat, a small demanding voice. When she slid down into trance she could almost see, superimposed upon the sea floor, the tundra that had once been there during the last glacial advance: the blowing drifts of snow and the hardy plants.
Then the probability amplifiers warped and bent probability space, where electrons, quarks and other quantum particles swarmed, so that Marya's consciousness could punch through to another mind, another time.
Even though Luther brought up the P-amps slowly, the vision, as always, hit Marya with the rolling rush of a tsunami. She broke out in a sudden sweat and was there. No imagination.
She was squatting outside a skin tent, caribou skin ( Rangifer tarandus) by the look of it. The icy arctic wind whipped around her. The sun was low in the sky and obscured by clouds. The ground was mostly bare of snow. She could feel the soil and pebble-sized rocks shift beneath her feet through rabbitskin boots. Marya, or her host, more exactly (female, mid teens), concentrated on the task before her, scraping clean the skin of a small fox. She used a shaped bone tool. The fat was palpable on her fingers.
Her head was full of thoughts in an alien language. But they were unshaped and swift and Marya could not yet grasp them.
The young woman paused to push back a lock of greasy black hair that had fallen in her eyes, when a voice said: "Inaala." Marya looked up and realized that was her host's name. An old, almost toothless woman stood in front of her, triggering a flood of associations that Marya tried to grasp. "Inaala qivalu shaa lia liaa t'ua-niuu la," said the old woman Harni, Inaala's husband's aunt, and Marya understood: "Inaala, finish that fox." Harni continued. "The men will be back from the sea-hunt soon."
Marya/Inaala nodded and understood. One of the hunters had returned that morning, telling them that they had caught two seals, had flensed them and 'returned the bones' (the phrase had some meaning Marya didn't understand yet), and would arrive soon. Among the hunters would be her husband Awalu, who had taken her only a month before; she could not shame him in front of the other by having been unproductive. She redoubled her efforts, removing every scrap of fat and membrane.
As Inaala worked Marya tried to place the relationship of the dwellings to each other, the garbage dump, the meat caches, tried to store the knowledge tumbling with natural ease through Inaala's mind. She did this hearing her own breath echoed in the P-amp helmet.
For it was a delicate balance, to not let the modern world intrude, and yet not to drown in the personality of her unknowing host.
The submersible research vehicle Phillipe was little more than a portable diving base: four spheres welded together and covered with search lights, cameras, propellers, ballast, and manipulative arms. The three divers clumped up the shallow, brightly lit ramp, which led to the diving hatch. In the sub black water cascaded from them as they stepped up into the light.
Inside, hands removed Marya's bulky 'lobster' helmet and her drysuit; other hands helped her through another hatch to the medical bay, to lie down on a bunk while she droned on and her vital signs were monitored. "Patriarchal society with some matrilineal elements. The leaders are chosen mostly for their ability to hunt and their social skills. My mother was Aruia, my guatuu Nemte ii puuilli semsa ak Qaarnki ii..."
At length she rested and opened her eyes. The project's medic pronounced her well. Behind the medic stood Luther Qin, the dark, quiet, young P-amp tech. Luther, whose background was in probability physics, smiled. "Seems like quite a find," he said. She nodded.
Sitting up, she saw Nesmith A. Potriah duck his head as he entered the debriefing room. He was a barrel-bellied man, with wire-like gray hair sparsely covering his head and a thick, jowly face. He had stopped diving years ago but as principal investigator oversaw the initial survey. Potriah wore a jacket, even though the temperature of the sub was regulated at a comfortable twenty-three degrees. Probably much like Marya, the Arctic ice overhead weighed heavily in his mind.
"Well done, Marya," Potriah said, his mouth approximating a smile. "Jiseong is already starting to plot out the coordinates for a preliminary dig. It may be an excellent site."
Marya nodded, and told him about her host. "Apparently her husband -- and there was some tension in her feelings about him -- was expected to be returning soon from a hunt."
"Caribou season?" Potriah asked. "Or mammoth? Personally I hope for the latter." He talked quickly, under his breath, not looking at Marya. "That bastard Arbatov just published a paper saying they wouldn't this far north. Love to see him wrong."
Marya furrowed her brow in concentration. "No...seal." She looked up. "Returning from a seal hunt."
Potriah's expression went hard. "Oh, is that so?" The senior archaeologist shrugged his shoulders casually. But his eyes burned. He nodded to himself, shook his head, and ducked out the aft hatch, mumbling something unintelligible.
Luther moved closer to Marya. She said to him, "Looks like our teamwork is still holding together."
"Yeah," said Luther. He glanced in the direction of the aft hatch. "Jesus! Did you see the look he gave you?"
"Luther...." she began.
"Yeah, I know." Luther lowered his voice. "He's muttering more than ever about this bastard and that bastard and how he'll show them wrong. Remember how he used to?" Marya nodded. "I was only on one dig with him while you were back at school.
Shigawara was the sensitive. That was a circus. I heard she laughed when he asked her to come back for this dig. He drove her crazy. She called him Mumbles Potriah."
"God, I hope he hasn't been mumbling about me."
"Just that he hopes 'they' haven't ruined you."
Marya stood up. "I don't want to worry about it now. Let's get something hot to drink, okay?" She shivered, still thinking about the cold.
In Dome 3 Marya sat on her bunk, looking at the laminated map she had attached next to her bunk, marking their position on the continental shelf between Siberia and Cape Hope, Alaska: In drowned Beringia.
Marya glanced up at the clock and saw it was time. She got off her bunk and went through the low tunnel that connected Dome 3 with Dome 5, the diving dome. She dressed in her drysuit, then waited until Jiseong, a graduate student in archaeology from Seoul National University, swam through the outer hatchway and waded up into the air. He was a small man but broad-shouldered and broad-faced. "You ready?" he asked. She nodded, and he helped her with the P-amp equipped lobster helmet and checked the seals. "A-okay," his voice came over the intercom.
The black water lapped at her knees, then her chest as she descended, and finally swallowed her whole. They went through the underwater hatch to the blue-black darkness which the lights could never fully banish. Just outside the dome Jiseong paused to snap off the fins from his diving boots and attach weights. Then he signaled for her to go ahead. They trudged over towards the site.
Grid lines were laid out over a twenty-by-twenty meter area, in one-meter squares. Already several preliminary trenches had been started. To combat the fine silt and ooze, which made excavation nearly impossible, refrigeration lines were imbedded in each layer of sediment; when a section had frozen solid, it was removed and taken inside a dome for careful inspection.
The top meter or so was simply oceanic sediment. Most of this had already been stripped away, revealing the ancient soil that had once been above air. In the very first trench small rodent bones had been found, proving this had indeed been part of the land bridge between Siberia and North America.
So far no signs of human habitation, but this was only the first week of the dig. Hopes were still high. And Marya had an excellent record. Before she had gone back to school, she had been on several important sites from India to Africa to England.
Her chest tightened. Potriah had not wanted her to go back to school, especially in theoretical archaeology, which he spurned, and certainly not under Loebbel, his arch-rival. Potriah had faith in few field archaeologists and none in theorists. Loebbel, in turn, had tried to dissuade Marya from returning to work for Potriah. Marya had pointed out that Nesmith Potriah had the grant money, and that his reputation was not built on nothing. Yes, Loebbel had admitted, at one time Potriah, though arrogant, was very good. But now, her advisor had added in characteristic hyperbole, Potriah's as archaic as the ruins he digs.
But Potriah was going to Northern Beringia, the subject of Marya's doctoral research (computer simulations that had predicted maritime subsistence in Northern Beringia) and Loebbel was not. And sensitives of Marya's caliber were extremely rare. Like it or not, Marya and Potriah needed each other.
Jiseong tapped at her shoulder. Marya turned around, not an easy task in her bulky suit. He held up the end of the fiber- optic cable, which led off to the Phillipe. "I'm going to plug you in now."
"I'm ready." She felt him fumble at the back of her helmet, then pull away. "Luther? Can you hear me?"
"Loud and clear, Marya," Luther said, from the sub where he was warm and dry.
"I want to approach the camp--" she stopped, finding herself thinking in Inaala's terms--"the site closer."
She stepped forward, leaning to counteract the buoyancy of the water. The black-suited figures around the dig parted for her as she approached.
Marya started to curve a little to the right, following the tickle of presence that told her this was the path. She told Luther to turn on the P-amps, then shut out the sound of her own breath and counted backwards to trance.
A cold wave of the sea washed over her and she was in light, walking along a well-worn path towards the skin tent. It was late in the year: the sun was low and the air, though motionless, was biting cold. Marya/Inaala slowed as she approached the hut. Her stomach clutched in fear. But of what? Marya searched for the reason and felt the pain in Inaala's upper right arm. Inaala muttered to herself. "A humble woman, a poor preparer of your fine skins...."
Awalu had come back from a hunt, two days before. He was not pleased with Inaala's preparations of the seal skins. She had meticulously picked the skins clean and dry, but not fast enough for Awalu. Marya heard the echo of rage in his voice. "You-you shame your husband! Ahh! You worthless woman!"
Marya raided her host's memories and decided that Inaala was not really not at fault. Her sister-in-law Oomita had in fact worked slower but her husband had not beat her. And Inaala's mother and grandmother had always emphasized that the skins must be perfectly clean--never accept less in sacrifice for speed. Make sure the skin was free from fat so never to rot.
And, in fact, Awalu had poorly flensed the seal in the process of removing its bones behind as demanded by the Seal- Woman, who wanted her children's bones left in the sea so their spirits would come home to her. The skin was badly cut and it would be difficult to make proper garments from it. But Marya knew that Inaala would never risk her husband's wrath to tell him that.
Inaala stood in the doorway of the sod hut and trembled. She did not understand Awalu! Once, maybe twice, her father had beaten her mother for embarrassing him, but it had been sufficient for her mother to scream loud for the neighbors. Her mother never had bruise marks and always an hour later her mother and father were laughing together under the furs. Awalu was always angry and sullen. He never laughed with her--just climbed on top of her.
Inside the hut, she saw Awalu's bulk looming in the dark. "What took you so long?" he growled. "Are your feet made of stone? You miserable woman..."
Marya/Inaala felt the flash of pain on her cheek. She fell to the ground, tasting blood and earth, wondering, How did I make such a mistake? Why did the spirits lead me to such a man for a husband?
"Hey, it's good for you," Luther said. Several people guffawed.
Marya said to Luther, "I'm surprised at this interview. Potriah's always been very careful not to go to the media until he's got all the pieces in place."
Luther shook his head. "He's changed a lot in the last few years, after you went back to school. He doesn't stay much at the sites anymore, and seems more interested in publishing in the New York Times than in Archaeological Journal. I guess that's what fame and age does to you."
Someone hushed them. "Here it comes!"
The tinny, synthesized theme music for the archaeology segment blasted away, a distorted, electronicized version of primitive drums. The crowd was well-lubricated and several people chimed in: "Dum-duh dum-duh-duh duh dum!" and broke into laughter.
The reporter, a genial but no-nonsense woman, quickly went through the essentials of the Beringian land bridge. Between twelve to twenty thousand years ago, during the Wisconsin ice advance, so much water had been taken up in glaciers that the level of the ocean was ninety-five meters lower than in the modern era. Here Beringia had appeared from the chill Arctic waters and allowed humans to cross over into North America.
Using a map of ancient Beringia, she explained how most theories placed the crossing on the more temperate southern coast of Beringia. "But we have today with us Professor Nesmith Potriah, of the University of Michigan, who has made a spectacular career of finding evidence of humans where they should not have been, from Africa to a three-thousand-year-old settlement to the Antarctic." Potriah smiled and nodded.
The rest was old news to them, how Potriah was defying conventional wisdom in looking for habitation of the less hospitable northern coast. Sequences of the dig site and inside the domes flashed on the screen. "There's me! There's me!" people in the rec dome screeched and pointed. Marya laughed, "God, I look awful!" Potriah proudly discussed the preliminary finds, including the caribou midden, the pre-Clovis points, and the human tibia. He also mentioned, albeit briefly, Marya's aid in locating the site. Without a sensitive like Marya, finding archaeological evidence buried in the sea floor would be impossible. He did not forget to mention that thirty-five years ago, when the P-amp was invented, that he had been one of the very first to use sensitives in archaeology, paving the way to their acceptance in other fields.
"So what were these Beringian people like, Professor?" the reporter asked. "Where they much like the inuit people of Alaska and Greenland?"
"Well, they were similar, although more primitive. For instance, their tools were less sophisticated and they had fewer food-gathering strategies."
"What did they eat?"
"We've only found evidence for caribou. They may have hunted the woolly mammoth, which is now extinct." He glanced at the camera before continuing. "And, in contrast to modern inuits, they did not hunt any marine mammals."
A heavy silence draped itself across the room. Marya could feel glances dart at her. Any dig is a small community and everyone knew of her reports.
The reporter pressed Potriah harder. "Did the sensitive, Dr St. Jean, report that they only hunt caribou? I was told--" Potriah interrupted the reporter brusquely. "While I value sensitives highly -- without them my work would be impossible -- one must take their reports with a grain of salt."
"What!?" shouted Luther.
Potriah continued: "It is very delicate work, and easily influenced by the outside. Oftentimes one runs up against what we call a ghost, a psychic reading of someone or something that isn't really there but is instead a psychological projection." Marya felt her face get hot. "Also, remember that in the Denali- Dyuktai culture on both sides of the Bering sea there is absolutely no evidence of maritime hunting."
"That's nonsense," Marya breathed.
The reporter persisted. "But aren't there theoretical studies that show that they could have had the skills to hunt seals and whales, and then lost those skills?"
Potriah shook his head, the rage clearly building in his face. "Those are just theories, mostly by mavericks. Unreliable ideas, I'm afraid. I'm not interested in theory. I care about the truth, which is based on fact and physical evidence. The archaeological record is solid on this. No ancient arctic sealing. It's ridiculous to talk otherwise."
The room fell silent.
"What an asshole," someone said. Someone else laughed nervously.
Marya fought back the tears as the room cleared in silence.
They undressed, ignoring her presence even though she quietly took their clothes away to dry and their boots to chew soft. The man was not terribly handsome: his nose stuck out too far from his face, and his hair was tangled and mussed. But his muscles moved smoothly under his brown skin, which gleamed in the lamplight, and he was obviously a good hunter: well fed, and had many fine furs. However, his clothes were in disrepair, and Inaala knew he had no wife.
"The Seal-Woman wasn't kind to me today," Awalu said softly.
"The Seal-Woman has smiled upon me this past month," the stranger said, "but not today, either. Perhaps she's angry." Awalu nodded. The Seal-Woman-Under-the-Sea sent out the game animals. Her favor was necessary for survival. In times of bad hunting, people would hire a s'amu to go on a spirit journey down to her undersea house, to comb her hair and soothe her. The Seal-Woman had no fingers so a good way to gain her favor was to comb her long, thick tresses.
Finally Awalu acknowledged Inaala's presence. "This is my ugly and clumsy wife--" the words did not sting Inaala, because they were ritual humility-- "but a woman's a woman, and the nights are cold." Inaala said nothing. She was sewing up holes in their clothes.
The stranger said, "She is a beautiful flower, and one can't help but notice how well-kept your clothes are! Alas, a hunter had a wife, not as beautiful or talented, but she died."
Awalu grunted. "That's sad, to be without a woman! Here now, this woman isn't much, but she'll keep your furs warm tonight." This, too, was traditional hospitality, every time Awalu brought a guest home.
"Oh, pfah!" the stranger laughed. "A certain hunter is not worthy of such a beautiful woman."
So they humbly argued, but of course in the end hospitality won out and Inaala crept shyly under the furs with the stranger. Otu, he whispered his name to her. His body was very warm, burning with an inner fire. His skin was soft as a baby's, and he touched her softly and gently, as if he knew her body as his own. Through his touch she thought she felt his a sadness like a keening wind, the loss of his wife, the loneliness of the deep Arctic winter nights.
But his passion was so intense, his desire so palpable,
that soon both of them were laughing, truly laughing under the
furs. She had never actually laughed with any of Awalu's
friends. This man was different. Still, Inaala tried to clamp
a hand over her mouth, to stifle her laughs. In the far corner,
where Awalu lay, the dark and silence were a foreboding
"Well, someone must have told that reporter," Nesmith Potriah said dryly. He had called her into his makeshift office barely an hour after his return. "She couldn't have come up with that sealing business out of thin air."
"Weisburd is a good reporter," Marya said defensively. "I've watched her before. She researches carefully. She probably called up all the experts in the field. Including Loebbel." "Well, reporters love to call on the mavericks," Potriah muttered. "At least she didn't bring up that crazy thing about the bone taboo."
"My God, it's not crazy. It even makes sense, to leave the bones in the sea for the Seal-Woman, so that new sea mammals will come."
"It's too convenient," Potriah observed. "No seal middens to find. But not something to tell anyone unless you enjoyed being laughed at." He shook his head. "I wish you'd never gotten mixed up with these theorists. They took a good talent and filled your head with nonsense." He sighed. "I was hoping, just hoping, that with some good field work you'd come to your senses..."
"Christ!" Marya stood up and stormed out. She bent over through the hatchway and started through the tunnel. She stopped when she heard footsteps. Turning around, she saw Luther. "How'd it go?" he asked.
"Please," she said, "I need to be alone. For a little while."
A look of pain crossed Luther's face, but he bobbed his head and turned around.
Marya scuttled through the tunnel, which was not heated, trying not to think of the cold pressure of the sea inches away through the cold metal. At the barracks-dome she lay face-down in her bunk, and let the tears stream into the pillow. She knew Loebbel was considered a maverick, even by scientists less dogmatic than Potriah. But she also thought him brilliant. And he had given her a chance no one else would. Because of her background with Potriah, everyone else who would take her assumed she would be in fieldwork. Loebbel let her do theory.
She thought, could Potriah be right? Potriah was arrogant, dogmatic -- but he was also too often right. Marya wondered, Am I just projecting this, to prove my thesis? To prove myself as a theorist? It had happened to other sensitives before, a mixture of fact and wishful thinking.
No, no, she couldn't think this way. Lack of confidence would be the deadliest poison to her talents. She turned over onto her back and held up her hands. She fingered a slim silver ring on her right pinkie finger, twisting it round and round.
Edwin had given her that ring. He was another sensitive, a friend of hers and, for a while, a lover. He had worked with law-enforcement agencies, occasionally solving a spectacular and grisly murder but more often working on more mundane items. But, like her, he wanted to be more than a tool. He wanted to study criminology, to join the police force and work his way up to the rank of detective. He had the intelligence and dogged determination for it; but not the self-confidence when the police he worked with had laughed at him. "You've read too many detective novels," he was told. Then they had the gall to tell him his was an honored position.
Marya snorted and turned over in her bunk. Honored position! Honored in a glass cage, recognized for an accident of nature. Edwin decided there was no place for him in law- enforcement and retired, removing himself from the situation. "If they won't treat me on equal terms," he had written her of his decision, two years ago, "then the only course of action I see is not to play their game."
She understood and respected his position. But Marya refused to withdraw. Even if--
She stopped. Withdraw. She had really given poor Luther the cold shoulder. Marya sat up in her bunk. She had better find Luther.
His bunk was in the next dome over. As she entered through the open hatchway she heard the high, piercing wail of Luther's clarinet. She paused to appreciate; he was a competent jazz clarinetist. The notes, each drawn out with a sweetness that touched Marya, danced up and down the scale, from the low wavering bass notes to the highest reedy squeal Luther could squeeze from the instrument.
Finally, Marya stood in his doorway. No one was in the room except for Luther, blowing away. When he saw her he stopped and put the clarinet down. Marya gestured at the empty bunkroom. "What, did you drive them away?"
Luther laughed. "I couldn't blame them if I did."
"No, I'm kidding, you play wonderfully." He shrugged. Marya sat on a bunk across from him. "I'm sorry I was a bit curt with you a while ago. I needed to be alone."
His chin dipped a little. "Sure, no problem." He paused. "So...are you going to be sticking around? I wouldn't, none of us would blame you if you didn't."
"No. I had a track coach in high school who taught me you should always finish the race as hard as you can, even if you're dead last. I'm going to finish this."
Several sheets of paper were scattered on the floor around him, and a few open books. Marya picked up of the sheets. It was thick with scribbled equations. "What's this, can I ask?"
Luther looked up at her with intense brown eyes. "Oh, some physics. Connection coefficients for probability space."
"Something important, earthshaking, I'm sure."
Luther shrugged again. "It could be. Who knows?" He looked down at his clarinet. "If we could solve the equations exactly, then we could focus--well, never mind the details. It probably won't work out."
"I have in faith in you."
He looked up, and Marya smiled at him. Luther said, "Maybe. I can't deny I hope...." He put the clarinet to his lips, played a few buzzy notes, and put it down, shaking his head. "Or maybe this will. I hope. I hope a lot." Luther lay down on his bunk, placing his clarinet carefully beside him, and folded his hands behind his head. He stared up at the ceiling as he continued. "I find I do a lot of hoping these days."
"Don't we all?"
"You seem to be doing pretty well, accomplishing your goals."
"With only a few major obstacles in the way."
"You mean Nezzie? The Loch Michigan Monster?" Marya laughed. Luther continued hotly, "That old fart. He's just afraid that if sensitives learn too much archaeology no one will need him and he'll be out on his ear."
"I don't think it's that," Marya said cautiously. "For all his faults, he's a first-rate field archaeologist. I have to admit I've learned a lot from him."
"Yeah, maybe. Anyway, that's not what I meant." He looked at her significantly. "About hoping."
Marya frowned. "But you're doing well on your own goals-- oh. That."
"Yes," he said. "That. I...never mind." He sighed. "Although I have to admit you were a strong incentive to sign up."
"We're good friends," Marya said softly.
"Yes, we are. And I'm grateful for that."
After a few moments of clumsy silence, Marya said, "Look here, you have all these wonderful talents--"
He cut in abruptly. "And where do they get me? Hmm? Exactly. Silence. The silence of the sea, the silence of being alone. Sometimes I realize, you know," and he swallowed, "that I'm probably going about it all wrong. You know why I work so hard on my physics, doing these equations, playing my clarinet? Part of me hopes, you see, hopes and dreams and plans that my physics or my jazz will be the key to my future. Will let my light shine through for someone to see."
"I see your light."
"Not clearly enough," he said. "Not damn clearly enough." "Luther," Marya said slowly, "if you want this--someone--so badly, why don't you concentrate on that goal, instead of all these secondary plans?"
"I know." He sighed. "Often I think that's what I do wrong. I think it's part of my mathematical training." He turned on his side and leaned up on one elbow, facing Marya. "You see, in proving theorems, it's sometimes easier to prove a more general theorem that has the one you're interested in as a corollary. That's what I'm trying to do. Attack the more general problem."
"What if you solve that and find that getting me, or anyone, isn't a corollary?"
Luther laughed and fell back in his bunk. He rubbed at his
face. "Man, then I'd really be in deep!"
"Then I will!" Inaala surprised herself by shouting back. Awalu was surprised as well, and hesitated, giving Inaala time enough to snatch up her boots and dash through the door.
Otu had piled his provisions on his sled and was preparing to leave when Inaala, half-naked and shivering in the cold, stumbled across the drifts of new-fallen snow to him. She clung to his fur jacket. "Take me with you, please," she begged him. "Awalu will kill me. You need a woman to sew up your clothes and chew your boots soft. Take me, please."
Awalu came charging out of the hut, shouting and brandishing his spear. The people in the neighboring huts, curious at all the noise, poked their heads out to see the commotion. Otu took a fur from off his sled and wrapped it around Inaala's bare shoulders. "Someone might borrow your wife for a while, Awalu," Otu said loudly, for the benefit of all. "A poor hunter needs a woman more than a capable man such as yourself."
Awalu stared for a long moment. His breath puffed out in white clouds. The neighbors watched him carefully. Then, in disgust, he threw down his spear and went back into the hut. There was nothing he could do, really. Inaala did have the right to choose a different man if one would take her; she had not known any better than Awalu before Otu had come. Awalu could not refuse to 'lend' her to Otu without losing face. And here, where a neighbor's hospitality meant the difference between life and death, he could not afford to lose face.
Otu nodded and started off, pulling his sled behind him.
Inaala dressed herself in Otu's furs and happily started
trudging through the track his sled dug in the snow. The storm
clouds of the night before had disappeared, and in her heart she
felt as wide and expansive as the great swath of blue above.
"I have to try."
"Okay." Luther started to get off the bunk.
"No, wait." Luther stopped to look up at Marya. "Stay here. I want to face him by myself." He pursed his lips. "Fighting my own battles, remember?" He nodded.
As Marya started down the tunnel she heard Luther's clarinet echoing after her, starting with "When the Saints Go Marching In" and seguing into "Onward Christian Soldiers." Marya smiled and felt buoyed up.
Luther was right. Potriah all but laughed. "Why? Go on another long search? I don't see the point. It would be too expensive -- we were lucky to find this one so soon -- and unreasonable when this site has finally started to yield results." He looked at her pointedly. "Even if not the results you wish they were."
"Maybe Inaala can lead us to a better site."
Potriah shook his head. "No. Archaeology isn't a series of wild goose chases."
"Dammit, I'm an archaeologist, too! Doesn't what I have to say have any validity?"
"Of course it does." He peered at her with his arctic-gray eyes. "But you know how much relocation costs. You need logic and reason behind your choices."
"And intuition. Without my intuition you never would have found this site in the first place, and your theories would be only words in dusty journals." She spoke very angrily now. "I know all that about logic and reason and training. That's why I got my PhD.. I'm trying to blend it with my intuition, in a very delicate kind of marriage. There has to be some sort of reason why I homed in on Inaala so strongly. There always is. I think her story isn't complete--I know it isn't--and neither will ours be until we find the end of hers." "I will place it under consideration." His tone was one of finality, and she knew he had already made his decision. She got up quickly. Potriah added, "Marya, I know it's fun discovering new sites. But we don't have an unlimited budget."
Marya started to walk away. A sudden chill crept up her spine. "Speaking of budgets, there is money for a trip for me back to the mainland, for a break, isn't there? I'm due for a little R & R, I know. A little time away--to cool down," she added.
Potriah nodded. "Yes. That's true. It's in your contract. I'll notify the jump-jet pilot." As she walked out he called, "Marya, please don't be bitter. You've done some wonderful work. My job is to be the control, to temper things. I hope you understand."
She did and she didn't. But it didn't matter.
Luther was scribbling equations on a notepad when she found him. "Come on, Luther. Grab the P-amp gear. Not the Lobster- head. Above-air."
He scrambled after her. "What's going on?"
"We're going to the surface." Marya smiled. "A wild goose chase."
They rode up in the decompression chamber of the Jacques on its afternoon trip to the surface. Because they breathed a nitrogen-free oxygen-neon-argon atmosphere, decompression was rapid. Marya explained her plan on the way. Luther shook his head.
"Seems like a long shot to me," he said. "I mean, usually we have to criss-cross and recheck--"
"I know," Marya interrupted. "That's why Potriah didn't want to even try. But I feel Inaala so strongly...I think I can pull it off."
The sub surfaced in the air hole kept ice-free by heating elements. Next to the hole was the surface support camp and a hired passenger jump-jet perched on the ice. The pilot came out of the plane as Marya approached with Luther in tow, dragging the P-amp helmet and gear. The air was still but frigid.
"Dr. St. Jean? You're the only one heading back to the mainland today."
"Good. Except we're not really going to the mainland."
Marya figured she would use her travel privileges to scout north, along Otu and Inaala's path. As long as the plane was already requisitioned, she could use it as she liked. Potriah would not like it, but there was nothing he could do. Or so Marya hoped.
The pilot shrugged. "It's your trip," he said, climbing into the cockpit.
As the engines warmed up to a high-pitched hum, Luther fitted the P-amp helmet over Marya's head. Marya said, "Turn the amps on, but low. I need to give directions."
The engines roared, bellowing up clouds of snow. The plane leapt into the air, rotated and shot north.
"Fly low, as low as you can to the ice," Marya called forward to the pilot. He nodded and gave her a thumb's up. The great white plain of ice and snow whizzed below them. An occasional seal or polar bear looked up in puzzlement at the strange noise in the sky. Marya concentrated, searching for the tingle of presence. "A few degrees west. There. Luther, twitch the amps up, will you?" She glimpsed the ice from the perspec tive of Inaala, running behind Otu as he dragged the sled behind him. But the vision was ghostly and flickering.
They headed north: twenty kilometers, forty, sixty, seventy. Then suddenly a black hand clutched at Marya's heart and she went pale.
Luther turned down the P-amps immediately. "What? What is it?"
"Set it down," she croaked in a dry voice. "Set down here!"
The plane had barely touched the ice, the jets still blasting away snow, when Marya stumbled out the door. The pilot cut the engines and they were surrounded by Arctic stillness. The air was cold and sharp. There was absolutely no sound except for their boots crunching the snow.
Marya turned to Luther. "I want the amps up full. Now."
She wandered around in a little circle. The the wave of
ice, cold cold ice, hit her, and she fell to her knees.
Finally she had made the right decision! Otu was so good and gentle to her. As was proper, he said very little directly in praise of her. But she could see in his eyes and the broad whiteness of his smile that he was pleased with her. He had even given her a little gift, a comb carved from the tusk of a walrus, engraved with scenes of men hunting seals. Otu said it was proper to use when on the ice over the sea. It was beautiful and she loved it. She loved Otu for giving it to her.
When she had scraped all the remaining blubber from the seal skin, she went into the skin tent and trimmed the candle. Inaala smiled, thinking of how cozy and warm it would be later, with the furs inside and Otu curled around her.
She had left some tools outside, so she started out to retrieve them. Crawling through the entrance, she heard the crunch of footsteps and saw boots on the ice. Her heart gave a little skip. Otu was back so soon--but she would be glad to see him. Perhaps he had been lucky.
Then she glanced up into the face. With that one glance her heart froze. A cruel smile played over Awalu's face. "Someone's a better tracker than you think, no? And your man isn't here. He should know better, that you are a stupid, disloyal woman. Too bad. He'll think you ran away from him, too."
Inaala tried to run but Awalu caught up with her too easily. He grabbed the back of her clothes, swung her around and down to the ground. The sharp surface of the ice scraped her cheek. She tried to scramble, feet and hands clawing at the ice, but Awalu cuffed her to the ground and tore at her trousers. Her screams bounced off the ice.
Otu was too far away to hear.
After Awalu finished raping Inaala, he started to drag her towards the seal hole. "He'll think you just ran away again," Awalu repeated. Inaala struggled again. Awalu pushed her to the ground, kneeled on her arms, took her face roughly in his thick, calloused fingers, and slammed her head against the ice until she couldn't think through the ocean of pain.
Stunned, she was barely aware of Awalu dragging her the rest of the way. The white of the ground and blue of the sky whirled around her. Awalu chopped at the thin crust of ice covering the seal hole. The world rolled once more around Inaala as Awalu pushed her into the water.
Inaala sank immediately. The numbing cold enveloped her. In darkness, she weakly flailed her limbs. Her lungs shouting for air, reflex forced her to breathe: icy water flooded her nose and mouth and lungs. All went black then.
But out of the blackness arose a figure, even darker than the water, of a huge woman. The woman lifted her face to Inaala, a kindly face, but her hair, like long tresses of seaweed, was tangled and mussed. She had arms like whales and breasts like black icebergs, and when she lifted her arms toward Inaala she had no fingers.
The Seal-Woman, Inaala/Marya realized. The Woman Under the Ice. Seal-Woman, help me.
Comb my hair, child, the gigantic figure said.
Comfort me, Inaala/Marya pleaded.
Comb my hair, child.
Inaala found she had in her hand the ivory comb Otu had given her. The animals and hunters carved on it wriggled and moved. Inaala floated down and tugged the comb through Seal- Woman's huge tresses. She glided all the way down Seal-Woman's hair, which hung past the huge woman's ankles, and beyond. Huge clouds of black boiled in the water. She smiled, knowing that Seal-Woman was sending a deadly storm to blind and kill her murderer. Inaala fell through the black clouds and into clear water, falling swiftly towards the bottom of the sea, where another woman stood with open arms. The woman looked up, and Marya was startled to see it was her own face.
Memories dominated Marya's life. They do everyone's life, of course -- as Loebbel as told Marya, on one of the many occasions in which he waxed philosophic: To each relationship we bring the emotional baggage of all the others, from our parents and our lovers, which in turn were controlled by their memories of their relationships, in a long string fading into history. Memories are the building blocks from which we make our lives. Marya wondered through what window, framed by which past loves, did Luther view her? She knew her idea of him was shaded by subtle memories of Edwin and others. Then there was Potriah. In his case he was reacting to a memory fading, clinging to memories of past victories that might not come again, trying to hear a voice he could not quite reclaim.
As for Marya's work -- the dredged memories of the long- dead hung over her, like the sheet of ice over the Arctic sea floor, sometimes hidden by murky water but always there. Memories, to Marya, were more to her than vehicle of information, even more than Loebbel's building blocks. She liked to think of them as the engines of compassion. She had once read in a novel that what we feel most, we remember best, and she believed the reverse to also be true. By remembering, we can feel. And Marya hoped, by having more memories of more lives than most, she could feel more deeply.
Even so, it was hard to feel much for Nesmith Potriah as he argued, as she had known he would, against digging at the new site she had found. But she sat calmly at the conference table in Dome 2, Potriah faced off against her at the weekly site meeting. The old archaeologist was furious: a waste of time and money, a silly gimmick she had pulled, how dare she suggest they move on to a new chimeric site, and so on.
She let him rage until he exhausted himself. Then she presented her side. She knew exactly where to dig, to the last meter. She had estimated the depth of the bones. She laid out what it meant in terms of time and money, for this one trench, this one chance. The Jacques would remain at the primary site, and the Phillipe would be required only three to four days at the second site. The cost would be only five percent of their total budget, and she reminded him that present estimates had them seven percent under budget because, in part, she had found the present site earlier than expected.
It was hard even for Nesmith Potriah to argue against facts. Marya had laid out her case beautifully. One could almost see the wheels turning in Potriah's head. More than anything else, he could not afford to take the chance that she might not be right. Perhaps that fading voice spoke to him. He swallowed and hemmed. And in the end, he grumbled that they might as well try.
Under the ice, in one hundred and twenty-five meters of water, they found the bones of a young woman exactly where Marya told them they would, buried two meters deep in sediment. The bones were radiodated to be 15,500 years before the present, the same as the bones from the primary site. Topo-maps of Beringia indicated she must have drowned in about thirty meters of water, probably about thirty to forty kilometers from shore, out on the ice. They also found the ivory comb, delicately worked and clearly showing scenes of hunting sea mammals.
The news quickly spread. Dr. St. Jean, not Dr. Potriah, was besieged from calls, from the New York Times to the Science News Cable Network. Nesmith A. Potriah, when finally asked, declined to say anything, not even to the New York Times. His silence was complete.
"Congratulations," Luther said later, sticking out his hand. Marya shook his hand, feeling silly. "You did a fine job."
"I suppose. What are you going to do now?"
Luther shrugged. "I don't know. Still not many jobs out there. I guess I'll keep being a P-amp tech."
"I think you have potential for more. Don't underestimate yourself."
"Yeah. There are other benefits, you know." He looked at her significantly, then blushed. Marya felt a surge of warmth for him. Perhaps, she thought, perhaps....
"Potriah's gone?" Luther asked.
Marya nodded. "Back to the mainland." His silence, she realized, was the only acknowledgement she would ever get from him that she was right. That she had been the discoverer of The Truth, and not him. She imagined him sitting in an overstuffed chair in his office, books looming over him. When he was younger, perhaps, he could have changed, but now he was too old, too tired, and too brittle. She guessed Nesmith Potriah would never go out in the field again. For a moment she even felt a flash of compassion for the old dinosaur.
After months of exhaustive analysis, Inaala's bones were reinterred in their watery grave, in accords with international archaeological agreements. The comb would be shared among the consortium of museums and universities sponsoring the dig. Marya substituted it with another comb, one she obtained from a King William's Land inuit. She did not explain it was to untangle the Seal-Woman's tresses. Marya, Luther, and several of the other divers presided over the burial. Inaala's limbs were now straightened and her arms folded peacefully over her chest clutching Marya's gift. Imbedded in a block of frozen silt, they lowered her into the gaping hole in the sea floor, then covered it with more silt.
Marya began a chant, a burial chant half-remembered, in the ancient language. "Ha Inaala taiaa lallia givia qi tuu..." Marya only understood the sense of half of it. "Iapii awuu lialik aai Sednaaqu iviat..." Seal-Woman, watch over your little sister in sleep. Marya's voice droned in a mournful tone, and she felt real sadness. And yet joy.
They finished and began trudging back to the Phillipe, their lights ensnaring curious fish and their boots kicking up stormclouds of silt. Marya wondered if she could, like an ancient priest, read her fortune in the swirling patterns. She wondered about many things, about the past, the present, and the future. Marya also wondered about the vision of Seal-Woman she had had; in some way she felt she had been given a gift. But, more than anything else, she kept remembering Inaala's brief time with Otu, and the color of the sky then and the light dancing off the snow crystals. She felt, through the glacial wall of memories of things that were and things yet to be, joy, the translucent light of the world above and beyond.
First published in Writers of the Future, Vol. V , 1989. Copyright C. W. Johnson, 1989.
Back to CWJ's science fiction page | Comments?