Subterranean Press Magazine: Summer 2008
Fiction: Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge by Mike Resnick
The creatures came again last night.
The moon had just slipped behind the clouds when we heard the first rustlings in the grass. Then there was a moment of utter silence, as if they knew we were listening for them, and finally there were the familiar hoots and shrieks as they raced to within fifty meters of us and, still screeching, struck postures of aggression.
They fascinate me, for they never show themselves in the daylight, and yet they manifest none of the features of the true nocturnal animal. Their eyes are not oversized, their ears cannot move independently, they tread very heavily on their feet. They frighten most of the other members of my party, and while I am curious about them, I have yet to absorb one of them and study it.
To tell the truth, I think my use of absorption terrifies my companions more than the creatures do, though there is no reason why it should. Although I am relatively young by my race’s standards, I am nevertheless many millennia older than any other member of my party. You would think, given their backgrounds, that they would know that any trait someone of my age possesses must by definition be a survival trait.
Still, it bothers them. Indeed, it mystifies them, much as my memory does. Of course, theirs seem very inefficient to me. Imagine having to learn everything one knows in a single lifetime, to be totally ignorant at the moment of birth! Far better to split off from your parent with his knowledge intact in your brain, just as my parent’s knowledge came to him, and ultimately to me.
But then, that is why we are here: not to compare similarities, but to study differences. And never was there a race so different from all his fellows as Man. He was extinct barely seventeen millennia after he strode boldly out into the galaxy from this, the planet of his birth—but during that brief interval he wrote a chapter in galactic history that will last forever. He claimed the stars for his own, colonized a million worlds, ruled his empire with an iron will. He gave no quarter during his primacy, and he asked for none during his decline and fall. Even now, some forty-eight centuries after his extinction, his accomplishments and his failures still excite the imagination.
Which is why we are on Earth, at the very spot that was said to be Man’s true birthplace, the rocky gorge where he first crossed over the evolutionary barrier, saw the stars with fresh eyes, and vowed that they would someday be his.
Our leader is Bellidore, an Elder of the Kragan people, orange-skinned, golden fleeced, with wise, patient ways. Bellidore is well-versed in the behavior of sentient beings, and settles our disputes before we even know that we are engaged in them.
Then there are the Stardust Twins, glittering silver beings who answer to each other’s names and finish each other’s thoughts. They have worked on seventeen archaeological digs, but even they were surprised when Bellidore chose them for this most prestigious of all missions. They behave like life mates, though they display no sexual characteristics—but like all the others, they refuse to have physical contact with me, so I cannot assuage my curiosity.
Also in our party is the Moriteu, who eats the dirt as if it were a delicacy, speaks to no one, and sleeps upside-down while hanging from a branch of a nearby tree. For some reason, the creatures always leave it alone. Perhaps they think it is dead, possibly they know it is asleep and that only the rays of the sun can awaken it. Whatever the reason, we would be lost without it, for only the delicate tendrils that extend from its mouth can excavate the ancient artifacts we have discovered with the proper care.
We have four other species with us: one is an Historian, one an Exobiologist, one an Appraiser of human artifacts, and one a Mystic. (At least, I assume she is a Mystic, for I can find no pattern to her approach, but this may be due to my own shortsightedness. After all, what I do seems like magic to my companions and yet it is a rigorously-applied science.)
And, finally, there is me. I have no name, for my people do not use names, but for the convenience of the party I have taken the name of He Who Views for the duration of the expedition. This is a double misnomer: I am not a he, for my race is not divided by gender; and I am not a viewer, but a Fourth Level Feeler. Still, I could intuit very early in the voyage that “feel” means something very different to my companions than to myself, and out of respect for their sensitivities, I chose a less accurate name.
Every day finds us back at work, examining the various strata. There are many signs that the area once teemed with living things, that early on there was a veritable explosion of life forms in this place, but very little remains today. There are a few species of insects and birds, some small rodents, and of course the creatures who visit our camp nightly.
Our collection has been growing slowly. It is fascinating to watch my companions perform their tasks, for in many ways they are as much of a mystery to me as my methods are to them. For example, our Exobiologist needs only to glide her tentacle across an object to tell us whether it was once living matter; the Historian, surrounded by its complex equipment, can date any object, carbon-based or otherwise, to within a decade of its origin, regardless of its state of preservation; and even the Moriteu is a thing of beauty and fascination as it gently separates the artifacts from the strata where they have rested for so long.
I am very glad I was chosen to come on this mission.
We have been here for two lunar cycles now, and the work goes slowly. The lower strata were thoroughly excavated eons ago (I have such a personal interest in learning about Man that I almost used the word plundered rather than excavated, so resentful am I at not finding more artifacts), and for reasons as yet unknown there is almost nothing in the more recent strata.
Most of us are pleased with our results, and Bellidore is particularly elated. He says that finding five nearly intact artifacts makes the expedition an unqualified success.
All the others have worked tirelessly since our arrival. Now it is almost time for me to perform my special function, and I am very excited. I know that my findings will be no more important than the others’, but perhaps, when we put them all together, we can finally begin to understand what it was that made Man what he was.
“Are you…” asked the first Stardust Twin.
“…ready?” said the second.
I answered that I was ready, that indeed I had been anxious for this moment.
“…observe?” they asked.
“If you do not find it distasteful,” I replied.
“…scientists,” they said. “There is…”
“…that we cannot view…”
I ambulated to the table upon which the artifact rested. It was a stone, or at least that is what it appeared to be to my exterior sensory organs. It was triangular, and the edges showed signs of work.
“How old is this?” I asked.
“…five hundred and sixty-one thousand…”
“…eight hundred and twelve years,” answered the Stardust Twins.
“I see,” I said.
“It is much…”
“…of our finds.”
I stared at it for a long time, preparing myself. Then I slowly, carefully, altered my structure and allowed my body to flow over and around the stone, engulfing it, and assimilating its history. I began to feel a delicious warmth as it became one with me, and while all my exterior senses had shut down, I knew that I was undulating and glowing with the thrill of discovery. I became one with the stone, and in that corner of my mind that is set aside for Feeling, I seemed to sense the Earth’s moon looming low and ominous just above the horizon…
Enkatai awoke with a start just after dawn and looked up at the moon, which was still high in the sky. After all these weeks it still seemed far too large to hang suspended in the sky, and must surely crash down onto the planet at any moment. The nightmare was still strong in her mind, and she tried to imagine the comforting sight of five small, unthreatening moons leapfrogging across the silver sky of her own world. She was able to hold the vision in her mind’s eye for only a moment, and then it was lost, replaced by the reality of the huge satellite above her.
Her companion approached her.
“Another dream?” he asked.
“Exactly like the last one,” she said uncomfortably. “The moon is visible in the daylight, and then we begin walking down the path…”
He stared at her with sympathy and offered her nourishment. She accepted it gratefully, and looked off across the veldt.
“Just two more days,” she sighed, “and then we can leave this awful place.”
“It is not such a terrible world,” replied Bokatu. “It has many good qualities.”
“We have wasted our time here,” she said. “It is not fit for colonization.”
“No, it is not,” he agreed. “Our crops cannot thrive in this soil, and we have problems with the water. But we have learned many things, things that will eventually help us choose the proper world.”
“We learned most of them the first week we were here,” said Enkatai. “The rest of the time was wasted.”
“The ship had other worlds to explore. They could not know we would be able to analyze this one in such a short time.”
She shivered in the cool morning air. “I hate this place.”
“It will someday be a fine world,” said Bokatu. “It awaits only the evolution of the brown monkeys.”
Even as he spoke, an enormous baboon, some 350 pounds in weight, heavily muscled, with a shaggy chest and bold, curious eyes, appeared in the distance. Even walking on all fours it was a formidable figure, fully twice as large as the great spotted cats.
“We cannot use this world,” continued Bokatu, “but someday his descendants will spread across it.”
“They seem so placid,” commented Enkatai.
“They are placid,” agreed Bokatu, hurling a piece of food at the baboon, which raced forward and picked it up off the ground. It sniffed at it, seemed to consider whether or not to taste it, and finally, after a moment of indecision, put it in its mouth. “But they will dominate this planet. The huge grass-eaters spend too much time feeding, and the predators sleep all the time. No, my choice is the brown monkey. They are fine, strong, intelligent animals. They have already developed thumbs, they possess a strong sense of community, and even the great cats think twice about attacking them. They are virtually without natural predators.” He nodded his head, agreeing with himself. “Yes, it is they who will dominate this world in the eons to come.”
“No predators?” said Enkatai.
“Oh, I suppose one falls prey to the great cats now and then, but even the cats do not attack when they are with their troop.” He looked at the baboon. “That fellow has the strength to tear all but the biggest cat to pieces.”
“Then how do you account for what we found at the bottom of the gorge?” she persisted.
“Their size has cost them some degree of agility. It is only natural that one occasionally falls down the slopes to its death.”
“Occasionally?” she repeated. “I found seven skulls, each shattered as if from a blow.”
“The force of the fall,” said Bokatu with a shrug. “Surely you don’t think the great cats brained them before killing them?”
“I wasn’t thinking of the cats,” she replied.
“The small, tailless monkeys that live in the gorge.”
Bokatu allowed himself the luxury of a superior smile. “Have you looked at them?” he said. “They are scarcely a quarter the size of the brown monkeys.”
“I have looked at them,” answered Enkatai. “And they, too, have thumbs.”
“Thumbs alone are not enough,” said Bokatu.
“They live in the shadow of the brown monkeys, and they are still here,” she said. “That is enough.”
“The brown monkeys are eaters of fruits and leaves. Why should they bother the tailless monkeys?”
“They do more than not bother them,” said Enkatai. “They avoid them. That hardly seems like a species that will someday spread across the world.”
Bokatu shook his head. “The tailless monkeys seem to be at an evolutionary dead end. Too small to hunt game, too large to feed themselves on what they can find in the gorge, too weak to compete with the brown monkeys for better territory. My guess is that they’re an earlier, more primitive species, destined for extinction.”
“Perhaps,” said Enkatai.
“There is something about them…”
Enkatai shrugged. “I do not know. They make me uneasy. It is something in their eyes, I think—a hint of malevolence.”
“You are imagining things,” said Bokatu.
“Perhaps,” replied Enkatai again.
“I have reports to write today,” said Bokatu. “But tomorrow I will prove it to you.”
The next morning Bokatu was up with the sun. He prepared their first meal of the day while Enkatai completed her prayers, then performed his own while she ate.
“Now,” he announced, “we will go down into the gorge and capture one of the tailless monkeys.”
“To show you how easy it is. I may take it back with me as a pet. Or perhaps we shall sacrifice it in the lab and learn more about its life processes.”
“I do not want a pet, and we are not authorized to kill any animals.”
“As you wish,” said Bokatu. “We will let it go.”
“Then why capture one to begin with?”
“To show you that they are not intelligent, for if they are as bright as you think, I will not be able to capture one.” He pulled her to an upright position. “Let us begin.”
“This is foolish,” she protested. “The ship arrives in midafternoon. Why don’t we just wait for it?”
“We will be back in time,” he replied confidently. “How long can it take?”
She looked at the clear blue sky, as if trying to urge the ship to appear. The moon was hanging, huge and white, just above the horizon. Finally she turned to him.
“All right, I will come with you—but only if you promise merely to observe them, and not to try to capture one.”
“Then you admit I’m right?”
“Saying that you are right or wrong has nothing to do with the truth of the situation. I hope you are right, for the tailless monkeys frighten me. But I do not know you are right, and neither do you.”
Bokatu stared at her for a long moment.
“I agree,” he said at last.
“You agree that you cannot know?”
“I agree not to capture one,” he said. “Let us proceed.”
They walked to the edge of the gorge and then began climbing down the steep embankments, steadying themselves by wrapping their limbs around trees and other outgrowths. Suddenly they heard a loud screeching.
“What is that?” asked Bokatu.
“They have seen us,” replied Enkatai.
“What makes you think so?”
“I have heard that scream in my dream—and always the moon was just as it appears now.”
“Strange,” mused Bokatu. “I have heard them many times before, but somehow they seem louder this time.”
“Perhaps more of them are here.”
“Or perhaps they are more frightened,” he said. He glanced above him. “Here is the reason,” he said, pointing. “We have company.”
She looked up and saw a huge baboon, quite the largest she had yet seen, following them at a distance of perhaps fifty feet. When its eyes met hers it growled and looked away, but made no attempt to move any closer or farther away.
They kept climbing, and whenever they stopped to rest, there was the baboon, its accustomed fifty feet away from them.
“Does he look afraid to you?” asked Bokatu. “If these puny little creatures could harm him, would he be following us down into the gorge?”
“There is a thin line between courage and foolishness, and an even thinner line between confidence and over-confidence,” replied Enkatai.
“If he is to die here, it will be like all the others,” said Bokatu. “He will lose his footing and fall to his death.”
“You do not find it unusual that every one of them fell on its head?” she asked mildly.
“They broke every bone in their bodies,” he replied. “I don’t know why you consider only the heads.”
“Because you do not get identical head wounds from different incidents.”
“You have an overactive imagination,” said Bokatu. He pointed to a small hairy figure that was staring up at them. “Does that look like something that could kill our friend here?”
The baboon glared down into the gorge and snarled. The tailless monkey looked up with no show of fear or even interest. Finally it shuffled off into the thick bush.
“You see?” said Bokatu smugly. “One look at the brown monkey and it retreats out of sight.”
“It didn’t seem frightened to me,” noted Enkatai.
“All the more reason to doubt its intelligence.”
In another few minutes they reached the spot where the tailless monkey had been. They paused to regain their strength, and then continued to the floor of the gorge.
“Nothing,” announced Bokatu, looking around. “My guess is that the one we saw was a sentry, and by now the whole tribe is miles away.”
“Observe our companion.”
The baboon had reached the floor of the gorge and was tensely testing the wind.
“He hasn’t crossed over the evolutionary barrier yet,” said Bokatu, amused. “Do you expect him to search for predators with a sensor?”
“No,” said Enkatai, watching the baboon. “But if there is no danger, I expect him to relax, and he hasn’t done that yet.”
“That’s probably how he lived long enough to grow this large,” said Bokatu, dismissing her remarks. He looked around. “What could they possibly find to eat here?”
“I don’t know.”
“Perhaps we should capture one and dissect it. The contents of its stomach might tell us a lot about it.”
“It would be so simple, though,” he persisted. “All we’d have to do would be bait a trap with fruits or nuts.”
Suddenly the baboon snarled, and Bokatu and Enkatai turned to locate the source of his anger. There was nothing there, but the baboon became more and more frenzied. Finally it raced back up the gorge.
“What was that all about, I wonder?” mused Bokatu.
“I think we should leave.”
“We have half a day before the ship returns.”
“I am uneasy here. I walked down a path exactly like this in my dream.”
“You are not used to the sunlight,” he said. “We will rest inside a cave.”
She reluctantly allowed him to lead her to a small cave in the wall of the gorge. Suddenly she stopped and would go no further.
“What is the matter?”
“This cave was in my dream,” she said. “Do not go into it.”
“You must learn not to let dreams rule your life,” said Bokatu. He sniffed the air. “Something smells strange.”
“Let us go back. We want nothing to do with this place.”
He stuck his head into the cave. “New world, new odors.”
“Let me just see what causes that odor,” he said, shining his light into the cave. It illuminated a huge pile of bodies, many of them half-eaten, most in various states of decomposition.
“What are they?” he asked, stepping closer.
“Brown monkeys,” she replied without looking. “Each with its head staved in.”
“This was part of your dream, too?” he asked, suddenly nervous.
She nodded her head. “We must leave this place now!”
He walked to the mouth of the cave.
“It seems safe,” he announced.
“It is never safe in my dream,” she said uneasily.
They left the cave and walked about fifty yards when they came to a bend in the floor of the gorge. As they followed it, they found themselves facing a tailless monkey.
“One of them seems to have stayed behind,” said Bokatu. “I’ll frighten him away.” He picked up a rock and threw it at the monkey, which ducked but held its ground.
Enkatai touched him urgently on the shoulder. “More than one,” she said.
He looked up. Two more tailless monkeys were in a tree almost directly overhead. As he stepped aside, he saw four more lumbering toward them out of the bush. Another emerged from a cave, and three more dropped out of nearby trees.
“What have they got in their hands?” he asked nervously.
“You would call them the femur bones of grass-eaters,” said Enkatai, with a sick feeling in her thorax. “They would call them weapons.”
The hairless monkeys spread out in a semi-circle, then began approaching them slowly.
“But they’re so puny!” said Bokatu, backing up until he came to a wall of rock and could go no farther.
“You are a fool,” said Enkatai, helplessly trapped in the reality of her dream. “This is the race that will dominate this planet. Look into their eyes!”
Bokatu looked, and he saw things, terrifying things, that he had never seen in any being or any animal before. He barely had time to offer a brief prayer for some disaster to befall this race before it could reach the stars, and then a tailless monkey hurled a smooth, polished, triangular stone at his head. It dazed him, and as he fell to the ground, the clubs began pounding down rhythmically on him and Enkatai.
At the top of the gorge, the baboon watched the carnage until it was over, and then raced off toward the vast savannah, where he would be safe, at least temporarily, from the tailless monkeys.
“A weapon,” I mused. “It was a weapon!”
I was all alone. Sometime during the Feeling, the Stardust Twins had decided that I was one of the few things they could not be objective about, and had returned to their quarters.
I waited until the excitement of discovery had diminished enough for me to control my physical structure. Then I once again took the shape that I presented to my companions, and reported my findings to Bellidore.
“So even then they were aggressors,” he said. “Well, it is not surprising. The will to dominate the stars had to have come from somewhere.”
“It is surprising that there is no record of any race having landed here in their prehistory,” said the Historian.
“It was a survey team, and Earth was of no use to them,” I answered. “They doubtless touched down on any number of planets. If there is a record anywhere, it is probably in their archives, stating that Earth showed no promise as a colony world.”
“But didn’t they wonder what had happened to their team?” asked Bellidore.
“There were many large carnivores in the vicinity,” I said. “They probably assumed the team had fallen prey to them. Especially if they searched the area and found nothing.”
“Interesting,” said Bellidore. “That the weaker of the species should have risen to dominance.”
“I think it is easily explained,” said the Historian. “As the smaller species, they were neither as fast as their prey nor as strong as their predators, so the creation of weapons was perhaps the only way to avoid extinction…or at least the best way.”
“Certainly they displayed the cunning of the predator during their millennia abroad in the galaxy,” said Bellidore.
“One does not stop being aggressive simply because one invents a weapon,” said the Historian. “In fact, it may add to one’s aggression.”
“I shall have to consider that,” said Bellidore, looking somewhat unconvinced.
“I have perhaps over-simplified my train of thought for the sake of this discussion,” replied the Historian. “Rest assured that I will build a lengthy and rigorous argument when I present my findings to the Academy.”
“And what of you, He Who Views?” asked Bellidore. “Have you any observations to add to what you have told us?”
“It is difficult to think of a rock as being the precursor of the sonic rifle and the molecular imploder,” I said thoughtfully, “but I believe it to be the case.”
“A most interesting species,” said Bellidore.
It took almost four hours for my strength to return, for Feeling saps the energy like no other function, drawing equally from the body, the emotions, the mind, and the empathic powers.
The Moriteu, its work done for the day, was hanging upside down from a tree limb, lost in its evening trance, and the Stardust Twins had not made an appearance since I had Felt the stone.
The other party members were busy with their own pursuits, and it seemed an ideal time for me to Feel the next object, which the Historian told me was approximately 23,300 years old.
It was a link of metallic chain, rusted and pitted, and before I assimilated it, I thought I could see a spot where it had been deliberately broken…
His name was Mtepwa, and it seemed to him that he had been wearing a metal collar around his neck since the day he had been born. He knew that couldn’t be true, for he had fleeting memories of playing with his brothers and sisters, and of stalking the kudu and the bongo on the tree-covered mountain where he grew up.
But the more he concentrated on those memories, the more vague and imprecise they became, and he knew they must have happened a very long time ago. Sometimes he tried to remember the name of his tribe, but it was lost in the mists of time, as were the names of his parents and siblings.
It was at times like this that Mtepwa felt sorry for himself, but then he would consider his companions’ situation, and he felt better, for while they were to be taken in ships and sent to the edge of the world to spend the remainder of their lives as slaves of the Arabs and the Europeans, he himself was the favored servant of his master, Sharif Abdullah, and as such his position was assured.
This was his eighth caravan—or was it his ninth?—from the Interior. They would trade salt and cartridges to the tribal chiefs who would in turn sell them their least productive warriors and women as slaves, and then they would march them out, around the huge lake and across the dry flat savannah. They would circle the mountain that was so old that it had turned white on the top, just like a white-haired old man, and finally out to the coast, where dhows filled the harbor. There they would sell their human booty to the highest bidders, and Sharif Abdullah would purchase another wife and turn half the money over to his aged, feeble father, and they would be off to the Interior again on another quest for black gold.
Abdullah was a good master. He rarely drank—and when he did, he always apologized to Allah at the next opportunity—and he did not beat Mtepwa overly much, and they always had enough to eat, even when the cargo went hungry. He even went so far as to teach Mtepwa how to read, although the only reading matter he carried with him was the Koran.
Mtepwa spent long hours honing his reading skills with the Koran, and somewhere along the way he made a most interesting discovery: the Koran forbade a practitioner of the True Faith to keep another member in bondage.
It was at that moment that Mtepwa made up his mind to convert to Islam. He began questioning Sharif Abdullah incessantly on the finer points of his religion, and made sure that the old man saw him sitting by the fire, hour after hour, reading the Koran.
So enthused was Sharif Abdullah at this development that he frequently invited Mtepwa into his tent at suppertime, and lectured him on the subtleties of the Koran far into the night. Mtepwa was a motivated student, and Sharif Abdullah marveled at his enthusiasm.
Night after night, as lions prowled around their camp in the Serengeti, master and pupil studied the Koran together. And finally the day came when Sharif Abdullah could not longer deny that Mtepwa was indeed a true believer of Islam. It happened as they camped at the Olduvai Gorge, and that very day Sharif Abdullah had his smith remove the collar from Mtepwa’s neck, and Mtepwa himself destroyed the chains link by link, hurling them deep into the gorge when he was finished. He kept a single link, which he wore around his neck as a charm.
Mtepwa was now a free man, but knowledgeable in only two areas: the Koran, and slave-trading. So it was only natural that when he looked around for some means to support himself, he settled upon following in Sharif Abdullah’s footsteps. He became a junior partner to the old man, and after two more trips to the Interior, he decided that he was ready to go out on his own.
To do that, he required a trained staff—warriors, smiths, cooks, trackers—and the prospect of assembling one from scratch was daunting, so, since his faith was less strong than his mentor’s, he simply sneaked into Sharif Abdullah’s quarters on the coast one night and slit the old man’s throat.
The next day, he marched inland at the head of his own caravan.
He had learned much about the business of slaving, both as a practitioner and a victim, and he put his knowledge to full use. He knew that healthy slaves would bring a better price at market, and so he fed and treated his captives far better than Sharif Abdullah and most other slavers did. On the other hand, he knew which ones were fomenting trouble, and knew it was better to kill them on the spot as an example to the others, than to let any hopes of insurrection spread among the captives.
Because he was thorough, he was equally successful, and soon expanded into ivory trading as well. Within six years he had the biggest slaving and poaching operation in East Africa.
From time to time he ran across European explorers. It was said that he even spent a week with Dr. David Livingstone and left without the missionary ever knowing that he had been playing host to the slaver he most wanted to put out of business.
After America’s War Between the States killed his primary market, he took a year off from his operation to go to Asia and the Arabian Peninsula and open up new ones. Upon returning he found that Abdullah’s son, Sharif Ibn Jad Mahir, had appropriated all his men and headed inland, intent on carrying on his father’s business. Mtepwa, who had become quite wealthy, hired some 500 askari, placed them under the command of the notorious ivory poacher Alfred Henry Pym, and sat back to await the results.
Three months later Pym marched some 438 men back to the Tanganyikan coast. 276 were slaves that Sharif Ibn Jad Mahir had captured; the remainder were the remnants of Mtepwa’s organization, who had gone to work for Sharif Ibn Jad Mahir. Mtepwa sold all 438 of them into slavery and built a new organization, composed of the warriors who had fought for him under Pym’s leadership.
Most of the colonial powers were inclined to turn a blind eye to his practices, but the British, who were determined to put an end to slavery, issued a warrant for Mtepwa’s arrest. Eventually he tired of continually looking over his shoulder, and moved his headquarters to Mozambique, where the Portugese were happy to let him set up shop as long as he remembered that colonial palms needed constant greasing.
He was never happy there—he didn’t speak Portuguese or any of the local languages—and after nine years he returned to Tanganyika, now the wealthiest black man on the continent.
One day he found among his latest batch of captives a young Acholi boy named Haradi, no more than ten years old, and decided to keep him as a personal servant rather than ship him across the ocean.
Mtepwa had never married. Most of his associates assumed that he had simply never had the time, but as the almost-nightly demands for Haradi to visit him in his tent became common knowledge, they soon revised their opinions. Mtepwa seemed besotted with his servant boy, though—doubtless remembering his own experience—he never taught Haradi to read, and promised a slow and painful death to anyone who spoke of Islam to the boy.
Then one night, after some three years had passed, Mtepwa sent for Haradi. The boy was nowhere to be found. Mtepwa awoke all his warriors and demanded that they search for him, for a leopard had been seen in the vicinity of the camp, and the slaver feared the worst.
They found Haradi an hour later, not in the jaws of a leopard, but in the arms of a young female slave they had taken from the Zaneke tribe. Mtepwa was beside himself with rage, and had the poor girl’s arms and legs torn from her body.
Haradi never offered a word of protest, and never tried to defend the girl—not that it would have done any good—but the next morning he was gone, and though Mtepwa and his warriors spent almost a month searching for him, they found no trace of him.
By the end of the month Mtepwa was quite insane with rage and grief. Deciding that life was no longer worth living, he walked up to a pride of lions that were gorging themselves on a topi carcass and, striding into their midst, began cursing them and hitting them with his bare hands. Almost unbelievably, the lions backed away from him, snarling and growling, and disappeared into the thick bush.
The next day he picked up a large stick and began beating a baby elephant with it. That should have precipitated a brutal attack by its mother—but the mother, standing only a few feet away, trumpeted in terror and raced off, the baby following her as best it could.
It was then that Mtepwa decided that he could not die, that somehow the act of dismembering the poor Zanake girl had made him immortal. Since both incidents had occurred within sight of his superstitious followers, they fervently believed him.
Now that he was immortal, he decided that it was time to stop trying to accommodate the Europeans who had invaded his land and kept issuing warrants for his arrest. He sent a runner to the Kenya border and invited the British to meet him in battle. When the appointed day came, and the British did not show up to fight him, he confidently told his warriors that word of his immortality had reached the Europeans and that from that day forth no white men would ever be willing to oppose him. The fact that he was still in German territory, and the British had no legal right to go there, somehow managed to elude him.
He began marching his warriors inland, openly in search of slaves, and he found his share of them in the Congo. He looted villages of their men, their women, and their ivory, and finally, with almost 600 captives and half that many tusks, he finally turned east and began the months-long trek to the coast.
This time the British were waiting for him at the Uganda border, and they had so many armed men there that Mtepwa turned south, not for fear for his own life, but because he could not afford to lose his slaves and his ivory, and he knew that his warriors lacked his invulnerability.
He marched his army down to Lake Tanganyika, then headed east. It took him two weeks to reach the western corridor of the Serengeti, and another ten days to cross it.
One night he made camp at the lip of the Olduvai Gorge, the very place where he had gained his freedom. The fires were lit, a wildebeest was slaughtered and cooked, and as he relaxed after the meal he became aware of a buzzing among his men. Then, from out of the shadows, stepped a strangely familiar figure. It was Haradi, now fifteen years old, and as tall as Mtepwa himself.
Mtepwa stared at him for a long moment, and suddenly all the anger seemed to drain from his face.
“I am very glad to see you again, Haradi,” he said.
“I have heard that you cannot be killed,” answered the boy, brandishing a spear. “I have come to see if that is true.”
“We have no need to fight, you and I,” said Mtepwa. “Join me in my tent, and all will be as it was.”
“Once I tear your limbs from your body, then we will have no reason to fight,” responded Haradi. “And even then, you will seem no less repulsive to me than you do now, or than you did all those many years ago.”
Mtepwa jumped up, his face a mask of fury. “Do your worst, then!” he cried. “And when you realize that I cannot be harmed, I will do to you as I did to the Zanake girl!”
Haradi made no reply, but hurled his spear at Mtepwa. It went into the slaver’s body, and was thrown with such force that the point emerged a good six inches on the other side. Mtepwa stared at Haradi with disbelief, moaned once, and tumbled down the rocky slopes of the gorge.
Haradi looked around at the warriors. “Is there any among you who dispute my right to take Mtepwa’s place?” he asked confidently.
A burly Makonde stood up to challenge him, and within thirty seconds Haradi, too, was dead.
The British were waiting for them when they reached Zanzibar. The slaves were freed, the ivory confiscated, the warriors arrested and forced to serve as laborers on the Mombasa/Uganda Railway. Two of them were later killed and eaten by lions in the Tsavo District.
By the time Lieutenant-Colonel J. H. Patterson shot the notorious Man-Eaters of Tsavo, the railway had almost reached the shanty town of Nairobi, and Mtepwa’s name was so thoroughly forgotten that it was misspelled in the only history book in which it appeared.
“Amazing!” said the Appraiser. “I knew they enslaved many races throughout the galaxy—but to enslave themselves! It is almost beyond belief!”
I had rested from my efforts, and then related the story of Mtepwa.
“All ideas must begin somewhere,” said Bellidore placidly. “This one obviously began on Earth.”
“It is barbaric!” muttered the Appraiser.
Bellidore turned to me. “Man never attempted to subjugate your race, He Who Views. Why was that?”
“We had nothing that he wanted.”
“Can you remember the galaxy when Man dominated it?” asked the Appraiser.
“I can remember the galaxy when Man’s progenitors killed Bokatu and Enkatai,” I replied truthfully.
“Did you ever have any dealings with Man?”
“None. Man had no use for us.”
“But did he not destroy profligately things for which he had no use?”
“No,” I said. “He took what he wanted, and he destroyed that which threatened him. The rest he ignored.”
“Such practicality,” said Bellidore.
“You call genocide on a galactic scale practical?” demanded the Appraiser.
“From Man’s point of view, it was,” answered Bellidore. “It got him what he wanted with a minimum of risk and effort. Consider that one single race, born not five hundred yards from us, at one time ruled an empire of more than a million worlds. Almost every civilized race in the galaxy spoke Terran.”
“Upon pain of death.”
“That is true,” agreed Bellidore. “I did not say Man was an angel. Only that, if he was indeed a devil, he was an efficient one.”
It was time for me to assimilate the third artifact, which the Historian and the Appraiser seemed to think was the handle of a knife, but even as I moved off to perform my function, I could not help but listen to the speculation that was taking place.
“Given his bloodlust and his efficiency,” said the Appraiser, “I’m surprised that he lived long enough to reach the stars.”
“It is surprising in a way,” agreed Bellidore. “The Historian tells me that Man was not always homogenous, that early in his history there were several variations of the species. He was divided by color, by belief, by territory.” He sighed. “Still, he must have learned to live in peace with his fellow man. That much, at least, accrues to his credit.”
I reached the artifact with Bellidore’s words still in my ears, and began to engulf it…
Mary Leakey pressed against the horn of the Landrover. Inside the museum, her husband turned to the young uniformed officer.
“I can’t think of any instructions to give you,” he said. “The museum’s not open to the public yet, and we’re a good 300 kilometers from Kikuyuland.”
“I’m just following my orders, Dr. Leakey,” replied the officer.
“Well, I suppose it doesn’t hurt to be safe,” acknowledged Leakey. “There are a lot of Kikuyu who want me dead even though I spoke up for Kenyatta at his trial.” He walked to the door. “If the discoveries at Lake Turkana prove interesting, we could be gone as long as a month. Otherwise, we should be back within ten to twelve days.”
“No problem, sir. The museum will still be here when you get back.”
“I never doubted it,” said Leakey, walking out and joining his wife in the vehicle.
Lieutenant Ian Chelmswood stood in the doorway and watched the Leakeys, accompanied by two military vehicles, start down the red dirt road. Within seconds the car was obscured by dust, and he stepped back into the building and closed the door to avoid being covered by it. The heat was oppressive, and he removed his jacket and holster and laid them neatly across one of the small display cases.
It was strange. All the images he had seen of African wildlife, from the German Schillings’ old still photographs to the American Johnson’s motion pictures, had led him to believe that East Africa was a wonderland of green grass and clear water. No one had ever mentioned the dust, but that was the one memory of it that he would take home with him.
Well, not quite the only one. He would never forget the morning the alarm had sounded back when he was stationed in Nanyuki. He arrived at the settlers’ farm and found the entire family cut to ribbons and all their cattle mutilated, most with their genitals cut off, many missing ears and eyes. But as horrible as that was, the picture he would carry to his grave was the kitten impaled on a dagger and pinned to the mailbox. It was the Mau Mau’s signature, just in case anyone thought some madman had run berserk among the cattle and the humans.
Chelmswood didn’t understand the politics of it. He didn’t know who had started it, who had precipitated the war. It made no difference to him. He was just a soldier, following orders, and if those orders would take him back to Nanyuki so that he could kill the men who had committed those atrocities, so much the better.
But in the meantime, he had pulled what he considered Idiot Duty. There had been a very mild outburst of violence in Arusha, not really Mau Mau but rather a show of support for Kenya’s Kikuyu, and his unit had been transferred there. Then the government found out that Professor Leakey, whose scientific finds had made Olduvai Gorge almost a household word among East Africans, had been getting death threats. Over his objections, they had insisted on providing him with bodyguards. Most of the men from Chelmswood’s unit would accompany Leakey on his trip to Lake Turkana, but someone had to stay behind to guard the museum, and it was just his bad luck that his name had been atop the duty roster.
It wasn’t even a museum, really, not the kind of museum his parents had taken him to see in London. Those were museums; this was just a two-room mud-walled structure with perhaps a hundred of Leakey’s finds. Ancient arrowheads, some oddly-shaped stones that had functioned as prehistoric tools, a couple of bones that obviously weren’t from monkeys but that Chelmswood was certain were not from any creature he was related to.
Leakey had hung some crudely-drawn charts on the wall, charts that showed what he believed to be the evolution of some small, grotesque, apelike beasts into homo sapiens. There were photographs, too, showing some of the finds that had been sent on to Nairobi. It seemed that even if this gorge was the birthplace of the race, nobody really wanted to visit it. All the best finds were shipped back to Nairobi and then to the British Museum. In fact, this wasn’t a museum at all, decided Chelmswood, but rather a holding area for the better specimens until they could be sent elsewhere.
It was strange to think of life starting here in this gorge. If there was an uglier spot in Africa, he had yet to come across it. And while he didn’t accept Genesis or any of that religious nonsense, it bothered him to think that the first human beings to walk the Earth might have been black. He’d hardly had any exposure to blacks when he was growing up in the Cotswolds, but he’d seen enough of what they could do since coming to British East, and he was appalled by their savagery and barbarism.
And what about those crazy Americans, wringing their hands and saying that colonialism had to end? If they had seen what he’d seen on that farm in Nanyuki, they’d know that the only thing that was keeping all of East Africa from exploding into an unholy conflagration of blood and butchery was the British presence. Certainly, there were parallels between the Mau Mau and America: both had been colonized by the British and both wanted their independence…but there all similarity ended. The Americans wrote a Declaration outlining their grievances, and then they fielded an army and fought the British soldiers. What did chopping up innocent children and pinning cats to mailboxes have in common with that? If he had his way, he’d march in half a million British troops, wipe out every last Kikuyu—except for the good ones, the loyal ones—and solve the problem once and for all.
He wandered over to the cabinet where Leakey kept his beer and pulled out a warm bottle. Safari brand. He opened it and took a long swallow, then made a face. If that’s what people drank on safari, he’d have to remember never to go on one.
And yet he knew that someday he would go on safari, hopefully before he was mustered out and sent home. Parts of the country were so damned beautiful, dust or no dust, and he liked the thought of sitting beneath a shade tree, cold drink in hand, while his body servant cooled him with a fan made of ostrich feathers and he and his white hunter discussed the day’s kills and what they would go out after tomorrow. It wasn’t the shooting that was important, they’d both reassure themselves, but rather the thrill of the hunt. Then he’d have a couple of his black boys draw his bath, and he’d bathe and prepare for dinner. Funny how he had fallen into the habit of calling them boys; most of them were far older than he.
But while they weren’t boys, they were children in need of guidance and civilizing. Take those Maasai, for example; proud, arrogant bastards. They looked great on postcards, but try dealing with them. They acted as if they had a direct line to God, that He had told them they were His chosen people. The more Chelmswood thought about it, the more surprised he was that it was the Kikuyu that had begun Mau Mau rather than the Maasai. And come to think of it, he’d notice four or five Maasai elmorani hanging around the museum. He’d have to keep an eye on them…
“Excuse, please?” said a high-pitched voice, and Chelmswood turned to see a small skinny black boy, no more than ten years old, standing in the doorway.
“What do you want?” he asked.
“Doctor Mister Leakey, he promise me candy,” said the boy, stepping inside the building.
“Go away,” said Chelmswood irritably. “We don’t have any candy here.”
“Yes yes,” said the boy, stepping forward. “Every day.”
“He gives you candy every day?”
The boy nodded his head and smiled.
“Where does he keep it?”
The boy shrugged. “Maybe in there?” he said, pointing to a cabinet.
Chelmswood walked to the cabinet and opened it. There was nothing in it but four jars containing primitive teeth.
“I don’t see any,” he said. “You’ll have to wait until Dr. Leakey comes back.”
Two tears trickled down the boy’s cheek. “But Doctor Mister Leakey, he promise!”
Chelmswood looked around. “I don’t know where it is.”
The boy began crying in earnest.
“Be quiet!” snapped Chelmswood. “I’ll look for it.”
“Maybe next room,” suggested the boy.
“Come along,” said Chelmswood, walking through the doorway to the adjoining room. He looked around, hands on hips, trying to imagine where Leakey had hidden the candy.
“This place maybe,” said the boy, pointing to a closet.
Chelmswood opened the closet. It contained two spades, three picks, and an assortment of small brushes, all of which he assumed were used by the Leakeys for their work.
“Nothing here,” he said, closing the door.
He turned to face the boy, but found the room empty.
“Little bugger was lying all along,” he muttered. “Probably ran away to save himself a beating.”
He walked back into the main room—and found himself facing a well-built black man holding a machete-like panga in his right hand.
“What’s going on here?” snapped Chelmswood.
“Freedom is going on here, Lieutenant,” said the black man in near-perfect English. “I was sent to kill Dr. Leakey, but you will have to do.”
“Why are you killing anyone?” demanded Chelmswood. “What did we ever do to the Maasai?”
“I will let the Maasai answer that. Any one of them could take one look at me and tell you than I am Kikuyu—but we are all the same to you British, aren’t we?”
Chelmswood reached for his gun and suddenly realized he had left it on a display case.
“You all look like cowardly savages to me!”
“Why? Because we do not meet you in battle?” The black man’s face filled with fury. “You take our land away, you forbid us to own weapons, you even make it a crime for us to carry spears—and then you call us savages when we don’t march in formation against your guns!” He spat contemptuously on the floor. “We fight you in the only way that is left to us.”
“It’s a big country, big enough for both races,” said Chelmswood.
“If we came to England and took away your best farmland and forced you to work for us, would you think England was big enough for both races?”
“I’m not political,” said Chelmswood, edging another step closer to his weapon. “I’m just doing my job.”
“And your job is to keep two hundred whites on land that once held a million Kikuyu,” said the black man, his face reflecting his hatred.
“There’ll be a lot less than a million when we get through with you!” hissed Chelmswood, diving for his gun.
Quick as he was, the black man was faster, and with a single swipe of his panga he almost severed the Englishman’s right hand from his wrist. Chelmswood bellowed in pain, and spun around, presenting his back to the Kikuyu as he reached for the pistol with his other hand.
The panga came down again, practically splitting him open, but as he fell he managed to get his fingers around the handle of his pistol and pull the trigger. The bullet struck the black man in the chest, and he, too, collapsed to the floor.
“You’ve killed me!” moaned Chelmswood. “Why would anyone want to kill me?”
“You have so much and we have so little,” whispered the black man. “Why must you have what is ours, too?”
“What did I ever do to you?” asked Chelmswood.
“You came here. That was enough,” said the black man. “Filthy English!” He closed his eyes and lay still.
“Bloody nigger!” slurred Chelmswood, and died.
Outside, the four Maasai paid no attention to the tumult within. They let the small Kikuyu boy leave without giving him so much as a glance. The business of inferior races was none of their concern.
“These notions of superiority among members of the same race are very difficult to comprehend,” said Bellidore. “Are you sure you read the artifact properly, He Who Views?”
“I do not read artifacts,” I replied. “I assimilate them. I become one with them. Everything they have experienced, I experience.” I paused. “There can be no mistake.”
“Well, it is difficult to fathom, especially in a species that would one day control most of the galaxy. Did they think every race they met was inferior to them?”
“They certainly behaved as if they did,” said the Historian. “They seemed to respect only those races that stood up to them—and even then they felt that militarily defeating them was proof of their superiority.”
“And yet we know from ancient records that primitive man worshipped non-sentient animals,” put in the Exobiologist.
“They must not have been survived for any great length of time,” suggested the Historian. “If Man treated the races of the galaxy with contempt, how much worse must he have treated the poor creatures with whom he shared his home world?”
“Perhaps he viewed them much the same as he viewed my own race,” I offered. “If they had nothing he wanted, if they presented no threat…”
“They would have had something he wanted,” said the Exobiologist. “He was a predator. They would have had meat.”
“And land,” added the Historian. “If even the galaxy was not enough to quench Man’s thirst for territory, think how unwilling he would have been to share his own world.”
“It is a question I suspect will never be answered,” said Bellidore.
“Unless the answer lies in one of the remaining artifacts,” agreed the Exobiologist.
I’m sure the remark was not meant to jar me from my lethargy, but it occurred to me that it had been half a day since I had assimilated the knife handle, and I had regained enough of my strength to examine the next artifact.
It was a metal stylus…
February 15, 2103:
Well, we finally got here! The Supermole got us through the tunnel from New York to London in just over four hours. Even so we were twenty minutes late, missed our connection, and had to wait another five hours for the next flight to Khartoum. From there our means of transport got increasingly more primitive—jet planes to Nairobi and Arusha—and then a quick shuttle to our campsite, but we’ve finally put civilization behind us. I’ve never seen open spaces like this before; you’re barely aware of the skyscrapers of Nyerere, the closest town.
After an orientation speech telling us what to expect and how to behave on safari, we got the afternoon off to meet our traveling companions. I’m the youngest member of the group: a trip like this just costs too much for most people my age to afford. Of course, most people my age don’t have an Uncle Reuben who dies and leaves them a ton of money. (Well, it’s probably about eight ounces of money, now that the safari is paid for. Ha ha.)
The lodge is quite rustic. They have quaint microwaves for warming our food, although most of us will be eating at the restaurants. I understand the Japanese and Brazilian ones are the most popular, the former for the food—real fish—and the latter for the entertainment. My roommate is Mr. Shiboni, an elderly Japanese gentleman who tells me he has been saving his money for fifteen years to come on this safari. He seems pleasant and good-natured; I hope he can survive the rigors of the trip.
I had really wanted a shower, just to get in the spirit of things, but water is scarce here, and it looks like I’ll have to settle for the same old chemical dryshower. I know, I know, it disinfects as well as cleanses, but if I wanted all the comforts of home, I’d have stayed home and saved $150,000.
We met our guide today. I don’t know why, but he doesn’t quite fit my preconception of an African safari guide. I was expecting some grizzled old veteran who had a wealth of stories to tell, who had maybe even seen a civet cat or a duiker before they became extinct. What we got was Kevin Ole Tambake, a young Maasai who can’t be 25 years old and dresses in a suit while we all wear our khakis. Still, he’s lived here all his life, so I suppose he knows his way around.
And I’ll give him this: he’s a wonderful storyteller. He spent half an hour telling us myths about how his people used to live in huts called manyattas, and how their rite of passage to manhood was to kill a lion with a spear. As if the government would let anyone kill an animal!
We spent the morning driving down into the Ngorongoro Crater. It’s a collapsed caldara, or volcano, that was once taller than Kilimanjaro itself. Kevin says it used to teem with game, though I can’t see how, since any game standing atop it when it collapsed would have been instantly killed.
I think the real reason we went there was just to get the kinks out of our safari vehicle and learn the proper protocol. Probably just as well. The air-conditioning wasn’t working right in two of the compartments, the service mechanism couldn’t get the temperature right on the iced drinks, and once, when we thought we saw a bird, three of us buzzed Kevin at the same time and jammed his communication line.
In the afternoon we went out to Serengeti. Kevin says it used to extend all the way to the Kenya border, but now it’s just a 20-square-mile park adjacent to the Crater. About an hour into the game run we saw a ground squirrel, but he disappeared into a hole before I could adjust my holo camera. Still, he was very impressive. Varying shares of brown, with dark eyes and a fluffy tail. Kevin estimated that he went almost three pounds, and says he hasn’t seen one that big since he was a boy.
Just before we returned to camp, Kevin got word on the radio from another driver that they had spotted two starlings nesting in a tree about eight miles north and east of us. The vehicle’s computer told us we wouldn’t be able to reach it before dark, so Kevin had it lock the spot in its memory and promised us that we’d go there first thing in the morning.
I opted for the Brazilian restaurant, and spent a few pleasant hours listening to the live band. A very nice end to the first full day of safari.
We left at dawn in search of the starlings, and though we found the tree where they had been spotted, we never did see them. One of the passengers—I think it was the little man from Burma, though I’m not sure—must have complained, because Kevin soon announced to the entire party that this was a safari, that there was no guarantee of seeing any particular bird or animal, and that while he would do his best for us, one could never be certain where the game might be.
And then, just as he was talking, a banded mongoose almost a foot long appeared out of nowhere. It seemed to pay no attention to us, and Kevin announced that we were killing the motor and going into hover mode so the noise wouldn’t scare it away.
After a minute or two everyone on the right side of the vehicle had gotten their holographs, and we slowly spun on our axis so that the left side could see him—but the movement must have scared him off, because though the maneuver took less than thirty seconds, he was nowhere to be seen when we came to rest again.
Kevin announced that the vehicle had captured the mongoose on its automated holos, and copies would be made available to anyone who had missed their holo opportunity.
We were feeling great—the right side of the vehicle, anyway—when we stopped for lunch, and during our afternoon game run we saw three yellow weaver birds building their spherical nests in a tree. Kevin let us out, warning us not to approach closer than thirty yards, and we spent almost an hour watching and holographing them.
All in all, a very satisfying day.
Today we left camp about an hour after sunrise, and went to a new location: Olduvai Gorge.
Kevin announced that we would spend our last two days here, that with the encroachment of the cities and farms on all the flat land, the remaining big game was pretty much confined to the gulleys and slopes of the gorge.
No vehicle, not even our specially-equipped one, was capable of navigating its way through the gorge, so we all got out and began walking in single file behind Kevin.
Most of us found it very difficult to keep up with Kevin. He clambered up and down the rocks as if he’d been doing it all his life, whereas I can’t remember the last time I saw a stair that didn’t move when I stood on it. We had trekked for perhaps half an hour when I heard one of the men at the back of our strung-out party give a cry and point to a spot at the bottom of the gorge, and we all looked and saw something racing away at phenomenal speed.
“Another squirrel?” I asked.
Kevin just smiled.
The man behind me said he thought it was a mongoose.
“What you saw,” said Kevin, “was a dik-dik, the last surviving African antelope.”
“How big was it?” asked a woman.
“About average size,” said Kevin. “Perhaps ten inches at the shoulder.”
Imagine anything ten inches high being called average!
Kevin explained that dik-diks were very territorial, and that this one wouldn’t stray far from his home area. Which meant that if we were patient and quiet—and lucky—we’d be able to spot him again.
I asked Kevin how many dik-diks lived in the gorge, and he scratched his head and considered it for a moment and then guessed that there might be as many as ten. (And Yellowstone has only nineteen rabbits left! Is it any wonder that all the serious animal buffs come to Africa?)
We kept walking for another hour, and then broke for lunch, while Kevin gave us the history of the place, telling us all about Dr. Leakey’s finds. There were probably still more skeletons to be dug up, he guessed, but the government didn’t want to frighten any animals away from what had become their last refuge, so the bones would have to wait for some future generation to unearth them. Roughly translated, that meant that Tanzania wasn’t going to give up the revenues from 300 tourists a week and turn over the crown jewel in their park system to a bunch of anthropologists. I can’t say that I blame them.
Other parties had begun pouring into the gorge, and I think the entire safari population must have totaled almost 70 by the time lunch was over. The guides each seemed to have “their” areas marked out, and I noticed that rarely did we get within a quarter mile of any other parties.
Kevin asked us if we wanted to sit in the shade until the heat of the day had passed, but since this was our next-to-last day on safari we voted overwhelmingly to proceed as soon as we were through eating.
It couldn’t have been ten minutes later that the disaster occurred. We were clambering down a steep slope in single file, Kevin in the lead as usual, and me right behind him, when I heard a grunt and then a surprised yell, and I looked back to see Mr. Shiboni tumbling down the path. Evidently he’d lost his footing, and we could hear the bones in his leg snap as he hurtled toward us.
Kevin positioned himself to stop him, and almost got knocked down the gorge himself before he finally stopped poor Mr. Shiboni. Then he knelt down next to the old gentleman to tend to his broken leg—but as he did so his keen eyes spotted something we all had missed, and suddenly he was bounding up the slopes like a monkey. He stopped where Mr. Shiboni had initially stumbled, squatted down, and examined something. Then, looking like Death itself, he picked up the object and brought it back down the path.
It was a dead lizard, fully-grown, almost eight inches long, and smashed flat by Mr. Shiboni. It was impossible to say whether his fall was caused by stepping on it, or whether it simply couldn’t get out of the way once he began tumbling…but it made no difference: he was responsible for the death of an animal in a National Park.
I tried to remember the release we had signed, giving the Park System permission to instantly withdraw money from our accounts should we destroy an animal for any reason, even self-protection. I knew that the absolute minimum penalty was $50,000, but I think that was for two of the more common birds, and that ugaama and gecko lizards were in the $70,000 range.
Kevin held the lizard up for all of us to see, and told us that should legal action ensue, we were all witnesses to what had happened.
Mr. Shiboni groaned in pain, and Kevin said that there was no sense wasting the lizard, so he gave it to me to hold while he splinted Mr. Shiboni’s leg and summoned the paramedics on the radio.
I began examining the little lizard. Its feet were finely-shaped, its tail long and elegant, but it was the colors that made the most lasting impression on me: a reddish head, a blue body, and grey legs, the color growing lighter as it reached the claws. A beautiful, beautiful thing, even in death.
After the paramedics had taken Mr. Shiboni back to the lodge, Kevin spent the next hour showing us how the ugaama lizard functioned: how its eyes could see in two directions as once, how its claws allowed it to hang upside down from any uneven surface, and how efficiently its jaws could crack the carapaces of the insects it caught. Finally, in view of the tragedy, and also because he wanted to check on Mr. Shiboni’s condition, Kevin suggested that we call it a day.
None of us objected—we knew Kevin would have hours of extra work, writing up the incident and convincing the Park Department that his safari company was not responsible for it—but still we felt cheated, since there was only one day left. I think Kevin knew it, because just before we reached the lodge he promised us a special treat tomorrow.
I’ve been awake half the night wondering what it could be? Can he possibly know where the other dik-diks are? Or could the legends of a last flamingo possibly be true?
We were all excited when we climbed aboard the vehicle this morning. Everyone kept asking Kevin what his “special treat” was, but he merely smiled and kept changing the subject. Finally we reached Olduvai Gorge and began walking, only this time we seemed to be going to a specific location, and Kevin hardly stopped to try to spot the dik-dik.
We climbed down twisting, winding paths, tripping over tree roots, cutting our arms and legs on thorn bushes, but nobody objected, for Kevin seemed so confident of his surprise that all these hardships were forgotten.
Finally we reached the bottom of the gorge and began walking along a flat winding path. Still, by the time we were ready to stop for lunch, we hadn’t seen a thing. As we sat beneath the shade of an acacia tree, eating, Kevin pulled out his radio and conversed with the other guides. One group had seen three dik-diks, and another had found a lilac-breasted roller’s nest with two hatchlings in it. Kevin is very competitive, and ordinarily news like that would have had him urging everyone to finish eating quickly so that we would not return to the lodge having seen less than everyone else, but this time he just smiled and told the other guides that we had seen nothing on the floor of the gorge and that the game seemed to have moved out, perhaps in search of water.
Then, when lunch was over, Kevin walked about 50 yards away, disappeared into a cave, and emerged a moment later with a small wooden cage. There was a little brown bird in it, and while I was thrilled to be able to see it close up, I felt somehow disappointed that this was to be the special treat.
“Have you ever seen a honey guide?” he asked.
We all admitted that we hadn’t, and he explained that that was the name of the small brown bird.
I asked why it was called that, since it obviously didn’t produce honey, and seemed incapable of replacing Kevin as our guide, and he smiled again.
“Do you see that tree?” he asked, pointing to a tree perhaps 75 yards away. There was a huge beehive on a low-hanging branch.
“Yes,” I said.
“Then watch,” he said, opening the cage and releasing the bird. It stood still for a moment, then fluttered its wings and took off in the direction of the tree.
“He is making sure there is honey there,” explained Kevin, pointing to the bird as it circled the hive.
“Where is he going now?” I asked, as the bird suddenly flew down the river bed.
“To find his partner.”
“Partner?” I asked, confused.
“Wait and see,” said Kevin, sitting down with his back propped against a large rock.
We all followed suit and sat in the shade, our binoculars and holo cameras trained on the tree. After almost an hour nothing had happened, and some of us were getting restless, when Kevin tensed and pointed up the river bed.
“There!” he whispered.
I looked in the direction he was pointing, and there, following the bird, which was flying just ahead of him and chirping frantically, was an enormous black-and-white animal, the largest I have ever seen.
“What is it?” I whispered.
“A honey badger,” answered Kevin softly. “They were thought to be extinct twenty years ago, but a mated pair took sanctuary in Olduvai. This is the fourth generation to be born here.”
“Is he going to eat the bird?” asked one of the party.
“No,” whispered Kevin. “The bird will lead him to the honey, and after he has pulled down the nest and eaten his fill, he will leave some for the bird.”
And it was just as Kevin said. The honey badger climbed the bole of the tree and knocked off the beehive with a forepaw, then climbed back down and broke it apart, oblivious to the stings of the bees. We caught the whole fantastic scene on our holos, and when he was done he did indeed leave some honey for the honey guide.
Later, while Kevin was recapturing the bird and putting it back in its cage, the rest of us discussed what we had seen. I thought the honey badger must have weighed 45 pounds, though less excitable members of the party put its weight at closer to 36 or 37. Whichever it was, the creature was enormous. The discussion then shifted to how big a tip to leave for Kevin, for he had certainly earned one.
As I write this final entry in my safari diary, I am still trembling with the excitement that can only come from encountering big game in the wild. Prior to this afternoon, I had some doubts about the safari—I felt it was overpriced, or that perhaps my expectations had been too high—but now I know that it was worth every penny, and I have a feeling that I am leaving some part of me behind here, and that I will never be truly content until I return to this last bastion of the wilderness.
The camp was abuzz with excitement. Just when we were sure that there were no more treasures to unearth, the Stardust Twins had found three small pieces of bone, attached together with a wire—obviously a human artifact.
“But the dates are wrong,” said the Historian, after examining the bones thoroughly with its equipment. “This is a primitive piece of jewelry—for the adornment of savages, one might say—and yet the bones and wire both date from centuries after Man discovered space travel.”
“…deny that we…”
“…found it in the…”
…gorge?” demanded the Twins.
“I believe you,” said the Historian. “I simply state that it seems to be an anachronism.”
“It is our find, and…”
“…it will bear our name.”
“No one is denying your right of discovery,” said Bellidore. “It is simply that you have presented us with a mystery.”
“Give it to…”
“…He Who Views, and he…”
“…will solve the mystery.”
“I will do my best,” I said. “But it has not been long enough since I assimilated the stylus. I must rest and regain my strength.”
We let the Moriteu go about brushing and cleaning the artifact, while we speculated on why a primitive fetish should exist in the starfaring age. Finally the Exobiologist got to her feet.
“I am going back into the gorge,” she announced. “If the Stardust Twins could find this, perhaps there are other things we have overlooked. After all, it is an enormous area.” She paused and looked at the rest of us. “Would anyone care to come with me?”
It was nearing the end of the day, and no one volunteered, and finally the Exobiologist turned and began walking toward the path that led down into the depths of Olduvai Gorge.
It was dark when I finally felt strong enough to assimilate the jewelry. I spread my essence about the bones and the wire and soon became one with them…
His name was Joseph Meromo, and he could live with the money but not the guilt.
It had begun with the communication from Brussels, and the veiled suggestion from the head of the multi-national conglomerate headquartered there. They had a certain commodity to get rid of. They had no place to get rid of it. Could Tanzania help?
Meromo had told them he would look into it, but he doubted that his government could be of use.
Just try, came the reply.
In fact, more than the reply came. The next day a private courier delivered a huge wad of large-denomination bills, with a polite note thanking Meromo for his efforts on their behalf.
Meromo knew a bribe when he saw one—he’d certainly taken enough in his career—but he’d never seen one remotely the size of this one. And not even for helping them, but merely for being willing to explore possibilities.
Well, he had thought, why not? What could they conceivably have? A couple of containers of toxic waste? A few plutonium rods? You bury them deep enough in the earth and no one would ever know or care. Wasn’t that what the Western countries did?
Of course, there was the Denver Disaster, and that little accident that made the Thames undrinkable for almost a century, but the only reason they popped so quickly to mind is because they were the exceptions, not the rule. There were thousands of dumping sites around the world, and 99% of them caused no problems at all.
Meromo had his computer cast a holographic map of Tanzania above his desk. He looked at it, frowned, added topographical features, then began studying it in earnest.
If he decided to help them dump the stuff, whatever it was—and he told himself that he was still uncommitted—where would be the best place to dispose of it?
Off the coast? No, the fishermen would pull it up two minutes later, take it to the press, and raise enough hell to get him fired, and possibly even cause the rest of the government to resign. The party really couldn’t handle any more scandals this year.
The Selous Province? Maybe five centuries ago, when it was the last wilderness on the continent, but not now, not with a thriving, semi-autonomous city-state of fifty-two million people where once there had been nothing but elephants and almost-impenetrable thorn bush.
Lake Victoria? No. Same problem with the fishermen.
Dar es Salaam? It was a possibility. Close enough to the coast to make transport easy, practically deserted since Dodoma had become the new capital of the country.
But Dar es Salaam had been hit by an earthquake twenty years ago, when Meromo was still a boy, and he couldn’t take the chance of another one exposing or breaking open whatever it was that he planned to hide.
He continued going over the map: Gombe, Ruaha, Iringa, Mbeya, Mtwara, Tarengire, Olduvai…
He stopped and stared at Olduvai, then called up all available data.
Almost a mile deep. That was in its favor. No animals left. Better still. No settlements on its steep slopes. Only a handful of Maasai still living in the area, no more than two dozen families, and they were too arrogant to pay any attention to what the government was doing. Of that Meromo was sure: he himself was a Maasai.
So he strung it out for as long as he could, collected cash gifts for almost two years, and finally gave them a delivery date.
Meromo stared out the window of his 34th floor office, past the bustling city of Dodoma, off to the east, to where he imagined Olduvai Gorge was.
It had seemed so simple. Yes, he was paid a lot of money, a disproportionate amount—but these multi-nationals had money to burn. It was just supposed to be a few dozen plutonium rods, or so he had thought. How was he to know that they were speaking of forty-two tons of nuclear waste?
There was no returning the money. Even if he wanted to, he could hardly expect them to come back and pull all that deadly material back out of the ground. Probably it was safe, probably no one would ever know…
But it haunted his days, and even worse, it began haunting his nights as well, appearing in various guises in his dreams. Sometimes it was as carefully-sealed containers, sometimes it was as ticking bombs, sometimes a disaster had already occurred and all he could see were the charred bodies of Maasai children spread across the lip of the gorge.
For almost eight months he fought his devils alone, but eventually he realized that he must have help. The dreams not only haunted him at night, but invaded the day as well. He would be sitting at a staff meeting, and suddenly he would imagine he was sitting among the emaciated, sore-covered bodies of the Olduvai Maasai. He would be reading a book, and the words seemed to change and he would be reading that Joseph Meromo had been sentenced to death for his greed. He would watch a holo of the Titanic disaster, and suddenly he was viewing some variation of the Olduvai Disaster.
Finally he went to a psychiatrist, and because he was a Maasai, he choose a Maasai psychiatrist. Fearing the doctor’s contempt, Meromo would not state explicitly what was causing the nightmares and intrusions, and after almost half a year’s worth of futile attempts to cure him, the psychiatrist announced that he could do no more.
“Then am I to be cursed with these dreams forever?” asked Meromo.
“Perhaps not,” said the psychiatrist. “I cannot help you, but just possibly there is one man who can.”
He rummaged through his desk and came up with a small white card. On it was written a single word: MULEWO.
“This is his business card,” said the psychiatrist. “Take it.”
“There is no address on it, no means of communicating with him,” said Meromo. “How will I contact him?”
“He will contact you.”
“You will give him my name?”
The psychiatrist shook his head. “I will not have to. Just keep the card on your person. He will know you require his services.”
Meromo felt like he was being made the butt of some joke he didn’t understand, but he dutifully put the card in his pocket and soon forgot about it.
Two weeks later, as he was drinking at a bar, putting off going home to sleep as long as he could, a small woman approached him.
“Are you Joseph Meromo?” she asked.
“Please follow me.”
“Why?” he asked suspiciously.
“You have business with Mulewo, do you not?” she said.
Meromo fell into step behind her, at least as much to avoid going home as from any belief that this mysterious man with no first name could help him. They went out to the street, turned left, walked in silence for three blocks, and turned right, coming to a halt at the front door to a steel-and-glass skyscraper.
“The 63rd floor,” she said. “He is expecting you.”
“You’re not coming with me?” asked Meromo.
She shook her head. “My job is done.” She turned and walked off into the night.
Meromo looked up at the top of the building. It seemed residential. He considered his options, finally shrugged, and walk into the lobby.
“You’re here for Mulewo,” said the doorman. It was not a question. “Go to the elevator on the left.”
Meromo did as he was told. The elevator was paneled with an oiled wood, and smelled fresh and sweet. It operated on voice command and quickly took him to the 63rd floor. When he emerged he found himself in an elegantly-decorated corridor, with ebony wainscoting and discreetly-placed mirrors. He walked past three unmarked doors, wondering how he was supposed to know which apartment belonged to Mulewo, and finally came to one that was partially open.
“Come in, Joseph Meromo,” said a hoarse voice from within.
Meromo opened the door the rest of the way, stepped into the apartment, and blinked.
Sitting on a torn rug was an old man, wearing nothing but a red cloth gathered at the shoulder. The walls were covered by reed matting, and a noxious-smelling caldron bubbled in the fireplace. A torch provided the only illumination.
“What is this?” asked Meromo, ready to step back into the corridor if the old man appeared as irrational as his surroundings.
“Come sit across from me, Joseph Meromo,” said the old man. “Surely this is less frightening than your nightmares.”
“What do you know about my nightmares?” demanded Meromo.
“I know why you have them. I know what lies buried at the bottom of Olduvai Gorge.”
Meromo shut the door quickly.
“Who told you?”
“No one told me. I have peered into your dreams, and sifted through them until I found the truth. Come sit.”
Meromo walked to where the old man indicated and sat down carefully, trying not to get too much dirt on his freshly-pressed outfit.
“Are you Mulewo?” he asked.
The old man nodded. “I am Mulewo.”
“How do you know these things about me?”
“I am a laibon,” said Mulewo.
“A witch doctor?”
“It is a dying art,” answered Mulewo. “I am the last practitioner.”
“I thought laibons cast spells and created curses.”
“They also remove curses—and your nights, and even your days, are cursed, are they not?”
“You seem to know all about it.”
“I know that you have done a wicked thing, and that you are haunted not only by the ghost of it, but by the ghosts of the future as well.”
“And you can end the dreams?”
“That is why I have summoned you here.”
“But if I did such a terrible thing, why do you want to help me?”
“I do not make moral judgments. I am here only to help the Maasai.”
“And what about the Maasai who live by the gorge?” asked Meromo. “The ones who haunt my dreams?”
“When they ask for help, then I will help them.”
“Can you cause the material that’s buried there to vanish?”
Mulewo shook his head. “I cannot undo what has been done. I cannot even assuage your guilt, for it is a just guilt. All I can do is banish it from your dreams.”
“I’ll settle for that,” said Meromo.
There was an uneasy silence.
“What do I do now?” asked Meromo.
“Bring me a tribute befitting the magnitude of the service I shall perform.”
“I can write you a check right now, or have money transferred from my account to your own.”
“I have more money than I need. I must have a tribute.”
“Bring it back tomorrow night,” said Mulewo.
Meromo stared at the old laibon for a long minute, then got up and left without another word.
He called in sick the next morning, then went to two of Dodoma’s better antique shops. Finally he found what he was looking for, charged it to his personal account, and took it home with him. He was afraid to nap before dinner, so he simply read a book all afternoon, then ate a hasty meal and returned to Mulewo’s apartment.
“What have you brought me?” asked Mulewo.
Meromo laid the package down in front of the old man. “A headdress made from the skin of a lion,” he answered. “They told me it was worn by Sendayo himself, the greatest of all laibons.”
“It was not,” said Mulewo, without unwrapping the package. “But it is a sufficient tribute nonetheless.” He reached beneath his red cloth and withdrew a small necklace, holding it out for Meromo.
“What is this for?” asked Meromo, examining the necklace. It was made of small bones that had been strung together.
“You must wear it tonight when you go to sleep,” explained the old man. “It will take all your visions unto itself. Then, tomorrow, you must go to Olduvai Gorge and throw it down to the bottom, so that the visions may lay side by side with the reality.”
“And that’s all?”
“That is all.”
Meromo went back to his apartment, donned the necklace, and went to sleep. That night his dreams were worse than they had ever been before.
In the morning he put the necklace into a pocket and had a government plane fly him to Arusha. From there he rented a ground vehicle, and two hours later he was standing on the edge of the gorge. There was no sign of the buried material.
He took the necklace in his hand and hurled it far out over the lip of the gorge.
His nightmares vanished that night.
134 years later, mighty Kilimanjaro shuddered as the long-dormant volcano within it came briefly to life.
One hundred miles away, the ground shifted on the floor of Olduvai Gorge, and three of the lead-lined containers broke open.
Joseph Meromo was long dead by that time; and, unfortunately, there were no laibons remaining to aid those people who were now compelled to live Meromo’s nightmares.
I had examined the necklace in my own quarters, and when I came out to report my findings, I discovered that the entire camp was in a tumultuous state.
“What has happened?” I asked Bellidore.
“The Exobiologist has not returned from the gorge,” he said.
“How long has she been gone?”
“She left at sunset last night. It is now morning, and she has not returned or attempted to use her communicator.”
“…that she might…”
“…have fallen and…”
“…become immobile. Or perhaps even…”
“…unconscious…” said the Stardust Twins.
“I have sent the Historian and the Appraiser to look for her,” said Bellidore.
“I can help, too,” I offered.
“No, you have the last artifact to examine,” he said. “When the Moriteu awakens, I will send it as well.”
“What about the Mystic?” I asked.
Bellidore looked at the Mystic and sighed. “She has not said a word since landing on this world. In truth, I do not understand her function. At any rate, I do not know how to communicate with her.”
The Stardust Twins kicked at the earth together, sending up a pair of reddish dust clouds.
“It seems ridiculous…” said one.
“…that we can find the tiniest artifact…” said the other.
“…but we cannot find…”
“…an entire exobiologist.”
“Why do you not help search for it?” I asked.
“They get vertigo,” explained Bellidore.
“…the entire camp,” they added defensively.
“I can put off assimilating the last piece until tomorrow, and help with the search,” I volunteered.
“No,” replied Bellidore. “I have sent for the ship. We will leave tomorrow, and I want all of our major finds examined by then. It is my job to find the Exobiologist; it is yours to read the history of the last artifact.”
“If that is your desire,” I said. “Where is it?”
He led me to a table where the Historian and the Appraiser had been examining it.
“Even I know what this is,” said Bellidore. “An unspent cartridge.” He paused. “Along with the fact that we have found no human artifacts on any higher strata, I would say this in itself is unique: a bullet that a man chose not to fire.”
“When you state it in those terms, it does arouse the curiosity,” I acknowledged.
“…going to examine it…”
“…now?” asked the Stardust Twins apprehensively.
“Yes, I am,” I said.
“Wait!” they shouted in unison.
I paused above the cartridge while they began backing away.
“…but watching you examine artifacts…”
“…is too unsettling.”
And with that, they raced off to hide behind some of the camp structures.
“What about you?” I asked Bellidore. “Would you like me to wait until you leave?”
“Not at all,” he replied. “I find diversity fascinating. With your permission, I would like to stay and observe.”
“As you wish,” I said, allowing my body to melt around the cartridge until it had become a part of myself, and its history became my own history, as clear and precise as if it had all occurred yesterday…
“They are coming!”
Thomas Naikosiai looked across the table at his wife.
“Was there ever any doubt that they would?”
“This was foolish, Thomas!” she snapped. “They will force us to leave, and because we made no preparations, we will have to leave all our possessions behind.”
“Nobody is leaving,” said Naikosiai.
He stood up and walked to the closet. “You stay here,” he said, donning his long coat and his mask. “I will meet them outside.”
“That is both rude and cruel, to make them stand out there when they have come all this way.”
“They were not invited,” said Naikosiai. He reached deep into the closet and grabbed the rifle that leaned up against the back wall, then closed the closet, walked through the airlock and emerged on the front porch.
Six men, all wearing protective clothing and masks to filter the air, confronted him.
“It is time, Thomas,” said the tallest of them.
“Time for you, perhaps,” said Naikosiai, holding the rifle casually across his chest.
“Time for all of us,” answered the tall man.
“I am not going anywhere. This is my home. I will not leave it.”
“It is a pustule of decay and contamination, as is this whole country,” came the answer. “We are all leaving.”
Naikosiai shook his head. “My father was born on this land, and his father, and his father’s father. You may run from danger, if you wish; I will stay and fight it.”
“How can you make a stand against radiation?” demanded the tall man. “Can you put a bullet through it? How can you fight air that is no longer safe to breathe?”
“Go away,” said Naikosiai, who had no answer to that, other than the conviction that he would never leave his home. “I do not demand that you stay. Do not demand that I leave.”
“It is for your own good, Naikosiai,” urged another. “If you care nothing for your own life, think of your wife’s. How much longer can she breathe the air?”
“Why not let her decide?”
“I speak for our family.”
An older man stepped forward. “She is my daughter, Thomas,” he said severely. “I will not allow you to condemn her to the life you have chosen for yourself. Nor will I let my grandchildren remain here.”
The old man took another step toward the porch, and suddenly the rifle was pointing at him.
“That’s far enough,” said Naikosiai.
“They are Maasai,” said the old man stubbornly. “They must come with the other Maasai to our new world.”
“You are not Maasai,” said Naikosiai contemptuously. “Maasai did not leave their ancestral lands when the rinderpest destroyed their herds, or when the white man came, or when the governments sold off their lands. Maasai never surrender. I am the last Maasai.”
“Be reasonable, Thomas. How can you not surrender to a world that is no longer safe for people to live on? Come with us to New Kilimanjaro.”
“The Maasai do not run from danger,” said Naikosiai.
“I tell you, Thomas Naikosiai,” said the old man, “that I cannot allow you to condemn my daughter and my grandchildren to live in this hellhole. The last ship leaves tomorrow morning. They will be on it.”
“They will stay with me, to build a new Maasai nation.”
The six men whispered among themselves, and then their leader looked up at Naikosiai.
“You are making a terrible mistake, Thomas,” he said. “If you change your mind, there is room for you on the ship.”
They all turned to go, but the old man stopped and turned to Naikosiai.
“I will be back for my daughter,” he said.
Naikosiai gestured with his rifle. “I will be waiting for you.”
The old man turned and walked off with the others, and Naikosiai went back into his house through the airlock. The tile floor smelled of disinfectant, and the sight of the television set offended his eyes, as always. His wife was waiting for him in the kitchen, amid the dozens of gadgets she had purchased over the years.
“How can you speak with such disrespect to the Elders!” she demanded. “You have disgraced us.”
“No!” he snapped. “They have disgraced us, by leaving!”
“Thomas, you cannot grow anything in the fields. The animals have all died. You cannot even breathe the air without a filtering mask. Why do you insist on staying?”
“This is our ancestral land. We will not leave it.”
“But all the others—”
“They can do as they please,” he interrupted. “Enkai will judge them, as He judges us all. I am not afraid to meet my creator.”
“But why must you meet him so soon?” she persisted. “You have seen the tapes and disks of New Kilimanjaro. It is a beautiful world, green and gold and filled with rivers and lakes.”
“Once Earth was green and gold and filled rivers and lakes,” said Naikosiai. “They ruined this world. They will ruin the next one.”
“Even if they do, we will be long dead,” she said. “I want to go.”
“We’ve been through all this before.”
“And it always ends with an order rather than an agreement,” she said. Her expression softened. “Thomas, just once before I die, I want to see water that you can drink without adding chemicals to it. I want to see antelope grazing on long green grasses. I want to walk outside without having to protect myself from the very air I breathe.”
She shook her head. “I love you, Thomas, but I cannot stay here, and I cannot let our children stay here.”
“No one is taking my children from me!” he yelled.
“Just because you care nothing for your future, I cannot permit you to deny our sons their future.”
“Their future is here, where the Maasai have always lived.”
“Please come with us, Papa,” said a small voice behind him, and Naikosiai turned to see his two sons, eight and five, standing in the doorway to their bedroom, staring at him.
“What have you been saying to them?” demanded Naikosiai suspiciously.
“The truth,” said his wife.
He turned to the two boys. “Come here,” he said, and they trudged across the room to him.
“What are you?” he asked.
“Boys,” said the younger child.
“Maasai,” said the older.
“That is right,” said Naikosiai. “You come from a race of giants. There was a time when, if you climbed to the very top of Kilimanjaro, all the land you could see in every direction belonged to us.”
“But that was long ago,” said the older boy.
“Someday it will be ours again,” said Naikosiai. “You must remember who you are, my son. You are the descendant of Leeyo, who killed 100 lions with just his spear; of Nelion, who waged war against the whites and drove them from the Rift; of Sendayo, the greatest of all the laibons. Once the Kikuyu and the Wakamba and the Lumbwa trembled in fear at the very mention of the word Maasai. This is your heritage; do not turn your back on it.”
“But the Kikuyu and the other tribes have all left.”
“What difference does that make to the Maasai? We did not make a stand only against the Kikuyu and the Wakamba, but against all men who would have us change our ways. Even after the Europeans conquered Kenya and Tanganyika, they never conquered the Maasai. When Independence came, and all the other tribes moved to cities and wore suits and aped the Europeans, we remained as we had always been. We wore what we chose and we lived where we chose, for we were proud to be Maasai. Does that not mean something to you?”
“Will we not still be Maasai if we go to the new world?” asked the older boy.
“No,” said Naikosiai firmly. “There is a bond between the Maasai and the land. We define it, and it defines us. It is what we have always fought for and always defended.”
“But it is diseased now,” said the boy.
“If I were sick, would you leave me?” asked Naikosiai.
“And just as you would not leave me in my illness, so we will not leave the land in its illness. When you love something, when it is a part of what you are, you do not leave it simply because it becomes sick. You stay, and you fight even harder to cure it than you fought to win it.”
“Trust me,” said Naikosiai. “Have I ever misled you?”
“I am not misleading you now. We are Enkai’s chosen people. We live on the ground He has given us. Don’t you see that we must remain here, that we must keep our covenant with Enkai?”
“But I will never see my friends again!” wailed his younger son.
“You will make new friends.”
“Where?” cried the boy. “Everyone is gone!”
“Stop that at once!” said Naikosiai harshly. “Maasai do not cry.”
The boy continued sobbing, and Naikosiai looked up at his wife.
“This is your doing,” he said. “You have spoiled him.”
She stared unblinking into his eyes. “Five-year-old boys are allowed to cry.”
“Not Maasai boys,” he answered.
“Then he is no longer Maasai, and you can have no objection to his coming with me.”
“I want to go too!” said the 8-year-old, and suddenly he, too, forced some tears down his face.
Thomas Naikosiai looked at his wife and his children—really looked at them—and realized that he did not know them at all. This was not the quiet maiden, raised in the traditions of his people, that he had married nine years ago. These soft sobbing boys were not the successors of Leeyo and Nelion.
He walked to the door and opened it.
“Go to the new world with the rest of the black Europeans,” he growled.
“Will you come with us?” asked his oldest son.
Naikosiai turned to his wife. “I divorce you,” he said coldly. “All that was between us is no more.”
He walked over to his two sons. “I disown you. I am no longer your father, you are no longer my sons. Now go!”
His wife puts coats and masks on both of the boys, then donned her own.
“I will send some men for my things before morning,” she said.
“If any man comes onto my property, I will kill him,” said Naikosiai.
She stared at him, a look of pure hatred. Then she took the children by the hands and led the out of the house and down the long road to where the ship awaited them.
Naikosiai paced the house for a few minutes, filled with nervous rage. Finally he went to the closet, donned his coat and mask, pulled out his rifle, and walked through the airlock to the front of his house. Visibility was poor, as always, and he went out to the road to see if anyone was coming.
There was no sign of any movement. He was almost disappointed. He planned to show them how a Maasai protected what was his.
And suddenly he realized that this was not how a Maasai protected his own. He walked to the edge of the gorge, opened the bolt, and threw his cartridges into the void one by one. Then he held the rifle over his head and hurled it after them. The coat came next, then the mask, and finally his clothes and shoes.
He went back into the house and pulled out that special trunk that held the memorabilia of a lifetime. In it he found what he was looking for: a simple piece of red cloth. He attached it at his shoulder.
Then he went into the bathroom, looking among his wife’s cosmetics. It took almost half an hour to hit upon the right combinations, but when he emerged his hair was red, as if smeared with clay.
He stopped by the fireplace and pulled down the spear that hung there. Family tradition had it that the spear had once been used by Nelion himself; he wasn’t sure he believed it, but it was definitely a Maasai spear, blooded many times in battle and hunts during centuries past.
Naikosiai walked out the door and positioned himself in front of his house—his manyatta. He planted his bare feet on the diseased ground, placed the butt of his spear next to his right foot, and stood at attention. Whatever came down the road next—a band of black Europeans hoping to rob him of his possessions, a lion out of history, a band of Nandi or Lumbwa come to slay the enemy of their blood, they would find him ready.
They returned just after sunrise the next morning, hoping convince him to emigrate to New Kilimanjaro. What they found was the last Maasai, his lungs burst from the pollution, his dead eyes staring proudly out across the vanished savannah at some enemy only he could see.
I released the cartridge, my strength nearly gone, my emotions drained.
So that was how it had ended for Man on earth, probably less than a mile from where it had begun. So bold and so foolish, so moral and so savage. I had hoped the last artifact would prove to be the final piece of the puzzle, but instead it merely added to the mystery of this most contentious and fascinating race.
Nothing was beyond their ability to achieve. One got the feeling that the day the first primitive man looked up and saw the stars, the galaxy’s days as a haven of peace and freedom were numbered. And yet they came out to the stars not just with their lusts and their hatred and their fears, but with their technology and their medicine, their heroes as well as their villains. Most of the races of the galaxy had been painted by the Creator in pastels; Men were primaries.
I had much to think about as I went off to my quarters to renew my strength. I do not know how long I lay, somnolent and unmoving, recovering my energy, but it must have been a long time, for night had come and gone before I felt prepared to rejoin the party.
As I emerged from my quarters and walked to the center of camp, I heard a yell from the direction of the gorge, and a moment later the Appraiser appeared, a large sterile bag balanced atop an air trolley.
“What have you found?” asked Bellidore, and suddenly I remembered that the Exobiologist was missing.
“I am almost afraid to guess,” replied the Appraiser, laying the bag on the table.
All the members of the party gathered around as he began withdrawing items: a blood-stained communicator, bent out of shape; the floating shade, now broken, that the Exobiologist used to protect her head from the rays of the sun; a torn piece of clothing; and finally, a single gleaming white bone.
The instant the bone was placed on the table, the Mystic began screaming. We were all shocked into momentary immobility, not only because of the suddenness of her reaction, but because it was the first sign of life she had shown since joining our party. She continued to stare at the bone and scream, and finally, before we could question her or remove the bone from her sight, she collapsed.
“I don’t suppose there can be much doubt about what happened,” said Bellidore. “The creatures caught up with the Exobiologist somewhere on her way down the gorge and killed her.”
“…her too,” said the Stardust Twins.
“I am glad we are leaving today,” continued Bellidore. “Even after all these millennia, the spirit of Man continues to corrupt and degrade this world. Those lumbering creatures can’t possibly be predators: there are no meat animals left on Earth. But given the opportunity, they fell upon the Exobiologist and consumed her flesh. I have this uneasy feeling that if we stayed much longer, we, too, would become corrupted by this world’s barbaric heritage.”
The Mystic regained consciousness and began screaming again, and the Stardust Twins gently escorted her back to her quarters, where she was given a sedative.
“I suppose we might as well make it official,” said Bellidore. He turned to the Historian. “Would you please check the bone with your instruments and make sure that this is the remains of the Exobiologist?”
The Historian stared at the bone, horror-stricken. “She was my friend!” it said at last. “I cannot touch it as if it were just another artifact.”
“We must know for sure,” said Bellidore. “If it is not part of the Exobiologist, then there is a chance, however slim, that your friend might still be alive.”
The Historian reached out tentatively for the bone, then jerked its hand away. “I can’t!”
Finally Bellidore turned to me.
“He Who Views,” he said. “Have you the strength to examine it?”
“Yes,” I answered.
They all moved back to give me room, and I allowed my mass to slowly spread over the bone and engulf it. I assimilated its history and ingested its emotional residue, and finally I withdrew from it.
“It is the Exobiologist,” I said.
“What are the funeral customs of her race?” asked Bellidore.
“Cremation,” said the Appraiser.
“Then we shall build a fire and incinerate what remains of our friend, and we will each offer a prayer to send her soul along the Eternal Path.”
And that is what we did.
The ship came later that day, and took us off the planet, and it is only now, safely removed from its influence, that I can reconstruct what I learned on that last morning.
I lied to Bellidore—to the entire party—for once I made my discovery I knew that my primary duty was to get them away from Earth as quickly as possible. Had I told them the truth, one or more of them would have wanted to remain behind, for they are scientists with curious, probing minds, and I would never be able to convince them that a curious, probing mind is no match for what I found in my seventh and final view of Olduvai Gorge.
The bone was not a part of the Exobiologist. The Historian, or even the Moriteu, would have known that had they not been too horrified to examine it. It was the tibia of a man.
Man has been extinct for five thousand years, at least as we citizens of the galaxy have come to understand him. But those lumbering, ungainly creatures of the night, who seemed so attracted to our campfires, are what Man has become. Even the pollution and radiation he spread across his own planet could not kill him off. It merely changed him to the extent that we were no longer able to recognize him.
I could have told them the simple facts, I suppose: that a tribe of these pseudo-Men stalked the Exobiologist down the gorge, then attacked and killed and, yes, ate her. Predators are not unknown throughout the worlds of the galaxy.
But as I became one with the tibia, as I felt it crashing down again and again upon our companion’s head and shoulders, I felt a sense of power, of exultation I had never experienced before. I suddenly seemed to see the world through the eyes of the bone’s possessor. I saw how he had killed his own companion to create the weapon, I saw how he planned to plunder the bodies of the old and the infirm for more weapons, I saw visions of conquest against other tribes living near the gorge.
And finally, at the moment of triumph, he and I looked up at the sky, and we knew that someday all that we could see would be ours.
And this is the knowledge that I have lived with for two days. I do not know who to share it with, for it is patently immoral to exterminate a race simply because of the vastness of its dreams or the ruthlessness of its ambition.
But this is a race that refuses to die, and somehow I must warn the rest of us, who have lived in harmony for almost five millennia.
It’s not over.