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Alex walked to the door. Opened it for him. "Walter, I suggest you make a statement. Get out ahead of the media."
I watched him stagger along the walkway to the pad, to his skimmer. He stopped before he got in, looked back at the house, and shook his head. Then he was gone.
"You know," I said, "we never did figure out where Sunset got the tablet."
"I guess not. It just doesn't seem important anymore." He got up. "Come on, Chase. Let's go get a drink somewhere."
The reconstruction effort on Echo III is going well. Outposts in other parts of the world survived, as well as the compound, and some of the experts are saying it will be years before we find everyone. But a substantial number of the communities now have electrical power, supplied in some instances by wood-burning power plants, more often by solar stations. Ma.s.sive s.h.i.+pments of food and supplies began arriving almost immediately after we'd made our report. The Sickness is now a thing of the past. An army of engineers have gone in and are a.s.sembling a supporting infrastructure. The inhabitants, it turns out, were not not human, after all. They only have forty-two chromosomes. human, after all. They only have forty-two chromosomes.
They also have a somewhat slower pulse rate and heartbeat than we do. Which is why Seepah got alarmed when he first checked Alex.
Korminov was charged with criminal negligence, but the only victims cited were the planetary inhabitants. Unfortunately, in cases growing out of homicides, the laws impose penalties when the victims are either human or As.h.i.+yyur, but they had never included any reference to other intelligent life-forms. There's a debate about extending that going on as I write this, but there's no agreement yet on how to define "alien." Consequently, the case was thrown out of court.
World's End has gotten a ton of publicity and, when I last checked, business was booming.
Echo III has become a popular tourist spot, despite the weight problem, and a group at the compound are operating river tours, a hotel, and have a lucrative gift and souvenir shop. The hotel restaurant was named Alien Pizza.
An abandoned interstellar, found in orbit, was traced eventually to Petra Salyeva. We told Fenn what had happened, and he shrugged and said something along the lines of how everyone would miss her.
The inscription on the Tuttle tablet has been traced to a four-thousand-year-old culture on Echo III. The symbols are hieroglyphic rather than alphabetic, and they represent the life cycle. Its specific source is unknown. The tablet itself, also, has never been found.
Korminov somehow managed to get his name a.s.sociated with the relief effort, took a lot of the credit, and has embarked on a political career.
A delegation led by Turam visited Rimway last year, and another trip is planned.
We've been back twice to the compound. The first time we went, Viscenda apologized, fearing that we'd gotten the wrong message from her, that we might have thought they'd blamed Alex and me for the Dark Times. She added that she loved the electric lights.
And she had a gift for us, which now rests among the artifacts at the country house. Most are in a display room that's readily accessible to visitors. A few are up in Alex's personal quarters on the second floor. Some are in my office, where no one can miss them. Among those few is Allyra, with her wings spread. She occupies the top shelf of the bookcase.
Beside her is a sketch of Rikki.
I've always regretted that I never really got to know Rachel Bannister. And especially that I hadn't been eloquent enough to talk her down off the bridge. But I'm pretty sure, had we met under different circ.u.mstances, I'd have liked her.
And then there was Mira Espy, who was coming out of a restaurant, minding her own business, and got dumped into a river and swept over Chambourg Falls. Alex tells me it wasn't my fault, that I had to make a choice. "She died," he said, "because she got unlucky."
She didn't. She died because I couldn't remember where I'd parked the skimmer.
Mira has an avatar. I've looked, and I know she's there. Sometimes at night, when I can't sleep, I'm tempted to bring her up and talk to her. To try to explain.
But I haven't done it yet.
Novels by Jack McDevitt THE HERCULES TEXT.
TIME TRAVELERS NEVER DIE.
The Academy (Priscilla Hutchins) Novels THE ENGINES OF G.o.d.
The Alex Benedict Novels A TALENT FOR WAR.
THE DEVIL'S EYE ECHO.
Collections STANDARD CANDLES.
s.h.i.+PS IN THE NIGHT.
CRYPTIC: THE BEST SHORT FICTION OF JACK McDEVITT