The paid-for water mixer arrived in the afternoon, with a low thud of displaced air. They’d aimed it at a spot about halfway along My Garden and just enough to the south of it to avoid crushing or smashing any of the growing stuff. The positioning was so perfect, I thought they must have made a mistake. They’d probably have liked to materialize the water mixer smack in the middle of everything, including me.
It was a big machine, too, everything I’d hoped for, and stylishly housed under an elegant ice-white cupola with pillars and steel-glass all about below, and doors that were set to open only to me or my robots. We wouldn’t have any dear little desert animals barging in here, at least. The adaptors were excellent, too, and took my instructions like a miracle.
For an hour then, distant hummings and skitterings within the cupola, after which it finally happened. Vents swung wide in the dome, mother-of-pearl nozzles emerged like questing trunks, and fine, wide-spread jets of ready-mixed water began to fall, not only on My Garden but also on the dry, southwestern side of the water mixer, so perhaps I should be seeing another My Garden come up there as well, sooner or later.
I didn’t know how much moisture would be needed, but the best method seemed to be, since it was intended as a long-term policy, little and often, with a rest by night for the machine to fix a fresh supply. (Water mixers synthesize their components from any rubbish to hand, and refine and intermingle them dextrously in the old water formula known even to the ancients. Anything can be made in this way, and it’s a pity no one realized this fact before they’d completely drained the seas and the soil.)
Pride was not in it as I paraded the rocks around the ship, watching the “Rain.”
See, ooma Garden, it wasn’t a betrayal after all.
It was going to be about a mile west to north now, in addition to stretching half a mile from the ship.
Then the grand ideas started to come. Why not more? Why not My Gardens on every side, why not a valley of My Gardens? I might be able to get further water mixers from the city, if I confused the computer enough, or, failing that, get this one mobile, and wheel it about, doing shifts—two hours on the western land, two hours east, two hours south, etc.
Perhaps nothing would grow after all. The dunes couldn’t all be so fertile. (Don’t kid yourself, remember the rains—green everywhere.) And the valley was how big? An oval roughly, about ten miles maybe north to south, eight miles west to east. A tight schedule for one water mixer. But if it were all fertile in the end, all green…
Interruption to reverie was sudden and unexpected, though it shouldn’t have been.
It was a laughable and terrifying sight.
Chugging along from the area obscured behind the ship, and making quite obviously for My Garden and the water-mixer housing, came what must be described as a tribe of Gray-Eyeses.
There were about twenty of them, all physically alike, except for grotesquely varying sizes—several were as small as a Jang girl’s hand, two or three as large as a double float-bed. Demeanor seemed to accord with girth. The small ones tumbled and bounced and sometimes paused for boxing matches with each other till some adult (?) superintended them back into line. The big ones had a look of solemnity, even menace. The ones in between broke into fits of either mood, now stem, now downright balmy, clocking each other around the jowls, then striding on with a regal air, noses aloft.
Had they come to get me? What had Gray-Eyes Mark I been telling them?
However, they ignored me, though they knew I was there. (You couldn’t miss the pointed way they sniffed upwind; it made me feel like dashing back in the bath unit.) What they were interested in, as I had first feared, was the rising of green.
Now what? Run into the Transparency Tower and activate a defense mechanism, something like the shock wall that had killed the pet? See their lemon bodies drop in ecstatic death, before they could tear up the precious shoots? No, I couldn’t do that. Couldn’t, couldn’t and wouldn’t.
Feeling stupendously brave in my cowardly way, I bounded down the rocks toward the procession, waving my arms and shouting: “Shoo! Grak off! Get out of it!” To which there was a thoroughly stunning response of complete uninterest.
I was almost on top of the Gray-Eyeses now, and dementedly picked up handfuls of sand which I flung over them. There was a reaction to this. A few of the smaller—younger?—Gray-Eyeses ran up and began to turn somersaults about my feet, which, despite everything, nearly undid my resolve to be fierce and adamant. And then a large one looked back, registered the action, and returned doggedly toward me. Now he/she would assume that I was massacring his/her offspring, or whatever they were, and floor me with one enormous paw.
“Help?” I asked experimentally. There were no robots in sight, naturally. “Look,” I said tremulously to the advancing foe, “I think your family is derisann, but keep your feet off my blossoming waste, will you? And whatever you think I did, I didn’t.”
It reached me. I could gauge its size accurately now. It was exactly a head taller than me and rather more wide. Its eyes of deeply aqueous gray stared into mine, and it set its two front paws—compensating efficiently on the other six—upon my shoulders. Numb with fright, I stood my ground. They were quite light, those paws. At least it wasn’t giving a threat display.
“Er,” I said, “I only meant—”
Its mouth opened and a pale-pink tongue emerged, healthy and wholesome as a flower. It licked me.
Was it embracing me, or just using me as a balancing post? Why was it licking me so thoroughly? Its tongue was very nice, but I didn’t really want my face washed with it. Was it getting the taste?
“So kind—groshing—thank you,” I gabbled in a nauseating attempt to ingratiate myself.
Presently the licking stopped. I opened my screwed-up eyes and it patted me gently. Its paws left my shoulders. With one admonishing backward glance, scooping the little ones before it, the large Gray-Eyes went after its mates.
Feeling shaky with alarm, and laughter, I sat down in my tracks.
It was hopeless anyhow, they’d reached My Garden, and all was lost. Perhaps they wouldn’t damage everything—
“Idiot,” I said then. “Fool.” Admittedly I’d seen what they were at. But I should have guessed long before.
They would never wantonly harm anything growing, except the really stable fixtures of the desert, which they used for food and then only sparingly. They had a respect for vegetable growth, it was bred into them, and not surprising. After the rains, they hadn’t touched a thing, only danced in the lushest spots, had an orgy or two, played. And that was what they were going to do now, hold a post-rain rite. Because they thought it had rained, and somehow they’d missed it.
My Garden was going to be the scene of a celebration.
They wouldn’t make a lot of mess, probably add a bit of home-grown fertilizer here and there. Would they be able to adjust? What would happen when they realized the “rains” and the plant growth were going on and on? Had I wrecked their ecological thingammy?
Ah well. Too late now.
A few more came in through the unit, Gray-Eyeses, and some insects, and a couple of snakes. It gave me a lump in my throat the size of a small mountain.
It was the robot rescue bird-plane, swooping in and breaking the sound barriers, that ended the ritual.
Gray-Eyeses and friends, sped, wriggled, and flew in all directions, and vanished like sorcery in the dunes.
A door opened in the plane and a machine rolled forth, robot voice-box patronizingly announcing: “Help is at hand,” or something.
I tried not to glare as it began to fix my ship.
What can I say? How can I record the dream as it evolved everywhere about me, record it, and yet keep the dream intact? I could state every event as it occurred, every tiny and wondrous event.
The first bud opening, the first great ferns stretching for the sky, black-green on blue-green. Me bubbling like a thalldrap to one of my overtaxed, constantly reprogrammed robots: “I think this one’s going to be a tree, a real tree.”
Or there was the morning the sandstorm came, first like a golden gauze across the distant mountains, with Dopey staring admiringly at it, “My, that’s pretty,” until presently it smashed into us, wham, and flayed everything to within an inch of its life. Robots and me, swathed in bits of see-through to protect our eyes/optic circuits and lungs/chest valves, scurrying along between the slender irrigation canals we’d only just finished digging. (Brilliant notion gleaned from remembered antique manuscripts in the History Tower, these channels take water to the farthest reach of a plantation. They’re meant to come from rivers, I believe, but we had to keep them filled from the water mixer. They were backbreaking to dig: I ached for ten units in muscles I never knew I had. The robots got stiff and fed-up, too, and needed oiling.) For about an hour we plunged around, tying things down and draping things over things, and six or seven times I trotted into the ship and shrieked down the monitor beam for a wave-net protector, which performance met with neither applause nor success. Luckily the plants, or most of them, nourished on so much liquid, withstood the storm.
Shall I mention the units I simply sat, watching the swaying green, or wandered through it, sometimes trailing the perambulating “Rain”? The water mixer plus housing had now been adapted for mobility, and followed its allotted course, looking most curious and spectacular, and from the distance, perfectly like some fabulous monster. A great gleaming white cupola, stalking transparent steel-glass legs, mother-of-pearl nozzles waving from its crown, spraying delicate mists of water, stopping at the newer areas for more prolonged sprays, then making inexorably onward. At night it returned to rest beside the ship, humming to itself as it made fresh tankfuls. It, too, was overworked. It could, in fact, despite my plans, patrol and moisten only a short distance from its daily supply north, west, east, and south from the ship, a round tour of about four miles. I’d need eight or nine more water mixers to realize a decent job of watering the arid wastes, and hadn’t I just tried to get them?
“Your request cannot be granted,” said the monitor computer, and said it again. And again. And…
“Found out what a femur is yet, dumb-cluff?” I infuriatingly asked it, and heard the poor thing go rattling off to itself. The routine never varied and I never got the water mixers. I once tried pretending the first had met with an accident—fallen down a fault or off a mountain, I forget—but they checked us via the monitor system, and discovered it merrily stumping about on the eastern perimeter of My Garden spraying efficiently, so that didn’t work either.
Even those few miles, however, the sight and scent of them. Everywhere the water fell vegetation grew. A young forest was coming up to the east, and, starting just below the ship and spreading a quarter of a mile, tall, tall, slim trees, many-ridged trunks the color of dark jade and leaves thin as whips, strung like strips of green glass over the sky, making incredible patterns as they crossed and recrossed each other in the breeze. Flowers, too, every shade and hue, as the old books used to say. Some were climbing the veranda struts, and soon I wouldn’t be able to move the sand-ship even if I decided to.
About thirteen units after the robot rescue plane had rehabilitated my vessel-home, a small avalanche took place over on the eastern slopes of the mountains, and the faintest of tremors disturbed the ground. Off went the alarms in the ship, and everything tried to dive for safety and found it couldn’t, since I’d switched out the automatic drive.
When I’d quietened the sirens, I had to face a fact or two about the earthquake-prone terrain. I could stabilize the ship, mobile or static, but what about the Garden out there?
We’d begun to get quite handy and capable, the three robots and I. (I’d given them names by then, as I’d known I would, and programmed them to respond to them, and I chatted away at them, too, just as I’d feared. Still, it was eccentricity rather than desperation, and it had practical uses, for they came now at a name-shout, and if I told one to fix supper I could specify, and the other two—who might be hoeing with me outside or something—wouldn’t fling down tools and charge off as well. They were known as Jaska, Borss, and Yay, the tags of three ancient chieftains Assule had once spoken of during the Archaeological Expedition. Assule had been a bore, but somehow the names stuck, maybe only because it was so boring: so Jaska this, and Borss that, and Yay the other. I think they were related or buried together, I can’t recall.) Anyway, Jaska, Borss, Yay, and I, along with machinery borrowed from the ship, began to try to manufacture stabilizers of our own out of materials got from Four BEE under false pretenses.
I told the monitor beam how sad and droad I was. I said I was going to design a charming little tower as a hobby. Could they let me have some steel of something and silk of something else? Oh, and some weeny components, nothing much. I’d worked out that, so long as they thought I was up to something deadly, piffling, and useless, they’d let me do it, and I was proved right, for piece by piece, out came great crates of stuff for my “tower.” I supposed they’d concluded that when I got purposeful about things, I also got violent, and upheaval followed, and I supposed probably they had a point. However, Jaska, Borss, Yay, and I got to work on the load, using one of the ship’s stabilizers taken apart as a model, and, some units later, we began to dig holes and put down our first efforts. Only when disaster struck would I know if we’d got the formula correctly, but it looked right. I even wondered if we could build the extra water mixers ourselves, but it would mean stretching the tower-myth out rather thin, and also dismantling the existing mixer for a blueprint, and if any of us messed it up, we’d have no mixer at all. So, for the time being, a four-mile circumference of greenery it was going to have to remain. Anyway, that was fairly tiring.
Most days I went out with J, B, and Y and we turned over the soil—it really was starting to look like soil, too—and inspected growth, and tied weaker things to steel sticks, and made a note of where looked the most parched so the water mixer could give it an additional blast. Though the oxygen was invigorating even under the adolescent, burgeoning shade, it got very hot, and after a morning of it I would stagger off someplace and swoon away for an hour. Sometimes I would find a recumbent Gray-Eyes swooning there before me. I never knew if I met the original Gray-Eyes Mark I; it hadn’t come to the ship again, certainly, which was, no doubt, as well. I was too busy to mourn or be glad at its absence, too involved in the project to be lonely.
My beautiful body got more tanned. I was the essence of dark honey now, and my fair hair bleached to milky amber with fiery streaks in it like decorative silver chains. The poet’s eyes were two iridescent, almost colorless blue pools in that dark face. Mirrors made me jump even more, though a couple of exhausted evenings I lay on my veranda staring in one through the fading red charcoal of dusk. Sexuality hadn’t been much of a problem yet. I was too worn out. The love machine had cobwebs on it, or would have if the ship’s cleaners didn’t burnish everything nearly skinless. Still, the reflection of the beautiful girl with the eyes of the beautiful young man I had formerly been induced in me a kind of sinuous excitement I was going to have to beware of.
Thriving on water, every day the growing green rose higher and stood more strongly. Forest leaves tapped on my cabin windows, which faced out now, for I’d replaced the brocade with glacia-view. My window gazed southeast, like the veranda. I could see the dawn come up like rubies and limes behind the serpentine trees. And, if I had gone to my couch, the Sisters generally woke me with their sullen guns and villainous red hairdos so far across the valley.
What can I say? Maybe not all that.
This is a kind of retaliation, isn’t it, to that other screed of mine, composed in Limbo twelve vreks before in distress and query? That—the question. This—the answer. Or part of the answer, for all my life will be a reply, to myself and to my world.
Maybe, though, I should only say that a vrek passed by across my valley, a hundred units. And that one day I went out of the ship, and I saw everything with a kind of unexpected clarity, as if I hadn’t seen it before, hadn’t watched it grow, or helped it.
The sun was blazing down already, that cruel unbiteable sun. Black mountains cradled the valley, and a rim of glistening sand. Within that, My Garden, like a green smoke drawing nearer, and, as it neared, seeming a vegetable city with domes and towers, avenues and arcades, palaces and porticos, and a couple of Gray-Eyeses were running about in them, being careful not to tread on anything.
I was totally ready to cry, being, as I said, sentimental and a floop. Just then the monitor beam signaled me, a rare occurrence, so I packed away my emotion and went to investigate.
I had corrupted the computer too, so much was obvious.
It said only two words, but with such triumph, almost obscenely: