They came in quietly and found seats or resting places on the deck, on the edges of tables, in corners. Vcnezuelos said : "What's the verdict, Dr. Chatvieux?" "This place isn't dead," Chat- vieux said. "There's life in the sea and in the fresh water, both. On the. animal side of the ledger, i volution seems to have stopped with the Crustacea; the most ad- vanced form I've found is a tiny crayfish, from one of the local rivulets. The ponds and puddles are well-stocked with protozoa and small metazoans, right up to a wonderfully variegated rotifer population — including a castle- building rotifer like Earth's Flos- cularidae. The plants run from simple algae to the thalluslike species." "The sea is about the same," Eunice said, "I've found some of the larger simple metazoans — SURFACE TENSION
OLD Shar set down the heavy metal plate at last, and gazed instead out the window of the castle, apparently resting his eyes on the glowing green-gold ob- scurity of the summer waters. In the soft fluoresence which played down upon him, from the Noc dozing impassively in the groined vault of the chamber, Lavon could see that he was in fact a young man. His face was so deli- itely formed as to. suggest that it had not been many seasons since he had First emerged from I lis spore. But of course there had been no real reason to expect an old man. All the Shars had been re- ferred to traditionally' as "old" Shar. The reason, like the reasons for everything else, had been for- gotten, but the custom had per- sisted; the adjective at least gave weight and dignity to the office. The present Shar belonged to the generation XVI, and hence would have to be at least two seasons younger than Lavon him- self. If he was old. it was only in knowledge. "Lavon. I'm going to have to be honest with you/' Shar said at last, still looking out of the tall, irregular window. "You've come to me for the secrets on the metal plates, just as your predecessors did to mine. I can give some of them to you — but for the most part, I don't know what they »» mean. "After so many generations/" Lavon asked, surprised. "Wasn't it Shar III who first found out how to read them? That was a long time ago." The young man turned and looked at Lavon with eyes made dark and wide by the depths into which they had been staring. "I can read what's on the plates, but most of it seems to make no sense. Worst of all, the plates are incomplete- You didn't know that? They are. One of them was lost in a battle during the fit.al war with the Eaters, while these castles were still in their hands." "What am I here for, then?" Lavon said. "Isn't there anything of value on the remaining plates? Do they really contain 'the wis- dom of the Creators' or is that another myth?" "No. No, that's true," Shar said slowly, "as far as it goes." HE paused, and both men turned and gazed at the ghostly creature which had ap- peared suddenly outside the window.
Then Shar said gravely, "Come in, Para." The slipper-shaped organism, nearly transparent except for the thousands of black-and-silver granules and frothy bubbles which packed its interior, glided into the chamber and hovered, with a muted whirring of cilia. For a moment it remained silent, probably speaking telepathically to the Noc floating in the vault, after the ceremonious fashion of all the protos. No human had ever intercepted one of these col- loquies, but there was no doubt about their reality: humans had used them for long-range com- munication for generations. Then the Para's cilia buzzed once more. Each separate hair- like process vibrated at an inde- pendent, changing rate; the resulting sound waves spread through the water, intermodulat- ing, reinforcing or canceling each other. The aggregate wave-front, by the time it reached human ears, was recognizable human . "We are arrived, Shar and Lavon, according to the custom." "And welcome," said Shar. "Lavon, let's leave this matter of the plates for a while, until you hear what Para has to say; that's a part of the knowledge Lavons must have as they come of age, and it comes before the plates. I can give you some hints of what we an. First Para has to tell you something about what we aren't."