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In Far-Seer and Fossil Hunter, we met the Quintaglios, a race of intelligent dinosaurs from Earth and learned of the threat to their very existence. Now they must quickly advance from a culture equivalent to our Renaissance to the point where they can leave their planet.
While the Quintaglios rush to develop space travel, the discovery of a second species of intelligent dinosaur rocks their most fundamental beliefs. Meanwhile, blind Afsan the dinosaurian Galileo undergoes the newfangled treatment of psychoanalysis, throwing everything he thought he knew about his violent people into a startling new light.
About the Author
Robert J. Sawyer is the Hugo Award-winning author of Hominids, the Nebula Award-winning author of The Terminal Experiment, and the Aurora Award-winning author of FlashForward, basis for the ABC TV series. He is also the author of Calculating God, Mindscan, the WWW series—Wake, Watch and Wonder—and many other books. He was born in Ottawa and lives in Toronto.
Read an Excerpt
Book Three of the Quintaglio Ascension
By Sawyer, Robert J.
Copyright © 2005
Sawyer, Robert J.
All right reserved.
Afsan couldn't see the sun, but he felt its noontime heat beating down. With his left hand he held the harness attached to Gork, his large monitor lizard. They were moving over paving stones, Afsan's toeclaws making heavy clicks against them, Gork's footfalls echoing that sound with a softer ticking. Afsan heard metal-rimmed wheels rolling over the roadway, approaching from the right.
Afsan had been blind for twenty kilodays. Det-Yenalb, the Master of the Faith, had pierced Afsan's eyeballs with a ceremonial obsidian dagger. The priest had rotated the blade in each socket, gouging out the empty sacks. Afsan didn't like thinking about that long-ago day. He'd been convicted of heresy, and the blinding had been performed in Capital City's Central Square in front of over a hundred people, a mob packed with as little as three paces between each of its members.
The city had changed since then. The landquake of kiloday 7110 had destroyed many roads and buildings, and the replacements were often different from the originals. The growth and redevelopment of the city had left their marks, too. Still, Afsan always knew where he was in relation to the Central Square. Even now, having to walk through it made him anxious. But today's journey would take him nowhere near---
Suddenly Afsan felt his middletoeclaw catch on something---a loose paving stone?---and he found himself pitching forward, his tail lifting off the ground.
Gork let out a loud hiss as Afsan, desperately trying to right himself, yanked hard on the lizard's harness.
From ahead, a shout: "Watch out!"
Another voice, a different passerby: "He's going to be crushed!"
A loud roar---a hornface?---dead ahead.
Afsan's chest scraped across the pavement.
The sound of cracking leather.
The hornface again.
A snap from his shoulder.
A jab of pain.
His muzzle smashing into the ground.
Blood in his mouth.
Two curving teeth knocked loose.
And then, an explosion within his head as something heavy kicked into it.
His head whipped sideways. His neck felt like it was going to snap.
A scream from the roadside.
More teeth knocked out.
Afsan was unable to breathe through one nostril. He felt as if that whole side of his upper muzzle had been crushed.
Afsan let out a moan.
A stranger's voice: "Are you all right?"
Afsan tried to lift his head. Agony. His shoulder blade was a knife, slicing into his neck. His head was slick with blood.
The high-pitched voice of a youngster: "It's Sal-Afsan!"
Another voice. "By the Face of God, it is."
And a third voice: "Oh, my God. His head---Sal-Afsan, are you all right?"
More running sounds, toeclaws sparking against paving stones.
"You ran right over him!"
"He stumbled in front of my chariot. I tried to stop."
Chariot. The wheels he'd heard. The hornface must have been drawing it. The kick to his head---a hornface's forefoot. Afsan tried to speak, but couldn't. He felt blood coursing out of him.
"The left side of his face is smashed," said the youngster. "And look---there's something funny about his shoulder."
Another voice. "Dislocated, I'm sure."
"Is he dead?" called a new voice.
"No. Not yet, anyway. Look at his skull!"
Afsan tried to speak again, but all he managed was a low hiss.
"Someone get a healer!"
"No, it would take too long to fetch a doctor; we've got to take him to one."
"The palace surgery isn't far," said one of the voices. "Surely Sal-Afsan would be a patient of the imperial healer, what's his name..."
"Mondark," said another voice. "Dar-Mondark."
"Take him in your chariot," shouted a voice.
"Someone will have to help me," said the charioteer. "He's too heavy for me to lift on my own."
Silence, except for Afsan's labored breathing and, nearby, Gork's confused hissing.
"For God's sake, people, someone help me! I can't do this alone."
An incredulous voice. "To touch another..."
"He'll die if he doesn't get medical help. Come on."
A new voice, from farther away. "Make room for me to pass. I'm just back from a hunt. I suspect I can touch him without difficulty."
Shuffling feet. Afsan moaned again.
The charioteer's voice now, close to his earhole: "We're going to touch you, Sal-Afsan. Try not to react."
Even in agony, even with a broken skull and dislocated shoulder, instinct still reigned. Afsan flinched as hands touched him. Fingerclaws popped from their sheaths.
"Careful of his shoulder---"
Afsan howled in pain.
"Sorry. He's pretty heavy."
Afsan felt his head being pulled out of the thickening puddle of blood. He was lifted up and placed facedown in the back of the chariot.
"What about his lizard?" said the charioteer.
"I'll take him," said the youngster who had first identified Afsan. "I know where the palace surgery is."
The charioteer shouted, "Latark!" His hornface began to gallop along the road, Afsan's head bouncing up and down, the sound of metal wheels over the stones drowning out his moans.
After an eternity, the chariot arrived outside Dar-Mondark's surgery, a typical adobe building just south of the palace. Afsan could hear the charioteer disembark and the sound of his fingerclaws clicking against the signaling plate set into the doorjamb. The door swung open on squeaky hinges, and Afsan heard Mondark's voice. "Yes?"
"I'm Gar-Reestee," said the charioteer. "I've got Sal-Afsan with me. He's hurt."
Afsan heard Mondark's heavy footfalls as the healer hurried to the chariot. "God," he said. "How did this happen?"
"He tripped and fell into the roadway. My hornface kicked him in the head before I could stop my chariot."
"Those are massive wounds." Mondark leaned closer, his voice reassuring. "Afsan, you're going to be all right."
The charioteer's voice, incredulous: "Healer, your muzzle---"
"Shush," said Mondark. "Help me bring him inside. Afsan, we're going to pick you up."
Once again, Afsan was carried. He felt cold in the side of his head. After several moments, he was placed face down on a marble tabletop. Mondark had treated Afsan kilodays ago on a similar table after Afsan had plummeted to the ground from the top of a thunderbeast's neck. The surgery chamber, Afsan knew, was heated by a cast-iron stove burning coal. He also knew that the roof above the table was made largely of glass, letting in outside light, illuminating the patient.
"Thank you, Gar-Reestee, for bringing Afsan in," said Mondark. "I will do everything I can for him, but you must leave. The physical contact for treating his injuries is something you shouldn't see."
The charioteer's voice was full of sorrow. "Good Sal-Afsan, I'm terribly sorry. It was an accident."
Afsan tried to nod, but daggers of pain stabbed through his muzzle.
The charioteer left. Mondark went to work.
Captain Var-Keenir stopped pacing the deck of the sailing ship Dasheter and tipped his muzzle up to the lookout bucket, high atop the foremast. Old Biltog was up there, his red leather cap and the green skin of his head and shoulders stark against the purple sky. Keenir's tail swished in sadness. He'd seen it happen before on long voyages, and lookout officers, who spent inordinate amounts of time in the sun, were particularly susceptible to it. Biltog was hallucinating. Why, Land---the single known continent---was half a world away.
"Land ho!" called Biltog again, his green arm extended toward the northeast. The red sail attached to the foremast snapped in the wind. Two Quintaglios moved to the starboard side of the vessel to see what Biltog was pointing at.
Keenir looked up again. The sun, brilliant and white, was climbing in front of them. Behind, covering half the sky between zenith and rear horizon, was the Face of God, its leading edge illuminated, the rest of its vast bulk in shadow. Also visible were three moons, wan shapes in the sun's glare. But along the northeastern horizon there was nothing but waves touching sky.
Near Keenir was a ramp leading below. Kee-Toroca, a young Quintaglio male, came up it. He moved closer to Keenir than Keenir was comfortable with and said, "Did I hear a shout of 'land ho'?"
Keenir had known the young savant all his life; indeed, Toroca had taken his praenomen syllable in honor of him. "You've sharp hearing indeed, to have heard that below deck," he said in his gravelly voice. "Yes, Biltog shouted it, but, well, I think he's had too much sun. There can't be any land out here."
"Ah, but undiscovered land is exactly what we're looking for."
Keenir clicked his teeth. "Aye, the final stage of the Geological Survey. But I don't expect to find any, and doubt very much we have now."
Toroca was carrying the brass far-seer his mother, Novato, had given to his father, Afsan, the day after he had been conceived. It glinted in the fierce sun, its green patina counterpointed by purple reflections of the sky above. Toroca scanned the horizon once with his unaided eye.
Or was there something?
He brought the far-seer to his face and slid the tube's components apart until the horizon was in focus. There was a slight brown line dividing the waves and the sky.
Keenir could see it, too, now. Biltog's greater height had let him spot the land sooner than those on deck.
"Will you look at that?" said Toroca softly, passing the far-seer to the captain.
"An unknown country," said Keenir, head shaking in disbelief. Then, rotating on his heel, he shouted, "Starboard ho! Turn the ship!"
A space ark.
Wab-Novato leaned back on her muscular tail, placed her hands firmly on her slender hips, and looked up at the vast blue structure protruding from the cliff face.
She'd spent most of the last two kilodays here in Fra'toolar province, studying this alien spaceship, trying to fathom its mysteries. But figuring out this ship was like tracking a wingfinger: you could follow the footprints in the sand, fooling yourself that you were getting closer to a tasty meal, but just when you thought you had your quarry within reach, it would take to the air, leaving you far behind. There were almost no gears or levers or springs used in this ship's construction, no pumps or wheels, nothing that Quintaglios were familiar with.
It had seemed like a Godsend, this ship of space. The Quintaglio world, innermost of fourteen moons, was doomed: within a few hundred kilodays it would be torn apart by the stress of its orbit around the giant, banded planet called the Face of God. Twenty kilodays ago, when Afsan had figured out that their moon was doomed, no Quintaglio had ever flown and the idea of traversing the void between worlds was the stuff of the wildest fantasy stories. But now the government was devoted to the exodus, the project Novato herself was in charge of.
Before this ship had been found, the Quintaglios had been making good progress on their own: after studying wingfingers and the long-extinct creatures known as birds, Novato had built the first glider, the Tak-Saleed. In the two kilodays since, more efficient gliders had been developed. Perhaps she'd been a fool to turn over that line of research to someone else, although back then this ark had seemed to be a shortcut to the stars. But despite the best efforts of her team, no one yet had a clue as to how the ship operated.
The cliff it was embedded in was more than a hundred paces tall, showing the best uninterrupted sequences of sedimentary rock on all of Land. Toroca had uncovered the ship while studying these layers, looking for fossils. He found lots of them above a certain point---the lowest chalk stratum, known as the Bookmark layer---but none below. It had been as if the Bookmark indicated the point of the divine creation of life. But most scholars now agreed that it was instead the arrival point, marking where transplanted lifeforms had first been released by other arks onto this world.
But this ark had crashed, its five-eyed crewmembers killed, its cargo of plants and animals never released. The ark had been buried in sediment that later turned to rock, but it had not been crushed: the blue material of the ship's hull was harder than diamond and impervious to corrosion. The part now projecting out of the cliff had been exposed by blasting, and, big though it seemed, it was only a tiny fraction of the total ship.
It was noon. The purple sky was shot through with silvery-white clouds. To Novato's left were choppy waves---the world-spanning body of water. In front of her, running along the edge of the cliff, was a narrow strip of beach, crabs scuttling amongst the rocks. Leading up the cliff face to the blue ark were webs of climbing ropes left over from the early excavations as well as scaffolding made of adabaja wood, added later to make getting up to the ark easier. Oil lamp in hand, Novato began climbing the rickety stairs of the scaffolding.
As she ascended, she could see, far overhead, the green forms of several Quintaglios working with picks at the sides of the giant ark. Others, Novato knew, were likewise hacking away at the rock on top of the ship. To date, only one entrance to the ship had been found, and passage through it was hampered because its outer door was jammed partway shut. Miners had been working steadily at uncovering more of the ship in hopes of finding another way in. So far they had failed, but as they exposed more of the ship's roof, they had found that much of it was covered with black hexagonal cells. No one knew what the black honeycomb was for, but Novato had noticed one startling thing: rather than heating up in the sunlight, as dark objects normally did, these cells remained cool, as if---Novato couldn't fathom the mechanism involved---as if the heat falling on them were somehow conducted into the ship.
At last, Novato reached the top of the stairs. She crossed the wooden platform leading to the ship's half-closed door. That door led into a tiny chamber, the far wall of which contained another door. The chamber itself was completely empty, except for some grillwork on the walls.
This double-doored room was the subject of much debate. Some thought it was an animal trap. Bait might have been used to lure prey into the outer chamber, then the outside door would have been closed quickly and the inner door not opened until the animal within had asphyxiated or starved to death. Certainly no hunter would catch food that way, but the bodies of the ship's crew were so bizarre that one could scarcely imagine them actively pursuing food.
Others suggested the double-doored room served almost exactly the opposite function: a safety feature to prevent any of the animals aboard the ship from escaping---it was, after all, an ark---while crewmembers were disembarking.
Novato doubted both theories. She was certain there was another, more elegant explanation, but no matter how hard she contemplated it, the answer remained elusive.
Oh, well, she thought. Just one of many things about this ship I don't understand.
As she had countless times before, Novato squeezed through the half-closed door with her lamp, entering the vast ark, looking for a miracle to help save her people.
Afsan's recovery was remarkable. His shoulder had been easy enough to reposition, but getting the broken pieces of his skull to line up properly had been difficult and painful. Mondark had used gut ties to sew shut the gashes on Afsan's muzzle and head, Afsan having remained stoically silent as the surgeon's needle repeatedly pierced his skin.
Afsan had spent the night of the accident, and the one that followed, lying on Mondark's surgical table, slowly regaining strength. Finally, when he was well enough to move, Afsan's assistant, the lanky Pal-Cadool, had come to take him home.
That had been twenty days ago. Mondark had insisted that Afsan return every ten days so that his injuries could be checked.
"How do you feel today?" asked the healer.
"All right, I suppose," said Afsan, "although the new skin itches, and the side of my head is still tender to the touch."
"That's to be expected. Frankly, you're doing much better than I'd have thought. I didn't think you were going to make it."
Afsan clicked his jaws together. The gaps in his sawtooth dentition where teeth had been knocked out had begun to fill in with pointed buds. "No one is more pleased than me that your diagnosis was in error. How do I look?"
Mondark's turn to click his teeth. "Well, nothing I could do would make you pretty, Afsan. If you want miracles, you'll have to see a priest. But on the whole, you look remarkably well. Your scars are bright yellow, but the scabbing has diminished. Your back is still bruised around your shoulder blade, but that will clear up in time. Does it still give you pain?"
"Yes. But it's getting better."
"Good. And you've been following my advice about no heavy lifting?"
"Right," said Afsan. "I've been skipping my usual shift on the docks."
"Good. Now, let me remove your stitches. I'm going to touch your face."
Mondark used a tiny pair of scissors to gently lift and cut each of the gut strings. Then, using his claws as pincers, he pulled the little threads out. Despite his efforts at stoicism, Afsan winced slightly as each one came free.
After removing the stitches on Afsan's muzzle, the healer repeated the process for the ones on the side of his head. Eventually he stopped, but for some reason he didn't move away from Afsan's face. After a few moments, Mondark said, "How are your eyes?"
Afsan's voice was cold. "Your repartee is slipping, Doctor. That's not very funny."
"I mean, there's something different about your eyelids. It's almost as if...Afsan, forgive me, but can you open your eyelids?"
"I never do that. It hurts to have the sockets exposed."
"I know, but...forgive me, I'd like to open them myself. I'm going to touch your face."
Afsan flinched at the sensation of Mondark's fingers on the side of his head. He felt a strange coldness as his left eyelid was peeled open.
The healer sucked in his breath. "By the eggshells of the hunters..."
"What? What is it?"
"Afsan, can you see me?"
"Can you see me?"
"Doctor, what are you talking about?"
Without any warning, Mondark's fingers were on Afsan's other eyelid, prying it open. "God," he said.
With Afsan's green lids peeled back, Mondark could see into his eye sockets. From the bottom of each pink fleshy well, a wet all-black sphere, about half the size of a normal Quintaglio eye, stared out at him.
Mondark had Afsan force his eyelids open while he brought a candle close to Afsan's face. Quintaglio pupils were hard to discern against the all-black sclera, and light played across the wet surface making it all the more difficult to see, but there could be no doubt: Afsan's pupils were contracting in response to the candlelight.
"Eyes don't regenerate," Afsan said, incredulous. "They're like internal organs. Damage to them is permanent."
Mondark moved across the room; too much closeness was bad for both of them. "Usually, that's true. But very, very rarely, an organ, even an eye, will grow back. It usually only happens to young children, but it's not unheard-of in adults."
"But it was twenty kilodays ago that I was blinded. Why would my eyes be coming back now?"
"No doubt your recent head wound has something to do with it. You had to regenerate a lot of bone, a lot of flesh, a lot of muscle. Somehow your body went on to regenerate your eyes, too. Of course, they're not fully back yet; they're only about half normal size."
Afsan shook his head. "That's incredible." And then, after a moment, he spoke again, his voice tremulous, as if he feared the answer. "So when the eyes have finished regenerating, will I be able to see again?"
Mondark was quiet for a time. "I don't know. Your eyes have already regenerated in all functional aspects. Oh, they're still too small; presumably they'll continue to grow to fill the sockets. But the lenses are clear, the pupils are responsive, and both eyes track left and right in unison. Whether the eyes will actually work for vision, I don't know." Another pause. "You say you can't see anything now?"
"Nothing at all?"
"Not even when I brought that candle flame close a moment ago?"
"No, not a thing. It's pitch black, just like it's been since...since Yenalb did this to me."
"Well, come back in ten days. And come immediately if you get any hint of vision---a flash of light, a blurry image, anything."
"I will, Mondark." Afsan faced him from across the room, his eyelids open, the half-size black spheres appearing to look at him from the bottoms of their sockets.
Copyright 2005 by Robert J. Sawyer
Excerpted from Foreigner
by Sawyer, Robert J.
Copyright © 2005 by Sawyer, Robert J..
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Afsan¿s Saurian punishment for declaring that the Face of God is a planet that the Qintaglio home sphere orbits as its inner most moon was being blinded. His related theory that their ¿orb¿ will be destroyed in about a century is met with mixed results. Those who believe the astronomer ponder how to go off planet when ocean voyages are difficult enough while Afsan negotiates a fee with therapist Mokleb to help him mentally ¿see¿ how to overcome his natural irrational behavior and adapting to using his new grown eyes. --- Meanwhile Afsan¿s spouse Novato studies an alien spacecraft found in the southwestern Frahtoolah Province. At about the same time that Novato nervously evaluated the craft, her son Toroca, while on geological survey aboard the ocean going Dasheter, meets a second sentient saurian race on a small archipelago. This shakes the Qintaglios more than Afsan¿s ¿taking God out of our skies¿ with a biological blow to the belief they are the superior race of God. These scientific advances, instead of saving the race from the breaking up of their moon, lead to war. --- This reprint of the final tale of the Qintaglio Ascension is a fabulous science fiction story that makes the saurian races seem real as the audience will obtain a historical, anthropological, and psychological perspective especially of the Qintaglio culture. The three prime well written subplots tie together in a delightful climax. Fans of the series will appreciate the dual first contacts by Novato and Toroca, but especially enjoy Mokleb getting Afsan on the couch to psychoanalyze him so that he can understand the irrationality of the species (move over Freud). It is best read this novel after the first two books in the series to fully savor the saurian culture but FOREIGNER can definitely stand alone. --- Harriet Klausner