Jarvis and the Tides
by Larry Leonard
"Explain again, Mr. Jarvis. Why
do you want
to land?" said the Coordinator.
"I have a defective spirohelical encabulator," said
Jock. "It is decranning my frammistan."
"Remain in orbit, Mr. Jarvis. We will
consult with our technicians."
Jock sat back and ruminated on the
of the universe In his life as a prospector, traveling across the
sea of galaxies that was interstellar space, he had seen many
Puzzles there were aplenty. The stars like dust. Was it
who had said that? Plenty of planets for puzzles. The
called the one below, "March." In some ways, it reminded him of
he had seen. A place where people lived on the backs of
Some of the seas were deep, there. This one looked quite similar,
but wasn't. The seas were all shallow, here. The
told him the story behind the mask of the surface. Except for
deep cracks, this world was a lot like an 8-ball. His passenger
paid him a very large sum of money to smuggle him down there.
His passenger was a rat. Literally, a rat.
And, the moon was too big.
They had met at a saloon on
planet with a soporific atmosphere where mammals were concerned.
The air was a blue fog, and had the same effect on humans that
did. The rat had seemed stoned all of the time, too, but never
said, "Far out, man." Nor did he play a guitar.
There was the matter of a billiard game
bet with a creature from the Horsehead Nebula. A vertical
with hands and fingers. An unpleasant fellow, perhaps eight feet
Evil little eyes. A bully.. The rat, who had been watching
the game, paid off the bet and offered an additional ten thousand more
for the ride. A rich rat, this one.
Having recently lost six billion on a hot
stock market tip about a galactic internet company, a stable of
blue ribbon Tsvinh racing cornopods that turned out to be nags, the
of a planet that wasn't there, some quick action by the IRS during an
funds transfer and, of course, women, Jock had been playing the Rhino
enough to get his ship out of hock at the spaceport so he could head
a planet with air that didn't make him hungry for chocolate 24 hours a
Flat broke just didn't cover his
Destitute was the word. He had been about to lose his ship, and
losing that end up trapped on that planet for the rest of his life.
"Mr. Jarvis?" said the radio.
"Our engineers are unfamiliar with your
problems. We do not wish commerce with other planets, and so lack
the facilities to work on a ship like yours. It is unlikely
they could repair it."
"I can repair it," said Jock. "Just
not in space. I need to land to work on it. Just find me a
spot out of the traffic areas and I will take care of it myself."
"Perhaps I haven't made myself clear.
We do not want commerce with spacefaring races. Landing here is
"In an emergency situation? That is
a violation of the InterCosmic Covenant. Refuse me landing
and I will send a signal to the Provost Marshall of the
You'll have a fleet of warships hovering over you before you can send
the general alarm!"
"A fleet?" said the voice. It was
Jock knew he had them, then.
"Listen," he said, "I'm just a private
A mining engineer. Let me land and fix my ship and I'll be gone
a few days at most. Hours, maybe. There'll be no
I won't even report the landing."
The speaker crackled for a bit.
"You won't stay long?"
More crackle. "Well, do you need any
"Nothing. It's an exterior access panel.
I'd fix it out here, but some of the parts might drift off.
quite small for a klinkenhoffer assembly and must be rebrandingled
they are reinstalled. I have my own brandingler."
"And, you cannot make it to another
"In about ten thousand years, yes," said
"It's the tripler for my Sheckley drive"
"Well, much of the landing area is off
limits to unauthorized personnel --- but you say you want to land away
from any structures?"
"All I need is to be close enough to
technical help if it turns out I need some custom parts I can't make
"And you have no objection to a search of
your ship to confirm your reason for landing?"
"None at all. Send out your crew as
soon as I land."
After a brief pause, the voice said,
"You have temporary clearance to land and make your repairs Mr. Jarvis.
Please understand that you will be under surveillance at all
Should you engage in any other activities than those you have
a proton cannon will be discharged and you will become a part of our
Please finish your repairs within eight of your hours."
The landing place, just as the
rat had predicted,
Above ground, the native structures were large
square and rectangular buildings elevated the height of three men from
the surface by columns. The ground, according to his mining survey
was riven with drainage tunnels made out of the same material as the
some kind of local concrete. He landed thirty feet off
right on top of an access lid. The rat dropped through the small
cargo port and disappeared. When the scanning crew came aboard,
was nothing amiss for them to find.
The natives were talking plants, very tall
and very green. Jock ruminated about them, then decided that a
and a sequoia tree were genetically almost identical. These folks were
okay with him. It turned out that they liked being around him, too,
he exhaled carbon dioxide. More than what would be an official
collected around the ship. In no time at all it was a jungle out
there on the runway. Some had cameras. He posed for several
photos with his arms draped over the trunk/limb joints of a couple of
wearing what looked like hunting vests made of sharkskin. Lots of
They didn't wear pants. It was obvious why. Their sexual organs
in their heads. They reproduced while French kissing, probably, he
The females were flowers, the males something like venus flyraps.
He took to one of the guys right away, and named him Kelp.
The hand translator, working through the
computer, handled the linguistics.
In answer to a question, Kelp said, "Yes,
I am an omnivore, Jock. Primarily I eat what you call insects, but I
the occasional mammal, present company excepted."
"So do I," said Jock. "What kind of
mammals do you have here?
"Various kinds, some of them
The type you asked about, the one you call a rodent is not one of
Their flesh is poisonous. We shoot them for sport."
Later, after Kelp had gone off
to perform his
military function, whatever that was, Jock broke out some tools, popped
a lower panel aft and replaced a circuit component in the backup
lighting system. Several plants with no pants wearing nasty
sidearms watched him with one swiveling eye stalk while the other cast
about looking for God knows what.
"I'll have to run some tests,"
he told one of them, and clambered back into the ship. There, he
broke out a bottle of scotch, poured himself a dram and lovingly
the bottle in its snug compartment. He sat there, sipping the
staring at the various screens and readouts, wondering why he didn't
In the end, he let his curiosity have
Some of these beings had more than one
head, like a thistle or a rose bush. Some were dark green, some
and some light green. But, they all had one thing in
They had legs like roots which ended in the most incredible claws
Imagine a cross between an eagle and a velociraptor.
What in the world would they do
with something like that?
When the giant moon lifted from
the horizon, he found out.
His ancestors were
by way of Nova Scotia. As a kid, he had visited a place in the
Canadian maritime province of New Brunswick. It is called the Bay
of Fundy. Due to the funnel-like shape of the local geography,
the particular slope of the bay floor, the incoming tide in the Bay of
Fundy was quickly focused into what is called a tidal bore - an oceanic
version of a huge jelly role that raced across the mudflats at great
When the tide came in at the Bay of Fundy, you could ride it on a
A forward visual screen
showed it coming.
Since the net orbital velocity of the
giant moon was a thousand miles an hour, that's how fast the tide was
in. Jock's quick reflexes were all that saved the ship. His
hands danced like mosquitos over the console. The ship leaped
the air just as the bore arrived. His last view of the Kelp
made clear the evolutionary purpose of their strange root claws.
They just grabbed the bottom and became seaweed. And now he
the universal system of drain pipes, the building stilts and the reason
why they had told him to finish his repairs quickly.
What didn't make sense to him was why
they hadn't explained the reason for haste.
The water reached a depth of
twenty feet and
remained so for six hours, then receeded. Before he had lost his
recent grubstake, Jock had purchased a Hubble brand ship's
It worked in many areas of the electromagnetic spectrum. Using
standard visual function, he studied the landing field as the sea
away. That system of giant pipes was a work of engineering art.
wasn't a mountain on the planet. Just a scattering of large and
very low islands like the Earth chain known as the Florida keys. To
this fast, those pipes had to take advantage or more than
They used the elasticity of water itself. One fine job, that.
He wondered where the rat went to survive
it all, but knew that he had. The city sewers and drains of Earth
had long been home to smallers relatives of his recent passenger, and
had survived the immersion of the streets above them many times in
His guess was that they knew where they could find air pockets -
trapped under hard ceilings.
A strange thought came unbidden.
This entire planet was a a military
"No," said Jock into the
mike. "I replaced
the defective part, but didn't have time to rebrandingle it. The
system needs to be tuned. I'll have to land, again."
They were more comfortable about that
this time, and let him settle the ship down on the flat roof of one of
their bulky buildings. Kelp came out from the door of a small
shack to greet him.
"You do fine under water, don't
you?" said Jock.
"Above or below," replied Kelp,
the same. One must leave the water for some scientific
and of course to study the universe. The stars were a bit of a
"How long have you known about them?"
"Perhaps a thousand years," said Kelp.
"You're afraid of them, aren't you?"
As the story unfolded, a
great deal became
clear to Jock. Kelp's legends spoke of a visit from the gods
some prehistorical era. The descriptions of the event were
by scientific ignorance, but seemed to indicate that some space-faring
agricultural species had discovered the planet, and being unaware that
there was a sentient species living in the seas, set up shop and began
to harvest the waters.
The dragnets of their boats had nearly
caused the extinction of Kelp's species, which had been forced from the
shallow seas down into the deep cracks in the crust. It was
there, in an environment not of their liking that they had been forced
to develop the processes of science or die. In time it spurred
development of the science of warfare which had culminated in a series
of battles that drove the invaders away. But the suspicion was
in the culture. The planetary culture was dedicated to the art of
"There's something you haven't
told me," said
jock. "About the rats, I mean."
Kelp's eye stalks swiveled around to
look directly at him.
"And, what it that, Jock?"
"My guess is that they're starting to
fight back, just like you did."
The flight to the island
which was the
center of government took four hours because, though he was terrified,
Kelp wanted to see space. None of his kind had done so in living
memory, though the old legends said that some had been taken there
the retreat of the gods. It was while they were on orbit that the
answer had come to Jock. While Kelp was staring at his planet and
the stars, Jock had activated his mineral exploration systems. He
saw something he should have seen the first time he orbited this
The shallow seas, had he not been distracted, would have told him what
he needed to know without any other source of information.
The Great Hall reminded
Jock of official
buildings he had seen on many planets. This one differed mainly
that the dome was painted with a mural of the sea as seen from the
bed. Had he not known before, this would have informed Jock about
the origin of the Kelp people.
"They are animals,"
said the High
Counselor. His manner indicated he was a plant used to respect..
"They are intelligent," said Jock.
"They know the truth. You cannot watch for the gods unless you
have stable platforms above the surface of the sea, and you can't be
the surface of the sea in any numbers without the drainage
They live in the drainage system. Do you know they are not of
That caught the High Counselor off
It was just as Jock had guessed. The rats were on the islands,
on the few hills for survival during high tide, when the Kelp people
from the sea.
"They are not of this world," Jock
"Their flesh is what in your case would be known as alien protein,
is why it is death to eat them."
"If this is so," said the High
"how did they get here?"
Jock had a feeling that the plant had
already guessed the truth.
"In the chariots of the gods," he
"They are the most traveled species in the history of the universe."
"You say we must not kill them,
yet you also say that they are not of this planet. If that is
we want them gone more than ever."
"I understand," said Jock. "And,
I can solve your problem."
The scene was an
Jock's flashlight illuminated the underground chamber probably for the
first time in its history. The rats who sat between the flash and a
threw shadows that were twenty feet high. Jock's former passenger stood
close by, staring at Jock and Kelp.
"This being is our enemy," he said
"I know," said Jock. "And he is
more dangerous than you think."
"He dare not touch us down here,
He needs his astronomical and military facilities."
"I have agreed to provide Earth
for the planet," said Jock. "They can now block the outlets of
drainage systems. Those of you who do not drown immediately will run
of air in the pockets"
Jock's former passenger hissed a hideous
rat hiss. "I should kill you right now," he said.
"Kill me," replied Jock, "and you kill all
of these. You kill all of their species on this planet."
Jock stared at the planet
from orbit. The sun was glistening off the vast shallow
The radio speaker crackled, then the voice of his friend, Kelp issued
"The cargo ships are on the way, then,
Jock?" he said.
"They're on the way," said Jock.
"British Petroleum jumped at the opportunity. The rats will
for a planet of their own, and you will soon have both the protection
Earth and wealth beyond your wildest dreams."
"We have long used this petroleum,
It makes pools in many of our islands. We were unaware that it
beneath the oceans. You say there is a great deal of it?"
"A great deal is exactly the expression
I would select," said Jock.
(C) 2002 Larry Leonard