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Civilizations, if they survive their nuclear age, seem always to follow the same path. "It is inevitable," said the ship. Sikkur adjusted the picture with one mandible while supporting his snout with the other. Kayla nodded. "It's good to know," she said, "that everything has a happy ending." Onscreen, thousands of the creatures labored on the Morgan Monument. Kayla brought up the BBC, where one of the anchors was going on endlessly about Mr. Morgan, the Prime Minister, how his thirty-two years in office had been a period of endless prosperity. A guest commented on his popularity. "Never had a leader like this." "What are you thinking?" Sikkur asked. "I liked it better when it was called Trafalgar Square. It had a better ring." "I agree," Sikkur said. "But Trafalgar is undoubtedly dead." She glanced through the viewport at the clouds. They were moving out over the ocean again, headed west. "It is incredible," she added. "You do not mean the monument?" "No. Not the monument." She gazed at him with deepset eyes, dark and intelligent, intended for use under a different sun. "I mean the consistency of it all." He switched to another feed. This one from a satellite over Canada. Men and women worked contentedly on the Gulf of St. Lawrence Canal Project. And then to demonstrations on the streets of Toronto. People marched around a government building, bearing signs, MILLWORKERS FOR MYERS and MYERS IS THE MAN. Kayla's chair squeaked as she changed position. "Whether we look at places like Bakyubah on the far side of the Galaxy, or the civilizations of the Parah Cloud, or Greater Wahkni near the Hole, wherever we go, it is always the same: If they survive the atom, soon after they begin tweaking their genes."

Below, in the western Atlantic, a few rain clouds drifted through the late afternoon.

Sikkur fished a snack out of the ready box. A red gufer. It squirmed as he popped it onto his tongue and sucked it down. "It must be an intriguing period for everyone," he said, "when they arrive at the stage where they can control evolution." He listened to Kayla's breathing. "Yes, I'd like to have been there when they first realized how to do some of these things. Increase intelligence by tweaking a gene. Grant musical genius. Provide a handsome brow." He took a deep breath. "A godlike business."

"Which gene was it, dear?" She combined a smile with a flick of her eyes. Whenever she did it, the bridge brightened.

"Which are you talking about, love?"

"The brow. The brow. I've always been impressed by a stately brow."

He snorted. She did like to kid around. "As if I'd know," he said. The sky below was growing brighter as they gained ground on the sun.

Kayla was a glorious creature, the exquisite curve of her fangs, the way her eyes lit up when sudden movement caught her attention. Of course, she lived in a society where everyone was physically appealing. When everybody was beautiful, were they all just average? Was the cumulative effect no greater than it had ever been? It was a question for philosophers. However that might be, Kayla's charms ensured there were no long evenings on the Stardust.

The scientists had virtually stopped the ageing process. Had granted Sikkur and Kayla endless courage. And of course they had social skills par excellence.

"It is where the manipulation should have stopped." Baranka had said that. Had said it again and again. A few others had taken up the cry. But they were old. Many hadn't had the benefit of the various enhancements, and never understood that the point of being alive was to be happy. "Unlimited happiness will make us slaves," some had said. Foolish notion. Was Sikkur a slave? Was Kayla?

Fortunately, like the humans, the home race had had excellent leaders. Each one better than the last. It would be a joy to go back and report that, from one end of the galaxy to the other, wherever one found an advanced species, happiness and good times reigned.

* * *

The Stardust was approaching the United States now. Sikkur picked up images of workers in the capital city taking down an obelisk which was, according to CNN, going to be replaced by a temple dedicated to the current president, Mark Ramsay Howard.

The satellite zeroed in on the project. It was apparently lunchtime, a warm, pleasant day. A crowd of women were moving into the work area, carrying thermos containers and bags of food. Somewhere a band played, and people sang the praises of the president.

"No question about it," said Kayla. "They've found their happiness gene."

He tapped his scaled breast. "Gives me a warm feeling right here."

"It is indeed exhilarating." said the ship.

She treated herself to one of the gufers and stared contentedly at the screen. "I envy them. Why don't we go down and help? Tote that barge? Maybe make some points with their boss. It would do us good to haul a little masonry around."

"Kayla," he said, "you know we're not supposed to do that. As much as I'd like to."

She did that thing again where she lit up the bridge. "I won't tell anybody."

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