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Melville on Iapetus

The thing was carved of rock and covered with ice. It stood serenely on that bleak, snow-covered plain, a nightmare figure of curving claws, surreal eyes, and lean fluidity. The lips were parted, rounded, almost sexual. I wasn't sure why it was so disquieting. It was more than simply the talons, or the disproportionately long lower limbs. It was more even than the suggestion of philosophical ferocity stamped on those crystalline features. There was something—terrifying—bound up in the tension between its suggestive geometry and the wide plain on which it stood.

It was scratched and clawed by micrometeors, but no serious damage had resulted.

We stood before it, staring.

The wings were half-folded. Ray Morgan, on my right, used the toe of his boot to dig small circles in the orange-tinted snow.

The creature's blind eyes were aimed at Saturn, frozen low in the hostile sky by its own relentless gravity.

Static crackled in my receiver. "Nice view of the horizon, Terri." It was Smitty in the command module, somewhere overhead. I mumbled an apology: my primary function at this moment was to keep the camera on-target. "Jay," Smitty continued, "how's it look?"

The figure was set on a block about a third its own height. Steinitz approached it, his big boots pushing into the granular stuff underfoot, which was more like sand than snow. His shoulders were on a line with the top of the base. "Looks like granite," he said. "There's something written here." He switched on his lamp. The light penetrated the reddish-brown ice and crept up into the lower body.

The inscription hadn't been visible to the probes, one of which lay in the snow forty meters behind us.

"It's female," said Morgan.

Yes, I thought, not knowing precisely how I knew. Some delicacy of line perhaps, or subtlety of expression. Certainly, no anatomical clues were apparent through the plain garment covering the trunk. Yet it was most decidedly female: it reached out to Steinitz, arms open, legs braced, weight slightly forward. "It reminds me," Morgan continued, "of my wife."

That almost broke the mood. Steinitz laughed, and someone giggled over the link. Jennifer had been pensive, sullen, with eyes that were lovely only by candlelight. She'd never really been Morgan's wife, other than by some mad informal agreement, but they'd maintained the facade at her insistence, and she'd thereby made herself ridiculous. During that last year before departure, when we were gradually reducing our world to the five people who would make the four-and-a-half year flight, Jennifer, always an outsider, had hung on. She really loved him, apparently, and she knew that the mission was too long, that their relationship, such as it was, could not survive it. So she did what she could to persuade him to abandon the project. To find a quiet job and settle down with her in Tampa. Or wherever.

Toward the end, as she grew desperate, she'd spoken to none of us. With Morgan's encouragement, the men joked about her. It was odd: usually in such a situation, the women in a group would have been protective. But Chung and I only stood aside and watched. Maybe we were embarrassed that she didn't just tell him to take a hike.

Maybe she did. One day she was simply no longer there.

Morgan hadn't mentioned her on the long flight out. At least not to me. But he was right. Somehow the thing on the plain did suggest Jennifer. Not physically, of course. It resembled no human woman. But it was, I thought, so terribly alone.

"You getting a good look at the inscription?" asked Smitty.

"Yeah . . . ." Steinitz waved at me and I went close with the camera. Three lines of sharp, white characters that might almost have been Cyrillic were stenciled within the icy coating. They looked vaguely Russian.

Steinitz's breathing was harsh. He leaned over and peered at the symbols. Touched the artifact with his fingertips. Drew them across the surface as if the object were sacred. He moved his wrist lamp slowly from side to side. The letters brightened, lengthened, shifted.

"Nice piece of optics," I said.

"Yeah. I wonder what it says."

I turned and looked across the wide level plain. We were on Iapetus, one of the moons of Saturn, as remote a place as I ever care to be. It was of course absolutely still. During the time we were there, which was about four days, it was always a dark place with bright lights in the sky. Over a distant ridge we could see Saturn and its rings, and some other moons. Iapetus, of course, is well outside the ring system, so you get a magnificent view.

Other than whatever had made the statue, and occasional falling debris, nothing had moved on this dreary world for a million years. There's no weather, and no seismic activity. Since Iapetus is in tidal lock, even Saturn doesn't move. From our point of view at the foot of the artifact, the big planet was quite close to the horizon, a brilliant red-orange sphere, flattened at the poles, slightly larger than the Moon in Earth's skies. The rings were tilted toward us, a brilliant panorama of greens and blues, sliced off sharply by the planetary shadow. Immediately beneath it, the landscape had erupted into broken towers of ice and rock, as though tidal forces had run wild. Saturn was in its first quarter.

"How old is the thing, Jay?" came the voice from the ship. "Any ideas?"

Steinitz walked around the base, and stopped on the far side. "No marks in the snow. And the snow's probably untouched for what, thirty, forty thousand years? It's been here a long time, Smitty. Fact is, the damned thing looks new."

My feet were getting cold. The temperature outside the suit was in the area of three hundred below, and the pump was having trouble keeping up with it.

We poked and measured and speculated. But we took no samples. After awhile, Steinitz informed Smitty that we were ready to return to the landing site.

"Okay, Jay," Smitty said. "We're starting Cathie down."

"All right."

"She'll be coming down about fifty meters from your artifact. You've got about forty minutes."

"Fine. We'll get the tarps up."

"Maybe it would be better if she didn't try to get so close. I'd hate to have her fall on top of the goddamn thing."

They were talking about our operational center and living quarters, an Athena—one of five in the linkup—with its fuel storage tanks converted into crew space, and just enough propellant to get down. It would serve as our shelter and remain after we left, a new artifact for any other visitor who might wander by. It would, I suspected, one day be named for Steinitz.

"Do it the way we planned it, Smitty," he said. "It's cold down here."

We'd used a sledge to haul a supply of canvas with us. It was clumsy, but we got it over the statue, over Jennifer as everyone was now calling her. We lashed it tight, and added a second tarp.

When we'd finished, we rested briefly, and started back to the lander to wait for Chung. Iapetus was in its long night. No sun would be visible for three weeks, "Long way from home," said Steinitz.

* * *

We spent the next few hours setting up our shelter. When it was done, I was glad to move in out of the cold and get the doors shut behind me and climb out of the suit.

Cathie Chung got the coffee going. There was a big central compartment to serve as command center and dining room. And a place to collapse. Blankets were stacked on a computer frame. I took one and pulled it over my shoulders.

Designers back home must have thought we'd want a place with a view. The bulkheads were, for the most part, transparent. Privacy wasn't an issue, but something else about not being able to get away from that moonscape, that figure, was unsettling. The artifact remained hidden by its canvas wrapping. But I knew what was under it. I kept looking out at it, and past it at the plain beyond, and at a distant cluster of broken peaks.

Steinitz and Morgan were talking in whispers, discussing the composition of the snow. I got up and activated the filters. The plain, and Jennifer, vanished. Nobody seemed to mind. I wasn't sure anybody even noticed.

The evening started to wind down. Morgan put the artifact on his viewer but I could tell his mind was elsewhere. (I wondered if he was thinking of Jennifer. The real one.) I pushed down into my blanket to keep warm. Steinitz closed his eyes and let his head sink back. His hair had silvered noticeably during the long flight out, and his skin was hard and pocked, not unlike the moons among which he was making his reputation. He'd left Earth with a mild case of asthma, too much weight, and probably too many years. There were some who felt he shouldn't have come at all. But none among the crew. Except maybe Morgan, who didn't like any kind of authority.

"Whoever made it," Chung said, looking at the image over Morgan's shoulder, "knew what they were doing." She was tall, quiet, intense. Spoke English with a mild Chinese inflection. At twenty-four, she was the youngest crew member and, I suspected, the smartest. A support technician.

"Eventually," Morgan said, "it'll wind up in a museum back home."

"It would look pretty good," I said. "It amazes me they were able to get that kind of articulation out of a piece of ice."

"It just looks like ice," said Steinitz. "That's just the surface. It's really rock."

Morgan looked around at us. "Or that kind of impact," he said. "How would you like to have something like that come down on you in a dark alley?"

Chung's eyes flickered, and I felt it too. The remark was uncharacteristic of Morgan, who never admitted to human weakness, other than lust, and certainly not to timidity.

"You think that's what they looked like?" I asked. It wasn't the first time the question had come up. It had been a subject of heated discussion for years. Ever since the first probe had noticed it almost two decades earlier.

"Probably," said Chung.

Steinitz frowned. "Anything's possible. But I'd bet it's purely symbolic. Someone's equivalent of an American eagle. Or a Russian bear."

Morgan shook his head. "It's God," he said.

That was a common notion among academics, although you didn't hear it much on the media. Too many people got upset. Sponsors got boycotted. There were a lot of people who thought the creator of the universe was an old-looking guy with a white beard.

"It might be mythic," said Chung. She smiled and brought her fingertips thoughtfully together in one of those porcelain movements that one associates with pagodas and silk screens. "But I doubt there's any religious connotation."

"Oh." Steinitz had been making toast. He buttered a piece and bit into it. "Why do you say that?"

"Because I have a hard time imagining whatever created that thing beating a drum."

"You're assuming a star-traveller," I said.

"Of course. What else? I think we can assume she's not from Pluto."

Steinitz looked across at her, his eyes narrowed. "You're assuming more than that. I take it you wouldn't expect to find religious institutions in an advanced society?"

Chung smiled defensively. Had she offended anyone? Sorry. But of course not. "No," she said. "Taking myths literally is not characteristic of an enlightened civilization."

"So what do you mean when you say it might be mythic?"

"The thing wears clothes. So I think that lets out the eagle. It's probably a cultural icon, something that represents the sculptor's past in some way, but which she, he, whatever, would not have taken literally. The way we might think of Pegasus, for example. Or Lady Liberty."

"Not God."

"I don't think so, no."

"I'm not so sure," said Steinitz.

"How do you mean?"

"The universe shouldn't exist at all. To function, to hold together, it requires a parade of absurdities. Four-dimensional space. Curved space. Relative time. The gravity settings have to be exactly right. If they were a bit stronger, stars would collapse too quickly. A bit weaker, they wouldn't form at all. I know all this sounds like a back door into theology, and it probably is. But I think any really advanced race would at least keep an open mind on the subject."

"You're saying," said Morgan, "that when we run into an extraterrestrial civilization, they'll be Presbyterians."

Steinitz nodded. "Something like that."

"In a Darwinian universe," said Chung, "any right-thinking Presbyterian can expect to get eaten." She turned in my direction. "What about you, Terri?"

"I don't know," I said. "What's the thing doing in this neighborhood? Talk about a zillion miles from nowhere. It's a marker, maybe. Laying claim to the area. Or maybe Kilroy was here."

The interior of the shelter wasn't particularly comfortable. Stiff plastic chairs. You ate from folding trays. Our individual quarters were the size of broom closets. But, after being outside, it felt warm and cozy.

"Ray," said Steinitz, "were you serious?"

"About God? Sure."

"What do you think the inscription says?"

"It'll turn out to be his name, and the date the sculpture was done."

I laughed. "You want to predict what his name will be?"

"Frank," he said. "A casual sort of deity. Friendly. Informal."

Chung grinned at him. "Frank."

"Good as any."

* * *

"I can't tell what he believes," Chung told me later, when we were alone.

"Does it matter?"

"Out here? Where a mistake can get you killed? Sure, I like to know how the people around me think."

"His religious views shouldn't make any difference, Cath."

"They don't. I didn't say what they think. I said how. I like to know who I can trust. Who's serious and who isn't."

We were out taking pictures of Jennifer. Chung posed me beside the thing, set the camera low and angled it up, then joined me and we smiled as the light flashed. "You're not a believer, are you?" I asked.

"I went to a Catholic school," she said.

"And it didn't take?"

"I read too much Melville when I was a kid."


"White whale. Clockwork universe. Nothing personal, but stay out of the way or get run down."

"What made you read Moby Dick?"

"Book report in high school."


"I don't think they understood the book. What it was really saying."

I'd tried to read it once. Couldn't get into it. Still don't understand when people cite it to talk about a universe that doesn't give a damn. To me, it's a book about whales. The lesson is that you don't screw around with something a hundred times your size. Nothing subtle about that.

"What's the point," she continued, "of having a compassionate God if he doesn't bail you out when your air supply fails?"

"Is that what Melville says?"

"Pretty much. Get in trouble, you're on your own."


"Right. Nothing personal. No devils. Just make sure your harness is in place."

* * *

Next on the schedule was a TV show. That would happen as soon as the satellites lined up. We decided where we wanted the cameras, ran lighting tests, discussed what we were going to say, and, with an hour or so to go, informed Smitty we were ready. Steinitz was the senior guy, so he'd be front and center. The plan was that he'd explain everything we'd been able to figure out about the object, which wasn't much. Then he'd invite me and Morgan to talk about whatever we wanted. Our instructions were to do some philosophical stuff, how it felt to be out here with an artifact from another civilization, that sort of thing, and to go slowly on the technical stuff. After all, they'd told us, everybody already knows you can't read the inscription, and they can see for themselves how big and ugly the damned thing is. I'd been writing down some of the stuff I planned to say, but Steinitz warned me no reading. Make it look spontaneous. Right. I could see myself standing there with the lights on and my mouth open trying to remember my name.

Steinitz invited Chung to participate. She looked good, and she'd have been an asset, but she was scared, too. I wouldn't have believed it. So he'd asked me whether I didn't think we could spring it on her, turn a camera her way when she wasn't expecting it, and ask a question, get her on before she had time to get nervous. But I vetoed that idea. If Chung felt the way I did, she might freeze as solid as Jennifer.

"By the way," I told my male colleagues, "don't let's screw up on the name. Mention Jennifer and we'll go home to a lawsuit."

We made ourselves as comfortable as we could while we waited for the satellites to get together. We placed the cameras so neither the lander nor the shelter nor the probe was visible. We'd show them toward the end of the program, but we wanted first to establish a sense of complete solitude. We wanted the people at home to feel how absolutely far we were from Chicago. We wanted them to see Saturn, which never moved from its place over the distant ridge line, and the rings, and the moons currently visible. We wanted them to see the stars the way we did, bright and distant and more numerous that they were in any terrestrial sky. And unimaginably far.

I was sitting there thinking it wasn't going to happen, not with people in their living rooms and kids charging around outside. No one had ever been farther from Earth than we were at that moment, and it just wasn't possible to understand what that meant unless you were standing there with us.

Smitty gave us a ten-minute warning. Moments later he was back. "Jay."

Steinitz was standing in front of the image, gazing up at it, trying to imagine, as we all were, who had been there. "Yes, Smitty," he said, "What is it?"

"Heads up. We have an inbound debris field."

"Say again."

"Rocks and dust. Headed your way."


"You've got about eight minutes. I'm postponing the program."

"My God, Smitty. Are they going to hit the artifact?"

"I don't know. But they're coming down nearby."

I have to admit my first reaction had nothing to do with Jennifer. Or Frank. Or whatever her name was.

"Can't be," Morgan was saying. "The thing's been here for ages. We land, and a few hours later it gets knocked over? That's just not possible."

Chung broke in: "Smitty, what do you recommend? We have the lander nearby."

"How long would it take you to get off?"

"A few minutes."

"Forget it. Get inside. Hide under the beds or something."


"You'll probably be all right. This kind of thing likely happens all the time."


"It's mostly dust."

Just like Earth. But Saturn's neighborhood had a few more rocks, and Iapetus had no atmosphere to dissolve them.

We argued briefly which was safer, lander or shelter, and decided it wouldn't matter if a serious rock showed up. We settled on the shelter. Steinmetz dropped into a chair and sat staring out at Jennifer. His eyes were wide with frustration and outrage. "Please," he said, in a voice so low I could just make it out. "Don't hit the statue."

* * *

I grew up in south Chicago. My folks didn't have much, and they assumed I'd just get married, so they weren't big on education. At least not for me. My brothers both went to college. I got through high school, barely, saw nobody I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, got a part-time job as a waitress, and decided the University of Chicago was a better bet than most of the guys who came in looking for hamburgers and whatever else they could get.

Things went better than I could have expected. It turned out I had an affinity for physics, and the one romance that might have sidetracked me crashed and burned. It seemed like a disaster at the time, but it was probably the luckiest break of my life. I received an assistantship at the University of Northern Illinois, and got my doctorate under Edward Harbinger, whose name fit the circumstances. He recommended me for the Athena program, and there I was. Harbinger, I knew, would have given his life to have made this mission, even to hide with us in the shelter while the rocks came down. But he was too old. I don't know why but I kept thinking about him while I sat feeling the place tremble while the debris field—innocuous term—rained down on us.

* * *

We got bombarded for the better part of an hour. Mostly just pebbles. It was a little like being inside during a severe hailstorm. It rattled against the roof, and once or twice the ground shook, so something big must have hit, but I didn't see it. When it was over, we went out, were relieved to see the statue was undamaged, and did the show.

It went smoothly. Smitty added recorded shots of the approaching meteors—that was the way we referred to the debris field during the show—and we all talked as if it had been life and death. We went on to profess ourselves relieved that the statue hadn't been damaged. I thought afterward how brave and selfless we must have sounded.

In any case, it was enough for the day. We operated on GMT, and it was early evening in this place where there were no evenings per se, where most of the light was coming from the big planet and the rings. So we retired to the shelter, had a round of drinks, and sat down to dinner.

We spent the evening planning the second phase of the mission. Who were the sculptors? They must have left some indication of their presence, abandoned equipment, tracks, something. We would spread out and have a look. So we went over our images, designated likely spots, assigned responsibilities. And quit for the night.

Morgan and Chung sat down to play chess. Steinitz went back outside to look at Jennifer. I should have gone with him. Technically, you're not supposed to do anything alone, but I was tired and everything I owned ached. We'd maintained an intensive exercise program on the flight out, but the long period of near-zero gravity had loosened joints and weakened muscles. I retreated to my quarters and fell asleep with the conviction that manned space vehicles would eventually go the way of the big paddlewheels.

* * *

We had an early breakfast, most of it devoted to a long debate on the anatomic feasibility of the ice lady. The figure was obviously idealized. It looked toward Saturn with unmistakable longing. And there was something else, some juncture of beak and jaw, some slant of the eyes, that suggested resignation. But reproduction? It was hard to see how. I wondered if my imagination had been playing tricks. Was it maybe something else, neither male nor female? Were there other reproductive arrangements? How often did statuary at home omit the anatomical details?

If we were correct that the snow cover had remained intact, virtually untouched, for thousands of years save for the occasional meteor, then how did we explain that the snow around the statue was unbroken? It looked as if it had fallen yesterday. It was of course possible that Jennifer was inordinately older than we'd supposed. The estimated age was, after all, pure guesswork.

The plain lay wide and flat. The rings were knife-edge bright. We consulted our maps and headed out, Morgan and Chung to the north, Steinitz and me on the south. The instructions were simple: Find something the sculptor dropped.

The reasoning was that a ship had to have set down somewhere. Devices, at the very least a chisel, had been used. Somewhere, there should be something. Some clue to tell us who had been there.

There weren't really many places to hide something, other than under the snow cover itself. We poked among groups of boulders, wandered down into occasional craters, and gradually drifted toward the chain of gaping rocks and ice behind which Saturn seemed always about to set.

It was cold and tiring. The snow ranged from about a half meter to God knows how deep. Our suits dragged, and I've done nothing in my life more boring than trudging in circles across that dreary surface. Smitty joined the search, circling overhead in low orbit, radioing negative reports every hour. We walked until we were all exhausted.

The following day, we were out again.

A couple hours after we'd started, Morgan called. "We got it."

"What?" demanded Steinitz. "What have you got?"

"Among other things," he said, "footprints."

"Footprints? You sure they're not your own?"

Chung broke in. "Not unless we're running around in bare feet. And sprouting really long toenails."

* * *

Chung and Morgan had found the prints in the foothills of the ridge line at the edge of the plain, where it rises into a series of ridges. They were big. And the claws looked very much like the same set Jennifer carried.

The prints didn't seem to be going anywhere. It appeared that the creature had simply wandered around on the slope. The paw, the foot, was almost twice the size of mine. "The statue's a self-portrait," I said.

But they'd figured that out first thing. "At least as far as the feet are concerned," said Steinitz. He knelt in the snow. "It must have been wearing a pressure suit of some kind. It couldn't have been out here in bare feet. But it sure looks like it."

"Probably a very thin suit," said Chung. "Something molded to the body."

But it wasn't the prints that had initially caught their attention.

The slope angled sharply up and became a sheer wall. Morgan and Chung played their lights against it, against the wall, and we were able to make out an indentation. A cut. It started at the crest and reached down about ten meters.

I thought maybe it had been caused by a meteor strike.

"Look again," said Morgan.

It was precisely sliced. The indentation was box-shaped, maybe four meters wide. Not quite as deep. The lights reflected off a rear wall only few paces back.

"This is where the granite came from," said Morgan. "For the statue."

We climbed to the top of the crest and found more prints, and a slice of relatively flat terrain where the snow had been crushed down. Bits and pieces of loose granite were scattered everywhere. We looked at one another. Several of us spoke at the same time: "This is where it made Jennifer."

"We'll collect the pieces of rock," said Steinitz. "We should be able to put them together and confirm that."

"But how the hell did it manage things?" asked Morgan. "Assume it had some sort of laser. How'd it extract the granite?" There were no marks other than the prints. And the prints didn't get any deeper. Even had it been Superman and lifted the rock out by sheer physical strength, the prints would have gone deeper from the added weight.

"Anti-gravity," Chung said.

Steinitz cleared his throat. "Not possible."

"Well," said Morgan, "it's hard to see how else it could have been done, There must have been a ship here somewhere. To lift it and her back down to the plain."

We spread out and looked for other marks in the snow, but found nothing. If there'd been a ship, maybe it had possessed long narrow struts, and the granular composition of the snow simply didn't retain the impressions. Maybe they had teleportation.

We gradually made sense out of the footprints. They first appeared on the downslope. Then they mounted to the ridge without immediately going near the place from which the rock had been taken. Instead they continued up along the summit. A second set of tracks returned. These then wandered along the ridge. She had spent a fair amount of time walking back and forth. She'd spent time a half-meter away from the cut, and spent more time around the borders of the flattened snow. Then, abruptly, in the middle of the snow, the prints stopped. Somewhere in the confusion, she vanished. No prints led away from the site.

"So she came in this general direction," said Morgan, "but passed by this area and went up there." He pointed along the crest, where it rose higher and climbed toward a series of ridges. "Then she came back here, made her cut, produced Jennifer, and disappeared. Along with Jennifer, who later turns up on the plain. Is that what we're saying?"

"What do you suppose she was doing up there?" asked Chung, looking at the ridges.

"Probably," Steinitz said, "trying to decide where she wanted to work."

"It might be worthwhile to take a look," I said. "See where the tracks go."

There was no way, of course, we would not have done that. We told Smitty what we'd found, sent off lots of images, listened to him tell us we were probably missing something, that none of the stuff we were talking about was possible. Then we set off to follow the tracks along the rising ridge line.

* * *

Sometimes they petered out on rocky ground. Twice, before sheer walls, the prints stopped altogether, and we recovered them farther up.

The plain with the figure lay behind us. From the tops of the ridges, we could see forward across a large crater. Saturn rested on the far rim.

We emerged, finally, atop an abutment. The prints stopped. The creature appeared to have paused at the summit, perhaps glancing back the way it had come. (The artifact was out there now in the middle of the snow field, though not visible in the muted light.)

And she might have looked west, across the crater, at the planet and its ring system. Then, apparently, she had started back.

Steinitz stood a long time, staring at the mild confusion of tracks. When at last he merely shrugged, it was a gesture that said it for us all.

We took more pictures and stayed well away from the prints. It was cold. Steinitz said something about nothing more to do here, and he started back. "Good with me," Chung said. She fell in line behind him.

Morgan glanced in my direction and stood aside to let me go first.

"You go ahead," I said. "I'll be right with you."

"You sure?"

"Yes. I'll catch up."

He looked uncertain. It was a violation of safety procedure, but I let him see there was no need to worry, so he shrugged and headed off.

Jennifer had been alone.

The stars were hard and cold, and the spaces between them pressed on me as they must have pressed on her. Saturn floated over the plain, its rings luminous and lovely. A few other moons scattered across the sky. It struck me the planet had not moved since she'd stood here, how long ago?

I thought about Chung. And Melville. Moby Dick. I'd never read the book. But I'd seen the video. There's a sequence in which the cook is washed overboard and drifts away from the ship. The seas are heavy, and a moment comes when water and sky fill the universe, when the Pequod is gone, and the cook is utterly alone. They do not get him back whole.

The image on the plain is terrifying, yes. But not because it has claws and wings, or pitiless eyes. But because it is alone.

I was beginning to feel the cold, and it was a long way back to the shelter. I looked up (as she must have). Titan was there, with its thin envelope of methane; Rhea and Hyperion, and some of the smaller satellites: frozen, spinning rocks, like this one, immeasurably old, no more capable of supporting a thinking creature than the bloated gasbag they circle. Steinitz had argued for a benevolent cosmos. But Steinitz had never stood alone on that ridge. Only I have done that.

And one other.

The universe is a precarious, cold haven for anything that thinks. There are damned few of us, and it is a wide world, and long. I wondered who she was. Long since gone to dust, no doubt. But nevertheless, Jennifer, I wish you well.

* * *

As I write this, there's a movement afoot to take the Iapetus monument down, to bring it home and install it in the Smithsonian. There, they'd probably put it in a refrigerated cubicle, try to recreate the snowfield appearance. They'd surround it with gleaming staircases and Coke machines. Maybe it doesn't matter. I suspect her sculptor would be pleased, and possibly amused.

Before we left to come home, we opened the ground module to space. If anyone else ever passes that way, it'll be there, just the way we left it. And on the dining board, they'll find my ID. It's not a very good picture. You know how official photos are. But they'll understand. It was the best I could do on short notice.

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