Trang

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Authors: Mary Sisson
Philippe, but
of course, they were aliens, and not half as weird as the Magic Man.
    An idea occurred to Philippe, and
he turned to the Hosts. “Have the White Spiders been incorporated into the
body?” he asked.
    “I do not understand that
statement,” Max said.
    “The Magic Man told us he hoped
that we would be incorporated into the body,” Philippe said. “I was wondering
what that meant.”
    Max and Moritz looked at each
other, puzzled.
    “The conversation of the Magic Man
is at times mysterious,” said Moritz.
    “I personally believe that he uses
the body as a metaphor for friendship or alliance,” said Max. “He has told me
that the Hosts are part of the body. But he can be difficult to understand.”
    “Oh,” said Philippe, still puzzled.
“He always seemed very easy to understand in the videos.”
    “He was speaking other’s phrases,”
said Max.
    That can’t be right, thought
Philippe. The translator must not be working very well.
    “I’m sorry?” he asked, and then
realized he would have to be more explicit. “I don’t understand.”
    “He was repeating phrases that
others had created,” Max said. “We or the Swimmers typically handle
communication with new people. We and they both lack the vocal range of the
Magic Man, however, so we create the phrases, and he speaks them.”
    They reached their floor, and
Philippe stumbled off the elevator, stunned.
    Five years— five years!— of
talking to the Magic Man, and Earth hadn’t been talking to him at all! There
were actual Magic Man fan clubs on Earth, and he had just been parroting
lines penned by someone else.
    Worse yet, with all the resources
and analysis the Union had thrown at these communications over the years, they
hadn’t been able to figure out who they actually had been talking to.
The lengthy conversation humanity had been having with the Magic Man had
actually been with the Swimmers, a species—no, two species—Earth didn’t
know existed until yesterday!
    The only hint the humans had had of
the Swimmers’ existence was seeing the small, oval shapes that roamed around in
the background of the videos the aliens sent them.
    All of the videos.
    My God, Philippe thought, we
know absolutely nothing. He had known that he would be breaking new ground
on this mission, but this. . . .
    Philippe shuddered, and then
quickly suppressed it, mindful of his companions. He suddenly realized that
Moritz had been talking rather at length, and he forced himself to tune back
in.
    Mortiz was apparently pointing out
the various living areas—fortunately Shanti had been paying attention, and by
asking questions basically got Moritz to repeat everything he had just said.
Philippe was polite and noncommittal, hoping to avoid any major blunders as
Moritz and Shanti pointed out to him that many of the prongs were unoccupied
and that all the occupied quarters were clustered on the middle floors. The
Hosts, Moritz explained in response to Shanti’s leading questions, were
optimistic that someday enough species would join the station so that it would
be fully occupied.
    I’m too distracted for this, Philippe
realized. He needed time to process the discovery that some of Earth’s most
basic assumptions about the station and the aliens on it were utterly wrong.
Only then would he be able to absorb the new information the Hosts were
throwing his way.
    “Maybe we should head back now?” he
asked Shanti, casually but with a clear undertone of command.
    “Absolutely,” she replied, with a
knowing look. Whatever else she was, she was clearly perceptive and quick on
the uptake. Philippe was grateful for that.
    “Shall we meet again tomorrow?” he
asked the Hosts.
    “It would be our pleasure,” said
Max. “What time would be convenient for you?”
    That turned out to be a
surprisingly complicated question. The station operated on its own clock, which
was based on certain regular fluctuations in the portal that led to the Hosts’
planet. Someone had

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