WHEN THE RIDE RISES – snippet 39:
Adele scrolled the readout, using the Medicomp's vernier control. She hadn't coupled her personal data unit to it, and doing so now would be more effort than it was worth. The integral controls and menus were clear and simple, as befitted equipment intended for use by common spacers who might themselves be injured.
"It's pure platinum," Adele said. "Chemically pure, that is; it'd have to have been refined to achieve that degree of purity. And the angles are all within microns of 120 degrees, which also means it wasn't bashed into shape by a savage with a rock."
Not that she'd imagined it had been. She wasn't sure of the temperature required to smelt platinum, but–
Adele settled cross-legged on the deck and brought out her data unit. A few twitches with the wands gave her the figure: 3164.3 degrees. No, not a temperature you got from a wood fire, even with three of your cousins blowing on it through cane tubes.
"Ah, Mistress Mundy?" Rene said, carefully circumspect. He'd embarrassed himself by blurting "Adele" a moment ago in front of the spacers. "If the object was really set in the limestone outcrop rather than dirt–"
"Hey, it was rock!" Woetjans said. "You think I don't know what rock is, kid? When Ramage here showed me what was sticking out, I cracked it loose with my impeller's butt that I'd been shooting."
"Yes, Chief Woetjans," Cazelet, stiffening his back and clipping his syllables slightly into an upper-class Pleasaunce accent. "If it was limestone, as I said, then it should be possible to use radiation dating on the particles still caught in the grooves of the carving. Should it not?"
"Can one carbon date stone?" Adele said, but she was already typing the commands into the Medicomp's keyboard.
"Limestone's carbonate rock formed by living creatures," Cazelet said. "In the sea. Use the ratio of oxygen isotopes."
"If there was a sea there, it was the gods' own time ago," said Ramage with a puzzled frown. "I never been no place so dry as that."
"Yes, it was a long time ago," Adele said, staring impassively at the readout. Her fingers typed. "Sixty-two thousand years before present, plus or minus seven thousand. That seems an excessive range of error, but I don't suppose it matters from our viewpoint."
"Mistress, that must be wrong," Rene said. "Try another facet. The sample must be contaminated."
"I don't see how it can be correct either," said Adele, intent on her work. "And I am sampling another side, of course. But I'm less sure than you are that it has to be wrong."
She cleared her throat. "This time it's reading sixty-two thousand, plus or minus five point five," she added.
Adele opened the cabinet and removed the little pyramid. After bouncing it twice in her palm, she handed it to Ramage again.
"I think Commander Leary would like to see this," she said. "Perhaps he'll be able to offer a better explanation than I can."
"Mistress?" said Woetjans. A frown furrowed her brow like a freshly-turned field. "There weren't people that far back, was there? I mean, sixty-odd thousand years?"
Adele reached for her data unit. Before she could call up an answer, Cazelet said, "There were people of a sort, Bosun, but they weren't making art from platinum. And they weren't here."
"There's no reason to assume humans created this little thing anyway," Adele pointed out. "Just that someone who'd seen humans did it."
Cazelet looked at Adele and said harshly, "Mistress, for this to be true would require a star-travelling race sixty thousand years ago. There's no evidence of that!"
Adele gestured toward the pyramid in Ramage's hand. "No previous evidence that you'd seen, you mean, Rene," she said with a faint smile. "I've seen some odd things since I began travelling widely."
She was always puzzled to learn that the most avowedly skeptical people took things on faith. Adele believed data, but only until better data appeared; as for analyses and explanations, they were no better than the intellect of the person making them. Rene's certainty was a matter of blind faith.
"Do you mean there was?" Rene said, raising his voice without intending to. "That there was a race that was sailing the stars when human beings thought fire was high technology?"
"I mean that Ramage found a platinum pyramid on Dansant," Adele said calmly. She let a slow smile spread a little wider than was normal for her. "I won't speculate about it or about most things; I don't care for the paths my mind sometimes takes when I speculate."
"Guess I'll show this to Six," Ramage decided aloud. "That all right, Chief?"
Woetjans nodded without expression.
"He might want to buy it, d'ye think, mistress?" Ramage said. Before she could nod agreement, he added, "But you know, I might give it to him anyways. Tell the truth, it makes me feel kinda funny."
"Yes," said Rene Cazelet, "I understand perfectly, spacer."
He looked at Adele, shook his head, and said, "What does it mean, mistress?"
"It means we were on Dansant and Ramage found a platinum pyramid," Adele repeated. "If you mean that question in a broader sense–"
She smiled again.
"–I'm really the wrong person to discuss the meaning of life, Master Cazelet. Because you see, I don't think life has any meaning."
After a pause Adele added, "Though Commander Leary would disagree, I suspect. And anyone who's served with Commander Leary will tell you that he's generally right."