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Home > Sphere(7)

Sphere(7)
Author: Michael Crichton

"Correct."

"But you said yourself: there are probably no survivors. There's probably no life inside that spacecraft."

"Yes," Barnes said. "But what if I'm wrong?"

Chapter 2

He glanced at his watch. "I'm going to brief the team members at eleven hundred hours. I want you to come along, and see what you think about the team members," Barnes said. "After all, we followed your ULF report recommendations."

You followed my recommendations, Norman thought with a sinking feeling. Jesus Christ, I was just paying for a house.

"I knew you'd jump at the opportunity to see your ideas put into practice," Barnes said. "That's why I've included you on the team as the psychologist, although a younger man would be more appropriate."

"I appreciate that," Norman said.

"I knew you would," Barnes said, smiling cheerfully. He extended a beefy hand. "Welcome to the ULF Team, Dr. Johnson."

BETH

An ensign showed norman to his room, tiny and gray, more like a prison cell than anything else. Norman's day bag lay on his bunk. In the corner was a computer console and a keyboard. Next to it was a thick manual with a blue cover.

He sat on the bed, which was hard, unwelcoming. He leaned back against a pipe on the wall.

"Hi, Norman," a soft voice said. "I'm glad to see they dragged you into this. This is all your fault, isn't it?" A woman stood in the doorway.

Beth Halpern, the team zoologist, was a study in contrasts. She was a tall, angular woman of thirty-six who could be called pretty despite her sharp features and the almost masculine quality of her body. In the years since Norman had last seen her, she seemed to have emphasized her masculine side even more. Beth was a serious weight-lifter and runner; the veins and muscles bulged at her neck and on her forearms, and her legs, beneath her shorts, were powerful. Her hair was cut short, hardly longer than a man's.

At the same time, she wore jewelry and makeup, and she moved in a seductive way. Her voice was soft, and her eyes were large and liquid, especially when she talked about the living things that she studied. At those times she became almost maternal. One of her colleagues at the University of Chicago had referred to her as "Mother Nature with muscles."

Norman got up, and she gave him a quick peck on the cheek. "My room's next to yours, I heard you arrive. When did you get in?"

"An hour ago. I think I'm still in shock," Norman said. "Do you believe all this? Do you think it's real?"

"I think that's real." She pointed to the blue manual next to his computer.

Norman picked it up: Regulations Governing Personnel Conduct During Classified Military Operations. He thumbed through pages of dense legal text.

"It basically says," Beth said, "that you keep your mouth shut or you spend a long time in military prison. And there's no calls in or out. Yes, Norman, I think it must be real."

"There's a spacecraft down there?"

"There's something down there. It's pretty exciting." She began to speak more rapidly. "Why, for biology alone, the possibilities are staggering - everything we know about life comes from studying life on our own planet. But, in a sense, all life on our planet is the same. Every living creature, from algae to human beings, is basically built on the same plan, from the same DNA. Now we may have a chance to contact life that is entirely different, different in every way. It's exciting, all right."

Norman nodded. He was thinking of something else. "What did you say about no calls in or out? I promised to call Ellen."

"Well, I tried to call my daughter and they told me the mainland com links are out. If you can believe that. The Navy's got more satellites than admirals, but they swear there's no available line to call out. Barnes said he'd approve a cable. That's it."

"How old is Jennifer now?" Norman asked, pleased to pull the name from his memory. And what was her husband's name? He was a physicist, Norman remembered, something like that. Sandy blond man. Had a beard. Wore bow ties.

"Nine. She's pitching for the Evanston Little League now. Not much of a student, but a hell of a pitcher." She sounded proud. "How's your family? Ellen?"

"She's fine. The kids are fine. Tim's a sophomore at Chicago. Amy's at Andover. How is ..."

"George? We divorced three years ago," Beth said. "George had a year at CERN in Geneva, looking for exotic particles, and I guess he found whatever he was looking for. She's French. He says she's a great cook." She shrugged. "Anyway, my work is going well. For the past year I have been working with cephalopods - squid and octopi."

"How's that?"

"Interesting. It gives you quite a strange feeling to realize the gentle intelligence of these creatures, particularly octopi. You know an octopus is smarter than a dog, and would probably make a much better pet. It's a wonderful, clever, very emotional creature, an octopus. Only we never think of them that way."

Norman said, "Do you still eat them?"

"Oh, Norman." She smiled. "Do you still relate everything to food?"

"Whenever possible," Norman said, patting his stomach. "Well, you won't like the food in this place. It's terrible. But the answer is no," she said, cracking her knuckles. "I could never eat an octopus now, knowing what I do about them. Which reminds me: What do you know about Hal Barnes?"

"Nothing, why?"

"I've been asking around. Turns out Barnes is not Navy at all. He's ex-Navy."

"You mean he's retired?"

"Retired in '81. He was originally trained as an aeronautical engineer at Cal Tech, and after he retired he worked for Grumman for a while. Then a member of the Navy Science Board of the National Academy; then Assistant Undersecretary of Defense, and a member of DSARC, the Defense Systems Acquisition Review Council; a member of the Defense Science Board, which advises the Joint Chiefs and the Secretary of Defense."

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