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Sundiver

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Sundiver

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Author: David Brin
Publisher: Bantam Spectra, 1980
Series: The Uplift Saga: Book 1
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
Sub-Genre Tags: Uplift
Galactic Empire
Space Opera
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Synopsis

No species has ever reached for the stars without the guidance of a patron--except perhaps mankind. Did some mysterious race begin the uplift of humanity aeons ago? Circling the sun, under the caverns of Mercury, Expedition Sundiver prepares for the most momentous voyage in history--a journey into the boiling inferno of the sun.


Excerpt

1.
OUT OF THE WHALE-DREAM

"Makakai, are you ready?"

Jacob ignored the tiny whirrings of motors and valves in his metal cocoon. He lay still. The water lapped gently against the bulbous nose of his mechanical whale, as he waited for an answer.

One more time he checked the tiny indicators on his helmet display. Yes, the radio was working. The occupant of the other waldo whale, lying half submerged a few meters away, had heard every word.

The water was exceptionally clear today. Facing downward, he could see a small leopard shark swim lazily past, a bit out of place here in the deeper water offshore.

"Makakai... are you ready?"

He tried not to sound impatient, or betray the tension he felt building in the back of his neck as he waited. He closed his eyes and made the delinquent muscles relax, one by one. Still, he waited for his pupil to speak.

"Yesss... let'sss do it!" came the warbling, squeaky voice, at last. The words sounded breathless, as if spoken grudgingly, in lieu of inhalation.

A nice long speech for Makakai. He could see the young dolphin's training machine next to his, its image reflected in the mirrors that rimmed his faceplate. Its gray metal flukes lifted and fell slightly with the swell. Feebly, without their power, her artificial fins moved, sluggishly under the transient, serrated surface of the water.

She's as ready as she'll ever be, he thought. If technology can wean a dolphin of the Whale-Dream, now's the time we'll find out.

He chinned the microphone switch again. "All right, Makakai. You know how the waldo works. It will amplify any action you make, but if you want the rockets to cut in, you'll have to give the command in English. Just to be fair, I have to whistle in trinary to make mine work."

"Yesss!" she hissed. Her waldo's gray flukes thrashed up once and down with a boom and a spray of saltwater.

With a half muttered prayer to the Dreamer, he touched a switch releasing the amplifiers on both Makakai's waldo and his own, then cautiously turned his arms to set the fins into motion. He flexed his legs, the massive flukes thrust back jerkily in response, and his machine immediately rolled over and sank.

Jacob tried to correct but overcompensated, making the waldo tumble even worse. The beating of his fins momentarily made the area around him a churning mass of bubbles, until patiently, by trial and error, he got himself righted.

He pushed off again, carefully, to get some headway, then arched his back and kicked out. The waldo responded with a great tail-slashing leap into the air.

The dolphin was almost a kilometer off. As he reached the top of his arc, Jacob saw her fall gracefully from a height of ten meters to slice smoothly into the swell below.

He pointed his helmet beak at the water and the sea came at him like a green wall. The impact made his helmet ring as he tore through tendrils of floating kelp, sending a golden Garibaldi darting away in panic as he drove downwards.

He was going in too steep. He swore and kicked twice to straighten out. The machine's massive metal flukes beat at the water to the rhythmic push of his feet, each beat sending a tremor up his spine, pressing him against the suit's heavy padding. When the time was right, he arched and kicked again. The machine ripped out of the water.

Sunlight flashed like a missile in his left window, its glare drowning the dim glow of his tiny instrument panel. The helmet computer chuckled softly as he twisted, beak down, to crash into the bright water once again.

As a school of tiny silver anchovies scattered before him, Jacob hooted out loud with exhilaration.

His hands slipped along the controls to the rocket verniers, and at the top of his next arc he whistled a code in trinary. Motors hummed, as the exoskeleton extended winglets along its sides. Then the boosters cut in with a savage burst, pressing the padded headpiece upward with the sudden acceleration, pinching the back of his skull as the waves swept past, just below his hurtling craft.

He came down near Makakai with a great splash. She whistled a shrill trinary welcome. Jacob let the rockets shut off automatically and resumed the purely mechanical leaping beside her.

For a time they moved in unison. With each leap Makakai grew more daring, performing twists and pirouettes during the long seconds before they struck the water. Once, in midair, she rattled off a dirty limerick in dolphin, a low piece of work, but Jacob hoped they'd recorded it back at the chase boat. He'd missed the punch line at the crashing end of the aerial cycle.

The rest of the training team followed behind them on the hovercraft. During each leap he caught sight of the large vessel, diminished, now, by distance, until his impact cut off everything but the sounds of splitting water, Makakai's sonar squeaking, and the rushing, phosphorescent blue-green past his windows.

Jacob's chronometer indicated that ten minutes had passed. He wouldn't be able to keep up with Makakai for more than a half hour, no matter how much amplification he used. A man's muscles and nervous system weren't designed for this leap-and-crash routine.

"Makakai, it's time to try the rockets. Let me know if you're ready and we'll use them on the following jump."

They both came down into the sea and he worked his flukes in the frothy water to prepare for the next leap. They jumped again.

"Makakai, I'm serious now. Are you ready?"

They sailed high together. He could see her tiny eye behind a plastic window as her waldo-machine twisted before slicing into the water. He followed an instant later.

"Okay, Makakai. If you don't answer me, we'll just have to stop right now."

Blue water swept past, along with a cloud of bubbles, as he pushed along beside his pupil.

Makakai twisted around and dove down instead of rising for another leap. She chattered something almost too fast to follow in trinary...about how he shouldn't be a spoilsport.

Jacob let his machine rise slowly to the surface. "Come dear, use the King's English. You'll need it if you ever want your children to go into space. And it's so expressive! Come on. Tell Jacob what you think of him."

There were a few seconds of silence. Then he saw something move very fast below him. It streaked upward and, just before it hit the surface, he heard Makakai's voice shrilly taunt:

"Ch-chase me, ch-chump! I fly-y-y!"

With the last word, her mechanical flukes snapped back and she leaped out of the water on a column of flame.

Laughing, he dove to give himself headway and then launched into the air after his pupil.

Copyright © 1980 by David Brin


Reviews

Sundiver

- spectru
  (4/18/2014)
Agatha Christie in Spaaacccceeeeee!

- ScoLgo
  (11/5/2014)
Sundiver -- Uplift is not central

- Tar Daddoo
  (12/28/2014)
Sundiver

- Link
  (7/5/2016)
Sundiver

- CDR_Bill
  (3/6/2017)
Sundiver

- Thomcat
  (1/22/2018)
Sundiver

- thegooddoctor
  (2/24/2021)

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