9
Company for Fred

My work at the Archeological Institute was fascinating and often mind-boggling. We set out to Ūnd the range of capabilities of the fungus, and how it performed its different functions.
Meanwhile the fungus was growing. We had to install a second incubator, then a third, each time moving whichever of the main hyphae was growing most strongly, into the new container, much as one trains a vine.
BabyJane had christened the fungus Fred, and we referred to the parts living in the different incubators as FredOne, FredTwo and FredThree.
The computers I was used to are utterly simple-minded; they have to be told in the most excruciating detail what to do, starting at the simplest level and gradually working up to perform more sophisticated computations.
The fungus, on the other hand, seemed to be ready equipped with abilities, such as its face-recognition, which an ordinary computer would have to be laboriously programmed to perform. I wondered if I could teach Fred to understand Loglan.
After I had been working with BabyJane for a couple of weeks, and we had just installed an incubator for FredFour, BabyJane felt this was a good moment to make her trip to the burial mound, and she asked me if I would like to come along. That suited me Ūne, but I wondered what I should do with Hoover.
“Bring him along, of course,” BabyJane told me. “He loves going to the country. Elvis often takes him camping. In fact you’d better bring Elvis’ tent and camping gear. The burial mound is miles from anywhere.”
We left a couple of days later, in an Air Force helicopter that was making a routine patrol of the Lojbandian mountains. The foothills are densely wooded, and the nearest point to the burial mound at which the helicopter could land was a clearing about ten miles from the mound. We had arranged for the helicopter to ßy over the clearing every second day; if we were there, it would pick us up. We expected to be staying there for four or six days—eight at the most.
We shouldered our packs and set off, with Hoover searching the undergrowth for rabbits.
The going was relatively easy. We crossed one ridge, and descended into a valley where we found a stream. We had only to follow the stream and it would lead us to the burial mound. It was late afternoon when we arrived at the mound.
The area was a forest of mainly oaks and beeches, great trees whose branches intertwined overhead, while the ground below was relatively clear. We made camp on a knoll overlooking the stream, where the archeological expedition had camped before us. They had even left a stock of Ūrewood. Even though it was summer, we were at an altitude where the nights grow cool, and anyway what is a camp without a camp Ūre?
BabyJane went off with Hoover, to look for edible plants which she said were plentiful around here, leaving me to get the Ūre going. This was the Ūrst opportunity I’d had to use my ßint, so I thought I might as well pay my respects to Grandfather Fire, and ask him to help us in our search for specimens of the fungus.
I collected plenty of dry twigs and in the circle of rocks that had held a Ūre before, I made a nest as Mr. Snorradin had shown me, and placed a mound of tinder in the middle. The Ūrst spark I struck landed right on the tinder. I blew it into life and soon had a merry little Ūre crackling away. I spoke to Grandfather and told him that to Ūnd the fungus still growing would be very beneŪcial for Loglandia. I also asked him to have a word with the weather people, so that we might enjoy dry weather while we camped here.
After a while BabyJane returned with a bag of different plants which she said were good to eat, and with a rabbit that Hoover had caught.
“Didn’t he eat it right away?” I asked in surprise.
“No,” said BabyJane. “Elvis trained him to give up something he catches, on condition he gets his share later.”
“Good Hoover,” I said, patting the end I thought was his head. We had brought plenty of packets of dried food, but something fresh would be a treat and get the expedition off to a good start.
We pitched our tents and got everything organized while it was still light. I cleaned the rabbit and hung its skin over a branch while BabyJane washed some roots in the stream. She said they were a kind of sweet potato. While they were roasting in the Ūre, and the rabbit was sizzling on a spit we rigged up, she prepared a salad of watercress and some other green vegetables that I didn’t recognize.
I murmured a few words, thanking the land.
“Aha,” said BabyJane. “It’s a special Ūre is it? I didn’t know that you’d received your ßint already.”
It grew dark and the moon came up. We enjoyed our dinner and afterwards sat by the Ūre chatting, while Hoover crunched a rabbit bone. He had had the liver for his supper, as a special treat.
Well, a moonlit night in the forest, by a blazing Ūre, with distant owls hooting, is a very romantic scene. BabyJane and I had grown quite close as we worked together in the laboratory. SufŪce it to say that that night we grew a whole lot closer.
The next day we started on our search for the fungus. BabyJane thought we were most likely to Ūnd it on rotten wood, so we split up, each to search one side of the stream. If I were to Ūnd a fallen tree I was to mark its position so that BabyJane could inspect it later.
The Ūrst day we drew a blank. We had both found several fallen trees, all with fungi growing on them, but none of these was a cousin of Fred. The second day was also without result. I was starting to think that our trip was simply for the enjoyment of nature and each other.
Then on the third day, Eureka!! We were walking together towards the higher foothills, intending to separate and quarter a particular hill. We came on a huge old beech that must have been uprooted in some long-ago storm, and draped along its rotted interior were thick white strands: with a pocket microscope BabyJane positively identiŪed it as a living Fred. She carefully took samples while I found our position on the map. We continued with our search as planned, but found no more specimens.
We rendezvoused back at the Fred tree and set off for camp in time to get there before dark.
As we climbed the knoll towards our camp site, Hoover barked. I looked around but saw nothing. Then I smelled something like cigar smoke. That was odd; neither of us smoked cigars, and I was always careful to ensure that our Ūre was out before leaving camp for the day. I bent down to feel it, but the ashes were stone cold. I nearly jumped out of my skin when a man’s voice behind me said something, and Hoover barked furiously.
I turned round. Four men and a woman were standing a few yards away. They wore camoußage clothing, and each of them was carrying a submachine gun.
“Do klama ma,” the man repeated. “ .i ko sutra tavla”
I didn’t understand. What he was saying sounded similar to Loglan but the words were strange. BabyJane gripped my hand and suddenly I realised. These must be Lojbandian rebels, and they were speaking Lojban. Under the cover of the submachine guns one of them came over and quickly searched us. He took away the sheath knife I wore on my belt, and he took BabyJane’s case of fungus samples.
The Lojbandians surrounded us, and with a none too gentle push made it clear that we were to go with them. They marched us off through the trees at a smart pace. A few minutes later I realized that Hoover was not with us. I hoped he would be all right on his own in the forest.