Kage Baker was a model of authorly discipline. She sat down every day and wrote – usually on a deliberately set topic, from a carefully arranged outline, so many words a day, so many points ticked off on a neat list. It was astonishing.
It’s also a deed impossible of duplication. That particular trick of hers remains her signature party piece – I watched her do it, I hung over her shoulder and watched the words flow out from her hands, I listened as she told me every step needed to accomplish that 2,000 words (minimum) every day. And I don’t know how it works. I don’t know how to make it start. I mean, it works when it does happen, but how to make sure it does – ?
It’s a mystery, Dear Readers. Just so you know.
So there the Operatives were, building the very first Base. They were on their own, the mortals all having fled back to the Far Future, confident in the ability of their cyborg cultural militia to take a stand in the desert and save the Past for them.
And it wasn’t as if the Operatives of Australia Base were inexperienced. Oh, they had been once – they’d been recruited in the tent-and-inflatable days, raised and trained in outposts like high-tech gypsy camps. Most of them remembered mortals among their teachers, glassy-eyed with tranquilizers and afraid to touch them. All of them were human – or had been: but not all of them looked like it, and none of them were really human any more.
They brought a few agendas of their own to Australia Base right from the beginning. There were to be only immortals among them, except for the brief little mortals who were brought to the Base to be changed. And almost from the first batch of neophytes, a few were set aside, marked as Facilitators; and among those, certain elders set aside a few, very secret more. They didn’t know what they would do with them yet – it just seemed like a good idea to have some secrets.
The Zoology Department went far beyond their orders in setting up. There was room for so much, and they were in the middle of such abundance! They made room not only for the commercially photogenic animals on the Company’s wish list – the pandas and tigers and birds of paradise and Manx cats – but for the insane zoo that was already native to Australia. Someday, the weirder beasties would be wanted too, and there the whole wonderful bestiary would be.
The thylacine was chosen as the school mascot. The Reptile House quickly became a tourist stop for visiting Operatives, or those delivering livestock and plant slips to the Biology labs. It featured a goanna lizard 27 feet long, and constrictor snakes longer than that. Behind the Reptile House, a huge kennel in a walled compound housed a long-legged crocodile, Quinkana, which was (demonstrably, every few days) faster than a kangaroo.
A modest little bar developed by the outdoor pool, in a small forest of umbrellas and awnings. Harmless horned turtles 8 feet long wandered between the tables, and would most amiably accept the fruit spears from visitors’ cocktails.
The Base was meant, from the very first, to be a fortress for living treasures. There was room for specimen zoos. If orders called for the acquisition of genetic stock for the 9-foot tall Demon Ducks of Doom, the Bullockornis planei weren’t just sampled, bottled and frozen: they got a private breeding colony on the shores of the young Lake Amadeus. Giant wombats and echidnae the size of sheep roamed the fields around the Base; platypussies 5 feet long kept the Demon Ducks in line down by the lake.
The Operatives lived well on Australia Base; did their jobs with satisfaction, raised their younger siblings, sipped cocktails and watched Uluru turn crimson in the sunset and violet in the rain. And then one day the People came: the Anangu.
The Anangu had walked around the Mediterranean and the southern edge of Asia, and then come stone-skipping down the island chains to the south east point of Australia. In their heads they carried a unique application of Homo sapiens’ 2 most powerful gifts: speech and imagination.
All that long migration, they apparently kept to themselves, scouted the new lands, and talked about it. They talked about it in ways no one else had yet invented; they made the world into a map with a cast of gods and a backdrop of miracles, and by the time they got to Australia – where they were destined to be alone with their unique world view for more than 40,000 years – they had learned how to make the world they walked though live forever in their heads.
“Anangu” meant – of course! – The People. Other, less pleasant names waited for them: blackfellas, wogs, abos. Aborigines, which was meant to sound formal and polite but pretty much meant “sub-human”. Actually, they were unique among the African Diaspora, and the Company had sent its Operatives to wait for them. Oh, there would be a few problem infestations ahead – rabbits,cane toads, Englishmen. But the Anangu would be preserved.
Because the Company wanted to save everything that was uniquely human, just in case they ever had to be invented again. And the Anangu were a sort of Ur-Homo sapiens; the original model that walked out of Africa, almost undiluted. They interbred with very few of the cousins. They went away into the haze on the ocean, and unlike the sea birds, they never came back. But they had the blue prints for everything.