Cradle - By Arthur C. Clarke

Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3
THE emerald water smashes against the dark volcanic cliffs. Fine white spray hovers over the harsh rock creating a misty veil that glimmers in the fading light. In the distance, two yellow suns set simultaneously, separated by about forty degrees as they disappear together below the horizon. Across the blue-black sky, on the opposite side of the isthmus that slopes gently downward from the volcanic cliffs to another ocean, a pair of full moons rise as the two suns vanish. Their twin moonlight, although much weaker than the shine of the disappearing suns, is still strong enough to create dancing moon shadows on the ocean beneath the rocky overhang.

As the dual moons rise on the eastern side of the isthmus, light begins to glow on the horizon beside them, about twenty degrees to the south. At first the glow looks like the light of a distant city, but with each passing moment it brightens until it spreads across the sky. At length an awesome third moon, its first chord coming over the horizon when the twin moons are maybe ten degrees into their arc, begins to rise. Calm descends on both oceans for a few seconds, as if the world beneath the giant orb has paused to give homage to the spectacular sight. This great yellow moon, its face clearly scarred by craters, appears to be surveying its dominion as it slowly rises in the sky and bathes the emerald oceans in a mysterious reflected light. It is a hundred times the size of the smaller twin moons and its wide swath through the sky is greater in size than that cut minutes before by the pair of setting suns

Below the cliffs, in the shadow of the newest moon, a long sinuous object arcs its way out of the water, rising nearly twenty feet above the surface. The slender apparition twists itself toward the cliffs and thrusts itself forward as the piercing sound of a trumpet, a solo blast, reverberates against the rocks and carries across the isthmus. A moment later another sound is heard, a muted echo or possibly a reply from the other sea. The creature swims gracefully into the moonlight, its long, lithe neck a cobalt blue above a gray body mostly submerged in the ocean. Now the bluenecked serpent extends itself upward again and leans toward the land, its face revealed in the expanding moonlight. The facial features are convoluted and complex, with rows of orifices of unknown purpose. At the peak of its extension, the creature contorts its face and a medley of sounds is heard; the trumpet blast is now accompanied by an oboe and an organ. After a short pause a muted response, quieter but with the same rich complexity of sound, comes back across the isthmus.

The serpent swims north along the shore. Behind it in the moonlight half a dozen other swirling necks rise from the ocean. These creatures are a little smaller, the hues of their cobalt necks not quite so vivid. This ensemble turns as one, on cue, and blasts six trumpet calls to the east. Again a pause precedes the expected response, the sound of several smaller trumpets from across the land. Immediately the six new creatures and their distant friends begin a complex, interleaved musical pattern, slowly building in intensity until the overture reaches an inevitable crescendo and then abruptly abates.

After a few moments more the oceans on both sides of the isthmus become alive with teeming serpents of all sizes. Hundreds, even thousands, of serpents, covering the water for as far as the eye can see, begin languorously extending their necks, twisting as if looking around, and joining in the singing. The serpents of the eastern sea are slightly smaller than their western cousins. The necks of the eastern serpents are pale blue instead of cobalt. These pale blue serpents are also joined by a nursery of tiny creatures, the palest of blue markings on their necks, whose singing is high-pitched and a trifle erratic and sounds like piccolos interspersed with crystal bells.

The waters of the emerald oceans begin to surge forward in tidal frenzy, now rapidly moving up the rocky cliffs on the western side and quickly submerging great chunks of land on the sloping side that runs to the eastern ocean. The concerted pull of all the moons produces a tide that will eventually cover the isthmus completely, uniting the two oceans. As the waters draw ever closer