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COPYRIGHT INFORMATION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 DEDICATION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 INTRODUCTION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 THE QUILLS OF HENRY THOMAS, by W. C. Bamberger & Aja Bamberger . 9 THE GIZZARD WIZARD, by Rory Barnes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18 THE DARKFISHERS, by John Gregory Betancourt . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 55 GUINEA PIGS, by Sydney J. Bounds . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 68 OUTSIDE LOOKING IN, by Mark E. Burgess . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 78 SIEGFRIED, by Victor Cilincă . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .104 THE CALLING OF IAM’KENDRON, by Michael R. Collings . . . . . . . . 116 EVERGREEN, by Arthur Jean Cox . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 150 MOHAMMED’S ANGEL, by Jack Dann . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 180 ULTRA EVOLUTION, by John Russell Fearn . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .187 MILES TO GO, by Sheila Finch . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 204 THE LITTLE FINGER OF THE LEFT HAND, by Mel Gilden . . . . . . . . 223 THE NEXT GENERATION, by Ardath Mayhar . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 236 ABOUT THE AUTHORS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 243
THE FIRST BORGO PRESS BOOK OF SCIENCE FICTION STORIES
R O B E RT R E G I N A L D , EDITOR
Editing Copyright © 2011 by Robert Reginald Published by Wildside Press LLC www.wildsidebooks.com A number of these pieces have been previously published, in whole or in part, and are reprinted by permission of their authors, authors’ estates, or agents: “Introduction,” by Robert Reginald, is published here for the first time. Copyright © 2011 by Robert Reginald. “The Quills of Henry Thomas,” by W. C. Bamberger and Aja Bamberger, is published here for the first time. Copyright © 2011 by W. C. Bamberger and Aja Bamberger. “The Gizzard Wizard,” by Rory Barnes, is published here for the first time. Copyright © 2011 by Rory Barnes. “The Darkfishers,” by John Gregory Betancourt was originally published in Aboriginal Science Fiction, July/August, 1987. Copyright © 1987, 2011 by John Gregory Betancourt. “Guinea Pigs,” by Sydney J. Bounds was originally published in Fantasy Adventures 13, ed. by Philip Harbottle, Wildside Press, 2008. Copyright © 2008, 2011 by the Estate of Sydney J. Bounds. “Outside Looking In,” by Mark E. Burgess, is published here for the first time. Copyright © 2011 by Mark E. Burgess. “Siegfried,” by Victor Cilincă, translated by Petru Iamandi, was originally published in Atlantida #1, 1991. Copyright © 1991 by Victor Cilincă; Copyright © 2011 by Victor Cilincă and Petru Iamandi. “The Calling of Iam’Kendron,” by Michael R. Collings was originally published in Three Tales of Omne: A Companion to Wordsmith, by Michael R. Collings, Borgo Press, Wildside Press, 2010. Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Michael R. Collings. “Evergreen,” by Arthur Jean Cox, was originally published
in Universe 15, ed. by Terry Carr, Doubleday, 1985. Copyright © 1985, 2011 by Arthur Jean Cox. “Mohammed’s Angel,” by Jack Dann, was originally published in Overland #196, Spring 2009. Copyright © 2009, 2011 by Jack Dann. “Ultra Evolution,” by John Russell Fearn, was originally published under the author’s pseudonym, “Polton Cross,” in Startling Stories, January 1948. Copyright © 1948 by John Russell Fearn; Copyright © 2011 by Philip Harbottle. “Miles to Go,” by Sheila Finch, was originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, June 2002. Copyright © 2002, 2011 by Sheila Finch. “The Little Finger of the Left Hand,” by Mel Gilden, was originally published in Bruce Coville’s Alien Visitors, ed. by Bruce Coville, Avon Camelot, 1999. Copyright © 1999, 2011 by Mel Gilden. “The Next Generation,” by Ardath Mayhar, was originally published in Fantastic Collectibles #117, July 1993. Copyright © 1993, 2011 by Ardath Mayhar.
Editor Extraordinaire. with all my love.DEDICATION To the Memory of Donald A. . Wollheim. and For Mary.
In “The Quills of Henry Thomas. both reprints and originals. Yondering. C.” W. I received sixty-three tales by sixty-six writers—thirty-seven SF and twenty-six crime stories. So what to do? “Divide them into more workable pieces. and the other mystery pieces. One of the books would include science fiction tales. includes a baker’s dozen of great pieces by fourteen writers. The volumes would be distributed as near-gratis ebooks on the internet. and Once Upon a Future. What struck me about this volume—and the others in the set—is the huge variety of themes. **** This first anthology in the sequence. to help publicize some of the good folks who were publishing fulllength books with us. right? Well. styles. The total wordage was enormous. One SF volume became three: Yondering. yes and no. Getting the material wasn’t difficult at all. with inexpensive print-on-demand versions as well. and Aja Bamberger give us a glimpse of a future in which music is created by DNA . There’s quite literally something here for just about everyone. and settings for the individual tales.INTRODUCTION “SUCH A SIMPLE REQUEST” It seemed like such a simple request. To the Stars—and Beyond. Easy. But the books had now become too large.” was the suggestion. I suddenly found myself overwhelmed with quality submissions. and the crime book became Whodunit? and More Whodunits. I quickly adopted a policy of only one story per writer per volume—and still they kept coming! In the end. and so that’s what I’ve done. with appropriate linking subtitles. My publisher wanted me to put together two anthologies featuring short stories by authors from my Borgo Press list.
” Rory Barnes’s sequel to his marvelous young adult SF novel.computing.” by Mark E. “The Gizzard Wizard. Wordsmith.” an all-too-plausible future in which cultures. now refugees fleeing a rundown future Earth. Collings’s “The Calling of Iam’Kendron” is a stirring prequel to his classic fantasy novel. Burgess.” Sydney J. “Outside Looking In. John Gregory Betancourt’s imaginative and engaging “The Darkfishers” features a shanghaied Earth colony stranded on the back of a huge crustacean on an ocean world.” Finally. “Ultra Evolution. Jack Dann depicts. Mel Gilden relates mankind’s first encounter with an alien race in “The Little Finger of the Left Hand. in “Mohammed’s Angel. is a cautionary tale of the advancement of science and the advancement of man—not always a good thing! Sheila Finch’s “Miles to Go” is the moving story of a wheelchair marathoner presented with the choice of getting new legs.” by John Russell Fearn. Em and Ned. —Robert Reginald 13 June 2011 . sensibilities. reintroduces those delightful characters. Michael R. In “Guinea Pigs.” we find that long life is not always what it’s cracked up to be. In Arthur Jean Cox’s “Evergreen.” a nearly extinct human race must decide what its future will be. in Ardath Mayhar’s poignant “The Next Generation. takes the “world in a bottle theme”—and flips it on its head! Victor Cilincă’s “Siegfried” demonstrates quite clearly the danger of taking the “primitive” aliens too lightly. and terrorism are inextricably mixed. Space Junk. Bounds portrays a dystopian future in which the corporations dominate the world.
That Henry Thomas had been a singer. echo. Henry would start with that single cell and then more cells (his own interest might be musical. by W. The only shortcoming was that for all its squarish. To crowd strict musical beauty into every audio space was any good composer’s ideal. C. spiny attitude had very much been one with his own. guitar picker. but they all behaved the same. didn’t they?) would lock into. because musical cells were irrepressible. Bamberger & Aja Bamberger Henry had gone inside. one lifted from Henry Thomas 1928. hollowed out and stoppered at one end like a row of cane whistles. It was on these quills that Henry Thomas 1928 played the cell that Henry Thomas 2018 had taken out. and had played the quills—a folk panpipe made from stalks of cane. Henry only needed the one to create an entire new piece. or fractally expand outward from that first compact cell. symmetrical almost to the point of being sing-song. Henry didn’t care for exuberance himself—he had once owned a hedgehog named Uncle Fester. expand like the interlock of crystals or the links of chain mail until they filled his predetermined compositional space as completely as possible. Henry remembered the intellectual curiosity he had felt in first-year music history when his audio-lab partner Stachel had found that there had been another musical Henry Thomas. and Fester’s aloof. And Henry Thomas 2018 was starting with a beautiful little twelve-bar cell. E ditor . boxy beauty the quills’ cell also conveyed an overarching tone of exuberant happiness.THE QUILLS OF HENRY THOMAS. all in a rack that held them near his mouth. one that stubbornly refused to be damped. While a wisp of emotion might not hurt the work’s chances for 9 | robert reginald . mirror. gone inside the antique music and brought out the quills’ cell. but melodic enough to carry it off. The thirty-three note cell was as segmented as a bar graph. a black blues singer who had recorded almost a century before.
a grant (you never knew when a judge might be concealing a reactionary streak). His numbers felt. a mute tool with no aesthetic input of its own. Not that the boy would in any way be making any of the compositional decisions. **** It had only been some two dozen years earlier that human DNA’s potential for doing computation had been discovered. his ideas tight and certain). And then there was the fact that he had planned all along to transpose the key. because B in the German notation system was written “H”—a way of slipping himself into the musical process. His DNA was leased as a helix processor.” or as if his grip on them wasn’t as tight as it should have been. he had begun hearing it lower. Henry had already finished the preliminary work. tearing my eyes away from the gliding charcoal box hanging in the upper corner of the common room. Henry was preparing the cell to be run through a young man’s DNA. somehow. he seemed to be having an off-day.” **** “Erin? Are you listening?” “Huh? Oh. had instead specified that its processing would begin in the key of “E. “loose. down a perfect fifth—Henry was quite fond of the word “perfect”—and. it could mar the kind of austere beauty that was Henry’s musical ideal. lift it a step and a half from A-flat (as on the original 78 shellac) to B. inexplicably (because Henry always kept his decisions firm.” I mumble. surprising himself. Where electronic computer code still used the binary system 1 0 | robert reginald . But as he was preparing to upload the boxy cell into the DNA threshold buffer. opened the connection to the distant DNA. E ditor . if he was honest with himself. and set up the necessary algorithms… though. sorry.
E ditor . Worrying was for the little people. A new feeling of nervousness and paranoia has settled over the campus. manipulated and synthesized to perform calculations. which would throw off results in the same way a flawed chip would do.000-member pupil and faculty population looking over their 1 1 | robert reginald .” but it had been for the most part firewalled. boisterous crowd of students has been reduced to five or six huddled in the corner. had overnight swept through and crippled every electronic network big and small. And just in time: it had been only a few months into ’16 when the oddly named virus “markers-off ” had declared itself. but the more complex calculations had caused mutations in the DNA. was now out of reach to nearly everyone. biocomputations had been done within living bodies. **** I’m not the only one unnerved by the foreign object. By way of the same convenient economic coercion that had for decades led the cash-strapped to enroll in medical trials— their bodies transformed into nets to catch any virulent side effects swimming deep in untried drugs—college students were now being paid to be living computers via wireless modems implanted as small rings that pierced their eyebrows. there remained the constant fear that electronic computing would never again be truly secure. Henry supposed he should mourn all the music that would now go unwritten—but then he had a fat grant and a fine twelve-bar cell. Still. So. For the first twenty years DNA computing had been done in small cultures in test tubes. sparing only standalones. That boy’s DNA was his for the next twenty-four hours. DNA computing represented information in terms of its own chemical units. The normally large. Months of effort and virtual head scratching had yet to find a fix for “markers-off. and so DNA computing had soared in price. taking advantage of the stable nature of cells at higher scales.and ran its information through circuitry. It has the entire 41. since ’16.
“It doesn’t bother you that we’re currently residing in a slightly more comfortable version of the Panopticon?” I raise an eyebrow. He lifts up his feet and slams them down onto the coffee table. Henry knew. the word “panopticon” had risen to the surface. What was it Bentham had said about music? Something sentimental. as if emphasizing his reclined attitude. then sank again. lying back on the sofa with his hands folded back into his wild mop of black hair. What composer wouldn’t want that? Stachel sometimes quoted Bentham. E ditor . “Don’t tell me you’re falling for their scare tactics. bracingly cold Reich above all). mimicking his position. no doubt. “I’m going where I won’t get the buh-lu–uu-ues. What Henry Thomas 1928 had sung (and why had no one but Henry Thomas 2018 ever marked this?) was. he was marked by sentimentality. Just then. Where Henry had few musical heroes (late. to Heather Schmidt’s “Twelve for Ten”—women and Canadians.” Zack snorts. He imagined a “panaudiocon”— a central station to broadcast his music to a captive audience. The word was nowhere in the lyrics. for example. the record company had misunderstood Henry Thomas 1928’s melisma through his black country accent.shoulders and hesitating at every task that requires they log onto their machines. **** “Bulldoze Blues?” Someone had been asleep at the switch in Chicago. maybe that’s what had brought the word to mind. while not letting anyone ever see him. Could be. back in 1928. Words sometimes came to musicians from nowhere. The only other possibility was that the word had simply come to Thomas himself when he had been asked the name of the song. glinted a moment. for God’s sake! What Bentham had said was something about the music of the theatre being no more musical than that of the office—but the 1 2 | robert reginald . Stachel had no intellectual rigor. Stachel listened again and again to “Constantinople” by Christos Hatzis. to works by Sungji Hong.” Apparently.
the cell was being carried over a nice. to see if it would at last give his music the sheen of lathed perfection that he sought. while the second hardens it. The algorithms Henry wrote. That was wasteful.first softens the heart. put through diminution. and he was impatient to see how well it would work. a few too-human smudges on the most intricate counterpoint lines. crab-canon-wise. yes. even. E ditor . ninety year-arc. counterpoint—everything Bach had labored over. scratching away with his Federkiel at his desk in the parish house. but the greedy agency flatly refused to book DNA by the minute. **** This would be Henry’s first composition realized by way of biomolecular computing. the program that would be 1 3 | robert reginald . Henry smiled at the mismatch of time scales: whereas the tens of thousands of bits of musical algorithms and information would ripple through the clueless boy’s DNA and return again almost instantaneously. **** “Why should I care? I didn’t do anything.” As I measure the volume and tone of irritation in his voice. achieved through some inconsequential boy’s molecules Henry had leased for the day. Any minute now he would feed the cell of the quills of Henry Thomas 1928 into the body of the distant young man—Brandon-something. Electronic computing always seemed to leave a few burrs on the harmonies. the source for the quills’ cell had been recorded in June of 1928. presented retrograde. Henry liked the clean neatness of that. I can’t help but wonder how much of it is simply a show for the cameras. augmentation. Henry didn’t much care about the processor’s name—and the file that would return would be what Henry’s algorithms skillfully called for: a fugue with all the standard variations: the quill theme inverted. As the deadline for his composition was June.
hosted by the hired DNA. E ditor . shifting to photos of the brick exterior of the academy. nothing to worry about. cleaner. Higher ratings sometimes produced brilliance. secret among composers that all DNA wasn’t the same. every modulation would come out faster. This Brandon-something was a 112. sealed in its rectangular wooden box like wine in a cask. was a comfortably bland “7” (an I. And his opinion was that those who traveled to the Thomaskirche in Leipzig to access the closely-guarded shunt that spiraled down through the earth to Bach’s own DNA pool (rumor had it that the pool. might even machine away the quills’ cringe-inducing exuberance. discretely rated the intelligence of the bodies for lease. Another strip in the grid displays live feeds from the cameras placed in every interior cavity of the institute. they somehow stepped out of themselves and never found their way back. Of the few students remaining. It was an open. the public line ran. and some thought an ugly. then to the monitoring room of the new surveillance system. so the composers’ pipeline had it. every variation.000 computers on campus. using a system of erasable Xs penciled in at the top of the contract. A grid of screens hooked to the drywall flickers through images of the activities of all 41. We were all equally human. more clockwork than Bach himself. This new visual reminder being broadcast causes a renewal in the slacking tension of the room. He expected that every note. and purer. so our DNA is everywhere equal. The best. Not a single section of the monitoring room’s surface is left uncovered. but they had also precipitated mental breakdowns in some composers.Q. was a full inch and a half deep!) did it simply as a show for the cameras that would capture them there. of 111 read as binary code). But the agencies. 1 4 | robert reginald . **** The news station that’s hijacked every channel on the cable network projects photos of Brandon Spencer’s mug shot.
Others mutter something about having to meet someone and step outside. E ditor . The camera seems to be zooming in on me now.” I say. unable to look at him. Henry keyed in the commands to send the file off to the DNA of this distant Brandon-something for computation. **** 1 5 | robert reginald . except for that bothersome exuberance. letting the scalding liquid slip down my throat and trying to ignore the lens I can now tangibly feel boring into my back. of course. Henry Thomas 1928’s clotted voice. “that the guy didn’t even do it himself. yes. This other student.” Zack shakes his head. it was quite a perfect little cell. still peering over their shoulders or out of their peripheral vision. I bring the brim of my ceramic mug to my lips. nobody home. whoever it is. He’s only a front. “There’s no way this is legal. **** “I heard a rumor.some start laughing louder. but the base file of the original 78.” Zack lifts his own cup. the trilling of the longer notes on the quills—and decided. He got the codes for the virus and the information to hack into the security system from some student in the computer science department who always does all his work for him. and called up the original—not just the quills’ cell. He listened to it one last time through—the chunky high twang of the guitar strings. What do you think?” “I didn’t think anyone believes that Brandon was techsavvy enough to break through one of the country’s most complex computerized barriers anyway. is to not show any emotion until safely out of range of the cameras. paused. The trick. forcing smiles while trying to casually turn so their backs face the camera. is the real brain. **** Henry put in the last algorithm.
almost an impossibility for a fugue. but then folded itself again and became a four-part fugue. to flower—but too soon for a ten-minute. at Henry Thomas 1928’s tempo three repetitions a minute. made it an exponential complex of exuberance. the modem claimed it was working at normal speed. When the file had finished downloading. The file would have to be enormous. a statement of the quills’ cell: the thirty-three note theme. ninety-nine notes. or the modem somehow compromised. and even deeper. he would have thought. he opened it and keyed it to play. Then it began to expand. became a threepart fugue. couldn’t turn it off. capturing his thoughts completely—forcing out even the curiosity about how it had come about.” But Henry couldn’t go out. and algorithms for rendering a simple two-part fugue with harmonies in perfect fifths. But he had sent specs for a modest 990-note file. his mind. or even turn his head. Puzzled. two-part fugue. and heart. but there it was. wondering almost subconsciously how his algorithms had created this beautiful lotus of sound. and then the music went deeper.… But that was impossible. forcing out even the wonder at its existence. fascinated and delighted. didn’t the agency guarantee single-vector access? He felt as if he were somehow being lifted up out of himself. and Henry sat listening. E ditor . one that filled every part of Henry that had ever experienced music: his ears. What was this? The first minute was familiar enough. After four minutes had passed there came another fold—a harmonic impossibility. dazzling. until it felt like it was a needle piercing his own. his skin. and didn’t know the 1 6 | robert reginald .The file was coming back…but slowly. Four parts were a singularity. Henry read the K’s and whistled. The distant DNA hadn’t scrubbed the emotion from the quills’ cell—it had raised it. went through its variations as smoothly as a finger running along a Möbius strip. Why would that be? Henry wondered. What was it Saint-Saëns had said about a fugue? “A piece in which the voices come in—and the listeners go out—one by one. It refolded itself. It was roughly four times the size he had expected.
okay?” 1 7 | robert reginald . E ditor . He felt his every Uncle Fester spine. and those emotions filled every part of Henry Thomas 2018 and carried him out of himself.way back. becoming instead an antenna. taken them far beyond his understanding. attempting to mask the irrepressible sense of pride swelling up in my chest and the intermingling jolt of terror-induced adrenaline hijacking my pulse. picking up the happiness Henry Thomas 1928 so brightly broadcast over the ninety-year arc. “Listen. whoever is smart enough deserves to graduate…with honors. and go on to a fabulous career in the state penitentiary.… **** “Well. I’m going to step outside for a second. picking up even the intellectual satisfaction and pride of whoever had compromised and re-marked his simple algorithms. picking up every nuance of the music.” “Yeah. as free as a breath blowing over a cane quill. every self-isolating quill.” I chuckle. but the music made him happy to be traveling freely.
“I haven’t seen that for a while. At first the headlights showed nothing but more bitumen and desert. First me.” the guy said. “Evening.” the guy said. Harrison. “These two are the Special Ambassadors of Youth. please. E ditor . in which we learn the fate of Ned Malley and his friend Emceesquared Gonzalles della Harpenden following their abrupt ejection from the planet Earth. Ms. “Normal pupil contraction. on your way. Have a nice trip. a few low buildings. “Are we really meant to go all the way to Newharp in that?” 1 8 | robert reginald . “What the…?” I said. It didn’t look very big.” Sue-Ellen said and waved her hand at me and Em in the back seat.” “Look this way.” “Are they drunk?” the guy said. “Evening. We looked at him. Then.” He pulled his head out of the car’s window and lifted the barrier. some of them flashing. In fact.” he said. We were already looking at him.” Sue-Ellen said. The Gamma surged smoothly through the gap in the security fence and picked up speed on the approach road.THE GIZZARD WIZARD. “I don’t think so. and the dark bulk of a spacecraft. Space Junk. in the distance. it looked pathetically small. Ned Talking A guy in uniform appeared out of the darkness and pointed a light through the open window of the car. we could see a cluster of bright lights. He shone the light straight into our eyes. by Rory Barnes Being a short sequel to that admirable novel. then Em. “Other substances?” “Not to my knowledge. OK. Stan.
It’s spinning.” “Now they tell me. “She comes from Newharp in the first place. kiddo. No one is going to ask you to handle birds.” “So how come Em’s an ambassador as well?” I said.” Sue-Ellen said. “It’s all a bit sudden. You are the Special Ambassador of Youth from Earth.” “True. They couldn’t land it if they wanted to.” I said. “All you’ve got to do is sprout words.” Sue-Ellen said.“That’s just the runabout. “and the thing will crap on your hand.” “Grab hold of a dove. “Brothers and sisters of the cosmos.” I said. E ditor . Or it’ll peck your eyes out. we extend to you the hand of friendship in which we hold the sweet dove of eternal peace in the sure and certain knowledge that our two planets are bound together in a common destiny and a common ancestry. We haven’t even got any luggage. you fool.” Sue-Ellen said.” I said. Neddy-boy. Your current status is fugitive. they love that.” I said.… Just stress the fact that everybody’s ancestors came from Earth— everybody’s human. “It’s the pitch I had to make to Ulrike Lewis to get you on board.” “Listen. and resigned myself to being an intergalactic fugitive from justice. “You are stopping at Skyros and then Kovalev along the way.” “What messages?” I said. That and the dove of peace.” “You aren’t going straight to Newharp. And if you’re caught: finito. what’s all this about Ambassadors of Youth?” “That’s what you are. you’ll end up in clink. Which they don’t.” Sue-Ellen said. blah blah blah. “And anyway.” “Make them up.” Sue-Ellen said. if you’re still on this planet by daybreak. Got it?” “I suppose so. “We’ve got no messages. for godsake. That and an Ambassador for goddamned Yoof. 1 9 | robert reginald . “The Delegate is in orbit.” “Words. You are carrying youthful messages of peace and goodwill to the distant corners of the universe. Em is the Special Ambassador of Youth from Newharp. She can hardly be an ambassador to her own planet.
There was a cold desert wind blowing the blackness of the night straight through the bright lights of the apron. “What things?” I shouted back. sidled up to the crate. the guy got his hand in. I looked back to where the splintered crate still sat on the tarmac. Stop gawking.” Sue-Ellen said. The drunk laughed and stumbled as he was propelled towards the boarding ramp. and made a lightning gesture with his hand and sidled away. There were drunks falling out of busses. chundering. “Out.” I said. I watched one guy lever the corner off a crate with a screwdriver. The authorities weren’t making arrests tonight. He stood there jerking and twisting. “You should feel right at home. E ditor . “These are the guys who are going to fly the tub?” “’Fraid so. The scene was a shambles. Drunks were trying to pilfer whatever was left unattended.” Sue-Ellen said. singing. I’ve got the eyesight of a hawk. 2 0 | robert reginald . Guys with clipboards were trying to check the loads before they were snatched off the trucks and carted away by forklifts with flashing lights and cursing drivers. The noise level was infernal. you’d think his wrist was caught in a trap. Then Sue-Ellen turned to me and ruffled my hair. The crate splintered. kissed. What a pro! You’d need the eyesight of a hawk to have seen the sleight of hand.” she shouted.**** Sue-Ellen brought the Gamma to a halt in the bright lights of the apron. The shore patrol guy let him go as soon as he was safely on his way up the ramp. just moving things along.” Canola rollers by the dozen were parked all over the apron in no pattern at all. you lot. but couldn’t pull anything out. cheering. “Gawdalmighty. and twisted it up behind his back. “Just don’t stuff things up. A Newharp shore patrol officer pounced on him. Quick as a ferret a runty little guy in a huge overcoat split from a group of merrymakers. Em and Sue-Ellen embraced. “OK.” The three of us climbed out of the Gamma. hauled his arm out of the crate. Neddy-boy.
It was one dim cavern. cursing in good English. I knew that. an obscene parody of the Homecoming Song being bawled in our ears. And it was me who couldn’t afford to remain on the damn planet.” Her voice cracked. for godsake.” “Come on. This is my planet we’re leaving. At the last moment I’d taken Harri’s place on this loony intergalactic mission. “Well. and either way it would end up on the 2 1 | robert reginald . Em had arrived on Earth with Harri. She yelled at me and Em. there’s a vote of confidence. There were tiers of webbed hammocks—bright orange in the gloom. We were almost run over by a forklift loaded with crates. she wasn’t going anywhere tonight. I’m being sent into exile. We all surged towards the runabout. It occurred to me that these were the last words in English I’d ever hear spoken on Earth by a fellow Earthling. after all. but a mob of singing. “I’m the one that’s meant to be bawling my eyes out. some were still being tied down by a gang of loaders who yelled and kicked at the pilferers. Five seconds later she was gone. “One of the great farewell speeches of all time. I just hoped she didn’t blame me for the substitution.” Em said. It was Harri. “You’re going home. She didn’t look back. I looked sideways at her. it wasn’t their stuff.” Em said. She took my hand and started to pull me roughly through the crowd towards the boarding ramp.” I yelled.” “Shut up. She was crying for her brother Harri. She was crying. E ditor . I didn’t say anything. she was leaving with me. But their hearts weren’t in it.” I said. The driver swerved. cheering space crew engulfed us. Em and I went up the ramp with drunken strangers’ arms around our shoulders. I was going to say something about this to Em. who’d chosen to remain on Earth. She was just a local.“Any bloody things at all. Stores were all over the floor: some were already tied down with more orange webbing. The inside of the runabout was an even greater shambles than the apron.” she said and spun on her heel and climbed back into the Gamma. “Let’s try to get good hammocks. Em. calling us a pair of lame-brained mutants.
you idiot.” Em said. E ditor . “You can only try. Various others were climbing. have a swig. you’ll drink to the schlock rocks. Earth-boy. “Cozy. She said to me. “Later?” the woman said. As we climbed we passed a hammock with a couple in it—the woman waved a hip flask at us.” Em said. One guy fell off. won’t you. I spluttered and handed the flask back. darling.” Em said. “You’ll drink. There were tears in my eyes by the time I reached the top of the scramble net.intergalactic.” I said. “Drink to the heroes of the schlock rock brigade. “You’ll have to share mine.” “What?” I said. why doncha?” “Later. “Top tier. He was a drunk.” But Em was out of reach. “Later will be too later. “It’ll do you good. I clambered across into the hammock Em was already occupying.” her companion said. “Not tonight. “Bloody hell.” I took the flask and put it to my lips. All the hammocks at this level seemed to be taken. The crew member who had his arm round Em’s shoulder yelled something about share my nest and I’ll take off my vest. There were cheers and catcalls from those who were already occupying hammocks.” Em said.” “Why?” “Because of the g-forces. you young hoon. “Have a swig. but he was an amiable drunk.” she said. We have to be completely enclosed.” the guy said.” “Go on. But she was already climbing a scramble net making for the top tier of hammocks. sister. Em disengaged herself. “Just fix those clips there. “Grab a top hammock.” What she said made no sense to me.” 2 2 | robert reginald . Whatever it was ripped most of the skin off my throat and found its way into my nose. The woman grabbed my arm.
” I said. Em and I were forced down onto the webbing. dingbat. E ditor . The dim cavern could have been deep underground. And I also knew that she didn’t love me. I looked down through the webbing. I had half a mind to tell her I loved her. kissed her hair. The loading gang was leaving. I put my arms around her. “Going to bed with you. Then they were gone. But she settled herself with her head on my shoulder. More garbled announcements. There were no windows in the craft.“Suits me. In their hammocks the crew cheered and burst into song. we could have been miners. There was a garbled announcement from half a dozen speakers.” “Oh shut up.” I said. waving a mock good bye. and forced down onto the webbing. “So how come the g-forces are less in the top hammocks?” “They’re not. “There’s a zero-g component to this trip. it could have been a boat on a tranquil sea. It was hard to 2 3 | robert reginald . “This isn’t quite how I’d imagined it. It’s just that if anybody chunders during takeoff.” she said.” she said. Then I had the feeling that the runabout was floating gently. and I could hear the whine of the hydraulics as the boarding ramp was raised. do you?” I fixed the clips that secured the top webbing. Em and I were now in a sort of open weave basket with a lid.” I said.” Em said. The wedge shrank and disappeared. “Imagined what?” she said. There were noises of locks engaging. Suddenly the g-forces hit. The singing died. Get it?” “The voice of experience. or refugees in a bomb shelter. it was swaying. We could have been kittens. We were accelerating and accelerating fast. “You don’t want to float away. “Common sense. but she already knew that. The bright lights from the apron sent a wedge of brilliance into the runabout. So I asked her a technical question instead. it’s best to have them below you rather than above you. And forced down onto the webbing. Ned.
Ned was looking a bit pale. “What?” I said. “Behold. he managed to make it through the airlock and down the radial elevator without a major regurgitation event. “I am an honest trader. We’re spinning. “Magnets?” Ned said.breath. My reputation can stand any scrutiny. But.” **** Em Talking By the time the acceleration had cut out and we’d negotiated the zero-g component and then gone into synchronized spin.” I gasped.” the little guy said. E ditor . It’s one big barrel. “the fresh-faced innocence of youth. “that you two are new additions to our esteemed crew of psychopaths and alimony evaders—we will have the pleasure of your company in the long drear months ahead?” “Keep your hands in your pockets.” “Of fun?” “Who knows. that was uncalled for. no. He looked like a walking tent. I’ve seen him at work on Earth.” “What do you sell?” Ned said.” the tent said.” I said. “How long’s this going to…?” “As long…as it takes. “There’s gravity in here—do they do it with magnets?” “No. as soon as we’d docked with The Delegate. The whole ship is a giant centrifuge. “This guy will rob you blind. The muster room at the end of the elevator was full of drunken crew regaining their composure. “How long.” I turned. “I trust. There was a small guy in a large overcoat.” said a voice beside me. a merchant of the space lanes.” “Young man. but he didn’t sound offended. 2 4 | robert reginald .” Ned said to me.
you half-witted lump of incharitable space debris. if you’ll excuse me. you moth-eaten. I hadn’t seen one since I left Newharp. It was a standard voice recognition and retina scan barrier: it just checked your voice print and the patterns on the back of your eyeball.…” The guy scuttled off. The Delegate’s systems had no idea who we were. “The name’s John Doe. give the poor sods an even break.” “Then I am your man.…” He was still cursing the ship and all its systems as he and his companion disappeared round a corner in the far passage.” As the guy passed through the door he yelled. “Everything the heart desires can be yours.” Ned said. “At a very reasonable price. Do not hesitate to seek me out if there is anything you desire. We were now the only people left in the muster area. announcing himself to the log-in scanner as “Maintenance Leading Hand Doe. “I’ll have a word with the beast. Most of the drunks. They also made silly faces at the scanner.” the guy said. Delighted to have made your acquaintance. passing through the only door out of the muster room. “Well.” I said to Ned.” the runt said. appeal to its better nature. “OK. as they left the room. The last two remaining drunks cheered as Ned dusted himself down. “let’s try to get through the door. E ditor . “Hard to say. why don’t you. yelled out a funny name or bawled a bit of ribald verse. I’m stuffed if I’m going to spend the whole trip in a 2 5 | robert reginald . but they are common enough at home.” This was a more civilized announcement than other people were making. “We own nothing. At your service. “Good try.“What do you want?” the guy replied. The repulsion field kicked in with a vengeance despite Ned yelling the first verse of Gert-by-Sea and thumbing his nose at the scanner.” “At a price?” Ned said. it didn’t know or care what you actually said or did.” It knocked us back. It’ll probably knock us back. And now. John. “Let them in.” one of them said.
let us in. six hundred thousand.” “How did you get onto the runabout?” “Sue-Ellen Harrison drove us there.” “That’s one way of looking at it. “Emceesquared Gonzalles della Harpenden. Will the other access-denied person please identify him or herself. “Ms.” I said. She looked at us. remember?” “You make us sound like balls in a lottery. “We are the Special Ambassadors for Yoof. Edward Malley. “It’s a spacecraft. aka Ned. “This joint’s a bit light on for windows.” Ned said. her. they’d have to be in the floor. Harpenden.” “Oh. Sue-Ellen Harrison is an 2 6 | robert reginald . Windows would be a design fault. My number is twenty-two million.” Ned said to me. And like the guy said.” an automatic voice demanded from a concealed speaker.” “It seems polite enough.” Ned said.” “We both do.” said the officer. For the first time in hours we were in complete silence. “I have no crew number.” “Please remain where you are. And anyway.” A flustered officer walked through the door. for pete’s sake. waving at the walls. “The last thing we want is to be sent back to Earth. “I take it one of you young whippersnappers claims ambassadorial status. Nothing happened for a while. You know that.” “Your Excellency will please remain where your Excellency currently is. even if there were windows. We’re in a spinning drum.” “I am the Ambassador for Yoof on Earth.waiting room. looked around the muster room as if she was in search of someone else.” I said.” We retreated to a row of chairs against one of the walls. She was wearing a crisp uniform and was perfectly sober. “Howabout we go back to Earth?” “Please state your name and crew number. and then walked over to us. and thirty-four and a half. An authorized admissions officer will contact you soon. “Don’t get smart.” Ned said. Ms. E ditor .
“Oh. crash hot diplomats. Do I make myself clear. “She wants you to refer to Lewis as Her Excellency.” Ned said. but she checked herself and said very primly. And she is no more in charge of crew recruitment than Ms.” I said in English. “If—and I stress if—you are permitted to remain on board The Delegate. “It is customary in polite Newharp discourse to use the terms of address and honorifics to which a person is entitled by virtue of his or her rank and social standing. E ditor . “But Her Excellency is not the captain of the ship.” “The nature of the ceremonial duties you will be required to perform once we arrive at Skyros will be a matter for Her Excellency.” the officer said.” “She’s great mates with Ulrike Lewis. “She did. However. “Well. she is not Crew Recruitment.” Ned said. “We are prepared to shoulder that burden.” Ned said.” Ned said. “It is true that Her Excellency Ulrike Lewis is the most revered and honored member of this ship’s company. Then he switched back to Newharp and said to the officer.official translator provided by the Earth authorities. one of those. young man?” “What’s this old goat on about?” Ned said to me in English.” “Sure. “I’m sure Her Imperial High Majesty Ulrike von Lewis is most anxious that her Special Ambassadors for Yoof be given every assistance as they settle into the life of this esteemed spacecraft. pointing at me with his thumb. you will be required to diligently discharge your duties.” said the officer. Harrison is. while the ship is in flight you will perform the more mundane tasks allocated to you by an officer of this 2 7 | robert reginald .” Ned said. she hasn’t done a very good job. god.” The officer looked as if she was going to give Ned another lecture. “We’ll be tip-top ambassadors.” “Who taught you to speak Newharp?” the officer snapped.” “Lewis wants us to carry messages of youthful peace and good will to the Skyroans and Kovalevs.
With someone like me counseling the troops. E ditor . the team can perform its duties without help from a salesman.” “You will appreciate that there is no scope for your line of work on The Delegate. Ms. Or rep.” “That sounds like defeatist talk to me. We will only know this after the runabout has made its last shuttle flight. all sorts of bits and pieces.” “Yes. Now. “Em’s a waitress and language teacher. In cases where organ replacement therapy is indicated. I understand from your companion here that you have waitressing skills. Harpenden.” I said. the odd pancreas.” “What if trade’s slack?” “It is not a trade. “Now. “You sell musical instruments to Christian churches? Hymns?” “Body parts.” “It is possible that some vacancies may have arisen during our stay on Earth.” “An organ salesman?” The officer said. “An ethnic Newharp entertainment complex in Jackson’s Port.” “We have a fully trained medical team on board.” “I take it you are severely understaffed. hearts. “A good salesman never sleeps.” The officer shrugged and turned her attention to me. I’m a rep.” Ned said. eyeballs. I say.” “A good transplant surgeon needs constant practice. “What do you mean by that?” “Half the crew have jumped ship. arteries. Use it or lose it.” Ned said. “In what sort of establishment have you practiced this profession?” “The Dog and Harp.” I said. I sell them door to door. the surgeon guys will never be out of work.” Ned said.” “And this is a high-class establishment? Top end of the 2 8 | robert reginald . He’s always making one last pitch.ship.” Ned said. “Kidneys. what specialized work skills do you each possess?” “I’m an organ salesman.
” “These would be the guys most likely to jump ship?” Ned said. Not the crew’s. You can’t lecture us about high standards. won’t it?” Ned said. We’ve got the measure of them. Beside me Ned managed to turn a snort into a coughing fit. the whole greasy box of dice.” “So what’s the price of moonshine in this tub?” There was a moment’s tense silence. “Good. She returned her attention to me. You could tell that Ned had got it right: The Delegate was well served with illegal hooch stills. Ms. I broke the silence by telling the woman that I was sure I could handle the requirements of the officers’ mess. “And I hope Malley here can handle the duties of a washer woman. “A what?” “We have reason to believe that there will be a vacancy in the Ultra-c Accelerated Drive Tunnels Maintenance Detail—a dedicated group of men and women known colloquially as ‘the washer women’—both genders.” “Well. 2 9 | robert reginald .” she said. Malley!” The officer said.” Ned burst out laughing.” “High!” Ned exploded. Your recent companions on the runabout have had the last drink they are going to have for a very long time. Harpenden? The standards required of the serving staff are high. it will have to do for a start. A very long time indeed.market?” “Yes. The officer looked at Ned coldly but didn’t say anything. It was less than six hours since he’d burned the Dog to the ground. I am glad to say that the crew’s mess is entirely self-service. “Do you think you could handle the formalities of the officers’ mess on this ship.” “I’m talking about the officers’ mess. “We’re talking zero job satisfaction here?” “We believe there may be at least one vacancy. We know these guys. E ditor . “High standards for that gang of bums?” “Mr. and no intoxicating beverages whatsoever are available. we’ve just come up in the runabout.” I said. “Lady.
Em and I each got a spin dryer to live in. “Roomy. a bit cramped.” she said.” I said. At the far end of the spin-dryer was a small telly screen and a few drawers to keep stuff in. “This whole bloody ship is a palace. Not that Em or I had any stuff. The corridor curved around the circumference of the ship. “see you in the morning. “Let’s go and find the mess. What do you think?” “Depends what you’re used to. I climbed out of my dryer and stood in the corridor. was bleak. when I finally located it. “Compared to what?” I said. I’m starving. But what could you expect?—they were all 3 0 | robert reginald . Em climbed out of hers.” **** The crew’s mess. E ditor . Not that it was hard work.**** Ned Talking The ambassadorial quarters were a bit mean. you stayed at the bottom.” She wasn’t joking. You were always at the bottom of the hill. and once you got through the door.” “You’re not wrong. Idiot-boy.” “I just want a shower and then sleep. The crew was bleak. and however much you tried to climb the hill. They were in a bank of spin dryers stacked up three high along both sides of a narrow corridor. the hatch. But you felt you were a rat on a treadmill.” I said. it was just like walking on level ground. “Compared to the smugglers’ rat-trap that Harri and I came to Earth in.” “OK. The spin dryers were clean and shiny.” I said. “The spacious elegance of a Scott-Wok mansion. there was enough room to lie full length or to sit up—but that was all. Us ambassadors weren’t going to do much pacing around our spacious suites.
get it?” 3 1 | robert reginald . I said. You know. All the food came out of self-service machines.” “This happens on Earth as well. just to be nice to the dumb machine. yeppster. “Hey. “Yeah. “Bowl of seaweed soup and a double helping of nine spice rolls with piquant sauce.hung over. I took the tray to a table and sat down.” “Well listen. “Earthling?” “Yep. and those that were were sitting around with their heads in their hands—groaning quietly.” I said. smelt good. What you’ve got to understand is that anything that isn’t nailed down walks.” “Oh.” The dumb machine whizzed and groaned and the tray appeared. “Please. Not that there were any kitchen staff in evidence. There weren’t many present. About spoons and forks. I could find none. “Yep.” I said. come on. I didn’t reckon the kitchen staff were going to be run off their feet with demands for second helpings. “The officers have got them all. The guy took his head out of his hands and looked at me through bloodshot eyes. And I wasn’t hung over. I was keen for a feed. I went in search. I tapped a hungover dude on the shoulder. There was no cutlery—neither on the table nor on the tray.” “You poor sap. Not really feeling up to solid food. once stuff has walked out onto a planet. You just spoke your order and a tray appeared out of a slot with the required tucker onboard. but on a spacetub. E ditor . The food looked quite good.” “What silver?” I said. You’re shipping out on a Newharp spacetub?” “Yep. it can’t be replaced until you hit the next planet. knives. “You new?” he said.” Then. I said.” the guy said without looking up.” “Someone flogged the silver.” “There aren’t any. mate.
Toothpicks. Fetch a packet on Earth.” “I thought you said it was only the officers’ stuff that got flogged. “I couldn’t help overhearing your mournful discourse.” “Oh god. 3 2 | robert reginald .“Yeah. “No offense meant. Those primatives’ll buy anything flashy—beads. Whoever it was also took the ceremonial stuff with the precious stones and the rare metals and the inlays and all that crap. “not all the knives and forks. Somebody took all the knives and forks and sold them on Earth. I can’t say I feel very peckish myself at the moment.” “Gentlemen.” I said. You know. But it’s your greedy Earthling mates who’ve left us with no eating irons. E ditor . I reckon I’ve got it. “You will be pleased to know that I just happen to have at my disposal a limited—and I stress limited—supply of very serviceable knives and forks that I picked up in a flea-market on Earth.” “So how come…?” “Well. they requisition. are they?” “They’ve gone and stolen the crew’s utensils?” “Stolen? You’ve a blunt way of speaking.” “That’s what I said. they reallocate.…” “So how are we meant to eat?” “Fingers.” “All bloody voyage! You seriously reckon we’ll be eating with our fingers until we reach Skyros?” “We could give up eating. lowering his head into his hands again. they.” “Thanks. Some metal. blankets. Rusty nails. tomahawks. the goddamned officers aren’t going to eat with their fingers.” said John Doe. some plastic.” “At your service. the real silver and gold stuff that they use every day.” said a voice at my shoulder. they commandeer. The officers don’t steal. yeppster.” “No. brightly colored cloth….” said the first guy.” said the guy. yeppster. Just all the knives and forks from the officers’ mess. “Bloody Doe.
“Here.…” “Let us leave this cynic to his own delusions.” Doe said. “Show me soup and I’ll show you an opportunity for animal behavior.” he said. For a while we ate in silence. Doe.” John Doe said.” Doe said. “Show me soup and I’ll show you a certified spoon opportunity. “Insider trading. “Come. “Knives and forks also.” “It figures. still looking at the table.I may even be able to run to a spoon or two.” Doe said.” the first guy said. “That way the honest trader can be in a position to satisfy the pressing desires of his customers. at least.” He leaned across the table. more like.” I said. allow me. We’ve heard it before. In a second the guy had wiped my chin and returned the handkerchief to his pocket. E ditor . I sat down in front of my own food. Or.” mumbled the first guy. “It pays to do your market research.” He led the way to the table where I had left my soup and ninespice rolls.” “This is a gross slander.” “Spoons raise us above the level of the beasts. There was now a second tray on the table. “I always find spoons make things easier to control.” “Market research. It was you who flogged the officers’ stuff in the first place. our food is getting cold. heaped with food. “I would no more dispose of the ship’s possessions than. a silk handkerchief in his hand. “You’ve got some on your chin.…” “Save us the lecture.” John Doe said without any anger that I could detect. He sat down and started to feed his face. Doe didn’t offer me any eating implements.” “Sounds a bit fancy-pantsy to me. producing a knife and fork from his sleeve like a conjurer at a kids’ party. Doe using his implements. I have. So you knew the crew was going to have a shortage of eating irons. I took hold of the soup bowl and raised it to my lips. me just drinking from the bowl.” “How many of the things have you got?” 3 3 | robert reginald . “Let us dine.” Doe said to me.
the proper stuff got stolen. richly polished.” **** Em Talking The officers’ mess had all the charm of a leftover palace. I might miss out. covered in deep carpet. The lighting was subdued. “The officers aren’t too thrilled with these things. “What do you get paid on this ship?” “Not enough. It was ornate. hunting trophies adorned the walls. but some from home. That your message?” “You’re a bright boy.“As I said.” Doe said. Did the ship have its own greenhouse? The cutlery was pretty ordinary: great solid clunky knives and forks made of stainless steel. a limited number. were wooden. Tamara. the shift supervisor who was showing me around.” “By the way. Pay me back next payday. which curved with the curvature of the ship. Here.” I said. richly patterned. Also a knife and a fork.” “Skint?” “Broke.” “You’d be better off in spoons. “It’s an advantage to have a second source of income.” “Credit can be extended.” “Also skint. said.” “I’m an organ salesman myself. E ditor . and fresh flowers.” 3 4 | robert reginald . the tables. Spoons like ladles. there were silver candlesticks on the tables. have one.” “Who by?” “It pays not to know. Devoid of cash.” “Got any organs to sell?” “Not at the moment. old flags of long dead intergalactics hung from poles that jutted out from the bulkheads.” “If I don’t buy now. most of which I recognized from Earth.
” I said. barely managing to keep her voice level. I suppose I was indebted to her.” Montesquieu said. “Where?” “In her private quarters. Her fellow officers addressed her as Monty. “Monty here doesn’t even get invited to Her Excellency’s cocktail parties. Do you. E ditor . The glittering. “Unlike Ms. high-ranking officers at High Table all laughed at Her Excellency’s jokes. “She’s invited you to afternoon tea.” and patted my bottom. looking quickly sideways while purveying food to the junior officers. It was a bit of a shock. “You and Malley have an appointment with Her Excellency at 1600 hours tomorrow.**** Waiting on the tables wasn’t too hard once I’d learned the ritual. I didn’t get to wait on High Table. let alone a private audience with tea and cakes thrown in. she spoke directly to me while I was dishing out plates of battered darkfish. Anybody who could handle the Dog and Harp could handle this place. she managed to hold her own. after we’d been in-flight for about a week. I knew she was old. Still. Mont?” “I don’t have ambassadorial status. but I was unprepared for the wizened crone who held court at High Table.” I was a bit flustered. “Lucky you. a jovial fatso called Potemkin. Montesquieu added. Usually she hardly acknowledged my presence. She seemed to be in a constant state of suppressed fury. but I got to see Ulrike Lewis in person for the first time in my life. Her name was Flight Regulator Montesquieu. The guy let out a cheery hoot of laughter and said.” And then. and moved on to serve the next officer. Em. but I managed to say.” “Snakey!” Potemkin chortled. 3 5 | robert reginald .” “Thank you. One of the regulars at a table I did wait on was the officer who’d allowed Ned and myself onto the ship. But one evening. Harpenden. but I can’t say I warmed to her. as far as I could tell.
I never dreamed I might meet you in person. Snappy innards.” “For which a healthy mind and a healthy body are the number one prerequisites. noggin clear. the Ambassador of Yoof from Earth. The carpets were richly patterned and very deep. this is my mate. “And you must be Harri.” Ned said. As I’ve said. She was full of praise for your abilities and your deep commitment to interplanetary peace.” 3 6 | robert reginald .” Her Excellency said. I thought. “I have known Your Excellency through your poetry since I was in Basic School. “Won’t you please sit down.” Ned said. Harri’s sister.…” “No. A maid conducted us through the gilded vestibule and into some sort of drawing room. fuddled brain. There was another silence. The walls were paneled in a dark wood that gleamed slightly in the concealed lamp light. I’m from Earth.” Ned said.” Ned said with enthusiasm. planetary peace—no small beer!” Ned then looked modestly at his own feet. Em. She’s the Ambassador from Newharp. I was tongue-tied. Then Her Excellency said. I’m Ned.**** Her Excellency’s apartment was sumptuous. Sue-Ellen Harrison spoke most highly of you.” Ulrike Lewis turned to me. “Use it or lose it. I was having trouble with it myself. “Crook gizzards. “Not me. likewise. It was clear that Her Excellency was having trouble making the connection. E ditor .” she said. “You’ve forgotten to curtsy.” There was a moment’s silence. “Ms. I’ve stepped into his shoes. planetary peace down the drain. Em. “Harri stayed behind. is my motto.” Ned said. “I’m a bit of a poet myself. Then I said. Em. She said. Sue-Ellen had to switch things around a bit. Anyway.” “Oh.” We did. Her Excellency rose from a brocaded sofa and shook our hands. “It is with great pleasure that I make your acquaintances. “Yeah.
The doggerel he was spouting couldn’t fool Her Excellency for a minute. a bit past it.” And then. but I’d always entered the annual competition.” “Alas. and I’ll drink to that in no small beers. Ned added.” Ned said. young man. “Cheers!” This was madness. only his nose knows no wipe. he had never won a prize at school—an Ulrike Lewis Medallion for Poetic Excellence. But Her Excellency got in first.” I was gripped by a sudden surge of panic. but she was a Living Treasure. Ned had returned to the subject of gizzards. “I feel that the deepest. young fellow.” Her Excellency said. The last thing we needed was for bloody Ned to start taking a piss. after a short pause.he said quietly. and you could see why she might appear that way to him. I brought my attention back to the conversation. Ned thought she was a mad old crone. “Why did you finish your poem with the phrase. truest thoughts are best expressed in rhyme. “you must forgive me if I do not respond immediately to the sense of your verse. “One of the traps of rhyming poetry is the tendency to allow the rhyme scheme to dictate the sense of the poem. It seemed to fit. ‘no small beer’?” “It seemed to fit.” “Why doesn’t it?” “Because you only used it to get a rhyme with ‘clear’. she had enormous moral standing. I suspect there are cultural referents embedded in it which are 3 7 | robert reginald . E ditor . “The harmony of the galaxies is the harmony of the spheres. Ned knew nothing of poetry. only the wizard is wise to the tripe.” “I wouldn’t underestimate the clear importance of galactic harmony. Not that I’d ever won one myself. but it doesn’t. Or could it? I suddenly saw Ulrike Lewis through Ned’s eyes. I was about to say something mollifying. Just what game did Ned think he was playing? Ulrike Lewis might be a bit ancient.” “What?” Ned said. “Only the gizzard wizard snouts it out. He hadn’t been brought up on her poetry.” “Exactly.
bang! The guy was onto it. Pity about the diagnostics. I tell you. is a ‘gizzard wizard’?” “I am a gizzard wizard. x-rays. inner putrefaction.” “Indeed you are. I try to limit my activities to those items of decay that are consistent with organ replacement therapy.” “And you have this facility yourself?” “Years of study. having finally understood a single phrase. You can’t replace it. It’s lamentable. litmus paper. They knew how to sniff out decay.” “Snouting what out?” “Disease. for instance. all that sort of crap. “We Earthlings are deeply in your debt when it comes to the actual growing and replacement of organs. and perhaps to those like Em here who have had first-hand experience of your civilization. There is no organ that codes for moral contagion. Gizzard wizardry. Knew a thing or two.…” “Wizard gizzardry.” “Sure are. Vicissitude. E ditor .” “The Ancients…?” “Old buggers. y-rays. The secrets of the Ancients.” Her Excellency said.known only to native Earthlings. quick as a flash. pathology procedures.” “Diagnostics?” “Scanners. but the art is in a state of Stone Age decrepitude.” Ned said with feeling. z-rays. “Organ replacement therapy. “It is my humble calling. As I say. Lassitude. rot. Something we Newharpians are very good at. I go amongst the people snouting it out. One of those little putrifiers up the nose of an Ancient.” “Our diagnostic procedures are state-of-the-art. it’s usually too late. computer-assisted ultrasound tomography.” “Ah. Arcane tomes. That’s all it took. Old as sin. Lamentable. medical imaging technology.” Ned said modestly. Runes. even sometimes moral contagion. impurities of all stamps. yes. Blizzard drizzardry. stingrays.” “And you have a better way. a pity. decay. What. A single putrefying molecule of decay. Although. snot. By the time the diseased organ starts showing up on those babies.” 3 8 | robert reginald .
Let’s talk of more interesting things. But he tells the victim what he or she wants to hear: you’re in the clear. Don’t worry about it. Everybody goes into denial at first. young man. E ditor .” “I beg your pardon?” “Meatus.” Ned said quietly. They call in their own personal physician. Maybe I’m wrong. Now. relax.” “I don’t think so. Maybe…. don’t do anything.” “Meatus.…” “Yeah. Ned showed no deference.…” “Denial. The two of them went at it like old friends. have a good time.… And all the while the rot is setting in.…” **** And we did.” “The number of times I’ve heard that response. Ned made up little mini speeches.“I trust you don’t find much to sniff out on The Delegate.” “I’m sure that. old sparring partners. And I’m sure you’re right. some of them in his awful verse. his instruments are a thousand times cruder than a gizzard wizard’s hooter. establishing itself. argued with Ned about rhymes and scansion.” “What about denial?” “It’s natural. Ulrike Lewis added bits. Forget I said anything about your meatus.…” “I’m sure my own personal physician. We run a very healthy ship. We talked for the best part of an hour about the ceremonies and speeches and appearances at joint sittings of both houses of parliament that we would take part in once we arrived at Skyros.” “What about meatus?” “Your Excellency has a meatus problem. about me and Em being Ambassadors of Yoof. yeah. “of course you’re sure. The physician calls in one of the scanner guys. there’s nothing wrong with you. 3 9 | robert reginald . making itself at home. The scanner guy can’t find anything—of course he can’t.
” The way he said it.…” “My body servant.” “Might be a good idea. “By the way. “We certainly have.” “I’m not sure I understand.” “She needs her left tympani replaced.” Her Excellency said.” We finished our tea and cake. bringing a tray of cakes and tea.” “Maybe I shouldn’t say this. “We’d be eating with our fingers. “I’ll ask her if she’s suffered any dizzy spells. if it wasn’t for John Doe’s supply of Earth knifes and forks. “That maid girl who brought the cakes. E ditor . But slowly my anxiety ebbed. The maid reappeared. Do that and she’ll be as right as rain.” Ned said. Has she complained of dizzy spells?” “No. Ned held his up to the light. Whatever Ned was up to. Jennifer.” “Rumors. I could think of nothing to say. I said barely a word. “Just to be on the safe side. and a dainty little stainless steel fork to eat them with. “The bane of shipboard life. We each had a dainty little plate for the cakes. The maid set the low table and poured the tea. Why?” “Attrification of the tensor tympani muscle. What about her?” “Dizzy spells.” “She’s probably unaware herself—at the moment. “You’ve heard about the theft of the officers’ cutlery. you’d think he’d spent his entire eighteen years plying the space lanes.” Her Excellency said. Ned looked at her intently for a couple of seconds and sniffed.” he went on. It was time for us to go.” There was a few seconds’ silence and then Her Excellency said. “but you do realize that Leading Hand Doe is a prime suspect? He might well have stolen the officers’ silver in the first place.” “I was unaware she was sick. he wasn’t going to land us in the soup just yet.” Ned said. Things are a bit grim in the crew’s mess. I don’t think so.” said Ned philosophically. Her 4 0 | robert reginald .he was hardly polite—it didn’t seem to matter. examining it critically. At least I thought he wasn’t.
depends how you look at it.” I said. And when you’ve got a good body of work completed.Excellency accompanied us across the deep carpet to the vestibule door. Huge gleaming steel tubes ran like uncooked spaghetti in bundles that went on forever. but don’t let the need for rhyme dictate the sense.” “Poor old fossil.” “And what the hell is a meatus?” “I don’t know.” I looked around. “You can breath easier up here. “Work on those verse speeches. “The laundry. “Some chunk of the human body. come and see me. I said. “What is this place?” I said.” the gang boss said. “We’re nearer the center of the ship. Or down here. “We launder the space-time continuum up here. Wires and cables flowed down the walls and along the floor twisted and tangled like overcooked spaghetti.” 4 1 | robert reginald . “We fold it up and punch holes through it. We’d never get from one galaxy to the next if we didn’t. “It doesn’t look like a laundry to me.” the boss said. As we were finding our way back to the crew’s quarters.” I said.” She shut the door and we were alone in the corridor. E ditor .” “Makes no sense to me. She shook our hands and said to Ned.” Ned said.” I said.” Ned said. after all. “We didn’t do the space-time continuum at Tidy Consolidated.” **** Ned Talking “Welcome to the laundry. my friend. Goodbye to both of you.” the boss said.” “The gravity’s less. We’re all made out of meat. “She didn’t ask me to come and see her again. It’s the only way. That’s how centrifuges work. “She’s worried sick about her meatus.
apparently. “You just can’t get the help. In exquisite slow motion she performed a perfect backwards somersault.” the boss said. Robots are useless. maybe fifteen meters above the deck. “It’s a byproduct of hyper-c travel.” “How does the dust get in here in the first place?” “Spontaneous creation of matter. but I suspected she was thin and lithe. “None of us do. since her face was masked with a filtration device. We have to keep shoveling the rubbish out.” I said. “You could look at it like that. Then I saw a figure.” The boss looked up into the mass of pipes and stainless steel vessels.” “It’s something for nothing.” the boss said.” the guy said. You’d be surprised how much cosmic dust gets into the works. mops. “It is. He let out a piercing whistle and yelled. I 4 2 | robert reginald . The overalls disguised her figure. the figure launched herself backwards into the air.” “What do we clean it with?” “Rags.” “Sounds a bit primitive. But I’ll introduce you to D’Bridie. but couldn’t see anybody amongst the hardware. Which wasn’t surprising.” I said.” the boss said. The ship gets to the other end heavier than when it started. D’Bridie. landing lightly on her feet a couple of meters from where we stood. although hers were filthy. spreading her arms like wings.” “You’ve got to while away the down time somehow. As we watched.” I said. “Hey. “Show off. real cosmic crap. brushes. E ditor . “I don’t usually play. The girl said something I couldn’t understand. We’re just paid to keep the equipment clean. A muffled voice yelled something I couldn’t understand. come and meet the new chum.“Naw. I don’t understand it either. balanced on a gantry. She said something more I couldn’t understand and offered me her hand. Her hair was in a bun. Do you play jongma?” “I know how.” I looked where he was looking. Half of it’s dark matter. She wore the same sort of overalls that they’d given me. she can show you the ropes.
well. “Like a bloody sniffer dog. interesting. “I’m meant to show you what to do.” she said.” she said.” D’Bridie said.” I said. I felt like the masked raider. E ditor .” I said.” she grinned. I put it on. While she was organizing me a mask and brushes.” she said. “You’ll feel like a chemical warfare 4 3 | robert reginald . and looked at me in silence for a few seconds. “I bet this cupboard is locked.” “Yeah. sorry.” she said. Here: put this on.” I said.” she said slowly.” “Belowboard?” “The rest of the ship. sounding like she meant it.” I said. “Birth defect. I looked around the store. “That’s why I haven’t had it fixed. “But hooch stills are only part of the game.shook it. “It’s your mask. it muffles things. “Come on. and then grinned and said.” “I…thought…you…were…meant…to…speak…Newharp.” she said and pulled the mask down to her throat. “Hardly a defect. “I do. I walked over to one of the cupboards. Mostly the cleaning equipment was on open shelves.” She handed me a mask. It’s advisable not to speak of the laundry’s secrets belowboard.” and she led me to a storeroom. “I feel like the masked raider.” the boss said and wandered off. “I used to sell body parts. D’Bridie stopped what she was doing.” “You couldn’t talk me into anything. My nose alerted me. “I could have talked you into a new smile. “How do you know?” “I can smell the stuff. “I probably couldn’t. “I’ll leave you two to get on with it.” I said. but there were one or two closed cupboards. “I can’t understand a word you’re saying.” I said.” I said. She had a crooked smile—it made her look. “It won’t last. saying.
” she said. “I want to talk to you. I too would’ve arranged to have them hidden in the laundry. Not my favorite person. There were about a dozen of us. I turned and started to follow her.” “When?” “Now. D’Bridie sat next to me.” she said. regardless of how unpleasant she was. If I were John Doe and I’d knocked off the officers’ precious eating irons. “Good evening. I was trotting along behind her like a dog. stirring her tea with a silver teaspoon encrusted with precious stones. “In my office. as if having a conversation in a corridor was an unheard of barbarity. The cutlery was a mixed bunch. some plain silver and gold. but I always tried to be civil. No one was busting a gut.” She pulled her own mask up. I felt a fool. **** Em Talking Flight Regulator Montesquieu approached down the corridor. some elaborately carved and engraved and covered in precious inlays and stones. She didn’t turn her head. some plastic.” I said. but there were plenty of breaks. We didn’t leave the laundry for lunch. and we ate sandwiches in a cozy little lunchroom with its own tea urn. “Please do. the rest of the crew would have complained about dirty overalls in the mess if we had.” She kept on walking. The actual work was dirty and tedious. **** By lunchtime I was beginning to feel I’d got the hang of the laundry.” “Not here. E ditor . Let’s go. I looked quietly round the table. I increased my pace. but slightly 4 4 | robert reginald . some tin.victim soon enough. I drew alongside. apparently. I’d walk beside her. I didn’t comment.
Luckily the door to her office was only ten meters away. if Her Excellency wants to regenerate herself. “No. Her first transplant is next week. As far as I know he’s proving to be a valuable washer woman. She keeps recommending 4 5 | robert reginald . Not miserable little Earth years. But I stood up.” “Ulrike Lewis hasn’t written a poem in fifteen years. She changed a few proper nouns. closed the door.” I said and recognized the phrase as I spoke it as one of Ned’s. it’s not. “Precisely. ignoring the straight-backed chair directly in front of the desk.” “She wrote a poem when she was visiting Earth. E ditor . that was all. What’s Malley up to?” “Ned. I dumped myself down. A cycle of poems.” “He spends half his spare time with Her Excellency.” “A bit primitive. I did likewise. and returned to my armchair with good grace. That’s fifteen of our years.” I said.” “Recycled.” Montesquieu snapped. The ship’s organ factory has orders for no less than twenty-two new body parts for Her Excellency alone.” “He’s giving her organs a new lease on life. in an armchair. She flashed her ID at the sensor and marched through the opening door. given her a new lease on life. “Isn’t it automatic?” I said. maybe Ned has inspired her. “What’s he up to?” she said suddenly. unbidden. we’d have been sprinting if it were any further.” “Well. Montesquieu looked at me in silence for five or six seconds.” “Well. “Don’t play dumb. I followed. Ms. We heard her recite it on the telly.” “I think they’re writing a poem together.increased her own pace. She proceeded to the swivel chair behind her desk. I returned her stare. “What’s who up to?” I said. “Shut the door.” “Meatus.…” “It’s not just Her Excellency. Harpenden.
” “I’ve just told you. It is a closed community. She took a deep breath.” “What you don’t seem to know is the power of mass hysteria. He’s started on the crew. No one has an outside perspective.” I said. There’s not an officer at the High Table who hasn’t got an order in.…” “Calm down. miles of veins and arteries. Men and women are lining up to have their inner putrefaction diagnosed by his alleged powers of smell. let’s try and look at this in perspective.” 4 6 | robert reginald .… Round and round it goes.” I said. I haven’t seen lines of men and women queuing up. We all live in close quarters to one another.… And before you know it.” I said. Flight Regulator. Harpenden.…” “Well.” “Look. “Ms. A single diseased molecule is enough to set off alarm bells in his nose. new hearts. “This is an intergalactic spaceship. New lungs. swallowed a few times and said. not while the ship is in flight. Coolly and rationally.… Look. No one can take time out. Everyone reacts to the obsessions of their neighbors by becoming obsessed themselves.” “I eat my own meals in the crew’s mess.… Everybody gets caught up. Montesquieu looked as if I’d slapped her face.” “Who’s started what on the crew?” “Malley. hysteria. they’re old guys. which in turn causes an intensification of the original.” “I know.” “Hysteria?” “Yes. It gets magnified in closed institutions. new livers.” Montesquieu said.” “Maybe. We can’t look at it in perspective. Most of them have three or four. E ditor . “Often with Ned.Malley’s services to all and sundry.” I said. “They’re wearing out. Harpenden! You are very close to being criminally impertinent. sister. He treats the crew’s mess as a consulting room for his vile practices. So he says. there won’t be a single member of the ship’s company who doesn’t think his or her whole body is riddled with disease. there is no outside perspective. “but.
Before the mass hysteria goes viral. before the breakdown of all social structure destroys this spacecraft. “I hope nothing has happened to upset the even tenor of your days. “And now I’ve got work to do. “You are amongst friends. But then I thought.” I said.… I have my sources. come on.” “Forbidden? By whom?” “By Her Excellency. I looked round her office.…” “I made the mistake of sending Her Excellency a memo outlining my concerns. Please talk to him. There was no art on the walls. I had an early dinner to consume before I started serving the officers theirs. “Then speak to us of your angst.” For a while there was silence.” I said. An executive order forbidding me from approaching Malley in any way was my only repayment. She was still breathing heavily.” I wanted to talk to Ned by himself. **** I didn’t have work to do. no image of husband. just as Montesquieu 4 7 | robert reginald .” Doe said. I said. girlfriend. my informants.” Without waiting for a formal dismissal I left the room.” “You’re very perceptive.” “I’ll give it a go. nothing’s private. John Doe and D’Bridie. boyfriend. children.” “Oh.“Then you can’t have been paying attention. “Dear lady. the ship’s a hothouse. “Why don’t you talk to Ned himself?” “I am forbidden. There was no item of personal significance. you look a bit agitated. In the crew’s mess I found Ned and his friends. I looked at Montesquieu. I took my tray over to their table. E ditor . Talk to him. The place was sterile. I was doing my duty.” John Doe said.” “What do you want me to do about it?” “You’re his friend. bugger it.
**** Ned Talking The Delegate went into orbit around Skyros and stayed there. “I’ve been talking to Flight Regulator Montesquieu.” “Alas. Em. “A snapper. “Her!” D’Bridie said. the next minute she’s snapped. you arseholes. I want to pass the time until we arrive at Newharp just doing my job and being left alone.” “What rubbish is that. It was said that they were all 4 8 | robert reginald . “She sent a memo to Lewis praising my many talents. I told her to calm down.” “Bloody Montesquieu already has.” I said. Round and round we went. “He is a menace to the good order of the ship.” I said. “He is the cause of mass hysteria.says. E ditor . the bane of shipboard life.” “She sent a memo to Lewis complaining bitterly about you. John?” D’Bridie said. It was said that the Skyroans were asking an exorbitant fee to allow us to land.” I said.” John Doe said. “We’ve got it. Rumors abounded.” John Doe said. I want to get home in one piece.” Ned said quietly. yeah.” “Far out. Got it?” “Yeah.” Ned said. Em?” “Almost. but I cut him off.” I said. She snaps. “Listen. “Why’d Montesquieu complain about Ned?” D’Bridie said. I might as well broadcast my feelings to all and sundry. Doe started to say something. I don’t want to become involved in saving the whole social structure of the ship from total chaos. “The saint is often cast out from the pigsty of his own eyeballs. Did she snap with you.” “She’s one of my greatest fans. She’s as uptight as all get-out one minute. That’s what she is. No one’s going to involve you. I’m on this ship because I want to go home. “A stalwart of the ship’s company.
principalities.” “Schools?” I said. Her Excellency was deliberately delaying things until her latest organ replacement was given the all clear.” “What about shore leave for the crew?” “That might not eventuate. fiefdoms. Kaput and Crash and Bang No love nor peace was with the rook. “It would look even worse if we took the runabout down and landed on a battlefield. Also.” So we did. **** One afternoon Lewis and I were working on our cycle of epic poems. “Not joint sittings of both houses of parliament?” “I’m not sure that they’ve actually got a parliament. E ditor . When we’d finished. I asked her what was going on. and they were all at war with one another. It’s said to be reasonably peaceful.” I said. Bang! Crash! Kaput!” “Good strong words. They’re prepared to let us talk to schools.” Lewis said.” Lewis said. “It wouldn’t look good. She said the problem seemed to be that there wasn’t a single Skyroan authority to deal with. “Let’s put them in the poem. that bit of the epic cycle read: Bang! Crash! Kaput! The Heavens shook. And the dove had fled the land. Lewis said.” 4 9 | robert reginald . “Best we give the place a miss. no-go areas. All sorts of things were said. “There’s some little suzerain called New Stokeon-Trent. there was a rash of civil wars: some entities were simply ripping themselves apart for the fun of it. It was said that they weren’t prepared to accord Her Excellency the pomp and ceremony she deserved. The place was divided up into countries.suffering from some hideous new disease and we’d be mad to land.
If we thought we were going to see the sights on the way to the school we were wrong.” Ned said. We were about to get out of the spinning drum for a few days. There must have been about two dozen of us in the official party. I was amazed to see that Ned’s friends D’Bridie and John Doe were included. the trip to this New Stoke-on-Trent place would be a change. D’Bridie was carrying a backpack. “How did those two get in on the act?” “Procurement. E ditor . “No kidding. “What?” “John’s been here before. I fixed it with Lewis.“They’re not going to like that. who ushered us straight into waiting troop carriers. It was a damn sight more civilized than the crew’s runabout that we’d taken from Earth. I wasn’t thrilled to see that Montesquieu was in attendance.” **** Em Talking They tricked us out. He knows people. “I don’t reckon this place is quite as peaceful as advertised. I felt a complete idiot. He is going to get in a supply of new cutlery. breathe the air of a new planet. The back of the troop carrier had no more windows than The Delegate. I looked like a dork.” We were met on the landing ground by some heavily armed militia folk.” Ned said.” 5 0 | robert reginald . So that everybody can eat properly. D’Bridie is his assistant.” “What else did you fix?” “Not much. John Doe was wearing his huge overcoat. me and Ned. We went down to the Skyroan surface in the officers’ runabout. in ambassadorial robes.” “Can’t be helped. But I was excited all the same. hear new sounds. see new sights.
Everything was translated by babbling translator folk. reciting a translation of the epic poem cycle that he and Her Excellency had cobbled together. After a dozen such limericks Ned had the whole audience in the palm of his hand. The place was packed. but now he was yelling limericks: There was a young lady from Skyros Who’s bum was like a rhinoceros.The noise in the troop carrier made conversation difficult. Some of them were sitting on window sills. Scuffles and fights broke out. so everything took twice as long. The proceedings proceeded. What about you. Which shrieked like a louse And cursed the young lady from Skyros. At one stage I thought I heard gunfire. not at him. I’d never heard such infantile drivel in my life. 5 1 | robert reginald . they must have bused in a heap of kids from surrounding schools. It could have been on Earth. He talked directly to the kids in a bastard version of their own tongue. so we didn’t talk. The kids largely ignored us. “Right. Ned started yelling. Teachers were trying to quieten them down. Our party was ushered onto a wide stage. It was acutely embarrassing to be standing next to Ned. You lot can have a go. But it began to work. We arrived at the school and were hustled out of the troop carriers and into an assembly hall. They were all talking as loudly as they could. A slow handclap added to the noise. In both languages. Ned used the Skyroan language skills he’d picked up on Earth flogging replacement organs to refugees. He said. It was a bog-standard school assembly hall. The machine rattled and jolted and gave no impression of traveling on a made road. We sat and looked at the kids. But the kids started to drum their feet. but maybe I was mistaken. there was nothing exotic about it at all. with no success. Finally Ned and I were called to the microphone. She sat on a mouse. Someone come up here and do a limerick. E ditor . and they were laughing with Ned. The kids started laughing. it could have been on Newharp.
Kids screamed and started stampeding out of all available exits. The carrier started forward even as the hydraulics were closing the rear hatch. Whose brains were made out of turf. “You and Malley. “She reckons it’s a kidnap attempt. you look like a champion limerickeer. into this one. has called us a cab of our very own. Up front. D’Bridie and John Doe were already there. I found myself stumbling along next to Ned.” Ned and I climbed into the vehicle. I looked round. Flight Regulator Montesquieu was standing next to the open rear hatch of a smallish troop carrier. Out in the playground our party was being bundled back into the troop carriers. The heavily-armed militia guys rushed the stage and began herding our party out of a back door. the driver was accompanied by a couple of grinning militiamen who held their firearms at the ready—they had the cheery demeanor of the recently bribed. He leapt onto the stage. including me. I saw Her Excellency propelled unceremoniously into the lead carrier by two beefy militia types. The lout grinned like a cat and bounded over the row of kids in front of him. “I do believe our esteemed colleague. E ditor .…” An explosion on the roof of the hall sent a rain of dust and light-fittings cascading down onto the heads of everyone below. she yelled at the driver to take us away. we’re not worth anything.” I said. “There was a mad crowd from Earth. Montesquieu didn’t climb into the carrier herself. Then someone called my name. I 5 2 | robert reginald .” He pointed at a rough lout in the second row. Flight Regulator Montesquieu. John Doe said. Apparently. The sound of gunfire punctuated their shouted commands. who was conducting a shouted exchange with a militia girl. We’re OK. Acrid smoke drifted everywhere. Lewis would be worth her weight in cold-fusion pellets. He turned to me. took the microphone from Ned and shouted. bumped into me. half squashing a smallish urchin as he did so. including the windows. Ned had picked just the right guy.” “Good to know.mate.
not if he knew what was good for him. I turned in complete misery to my companions. E ditor . The pilot wasn’t going to subject her to too many g-forces.” Doe wasn’t wrong.” “I’m sure it has some attractions.suspect the driver will be taking us on a leisurely tour of New Stoke-on-Trent’s main tourist attractions. “Interplanetary trade demands the constant plying to and fro of that workhorse of commerce. swallowed by the mist. “It’s not going to come back for us.” I said. “Let us look on the bright side.” John Doe said.” Ned said. We stood in the Skyroan dust and watched the runabout take off. shaken-up Ulrike Lewis. give us passage to Newharp. captain.” “Don’t bloody dear lady me. We might even get there faster than The Delegate. Em. It accelerated slowly. like the keel of a boat seen by an underwater swimmer. after all.” “The space lanes are not empty. We are castaways of the cosmos. There was no answering misery on their faces.” “We’re on the wrong bloody planet!” I was nearly crying. The freighter is not to be sneezed at. For an eternity the craft seemed to float upside down on the cloud cover. Pity we can’t see out. No damn money at all.” John Doe said. It took forever to get back to the landing ground. And when we arrived. “I wouldn’t think so. dear lady. the humble freighter. We’ll be there to welcome Lewis on her triumphal return. And we’ve got no money. it was too late. they had been watching the departing runabout with as much concern as a bunch of commuters who’d just missed a light rail shuttle. “This place is worse than Earth. “We’ll get you home. it was carrying the ancient. And then it was gone.” “And how the fuck are we meant to pay the goddamned humble freighter captain? With the clothes off our backs? Here.” “How? There aren’t any people smugglers going between here and Newharp.” John Doe said. Have a second-hand shirt 5 3 | robert reginald . “We are marooned.
” “I also know a matron who keeps an excellent hostelry not far from here.” “We can always realize our capital. We’ll go home in style. E ditor . Ceremonial ones.” John Doe said. John’s been here before. John knows a guy who deals in them.” 5 4 | robert reginald .” “Realize what capital? What antiques?” D’Bridie put her arm around my shoulders and squeezed. We’re rich. Silently she kicked the backpack that rested in the dust at her feet. “Let us go and eat. “Skyroans are discerning aficionados of genuine antiques.and a used pair of socks. Em. “Knives and forks.” John Doe said. There was a muffled clanking sound. He’s got connections.” she said. “Spoons.
I pray I do not die here. E ditor . where the world’s thousandlegs moved like the shadowy cilia of some huge anemone. he gazed out across the cold. and he often sat at the edge of the world and watched oceanbottom flow away below. we couldn’t make it to an island. then stabilize as it went over a little ridge and adjusted to the water’s new depth. When will they come for us? When will they answer our distress call? —Julie MacIntyre Acting Commander **** The world moved. not even a fish broke the smooth stillness of the waves. It has vegetation growing on its back. Fortunately. As Rik sat on the edge of its fleshy plates. rippling as its plates shifted. each individual limb stirring up clouds of sand. by John Gregory Betancourt From the log of the Albert Einstein: July 14. The whole process fascinated him. If this thing ever goes near shore. emerald-green ocean toward the unchanging line of the horizon. so I have little fear that it will submerge and drown us.… He felt worldground beneath him dip an inch. Tantalus’s oceans are just too big. 2131 The starship sank today.THE DARKFISHERS. Drifting. He looked down. Who knows? Perhaps it will be a suitable base until we make it to shore. 5 5 | robert reginald . Through the murky water directly below he glimpsed oceanbottom. The isolation is awful. we managed to evacuate the surviving crew onto dry land of sorts—a gigantic floating crustacean.
… He smiled. daring. Rik drew back. though. He closed his eyes for a second. 5 6 | robert reginald . “Something wrong. the knives of sunlight on the waves. who could bend his father’s will like silvergrass in the wind with his flattery. toward drier plates. E ditor . he whirled. ready to fight whoever’d done it. taunting. “You piss yourself?” Before Rik could stop himself. a curse on the tip of his tongue. Drifting. a little water couldn’t hurt. away from the world— it was a nightmare and a warning drilled into every child. startled. weaving mats. they said. and almost fell. More than enough evidence to convict him a thousand times over. He heard more than felt flesh meet flesh. It hurt. doing the work of the old and the weak: preparing foods. The water had carried away his father eight years before. Still. not Seth. or the shadows of amalanthi as they glided high above.Drifting. gathering silvergrass. How could anything so lovely hurt anyone? Now the waves seemed to call him. laughing. The son of the worldmaster was lean and dark. with a narrow face and a chin that thrust out at the universe as if daring it to fight. then turned away. Seth smiled sharply at Rik. he whirled and struck out. He edged back. The idea sickened him. No. It was over in a second. but he found it hard to believe. Then cold water sluiced over him from behind. He found himself face to face with Seth Dommerson. he wouldn’t fight the son of the worldmaster. loose in the water. Anyone else. but not him. His black hair had been bound tight behind his head in the manner of the world’s elders. their foamy crests reaching like fingers to touch the soles of his bare feet. but he could do nothing else. One word from Seth and he might never darkfish. he’d be forced to stay onworld like a child. child?” Seth called. He yelped. When he stood on the edge of the world and looked out across the ocean. Catching his balance. He still held a dripping amalanthi-hide bucket in his left hand. the sun would dry his loincloth soon enough. he saw only the beauty of the water. hands balled into fists.
Thin lines of smoke from small cooking fires curled into the pale green sky. cursing himself for a fool. Walman says. turned. curving up and then in to form the great cup-shaped valley called Home. but he can tell it’s following us. Turning.” 5 7 | robert reginald . Seth would get even with him now. he looked back. Then he bit his lip. A drop of water traced a cold line down his back. Rik struggled to control his anger. “When’ll it get here?” “Tonight. marking the place for all to see. trying to think of nothing but water and sky. The world’s three-hundred-odd people lived there. “Shit. hard plates of the world’s hide. black plates of the land. E ditor . Rik walked along the edge of the world. a startled look on his face. He slid toward the ocean.” “What for?” “Walman spotted a darkfish.” Rik felt his heart beating faster and leaned forward. and stalked off. He heard Seth following him. The worldmaster’s son hunkered down and grinned cruelly at him. but Seth didn’t go away. trying to drive all other thoughts from his mind. He pulled it to his chest and rubbed it. He’d have to—it would be point of honor. He just stood there and stared for a long time. He knew he’d made a mistake. the other’s bare feet slapping against the small. Suddenly his hand hurt. Why couldn’t Seth leave him alone? Why did Seth always put him down. “My father wants to see you. Nobody could tease Seth and make him even angrier.” Rik said. suddenly eager. try to make him feel like a fool? He’d never done anything to make the son of the worldmaster hate him so. but hooked his fingers between plates and caught himself. and Seth sprawled across the ground’s hard plates.almost before he realized it. it couldn’t be helped now. Luckily nobody else had seen them. Inworld rose the hard. not knowing what else to do. It’s pretty far away. Well. Stopping. “What do you want?” Rik finally said.
and raised his arms over his head. Spirits like his father’s. stepping back. climbing the barren. A darkfish took my father. The ocean is a killer. You’re one of them. It was all a dream at the moment. Olen’s one good eye squinted as he appraised his work. with the darkfishers. he saw nothing but shimmers of color. then around his mouth and over his forehead. and then he’d get his mate if he survived. They’d cross to the darkfish. and he wondered which girl the worldmaster would choose for him. A wife would come next. especially on this night. steal its blood and flesh. and perhaps— He snorted. Darkfishing was a task only men could do. then he nodded grudging approval. stepped close and smeared a thick. with Seth gone. Rik opened his eyes and tried a smile that came out as a 5 8 | robert reginald . **** Rik closed his eyes. and children. It meant the worldmaster had decided he was a man at last. oily paste across his nose and cheeks. Olen. black hill of the world. and then the manhood rituals. E ditor . being the first to touch foot on the other world. Being chosen. pry up its plates. leading the charge across the water. First came the darkfishing. patterns of light and dark.” Seth rose and trotted away. his uncle. drew one last breath. He could see himself with the other men. heading toward Home. The worldmaster had chosen him as a darkfisher! When the world and the darkfish touched and fought. as well as from the spirits of men lost to the waves. They’d already coated the rest of Rik’s body.“Tonight—” “My father picked the darkfishers.” Olen said. and by custom only six men at once. The smelly stuff would protect him from the chill of the night. when the gods would meet in battle. he’d be with the men. His head came last. “Done. was an honor. Only then. But when he looked across the ocean. did Rik let himself relax—and the wonder of it all struck him.
ceremonial robes of amalanthi leather gathered around him. It made him feel light-headed. Rik felt his heart hammering as he thought of leaping from the world’s edge with only a spear and a knife to protect him. and mumbled a final prayer to the spirits. there was an eager expression on his face. “Good. It was the same whenever a darkfish came near. the world would turn to face the darkfish. He turned and spoke not only to the darkfishers.” Then he stepped back. in huge jumbled masses that could not be beaten down or cut away. bowed his head. Soon. had come to see them off. His knees felt weak. he thought. Home is the 5 9 | robert reginald . In moments. All the men in the world. the aged worldmaster. and then the two great creatures would fight. “The spirits of our fathers’ fathers’ fathers watch over you tonight. I’m ready. Since the first days it has been this way. all three hundred and six. tame. The darkfish! He’d dreamed about them: oh yes. the first time he drank. leaning on his bone staff for support. He’d touched small fleshplates which other fishers had brought back. only barren and uninhabited.” He stood in the exact center of Home. he’d always listened when the darkfishers spun tales of the strange creatures so like their world. The men wobbled. Rik knew. Swallowing. eaten soft flesh torn from the creatures’ backs. but to all that had gathered: “I have done what must be done. Let not the water take your soul. The huge. To each he bent and spoke words. only a hundred times stronger. A ripple ran through the world. He whispered in Rik’s ear. Now the same giddiness came over him again. When the worldmaster looked up. E ditor . but managed to keep their balance. had been going down the line of darkfishers. leather-winged amalanthi nested in the tangles.grimace. feeling the world slow. turn. drank from amalanthi-bladders filled with darkfishes’ sweet. he found a lump in his throat. Tom Dommerson. The stink nauseated him. The silvergrass grew thick here. sweet blood.
The stars provided a thin silvery light. Those chosen to darkfish came last. Rik found himself straining to see over the waves. dark and mysterious and silent. Rik picked up his spear and knife and pricked his thumb on the points of each. It glided across the ocean like a shadow. it was time to run. with his strong arms and one good eye. too suddenly. The world underfoot trembled at its nearness. out of Home. shouting their courage. It had been part of the ritual of darkfishing since the earliest times. The darkfishers will run tonight!” The men slapped their hands against their chests. Then. E ditor . and the world is life!” “The world is life.” he said. Olen. softly. “Stay close to me and you’ll do all right. These words. The others took up their spears and knives. Only one thing marred the night’s perfection for Rik: the thought of Seth going with them. cried out until his throat burned and tears ran down his cheeks. along with four seasoned darkfishers: tall. All the men had stopped and turned to look at the approaching 6 0 | robert reginald . when the first elders had come to the world from the stars. had been chosen for the honor of this night’s work.” Rik echoed with the others. His mother had carved them from bones of amalanthi just for this night. “This is the time. As he topped the edge of the hill. with his nervous. sprinkling the ocean with tiny broken flakes of color.” “Yes. “Come. raising two tiny beads of night-dark blood: these tools would do. he had heard a hundred times over. The whole group moved up the slope. the storyteller. and Rik’s only uncle. too. The worldmaster’s son. His uncle took his elbow and whispered. in single file. too. thin Del Shiff. Rik cried out as loudly as the rest. Aran Leya. fluttery hands.world. uncle. And then he saw the darkfish. heavy-set Barl Janus. to be the darkfisher he’d always known he’d be.” Tom Dommerson said. plus bladders for darkfish blood and sacks for its flesh or plates. when first he darkfished.
retrieving spear and knife. He ran as hard as he could and soon caught up with Barl Janus and his uncle. Grinning. Old tales of the spirits that haunted darkfish came back to him. he told himself again and again. throwing him off his feet. trying to show his bravery by being the first to cross to the darkfish. It was an honor to go tonight. Seth reached the edge of the world. he forced his shoulders back and faced the darkfish head on. Only he didn’t feel like a man. He could see the rising crest of its hill—so like their Home!—and began to make out the faint pattern of plates around its edge. afraid of the dark. Rik swallowed. But Seth Dommerson had already far outstripped Del and Aran Leya. to them all.” the worldmaster said to his son. leaped across the small stretch of water. Soon. “May you not be left behind. It was larger than he’d expected. How could their world hope to defend itself against such an attacker? How could he possibly cross and walk upon such a monster? He thought of begging not to be sent. then plunged after them. He got up slowly. He felt like a child new from his mother’s breast. raising his knife and spear in salute. he would be there to walk its plates and taste its blood— The world shuddered violently. straight for the darkfish. edges almost touching. for when he finished. he’d be a man. The creature stretched across the whole ocean before him. Will I meet his spirit here? The two great creatures drew close. but one look at Seth forced that idea from him. Still it came. He reached the edge 6 1 | robert reginald .” The others sprinted toward the edge of the world. No. He had to turn his fear to eagerness. he realized uneasily.creature. “Go now. he turned toward Rik and the others. larger than Home by far. E ditor . touched foot on the darkfish. brand him a coward: he could never let that happen. afraid of monsters. A darkfish took my father. “Get out of the way!” Del Shiff shouted. Gulping. try to act as a darkfisher should act. Rik hesitated a moment. Seth would taunt him.
sweet meat from beneath it. As he stood. making them slippery. The plates beneath their feet trembled. and began working his knife in the space between plates.of the world and leaped across as Seth scrambled back. come with me. The darkfishers had to be finished by then or they would be carried off to the unknown. as if in pain. He took half and headed up the slope. “Cut it loose. one straining against the other in a battle of wills. Olen withdrew the knife and stuck his spear in the hole. then suddenly found himself scrambling for purchase on the darkfish’s fleshy plates. When he looked back. Rik came next. on the back of this monster. to death. saw water chopping below him for an instant. He leaped. Barl Janus had already crossed. cut the string holding them together. then to the left. knelt. “Seth. then to the right again. He made it up the slope. Rik knew they would pry one out of position and carve thick slices of soft.” Olen said. Stringy bits of flesh still joined it to the darkfish. The plate popped out of position with a little sucking sound. Olen stopped in front of a two-foot-round plate ten paces from the ocean. he moved to the right. E ditor . Del and Aran went left. heaving first to the right. his uncle pulled 6 2 | robert reginald . Aran followed him across. Rik’s uncle took the other half of the silvergrass sacks. to drain the creature’s blood into the bladders they carried. When it sank in to the hilt. toward the larger fleshplates.” Barl called. All too quickly the fight would end and the darkfish go their separate ways. with a flick of his knife. the darkfish trembled. Dark blood pooled in the hole. Rik seized his knife and sawed at the tough strings of flesh. Blood smeared his hands and arms. joining the others. Motioning Rik to follow. he gave a grunt and threw all his weight onto the spear. He dropped the silvergrass sacks at Rik’s feet. He’d dropped a bundle of woven silvergrass sacks and. of strength. Already their world fought this darkfish. then Olen. When at last he’d cut the plate completely free. he knew.
” It was another of the strange words.’ which the elders sometimes used.the spear away and started prying another one loose. filling their sacks. harder than before. One by one he and Olen heaved their sacks onto the edge of the world. Olen continued working at a frantic pace. keeps their blood flowing. the four of them leaped the five-foot stretch of water. Rik could see all the men of the world sitting on Home’s slopes. and darkfish blood was sweet. The darkfish’s blood is special. ready for him to cut. Rik looked down. There is something in it called alcohol—it keeps them warm in the water. Now they lugged their booty back toward the place where this strange darkfish almost touched the edge of the world. like ‘starship’ and ‘radio. “Stop daydreaming. His uncle had another plate out of joint. The darkfish shook again. It’s the alcohol that tingles the tongue and makes their blood so good. A moment later Del and Aran joined them and began tossing sealed bladders of darkfish blood across as well. and it has been passed down from the very first days. speaking quickly and quietly. He didn’t believe in all the miracles they spoke of. Do you understand that?” “Alcohol. E ditor . Did people really live out there? He found it impossible to believe. How could there be anything you couldn’t see or hear or touch? Blood was blood. 6 3 | robert reginald . The stars were bright. “Sure. Rik lifted the first one out of position—it was surprisingly light—and stuffed it into a sack. **** Rik and his uncle cut eleven more plates loose in quick succession. He said: “My father told me this. As he waited to cut the next plate free. gathered up the sacks and bladders. waiting expectantly. boy!” Olen snapped. When they had all finished. Rik looked up at the sky.” Rik said. and moved up the slope in a triumphant procession.
He shouted.” Olen said. Rik turned to look back at the darkfish. Rik drew up short. something he could never wish on anyone. until at last he couldn’t be seen at all. There are still a few minutes left!” Barl looked up at the heavens as if beseeching the gods. His shape grew more and more indistinct in the dark. The world trembled. your father among them. drifting forever on a darkfish. throwing their bundles of darkfish meat to safety. “Go help them.” Rik said. Barl tossed the last of his sacks across and jumped over to safety.Halfway to the top. Suddenly Barl Janus noticed Seth’s absence. I said we didn’t have time. sir. He dropped his burden and jogged down the slope toward the edge of the world. It was the most horrible death he knew. when a darkfish ran too soon. E ditor . Seth and Barl Janus stood near the world now. never leave him away from Home. “I told you to leave it! There’s not enough time! Seth. bewildered. Perhaps the worldmaster’s son wouldn’t hate him so much if he did. He could still help Seth. without a worldmaster to protect him from the spirits of those lost to the ocean. He’d be dead now. the ocean could never hurt him. He hesitated. lost to the ocean. Didn’t Seth know the darkfish never fought long? Didn’t he realize he might be left behind? Rik shivered. after all. Seth turned and padded silently back up the darkfish’s sloping plates. it was an unpleasant thought.… Rik thought of his father. It’s too risky. And. I saw three men left once. As he began dragging them toward Home. Even if Seth just ignored him it would be better than the constant taunts. The fool!” “We could help him.” Drifting. and he saw the darkfish tremble in response. get back here!” Rik said. “You don’t take chances with darkfish. “Yes. “What did he forget?” “He wanted to bring the big plate we cut out. not even Seth. the constant 6 4 | robert reginald . There was still time.
He reached the edge of the darkfish. He hung in the air for what seemed an eternity. Behind him. one easily five feet across. ever so slowly. twelve— He leaped. Slowly. “Let me help. “Hurry. water chopping below. but their words blurred together in a shrill scream. They shouted to him.” Cursing.petty tricks— Almost without thinking he leaped across to the darkfish. A sudden cold swept through him. You’ve always been jealous. He could see the world clearly now. and Aran Leya. “It’s mine! Get away—I’m not going to let you take it!” “Don’t be stupid! You’ll never get it back by yourself!” “Yes. but even as he did he knew he wouldn’t make it. but actually move as if the creature had changed direction. He had a sick feeling inside. all standing on its edge. Seth jerked it away from him. 6 5 | robert reginald . he heard his uncle screaming for him to come back and Barl Janus calling him a fool. I will! You just want to claim it. and Del Shiff. calling for Seth to follow before it was too late. reaching for one of the plate’s sides. Ten feet of ocean separated them.” Rik called. and Barl Janus. it was drawing away from him. Turning. He tucked his head down and pounded up the slope. He felt the darkfish’s plates begin to shift underfoot. He saw his uncle. The world was drawing away from the darkfish faster now. hardly able to walk. “There’s not enough time!” “Get away!” Rik stared in silence. Get away from me!” He staggered across the slope under the heavy weight. E ditor . not trembling as they’d done before. The plates grew smaller underfoot as he approached the water. he sprinted down the slope. He found Seth struggling with a huge fleshplate. The boy staggered under his load.
but he felt it now like an old wound reopened. his heart beating all too loudly. to the darkfish. To the ocean they 6 6 | robert reginald . Instinctively he grabbed for it. but Rik wouldn’t go. his uncle left him standing there alone. “Come. Rik shivered from cold. known the hurt. The darkfish had now taken both the man he’d loved most and the man he’d hated most in all the universe. as he hugged his nephew. Now his uncle had to pry it out of his grasp. Drifting…. fingers aching. he hadn’t truly known the emptiness. muted. His hands tightened. He didn’t know what to say. All the men had come down from Home and picked up the various sacks and bladders. Rik. but couldn’t.” he whispered sadly. The ocean stretched to infinity before him. rough hands seized him. hauling him up onto the edge of the world. Rik stood. across the waves that rippled with the silver light of moons and stars. so cold. and came up sputtering and thrashing his arms and legs. And then Seth and the darkfish were gone. palms aching. The darkfish was fast vanishing in the distance. He suddenly became aware of what he was holding—his uncle’s spear. a lump in his throat.” Olen said. and he glimpsed a pale object in front of him. “Seth—” Olen shook his head. E ditor . After a moment. almost forcing him under water. Something hard hit his shoulder. “Look. He tried to speak. but on its edgeplates he thought he saw a solitary figure. He glimpsed the world only a few feet before him. It always hurt to lose someone to the ocean. In a second.Then he hit the ocean. onto dry plates. He watched as long as he could. Their voices were flat.” Olen said. slid into it open-mouthed. Olen had held it out to him. How could such things happen? It didn’t seem fair. He felt himself being pulled through the water. It was cold.… When he’d lost his father. Drifting. He just sat there and stared out across the water. “That was a damned stupid thing to do.
close safety of Home. Drifting. The ocean. Such power terrified him. The ocean was stronger than him. never darkfish again. he crept away to the warm. stronger than the worldmaster. were revealed to him now. 6 7 | robert reginald . of being a man among men. From there the water couldn’t be seen. of working with his uncle.… After a time. stronger than any man. but even as he did he knew he lied. He swore he’d never go back. He remembered the thrill of standing on strange plates. It was a harsh truth that he saw all too clearly now. And never would they fool him again. the darkfish. E ditor . Drifting….were just two more lives swallowed.
security. They’re paid to try out our drugs and they’re keen to have them because they want to win. outside the wire. We’re drifting apart. I don’t think you heard me. a world champion. looking out and down beyond the wealthy ghetto.” He pointed towards the electrified fence surrounding their block. Susan. “Out there—” He indicated the brown sludge of a river and a crowded city slum. by Sydney J. E ditor . the company ’copter lifted and sound deafened him. I’d say we’ve plenty to lose.GUINEA PIGS.” Wilton gestured at their apartment. Tim. hate and anger had long since turned to apathy. “The herd. He 6 8 | robert reginald . said quietly.” He looked closely at the elfin face framed by short dark hair. “You’re joking! Athletes? They’re guinea pigs as far as we’re concerned. upturned faces watched without hope.” she murmured sadly.” “Of course I care about you—” “Not just me. Air conditioning. The rotors were turning lazily as he climbed into the cabin and fastened a safety belt.” He frowned as he tried to button his suit coat over a growing paunch.” “Everybody wants to win. “We’re lucky. quality food. He caught up his overnight bag and took the elevator to the roof. “Is it Nelson? Do you fancy him?” She turned away without a word. as a chime sounded. He drew her towards the high window. Bounds Tim Wilton was so excited about his success and the coming celebration that he was taken by surprise when his wife. “Didn’t you hear me? I signed Johnny Nelson. “Aren’t you forgetting something?” “I don’t think so. and it’s only my job that keeps us from joining them. Below. he thought. The athletes you’re pumping full of drugs.” He laughed.” “I heard you. “I don’t think you care about anyone except yourself. and there’s going to be a party.
she was wrong to worry. Perhaps it was true that the higher you went. She even seemed critical of his success. walled around and patrolled by security men. England was still a green and pleasant land. He remembered how Susan had supported him in the early days. From the air. He stepped out. face thin and etched with deep lines. this was a celebration party for his success…. This was followed by Pharmacie’s latest telly jingle: ‘Andi for strength Andi for speed Andi is tops When you want to win!’ 6 9 | robert reginald . though he looked dreadful. Elsie. took his overnight bag. There was a huddle of colleagues under a blow-up of Johnny Nelson clearing a hurdle in great style.’ and a discreet choir blended in. blonde hair down. and that was stupid. would soon smooth his ruffled feathers. then. he could cope with anything. and a banner proclaiming: Pharmacie’s Andiphor is a winner! Graham proposed a toast.watched miles of slums and the wreckage of housing estates until they reached the end of suburbia. It was a measure of his success that the Head of Department put in an appearance. A cheerleader began a chorus of ‘For he’s a jolly good adman. his present secretary. There’d be no trouble here. It seemed only since their marriage that she’d changed until he didn’t know her any more. E ditor . it was what they had both worked for. and Elsie. the more stress you suffered? Perhaps that was what Susan was afraid of? If so. and a professional greeter pressed a glass into his hand. he was pleased to see. the good times they’d shared as he fought his way up the executive ladder. ducked under the blades and hurried towards reception. The ’copter passed over a few roving bands of losers. when she’d been his secretary at Pharmacie. and swooped down towards an isolated country hotel. After all.
Graham said.” she whispered. “I suspect our chief competitor.” Later. For a moment he felt lost.” When Graham wound down. Tim. “To get an endorsement from the world’s hurdle champion behind our advertising campaign was an inspired move and will boost our sales enormously. but her bags had gone. then he tested his throat: “Elsie?” There was no answer and he padded to the bathroom. where staff were clearing away the ruins of breakfast. cold. He collapsed on the bed and passed out. groping for a wall to steady himself. the whole party trooped into the banqueting hall. and he was alone.” and got a laugh. Outside his door hung a Do Not Disturb sign. A window was open. “I made sure I got a double. He went down to the dining room. sheets thrown back.” “It’s a spiral staircase. her smell lingered. She smelt exciting and made a good listener as he rambled on about his marriage being a mistake. Wilton with Elsie as his partner. but managed to get a mug of coffee and went through to reception. sir. **** He woke. “You don’t have to marry me. “Just a drink too many and the stairs are going round. “We here all owe a great debt to Tim Wilton—” “It was a team effort.” She opened the door of her room. E ditor .” Wilton murmured modestly. she’d smell Elsie on 7 0 | robert reginald . The food was superior and the wine flowed until it was time to take to the dance floor. He swallowed a morningafter lozenge and used a depilator. he stumbled along a passage to the stairs. He dialed for a helicab. He hadn’t intended to be so late.” he was told. is not partying today. Susan? Not yet. pushed him inside and slid a bolt home. “Your party left hurriedly an hour ago. Chemarx.
him. The office; he had to clean up and change first. The cab was warned away from the Pharmacie block until he identified himself to Security. Strange; they weren’t usually so strict. He landed and took the elevator down. The corridor was empty and silent; no groups chatting, and doors closed. Someone saw him, and vanished. What was going on? Only yesterday he’d been the hero of the hour. Now…. Wilton changed course and headed for the executive suite, where a big screen constantly updated world news. The room was empty, and a newscaster almost raving with excitement. “Following the shocking death of Johnny Nelson, Chemarx claim his death was due to a new drug their rivals are promoting. They claim Pharmacie did not carry out sufficient tests before releasing it to their sales force.” Wilton stood transfixed. And I suppose Chemarx do? They can no more afford months of testing than we can—that’s why we use guinea pigs. Of course, all new drugs are dangerous, every idiot knows that—it’s why the old style Olympic committees banned them. “Fans of Nelson are demanding that the makers of Andiphor be sued—” A cold shudder ran through Wilton as he came out of shock. Someone would be elected to take the blame and, as he’d told Susan, they had a lot to lose. Panic touched him. See Graham, he thought; a head of department had a duty to protect his staff. He scurried to the end office and pushed in without knocking. “I may need your help, sir.” Graham, looking like a corpse, sat staring into a screen. He scarcely seemed to be breathing. He looked up and through Wilton. “We may all need help.” He swiveled the screen so Wilton could read a column of constantly changing figures. Share prices. Pharmacie, normally near the top, was well down and fell again as he watched. “Because you picked a sports idol! If it had been a run-ofthe-field athlete we could have weathered this crisis—but you
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contracted Johnny Nelson, the public’s favorite.” He sounded bitter, and the memory of yesterday’s praise had a hollow ring. “I can’t help you, Wilton. Nobody can. The media are out for blood and Chemarx are making a takeover bid. I suggest you prepare to leave your apartment….” Susan, he thought; he had to warn her. He tried to phone, but got no answer. The journey from his office roof to the roof of their apartment block scarcely registered; he felt numb. Security men at both ends watched him in silence; they knew a loser when they saw one. He took the elevator down. Their apartment was empty, everything of hers gone, and he felt abandoned. He stood motionless, bewildered. The door opened and the Warden held out his hand. “It’s official now. I’ll take your pass.” Wilton fumbled for the sliver of plastic that meant so much: shelter, food, everything that lifted him above the herd, and handed it over. His mouth was dry. The Warden said, “On the outside, report to Welfare.” They went down together, escorted by two security men; sometimes a loser reacted badly. They crossed an empty courtyard, shoes echoing on concrete to a gatehouse. The Warden showed his authority. The gate opened and Wilton was pushed outside, sweat cold on his skin; a man without a future. The gate closed behind him. The sidewalk was crowded, yet few took notice of him. He stood, paralyzed, as men and women shuffled by. He saw blank faces. Only the young showed animation; one attached himself to Wilton. “What d’you got in yer pockets? Give me something and I’ll see yer to Welfare.” Wilton rummaged through his pockets and found a token with a hole in the center. “Gimme that!” A none-too-clean hand snatched the token and a small voice urged, “Come on, this way.”
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The youngster moved in a series of darting movements, working his way through the crowd. Wilton stumbled after him. The air was vile-tasting smog and made his eyes water; they passed dirty cement and boarded-over windows, broken fences, peeling paint, and crumbling walls. “Welfare,” his guide said, pointing. A heavy coat, too big for him, covered a thin body. “I’ll wait for yer.” Welfare was busy and consisted of long counters and slowly moving queues going in and going out. Clerks rubber-stamped pieces of paper. A sign read: New dependents report here. There was a pushbutton that he pressed, and a clerk appeared holding a memo. “Wilton?” He nodded, and the clerk lifted a gate. “Follow me. Change in there.” He indicated a cubicle. “You get credit on your clothes.” Wilton found a suit of thick plastic, one sleeve long and one short, and working boots, and returned to the clerk. There was now a printing machine on the counter. “Put your forearm in here.” He obeyed. His bare arm was locked in position and he felt a surge of heat and a stabbing pain. When he was released, a chain of letters and numbers was tattooed on his skin. “This is your new identity,” the clerk told him. “We no longer use names. The first group indicates your housing block and dormitory. You will report to the Job Center tomorrow.” His arm began to itch before he got outside, and he saw only a bleak future. His guide took his arm to read: “One Thirteen. I’m Double Seven Two—we use the last three. Let’s move, in case someone takes a liking to your bunk.” Wilton—in his head, he still clung to his name—tried to keep up with his guide, but he wasn’t used to walking in heavyduty boots. “Here.” He saw a tower block, old and defaced; the hall smelled of garbage. Double Seven Two pointed at the stairway. “Bit of luck you’ve got a lower floor. See you here tomorrow.” Wilton understood when he looked for an elevator and read
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the faded and dirty notice: Out of Order. The stairs smelled worse than the hall and, when he paused on a landing to get his breath, a rat bared its teeth. It was a long time since he’d climbed even one flight of stairs, but eventually he reached his dormitory. The room was long and narrow, with a row of beds down each side, some occupied by old men staring at the ceiling. He perched on his allotted bed and eased off his boots. What now? Too much had happened too quickly and he was bewildered. The Job Center—surely he could find some way of improving his prospects? After all, he was no down-and-out like those around him. He had a lot of varied experience behind him, and could do more than survive…he’d almost dozed off when the clamor of a bell roused him. Fire? Unlikely. Men rose up slowly and shuffled to the doorway; he followed them down the stairs and along a passage, where an unappetizing smell suggested a dining hall. It reminded him he’d hardly eaten anything today. He joined a queue. At the serving counter he collected a small tray, a soyaburger and a plastic cup of imitation coffee. The long tables were crowded and, by the time he found a seat, his meal was cold. In his previous life he would have rejected such fare, but now he forced it down. He had to keep his strength up for tomorrow. **** He was up early, determined to make a show of his ability to cope. He found a shower that produced a trickle of cold water; a sliver of gritty soap scoured his skin and woke him up. Breakfast was another soyaburger, thinly disguised by an orange sauce. Outside, Double Seven Two escorted him to the Job Center. Men and women filed in, and out, looking dejected. Inside a familiar sign repeated: New dependents report here. A clerk with a sallow skin regarded him with a malicious smirk. “I have your record here, One Thirteen, and I’ll just whisper I’m a sports fan and that Johnny Nelson was my hero.”
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He pushed a punched card across the counter. “This is your job chit. Report immediately. You’re already late on shift, and part of a day’s pay will be deducted.” Numb, Wilton showed the chit to his guide. He’d been hoping to keep quiet about signing Nelson for Pharmacie. Double Seven Two studied the work chit. “You’ve drawn sewer cleaning! Could be someone doesn’t like you—but this won’t last long. The job carries a higher rate of pay and extra perks, so somebody will be aiming to get you out of it as soon as they can.” At his assigned workplace, he was issued with overalls, thigh-high wading boots, gloves, nose-plugs and a helmet lamp. Even before he went underground, the ripe smell brought his breakfast up. The foreman was sympathetic. “You get used to the smell after a while.” Wilton followed him down a ladder to a tunnel that sloped away. Murky water swirled around his legs, rising. Even with nose-plugs, he kept his lips tight-pressed. Further on, the foreman indicated a hose on a drum; he uncoiled it and demonstrated its use. Wilton tried it and was knocked over by the force of the jet; he struggled up, soaking wet. “As you see, One Thirteen, it takes two people to hold it.” He spent the shift clearing blockages. “As you see, One Thirteen, we get all sorts down here, including bodies.” They didn’t eat or drink at all on shift; but when they came up, there was the luxury of a hot shower with scented soap. “One of the perks,” the foreman said, and grinned. “See you tomorrow!” Next day, on his way to work, he found himself surrounded by a gang of youths. Some of them had crude clubs or handmade knives. He stopped. “What’s this about?” he said, and licked dry lips. Their leader made an unpleasant sound, half a laugh, half a jeer. “We heard you killed Johnny—”
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and a thumbprint machine. you wouldn’t have made such a gross error. I am I. The door opened and a familiar blonde head appeared. He crossed an artificial garden.” Wilton suppressed his feelings and said earnestly. E ditor . But before then he was summoned to the Job Center midshift.Double Seven Two gave a shrill whistle and other youngsters appeared to challenge the first gang. sir. “Elsie!” His former secretary wrinkled her nose and withdrew. Had there been a public outcry over Nelson’s death? Were they going to throw him to the media? He was shown into a basement room and told. Crowder.” she confirmed. Interview? The room held a desk. allowing himself to hope. this was so unexpected that not even Double Seven Two could understand. “Sit down. “Remember who your friends are on pay day.” 7 6 | robert reginald . two chairs. “It’s Wilton.” Wilton sat. and disappeared. He was given a low-grade executive suit and escorted to Pharmacie. sir. his chit taken from him and told to bathe again using plenty of scented soap. A tailored suit of quality covered a well-established paunch. it could be they needed his expertise. As he was handed over to a security man he looked back and saw his guide watching. a baffled expression on his face. If you’d known what you were handling. and Double Seven Two hurried him away. “Wait here for your interview.” He waited. “Pharmacie made an error of judgment in not insisting their admen take a basic science course. for Chemarx. except that now the name read Chemarx. C. heading up your old section. A fight started. “I agree. One glance at the man who stepped into the room told Wilton this was a top executive.” he said. wondering: what now? Obviously the takeover bid by their old rivals had succeeded.
“Just the material we need as a test subject for our redesigned drug. What we at Chemarx are about today is a new use for an old drug. give it a new name.” He leaned forward on his desk.” Wilton put on an intelligent expression.” Wilton allowed his enthusiasm to show. “You’re a failed executive.“That’s in the past. appalled. “The basic fact about anabolic steroids is that they promote the growth of muscles.” Crowder smiled briefly. E ditor . Apt. this means a significant increase in strength and speed. A side effect is that they also increase the hemoglobin content of the blood. “Andiphor is dead. “I like it—” His confidence was growing. Slowly the new guinea pig extended his thumb. For an athlete. don’t you think?” Tears formed in Wilton’s eyes. competing to see who can climb the fastest and furthest.” He passed the contract form across the desk and Wilton looked at the form. “I’ll say it once only: this is a unique opportunity to your immediate advantage. “The brain? Do athletes need this?” Crowder stared at him. of course. 7 7 | robert reginald . His throat was suddenly dry.” “A whole new market! All those young execs starting at the bottom.” Crowder said. long live Andiphor. We are going to tailor Andiphor to a new end and. “Did I mention athletes? We shall be tailoring this drug to enhance new executives. and this improves the blood’s ability to deliver oxygen where it is needed— including the brain. Crowder gave his outburst a cool reception.” He opened a drawer in the desk and brought out a contract form. “I think perhaps you have misunderstood me.
he had no official title. and when an issue was troublesome enough. The emerald rock of the giant promontory extended yet another quarter-klick upward before it topped out. by Mark E. For the past year he had been tracking down the space pirate known as Mol’Kenar. he was tasked to solve it. they had called Ian. trying not to look down at the bleak terrain spread out far below him.OUTSIDE LOOKING IN.” or at least that was as close a description as could be had for what he did. Nor could they easily approach via 7 8 | robert reginald . and when the Planetary Union had tired of waiting for the regular military to provide a solution. That meant Ian could not simply bring destroyers into near space and bombard the moon until its face was wiped clean. For the past decade the pirates under Mol’Kenar’s command had preyed with impunity on cargo ships and passenger vessels alike. This entity. thought to be human. ochre and red. searching for the finger. exotically beautiful with its glowing bands of green. and then another. It covered nearly a quarter of the visible heavens.and toe-holds that would allow him to ascend another meter. Looming in the sky above the wall was the multihued curve of the gas giant exoplanet called Cancri 4. That made it the logical choice for the outlaw stronghold sitting atop the promontory that Ian’s company now ascended. was the most feared and sought-after criminal in inhabited space. their environment suits clinging to the sheer face like tiny insects. and it possessed the most human-compatible habitat in the system. Burgess Ian Colorado clung to the cliff face a kilometer above the ground. His ten teammates were fanned out below and to the sides. But he was the best human operative in his field. E ditor . He was a “fixer of problems. The moon beneath Ian’s feet was one of several satellites orbiting the planet. The Union had made their directive clear: they wanted Mol’Kenar alive if possible. He carefully scanned the surface above him for the best route to climb.
That left them doing things the hard way. less than a meter away. releasing one hold. but he couldn’t recall the last time he had run a field operation in balmy conditions. but without his suit’s protection. Well. Even with the suit’s assist. Best to concentrate on the task at hand. and Ian started. Stealth probes had clearly showed the bluff’s topside dotted with defensive arrays that would put most Union military bases to shame. visible as a bright speck in the northern night sky. in another few hours the primary sun would set. he’d gotten used to it by now. 55 Cancri B. opening the way for a full-scale air assault. The profile on this moon hadn’t mentioned temperature extremes. When it came to weather. casting his bulky shadow against the rock. coming up from below with an elite team that could knock out the defenses. E ditor . almost losing his grip on the rock face. Ian would have been a frozen corpse within minutes. A high-pitched whirring sounded abruptly behind him. and his sensors showed the outside temperature to be far below freezing. This star system was a binary. The yellow orb of 55 Cancri A shone bright in the western sky behind him. it seemed he and his team had encountered nothing but misfortune in recent years. the climb had been long and difficult. hovered a 7 9 | robert reginald . reactivating the grav-grip as he placed his glove back on the rock. There. it was just his luck to arrive during a cold snap. The atmosphere was breathable. reaching upward. he twisted his upper body cautiously and turned his head as far around as he could. The wind whistled around him. leaving its red dwarf partner. Ian laboriously worked his way upward one grip at a time. The strike team planned to top the bluff around dusk. and the muscles of his calves and shoulders ached with the strain. The micrograv units of his suit hummed as they adhered his hands and feet to the copper-rich malachite surface. Sweat trickled down his back. Heart racing.landers. Then they’d remind these pirate bastards why they should fear the night. creating an itch that was all the worse because he had no chance of scratching it. and make their way to the defensive emplacements under the cover of dark. The missions were tough enough in themselves.
That was the problem when dealing with a simulacrum. a small round hatch popped open in the drone’s side. While he was pondering the implications. Nor did he trust this stranger who seemingly knew more than he should. From the emblems on his uniform.Union standard drone. The drone carried a prerecorded message. what could be seen of them under the proliferation of medals. not while hanging off a damned cliff. and then returned his hand to its grip on the rock. “I’m General McAllister. So that was it. the device would then retreat to a safe distance and beam the encrypted recording back for the sender to review. What good did it do to sound off to a superior if you couldn’t achieve the desired reaction? The general’s likeness continued in a measured voice. E ditor . and not with his objective finally in sight. but no airwave communications could be risked during a stealth mission. It could hold a simple dialogue. This was highly irregular. and a black cable snaked out toward him. The blue-striped silver orb gleamed where the sun’s rays bounced off its polished surface. Ian carefully detached one gloved hand from the cliff and grabbed the cable as it came within reach.” the man answered. General or not. What met his eyes caused him to blink in surprise. After logging the conversation. closely mimicking the responses of the actual person it represented. As he watched. very few people knew Ian was here outside of special ops. 8 0 | robert reginald . “Sorry for the intrusion. The graying. In a few seconds a virtual image popped up inside his helmet display. he wasn’t in the mood for a chat right then. Allied Space Command. the man appeared to be a high-ranking general in the Allied Space Forces. couched in a sophisticated personality matrix based on the psyche of the sender. Ian felt a twinge of disappointment at the image’s bland expression. solidly-built man staring at him from behind a desk wasn’t Ian’s usual contact. I presume?” “Who wants to know?” Ian replied testily. Manual connection was inconvenient as hell. the frozen image came to life and said. “Ian Colorado. Quickly he plugged it into the input jack on his helmet. a message was being delivered.
In one fluid motion he arched his torso away from the rock wall. too bemused to even sustain his anger. They had seen the exchange and knew something was afoot.I’ve been authorized to request your presence at once. “Forget him. Ian sighed.” the general replied levelly. We need you here. and Ian pulled the cable free of his helmet in a daze. and just like that. What could take precedence over this mission? “I…what should we do about the objective?” he asked the general. and with his free hand he signed to them to continue without him. “Have the rest of your team proceed as planned. he saw them holding position on the cliff face. I’ll expect you here in a few days. He hit the grav release on his left forearm control panel. We’ve got a ground transport waiting near the cliff base. The target was highly classified. Looking over and down at his teammates.” The general nodded. staring up at him. The cord whipped back into the drone. “Do you have any idea who we’re closing in on here?” “Mol’Kenar.” With that the transmission went dead. E ditor . a fleeting smile crossing his features. as I understand it. They should be able to accomplish the task without you holding their hands?” Ian replied numbly. where a shuttle can take you off planet without detection.” “What?” Ian was flabbergasted.” Ian couldn’t believe his ears. flying outward and past the team members below him. and it instantly dropped from sight. “Yes. It will take you to a place shielded by mountains. Epsilon Eridani is your destination. we’re not meeting on Earth or in the Centauri system. Ian’s duties there were concluded. and also had been a top priority of the Planetary Union for most of the past decade. Their suit-clad forms rushed by and were gone as he gained 8 1 | robert reginald . It was time to go. His second in command gave him the “affirmative” response. extending both legs forcefully as he did so. Now. “Good. His kick propelled him in a graceful backward dive away from the cliff. Oh. just so you know. Out.
His one thought as he headed slowly down was that this had better be really important. Speed was apparently a priority. Down. he scanned the terrain beneath him.momentum in a vertical free fall toward the surface. down he dropped. but it moved through hyperspace faster than anything Ian had previously ridden. Those traits. and the impact slammed his upper body as his speed was abruptly arrested. made Ariel an ideal site for the research observatory which the military had built on and under the planet’s surface. He twisted in midair. but lying within the system’s habitable zone. A few hours later he was seated in a 8 2 | robert reginald . Its size and location meant that gravitation and surface temperatures were moderate by human standards. E ditor . located about 10. He floated now. rocky sphere with little atmosphere. The second planet. combined with its low atmospheric density. and after a moment began steering his chute toward a likely landing site. turning belly-down to the ground. the general had provided top-level transportation both on the ground and in space. The wind buffeted his suit as the cliff flew by in a blur. **** True to his word. named Ariel. suspended above the rocky spires and valleys. the ground features swelling as they rushed to meet him. casting long shadows over the tumbled landscape below. was a stark. Upon landing. From this height he could see the panorama of rocky badlands extending in a green and black mosaic all the way to the horizon. the shuttle’s commander escorted Ian to his quarters to freshen up. Then he punched the parachute release. Grabbing the control cords. A few short days later he was in the Epsilon Eridani system.5 light years from Earth. Ian waited until he was low enough to escape likely detection from above. The sun was dropping low in the sky. The small interstellar shuttle was of unfamiliar conformation. drifting on cold air currents.
one which had no definable source.” “Not as important as this. E ditor . To Ian’s surprise a blue-tentacled Corotian sat in attendance near the far end of the table. many of whom were prominent physicists from various star systems.” Ian raised his eyebrows in surprise. Without preamble General McAllister introduced the individuals in attendance. Besides humans. Their uniforms marked many of them as high-level military officials. It seemingly came from everywhere in known space. He had been worried that his usual command hierarchy might have been cut out of the loop entirely. Its home system was nearly fifteen hundred light years from Earth. “About ten years ago. among those seated at the table. making it one of the most outlying members of the Union. General McAllister looked Ian in the eye and said. Mr.conference room around a long table with a dozen other representatives of the Planetary Union. Ian was relieved to see his armed forces liaison.” “You could say that.” the general assured him.” With that he looked to his left. “Perhaps I should have Dr. Colorado. “Welcome from all of us. but about half of those present wore the blue and gold smocks of the Science Division. I imagine you want to know what this is all about. where sat a comely fortyish woman with sandy blond hair. with Ian seated at the other end. there were several alien races represented. “Even more puzzling were the simultaneous gravitational waves originating 8 3 | robert reginald . “I was taken off a very important mission to be here. Dr. Cavanaugh explain the background to you. the researchers at this facility encountered a most peculiar phenomenon. Colonel Parker. Cavanaugh continued. Whatever was taking place must be significant to warrant a trip of that magnitude. The general who had contacted him previously now presided at the table’s head. When introductions were finished.” Ian replied evenly. The sensor arrays registered a massive spike across the electromagnetic spectrum. The doctor smiled at Ian and began. this was not sounding like a typical briefing.
saying slowly. He licked his lips and asked. He was beginning to comprehend what had these science types looking worried as hell. not localized to this system?” Ian asked. could not. The data supported only one conclusion. but he felt a chill run down his spine.” “This was a galaxy-wide phenomenon. “Exactly what do you mean by that?” The doctor leaned forward. perplexed. Cavanaugh added. “That…is hard to believe.” Ian wasn’t a physicist. The magnitude of such an anomaly rules out a new type of weapon. He was a 8 4 | robert reginald . we started to recognize other anomalies. While doing so. every sun had become darker and cooler. I would think.” Ian held the alien’s gaze. not when they had been checked. “I mean that all the stars within reach of our scans showed a loss of luminosity and a shift toward the red spectrum. E ditor . using sensors and telescopic arrays. It was as if something had violently jarred all of spacetime and left it to oscillate in the aftermath. as incredible as it sounds: our universe had dimmed. Cavanaugh nodded. Its puckered mouth made sounds like popping bubbles as it pronounced the human words. “Agreed. including other galaxies and celestial objects out to the furthest reaches of our universe. hands folded as she returned his gaze intently. But there was no doubting the measurements. In layman’s terms. as we referred to it. things that should not.” Ian sat back in his chair. “Not just galaxy-wide. No technology we know of could create a disruption that widespread. and compared to those taken in other inhabited solar systems. “How much did they dim?” A third scientist sitting to Ian’s right spoke up. “This occurrence appears to have involved all of known spacetime.” A dark-haired man sitting next to Dr. and rechecked.” the Corotian emissary interjected. I head the combat tech group at Alpha Centauri Base. After the Event. we ran intensive scans of known space. “It gets worse.from every celestial body in range of the detectors. have been possible.” Dr.
From that point forward the anomaly has repeated an average of four times per year. “I’ve not heard a word of this anywhere!” he sputtered. Cavanaugh sighed and answered. The physicist nodded somberly. “The effects have already been felt on multiple worlds. Several planets with marginal temperature ranges are becoming uninhabitable outside of protective biodomes. another ripple jolted our spacetime. “The changes were infinitesimal. the measurable solar heat and light output in all inhabited star systems has dropped nearly three percent. “Can 8 5 | robert reginald .” Ian glanced from face to face around the table before venturing. everywhere. and possibly all life in the known universe. Over the decade since the first recorded incident. All energy. our detectors revealed similar reductions in radio emissions from black holes. Six months after the first event. “But that would cause changes…. or we wouldn’t be discussing it now.” he said haltingly.” General McAllister answered.” Dr. Those with milder climes have also experienced progressive cooling. “I gather that it didn’t end there. was reduced by a distinct and measurable amount. Furthermore.” Mol’Kenar was long forgotten as Ian came to grips with what they were telling him.squat Rigelian with a neatly trimmed feather crest topping his orange-tinged head. and the output from detectable energy sources dipped again. it will only be a matter of time before humanity. and concern is mounting that incipient ice ages might be on the horizon in a handful of heavily populated worlds. but they were real. and even in the cosmic background radiation that is left over from the universe’s birth. E ditor . If the trend continues. “Unfortunately. “How could something this big escape notice?” “The information has been restricted to a few select members of the government and science communities. could be in jeopardy of extinction. He spread his hands on the table. and he stroked it unconsciously as he spoke in a high-pitched voice. on the order of less than one tenth of one percentage point.” Ian sat stunned as he absorbed the meaning of the words. you are correct.
and quickly. Have you learned anything more about the phenomenon?” Dr. and her tone was almost gentle. This facility continued monitoring known space with every piece of equipment at our disposal. “What came out of those studies?” Dr. “But we didn’t give up hope. Societies might break down into complete anarchy. There was nothing anyone could do but watch the universe slowly wind down.” 8 6 | robert reginald . it had to be going somewhere.” Ian’s head was swimming with each new revelation. It was obvious in the first few years that the problem had to be addressed. “We’re getting to that. and Ian knew the man was right.” His expression was grim as he ground out the words. so we were all at a loss as to a solution. E ditor . Cavanaugh spoke again. like a battery whose charge was finally depleted. He managed to ask. Cavanaugh smirked and said. Although the data suggested that alternate phases of spacetime could indeed exist.you imagine the mass panic on worlds across the Union if people knew the truth? It could do nothing but harm. But…. as if she regretted the burden of knowledge they had laid in his lap. “Something has to be done!” he insisted. we were never able to define a specific reality outside of the known universe. To this end we revived some earlier experiments involving phase-shifting of matter and energy. The best scientists of multiple worlds convened to discuss the situation. but no one knew the source of the anomalies. with no way of knowing which coordinates corresponded to actual realities. This was starting to sound more like speculative fiction than reality. a specific cause that can be addressed. “There has to be a reason for this. There were nearly an infinite number of phase variations possible. It was like attempting to tune into a radio wave broadcast without knowing the exact frequency needed. Our scientists operated under the assumption that if energy was disappearing from the universe. “Our funding was discontinued because of equivocal results. Those projects had originally been aimed at probing the possibility of overlapping or ‘parallel’ universes.
“But you revived those experiments in search of answers to the current problem. prodigious amounts of energy are needed to accomplish this feat. Where does that leave us?” “In a better position than you might imagine. we succeeded. A parallel dimension had been identified. “and we got lucky.” she said. weighing the implications. “So you’ve localized the origin of the phenomenon. “Of course. E ditor .” the physicist replied. the window she creates can only be maintained for a few moments before it collapses and closes. we had the resources of multiple worlds at our disposal.” “I assume you’re going to tell me what it does. and even with ten antimatter reactors powering Ipsy. frowning.” Ian said. Our breakthrough finally came when one of the disruptive events occurred while the phase-shifting equipment was active. nodding. The energy spike had been concentrated in one specific frequency. “That discovery provided the impetus for us to launch the Lazarus Project.” Dr.” “I see. At the precise moment when the electromagnetic spectrum jumped and gravity shuddered. but it’s not even within our universe.” Ian prompted. This is just enough time to push a small object through to the other side. “It’s called the Interdimensional Phase-Shifting Transducer. We nicknamed her ‘Ipsy’ for short. Five years and trillions of galactic credits later. “The device has one function: it is capable of opening a localized rift between universes. the reason you are here.” 8 7 | robert reginald . “Yes.” Ian asked with a blank look. Cavanaugh replied. Cavanaugh answered with a grin. In that brief moment two major problems had been solved. Unfortunately. The desperation of our situation greased the wheels of progress in ways you can’t imagine.” Dr. corresponding to a single alternate spacetime. the equipment reported a massive surge in the multiphasic energy readings. and it appeared that it was the source of the energy drain in this universe.” “Succeeded? In what?” Ian asked. “We developed the device that may give us our answers.
“Next we experimented with organic substances.” A few chuckles were heard around the table. retrieving each after a short interval. we didn’t start with human subjects. so we pushed the experimental timetable forward. of course. gravity. Some worried that a supermassive black hole might lurk there.Something clicked in Ian’s brain. “I’d send a data collector through and see what it could tell us. We were forced to move on to the final stage of the project with what information we possessed.” “So exactly what have you done prior to this?” Ian asked her. temperature. It returned alive and well a few minutes later. and he said cautiously. Despite the urgency of the situation. “Our thoughts exactly. the phase-shifting process appeared to scramble the unit’s memory. and to collect visual images from the other side. “Oh. we began sending inanimate objects through. “When the device first came on line. albeit a bit dazed from the 8 8 | robert reginald . to gather information on atmosphere. E ditor . sucking matter and energy to itself via a weak link with our universe. “A small rodent in a protected habitat was the first to travel through. Unfortunately. Dr.” “What about sensor equipment?” Ian asked. The machine locks onto the matter-energy profiles of the materials that it passes through the rift. sending pieces of fruit and other plant material through the machine. This meant sending a living creature through the machine. and Dr. “An object like a human being?” The steady gazes of those around the table told him what he needed to know.” Ian leaned forward with interest. Simple rocks and bits of metal returned successfully with no measurable alterations to their structure. Cavanaugh said quickly. “And how did that go?” The Rigelian to Ian’s right replied. A probe was launched into the rift. No one knew what awaited us in the other dimension. we knew that caution was paramount. and no coherent data were obtained upon its return. and can pull them back into our reality from beyond. Cavanaugh nodded and grinned. This suggested a relatively non-hostile environment on the other side. Again they were retrieved undamaged.
we think it’s best to use a single operative to assess the situation. We’d have to send in a team one by one.” For a moment Ian sat quietly staring at his hands. but it appeared quite agitated when it rematerialized in the laboratory. “Ian. a monkey was sent through in a custom-made environment suit. Otherwise. It also made the journey beyond and back unharmed. At this time. do what you think is best. and no reason could be found for its behavior.” the scientist replied. “Actually. His icy blue eyes were piercing under his regulation military haircut. as it should be nearly instantaneous. and your judgment can be trusted. When no lasting effects were observed in the test subject. “We don’t know. spoke up. “Then why was the monkey so keyed up? Ian asked. The rat seemed unfazed by the experience. Colonel Parker. Eventually 8 9 | robert reginald . it’s not every day that you jump universes. Electroen cephalograms and magnetic resonance imaging revealed no organic damage to the animal’s brain.” “And now you want me to go through and see what’s over there. and then decide on a course of action from there. If somehow you can resolve the problem yourself. “There is only enough window capacity to pass a single object through at a time. with several minutes between each. Cavanaugh shook her head regretfully. “If I do this. E ditor .” Ian’s longtime superior. your task is to gather information and survive to bring it home.” Ian concluded.” Ian commented wryly.transference process.” “I can empathize. which we couldn’t logically explain. we don’t expect the transference to be stressful. The only peculiarity was a row of parallel gouges on the back of the monkey’s protective suit. You’ll have complete discretion once you’re across. Maybe it managed to traumatize itself while on the other side. you may attempt to do so. we’ve chosen you for this mission because we feel you’re the best qualified. The other man shrugged. can I take my team with me?” Dr.
“Do I have a choice?” Colonel Parker nodded. All indicators were reading nominal. Now the time had come to push the limits of technology. “It’s a volunteer mission. He reflected cynically that in times past. his gravelly voice compelling everyone’s attention. ten seconds now. Hopefully the end result here would be more conducive to his health. being a combination of protective habitat. information-gathering equipment. The environment suit they had provided him was unique. wondering if he had made a wise decision. Its digital clock counted slowly down toward zero.he raised his eyes and asked the colonel. There were far too many unknowns for his liking. then we’ll find someone else. too much that could go wrong even within the known parameters of what they were attempting. there really was no other option. **** A few weeks later he sat motionless in the heavy steel chair of Ipsy’s transference chamber. as the master clock ticked toward zero. and potent defensive armament. He glanced over the suit readouts in his helmet display one last time. Being prepared for all eventualities was a way of life for Ian. son? Are you in?” Ian hesitated for only a moment before nodding his head. to lift the veil and see what lay beyond. Time slowed as the end approached. with a surge 9 0 | robert reginald .” General McAllister spoke up then. E ditor . “So what do you say. men convicted of capital crimes might have met their fates in similar fashion. and everyone knew it. Like it or not. If you decline. the amber numbers flashing and vanishing as his last minutes slowly ran out. and he had insisted on specific design parameters for the suit when he had taken the mission. There was no telling what he was going to encounter out there. hearing the hollow rush of his exhale in the helmet. He sucked in a big gulp of processed air. Ian. He could see the main control panel beyond the fused quartz window of the sealed door.
everything an admixture of shadows within shadows. pondering the situation. feeling a surge of hope. he scrambled to his feet. It was dark. and that meant he was probably right where he had intended to be. it might be just a little different than home. a jolt as if an electrical current had coursed through his body. An idea occurred to him then. Five seconds. Just a hint of a brilliant flash. two. In fact. With all the science and preparation that had preceded this moment. but again was on the thin side 9 1 | robert reginald . Oxygen was present in the atmosphere. As he stood frozen. slowing his racing thoughts. some pinpoint in size.of adrenaline pounding his heart and clenching his jaw. Three seconds. Quickly he checked his sensors to be sure his eyes were not deceiving him. overwhelmed by a sense of profound failure. E ditor . and he felt his skin begin to crawl as the machine’s energy fields took hold. a ceiling. there were walls. and somehow he had been transported to a different locale within his own universe. He was inside a building! For a moment he slumped. He gathered himself and began studying the room he had materialized within. the odds really had favored success. The suit readouts showed temperature levels that were cool by human standards. and…. arms dropping out of his ready stance as he stared in disbelief. Yes. and others more diffuse. there and gone in an instant. one. and his mind achieved some clarity. They must have gotten it all wrong. Focus and discipline gradually prevailed. he gulped and forced himself to calm down. probing his surroundings with eyes and sensors. Slowly his surroundings became more visible. but livable. creating areas of lighter hue within the dark. He raised his head. again so fleeting he wasn’t sure it had even occurred. and regularly-shaped objects which appeared to be of artificial construct arrayed all around him. As his vision adjusted he realized there were sources of illumination here and there. Yes. of course! An alternate reality didn’t have to be bizarre. In a moment he froze in surprise. Then he was sitting quietly on a smooth hard surface—where? Fighting off a wave of disorientation.
Even the gravitational readouts 9 2 | robert reginald . There were spikes all over the electromagnetic spectrum. no way that what he was thinking could be possible. he could see that it was a cube-shaped structure which sat atop a table or platform. either. Ian gritted his teeth and extended his hand over the cube. He moved closer and bent to peer inside. The telltales on his helmet visor lit up. Cautiously he moved his feet and approached the pale glow. Ian had trained in a variety of environments all the way down to zero gravity. and despite its clear surfaces. and he swept his gaze around the area. The cube’s interior looked inky black. Some were disc-like. and he squinted as he tried to discern what they were. The gravitation here was 0. he could not see through to the other side. Within the dark matrix were suspended numerous glowing shapes. It was not a simple power source. from visible light to hard radiation. His eyes were now adjusting to the dim conditions. E ditor . and he numbly scanned the incoming data. The tiny objects looked familiar. It took a few moments to make sense of the miniature panorama on display within. Some of the faint specks of light had resolved into blue and amber indicators on the faces of what appeared to be large banks of equipment. so this posed no more than an inconvenience to him. on a scale far above what an object that small should be able to generate. being only fifteen percent of the air mix.for Homo sapiens. There was no way.75 of Earth normal. and appeared comprised entirely of a transparent material. others pinpoint in size. crossing the smooth floor easily. Half fearing what he would find. shaking his head in denial. The readings indicated high levels of energy contained within. On nearing the source of illumination. probing the object with his suit’s sensors. some larger. The wan light was coming from within its depths. so he would be light on his feet. others were wispy spirals with arms that swirled around a bright center…he drew back as recognition struck him. even clad in the heavy suit. It measured less than a meter in diameter. Eventually his attention was drawn by a relatively bright object only a few strides in front of him. such as an antimatter or fusion reactor.
and hold more matter and energy. E ditor .” And here he was. It must not be an equivalent transfer. “You’ll come out close to the heart of the problem. The transducer coordinates are based on where the power surge occurred during the Event. His thoughts whirled as he struggled to wrap his mind around the reality. “What you do about it from there. this spacetime might be larger.” If their universe had truly been confined to a vessel by whoever had built this facility. There was substance inside the cube. But even if it were true. As he stood gasping for air. for all we know.were off the scale. You should emerge at. frowning as he considered the possibilities. well. then humanity and all other inhabitants of Ian’s spacetime would be at the mercy of those who possessed this cube. as near as he could tell. unbelievable amounts of it. a conversation came to him. or very close to. Ian. the idea gave rise to other problems. Not only should that lead you to the correct universe. the heart of our problem.” The physicist had shaken his head. I could wind up in the wrong galaxy. What should have been wild conjecture was looking more and more plausible. He felt a wave of dizziness. and he staggered back from the cube with blood rushing in his head and bile in his mouth. 9 3 | robert reginald . that’s your area of expertise. looking into what seemed to be. it should also follow the energy drain to its source within that spacetime continuum. as insane as that sounded. “We don’t think that will be a problem. his own universe. Heck.” The scientist had grinned at Ian as he added. I could enter it hundreds of light years away from where the energy drain is originating. scratching his blonde hair thoughtfully as he said. “That’s an entire universe you’re sending me into. something that a Lazarus researcher had told him in a briefing just two days before. “How do I know that I’ll end up anywhere useful?” Ian had asked the scientist. Captured in a display on a table. Such as: how could anyone draw as much energy from the cube as what Ian’s entire universe had lost? He frowned as he wrestled with the question.
He realized with a sinking feeling what these dishes were likely to be accumulating. it could be lifted if need be. one in each direction. From the central open area where he stood. but bright enough to reveal everything around him. The difference here was that these were aimed downward rather than up at the sky. and although it was heavy. That could explain how someone here had managed to contain his entire universe in a box. although large slabs resembling shutters could mark the locations of hidden windows or doorways. Four massive black cylinders extended from the ceiling above him. it was not fastened down. Ian stepped back and quickly took stock of his surroundings.than the reality that Ian had left behind. with control panels and instrumentation covering their metallic faces. they appeared to be focused directly on the cube in front of him. Good. He was a man of action. tipped with concave dishes. not one prone to abstract contemplation. Towering banks of machinery rose on all sides. The distant walls were unbroken by any visible openings. he felt the object slide sideways a short distance as he applied force. The servo-assisted limbs of his suit enhanced his normal strength by two hundred percent. he wrapped his arms around it and nudged. casting an odd red glow that strained his eyes. At that moment a grinding sound came to him through the 9 4 | robert reginald . Or maybe there were other physics at work here. like valleys between the mountains of equipment. E ditor . Lights were powering up all over the ceiling. He was contemplating his next move when suddenly the room brightened. four main corridors fanned outward toward the room’s periphery. It seemed to him that this was the time for some assertive intervention on his part. To Ian they resembled electromagnetic energy accumulators such as those used in radio telescopes. In fact. Approaching the cube once again. science far beyond what humanity had mastered. It appeared that he currently stood near the center of a truly cavernous room. Thinking about it made Ian’s head hurt.
Their aliens’ heads sported bulging craniums with large round eyes set unusually high in their foreheads. and a belt from which hung several implements—tools or weapons? Even the sound of their ambulation was unnerving. the pair of creatures walking side by side appeared more like grotesque caricatures than real beings. Possibly native to this very planet. and a single spring of his legs resulted in a superhuman leap. The oversized eyes suggest nocturnal vision. He landed barely behind the bulkhead. They wore little covering other than a loin piece. They appeared to be conversing. The weak gravity provided less resistance than he was accustomed to. Their bodies and limbs were incredibly elongated. The sharp click-and-rasp of their feet on the floor was accompanied by a dry creaking. as of old branches rubbing together in the wind. E ditor . seeking cover behind a bulkhead that rose up from the floor near the cube. Instinctively he jumped to the right. each emitting a guttural croaking from its upper facial orifice. with sparse flesh covering the harder body parts that showed through with painful clarity. Low-gravity organisms. Ian’s trained eye looked past the superficial strangeness of their features. leaving a blank countenance below which was broken only by two small orifices. nearly carrying him past his destination. and quickly crouched down to view the doorway. Vaguely humanoid. drawing closer to where Ian crouched. The room was now illuminated well enough to easily reveal him to anyone entering. What strode through the portal a moment later was unlike any life form Ian had encountered. keying on the biologic characteristics suggested by the physical traits.speakers in his helmet. He tore his gaze away from the ceiling and saw a large door panel sliding open on the far wall. based on the fragile skeletal structure and height. The creatures headed toward the room’s center. This dim red light is probably their normal spectrum. Ian’s suit included 9 5 | robert reginald . interspersed with harsh sibilants and clicks. thin to the point of appearing emaciated. or at least high photosensitivity.
the speaker in his ear began to emit words in time with their vocalizations. grimacing as he listened in on the aliens’ conversation.” “No. But they hardly qualified as organic. and stopped a handful of strides from where the 9 6 | robert reginald . They marched forth in disciplined ranks. As the two creatures came within ten meters of Ian’s position. he might be able to act. I was right! The two creatures continued their animated discussion near the cube. Once the room was vacant again. so the failure there was understandable.” Ian crouched motionless. The being on the left gestured at the cube and said.” The other creature replied. and perhaps hide it until the scientists back home could formulate a plan. The situation changed abruptly moments later. Somehow he had to get possession of the device. the thing had worked with most organic life forms encountered so far. E ditor . And the comment about objects materializing out of it— they’ve got to be referring to the Lazarus project! Damn.a universal translator. The translation device functioned by detecting brain energy emissions and correlating them with recognized logic patterns. The only exception in recent memory was the encounter with the vapor beings of the giant gas planet orbiting Gliese 581. and he was not disappointed. when the doorway disgorged a dozen or more aliens carrying what looked suspiciously like energy weapons. Ian was hopeful that the device would prove useful now. “Need more study…my dimensional model…unlimited potential for learning…. gesturing emphatically. and while he listened. Ian pondered a course of action. Regardless.” the first being cut the second one off. Dimensional model…that should be the cube. “…this project…risks not foreseen…objects materializing out of the model. need to shut down…study existing data before further research is undertaken. and added some complicated intuitive processing that humans still didn’t fully understand. something that had been developed with the cooperation of other sentient races when humanity had become part of the galactic community. “Risks too high.
May also explore the model. Portions of the fabric strips gleamed as if metallic devices were attached. “What means this?” It raised its hands as if to hold the others back. The military’s involvement would certainly interfere with future human efforts to address the situation. Ian grunted in recognition. and it began to speak forcefully. Its thin frame carried more ornamentation than the rest. military brass always seemed to love their pomp and glitter. with ribbons draped diagonally across its torso in addition to the usual belt and loin piece. exploit internal matter-energy matrix.” “Not what we agreed to!” the cube’s creator responded.” the military official stated. and were increasing security in response. This energy source… proven very useful…can drain remaining power for our needs. regardless of species. gesticulating wildly. not yours!” The ranks parted and a single figure stepped forth. This was a truly unfortunate development. leaving Ian with a precious few moments to weigh his options. The original pair looked at each other. “Our sensors show further activity from the model.other two stood. Its words repeated through the translator. Very useful. E ditor . The aliens had realized that objects were appearing from within the cube. This project…now under military control. My project. with potentially dire conse9 7 | robert reginald . Risk must be contained. its properties can be.” The argument continued hotly. It drew itself up to its full height and gazed imperiously around the room. apparently unfazed by the other’s protests. “Will have military guard around device at all times…protect against incursions from within the dimensional construct. and the one who had claimed the cube as “its model” exclaimed. But what could he accomplish alone? The words of the military official replayed in Ian’s mind. their meaning ominously clear. “Not acceptable!” “No choice in matter. “The military…no business here. The aliens had plans for the cube. There might not be a better opportunity to intervene than he had right now. The newcomer looked from the cube to the two researchers.
and the bulky object came free into his hands. An instant later he ducked back behind the bulkhead and squeezed his eyes shut. The other alternative.” sounded suspiciously like an invasion. The sensitive eyes of the creatures were hit with the intense burst from close range. During the confrontation the two civilian aliens had moved away from the cube. Ian popped back up to find most of his targets down and disoriented. flinching as a blue bolt of energy streaked by his right side. Ian peeked around the bulkhead once again. approaching the armed contingent on the far side from Ian’s hiding spot. “Stop the creature! Get the model! We must have it!” He powered away from the aliens with long leaping strides. Behind him erupted a frenzied croaking. E ditor . Brilliant flashes briefly dispelled the room’s red twilight. Another flash passed over his head a second later. It was now or never. Switching his audio receiver back on. He straightened and began to move as the aliens were regaining their feet. They looked up at the sound just as the charges detonated. The rounds flew in a flat arc and landed just short of the aliens. Neither option was acceptable.quences for Ian’s universe. and they dropped their weapons and covered their faces as the deafening percussions also assailed their hearing. and his helmet speaker spat the words. sizing up the situation. Draining the object’s energy could effectively destroy all life as he knew it. that of “exploring the model. Ian shut down his external audio pickup. Once there he wrapped his arms around it and heaved upward. Then he raised his left arm and quickly launched three flash-bang charges at the tightly bunched creatures. Some were rolling on the floor as they emitted guttural groaning noises. He leapt from his protective cover and rushed to the cube. Thankfully the creatures’ aim was off. likely due to ghost 9 8 | robert reginald . His mind made up. With his suit’s enhancements the task was easier than expected. outlining every object in stark detail. The round impacted on a bank of equipment and blew a charred hole in the metal panel.
It leveled a long-handled weapon at him. appeared to stride unhurriedly. “No plasma rounds! If cube ruptures we all die! Neuro-stuns only!” Ian wasn’t sure what type of weapon the latter was. Even with his enhanced abilities he could not outrun them. The servo units in his suit lengthened his stride beyond what would have been humanly possible. his options might improve. and he glanced down them as he ran. Their thin limbs. Simultaneously the air in front of the creature rippled 9 9 | robert reginald . He pushed toward it with the cube cradled tightly in his arms. but he didn’t wait to find out. and he ate up the distance rapidly. He took a right at the next intersection. louder this time. pacing him. and there appeared to be a door slab set into its surface. He turned away from his pursuers at the next intersection. and the helmet translated. At first their shadowy lengths were empty as far as his vision could penetrate. heading in the new direction for a handful of strides. The creatures’ awkward appearance belied their speed. He swerved left at a corridor intersection and put a row of machinery between himself and the aliens. But about halfway to the wall he began to catch glimpses of figures running in a corridor parallel to his. Once there. heading again for the far wall.spots still marring their vision. If he could escape this area. but they ate up incredible distance nonetheless. Side corridors crossed his path every ten meters or so. removing his right hand from the cube long enough to fire an impact grenade down the corridor. More vocalizations arose to his rear. He could see it now. E ditor . Indicator lights flashed by on each side as he passed between towering devices of unknown function. There seemed to be a grid work of passages intersecting at regular intervals. and Ian dropped instinctively to his knees. just up ahead. then took another turn back toward the wall. Suddenly an alien soldier appeared in the corridor junction just ahead. at least half again as long as a man’s. he hoped that he could find a door panel and manipulate it open. His breath rasped harshly within his helmet as he willed his legs to pump harder.
He reached the wall within fifteen seconds at a full run. he caught a glimpse through the open doorway of 1 0 0 | robert reginald . and he extended his hand toward it as he heard the scraping clicks of enemy footsteps drawing near.M. he scanned the large rectangular slab which he surmised covered an exit. It was a near miss by the alien. nothing solid that Ian could see. Glancing left and right in the murky red illumination. The top square was barely within his reach. and nothing happened. round. at least four meters high by two wide. and Ian’s suit partially protected him. so he turned right on a whim. and the helmet’s readouts flickered before steadying. revealing an opening beyond. just a mirage-like distortion of the atmosphere. Ian approached and pressed on the lowest one. As he did so. the way ahead was cleared. The concussion blew a meter-deep crater in the floor and threw bits of the creature in all directions. he felt his limbs buckle for an instant. his grenade reached his opponent. The only visible marks on the smooth surfaces were three dark squares set in the wall to the left of the slab. As Ian felt the discharge of the E. He never touched the top panel. Frantically he looked for a control or latch. Sliding to a stop. There was no flash. Even so. he squeezed through and into a broad corridor on the other side. By the time Ian regained his feet and began moving forward. E ditor . The blast also caught a second alien soldier which had just appeared in the intersection. Its dimensions were impressive. he could discern no difference. When his glove passed in front of its face. A direct hit would probably incapacitate both Ian and his suit hardware. But a second shot would not be coming from the alien in front of him. Ian didn’t wait for the door to grind its way completely open. As soon as the gap widened enough. He got the same result when punching the second. The heads-up display showed an intense electromagnetic pulse had passed close to him. A split second later he felt a tingle like an electrical charge as the air just over his head crackled. the slab began to slide to the right.as its weapon discharged. and it did not miss.
Door slabs passed by to the left and right. Twisted tree-like vegetation spread black foliage in the sickly glow. bouncing off the outside wall but retaining his feet and his grip on the cube. sparks dancing over its surface in a blue halo. and Ian took the corner at full speed. Before Ian could free an arm to defend himself. He followed the corridor around two bends. Every nerve in Ian’s body burned like fire as his legs buckled and the world toppled sideways. Another hallway quickly branched off to the right and he followed it. With a curse he whirled to head back in the other direction. A short sprint brought him to an open chamber. charge hit him full on. Ian came to a stop in front of yet another closed door with three squares set into the wall. the alien fired its weapon. and a high-pitched siren began wailing as he approached what appeared to be a dead end. It resembled a lounge of some sort. The ground met him hard. running onward as his legs felt like rubber and his lungs burned. and nothing happened. he caught a view of a tumbled landscape crouched under a bloated crimson sun. As Ian rushed through at a full run. E ditor . He had moved no more than a few strides before the skeletal figure of an alien soldier rounded the corner ahead of him. and in the distance he saw impossibly tall towers rearing into the dim sky. and he 1 0 1 | robert reginald . His suit spasmed. An instant later the E. In a flash Ian was through the room and out into the corridor on the other side. The other two squares also failed to budge the door. It turned left after thirty meters or so.M. even when he slapped them with his palm. with oddly-shaped pieces of furniture and a transparent wall providing his first look at the outside world. He quickly ducked out of the path of fire and sprinted away down the new corridor. their lengths festooned with twinkling lights. trying to stay out of his pursuers’ line of sight.several aliens rounding a corner into the hallway he had just vacated. He quickly passed his hand over the topmost panel. none of them open. They spotted Ian almost immediately and sped toward him.
E ditor . and he was still recovering from the effects of the alien’s weapon. As the creature extended its clawed hands. rubbing his temples. Ian felt an odd sensation. ‘it inverted’?” Dr. In his weakened state he felt pinned down by its mass. his skin suddenly crawling as if spiders scurried up and down his body. And every living thing in his universe would soon follow him into oblivion. His mind felt fuzzy as he tried to take in what the others were telling him. as if no moisture remained in its desiccated frame. Their hollow faces were inscrutable. he thought feverishly. Smoke wisped into his helmet. He looked up helplessly as three aliens loomed over him. **** An eternity later Ian was seated once more at the conference table at Epsilon Eridani. “So explain that to me again. And I failed them all. regarding him with pupilless eyes like ebony pits. The cube rested enigmatically in the center of the table. He had a second to wonder if it was an aftereffect of the stun weapon. Ian sat through the meeting in a wheelchair. It was too late now.” Ian said. “What did you mean by. inside our spacetime. unable to move. filling his nostrils with the stink of burned circuitry. “Well. dazed by the impact. His arms were frozen still gripping the cube. One reached down toward the cube. In reality only two days had passed since his return. he knew.rolled onto his back. too late to do anything but die. and then the world around him vanished. and Ian heard the dry rustle of its limbs. This time the mood was decidedly different. you were holding the cube when we drew you back into our universe. its danger and mystery undiminished by the mundane setting. Now it is here. as the officials and scientists in attendance wore broad smiles.” 1 0 2 | robert reginald . Cavanaugh cocked her head and replied. which obviously means it can’t contain our reality any longer. Carrying the weight of the universe.
we don’t possess the technology to safely draw energy from the object. considering the billions of innocent beings that probably inhabit their reality. “So. Cavanaugh and said. “The most likely candidate is the spacetime continuum that was in contact with the object when you drew it into our dimension. Then they both began to chuckle. and all eyes turned toward him. 1 0 3 | robert reginald .” General McAllister growled from the head of the table. and at our mercy now?” “Damn right. and see how they like it!” “That would not be very ethical.Ian glanced at the device. “I just want to know one thing. It will take extensive study to even begin to understand how the cube was constructed. “Besides. with the swirls of galaxies and quasars still glowing within its depths. It seemed that things were indeed going to be all right. if our universe is now outside the cube. and Ian’s eyebrows shot up. and this time they truly did have the last laugh. E ditor . He looked at Dr.” the doctor chided him.” Comprehension dawned. still smiling. “I wonder exactly how long it will take them to figure out what happened?” As the doctor returned his gaze. Ian’s serious expression gave way to a smirk.” Ian declared. then what’s inside?” The scientist grinned.” Assent was heard from around the table. “You mean…the aliens’ universe?” She nodded. and the general snorted but held his peace. “We should drain their universe of energy. and he returned her grin as the implications hit him. they’re confined in their own cube. “Well. and one by one the others around the table joined in.
Not even the high priests had enough power there. Matt kept cool—this was not their first encounter—but Jeff tried to use his disintegrator. and Matt didn’t seem to have reacted at all. still stunned. “They’re defending someone. and in a wu forest you were supposed to keep quiet. He had hardly pointed it at an imposing old Xile who seemed to be some sort of chief and was the only one somehow dressed. But for the large patches of blood on the soil around them one would have said nothing had happened. Jeff had started one of his stupid speeches again.” Jeff thought. The assailants vanished as unexpectedly as they had appeared. Jeff rose slowly to his feet. despite the important character’s violent protests. maybe hundreds of small Xiles jumped straight down on their heads. “Isn’t it absolutely fantastic how much these creatures look like us? Those yellow apes that have invaded Beverly Hills this century look much stranger to us than these small Xiles!” Matt didn’t bother to disagree with the young man. dwarfish forest and land on either of the two suns which were now setting. that’s what Jeff 1 0 4 | robert reginald . stripped to the waist. by Victor Cilincă Translated from the Romanian by Petru Iamandi The sky was very low and very green. when another ten Xiles. Not that he was agog on the Japs in New York. E ditor . The attack was a surprise. Jeff. “Shut up. except a few trinkets—at least. and fell to the ground almost stifled. in his well-known manner. he waited with his hands on the control sticks for the young navigator to pick himself up. Dozens. The disintegrator was no use. They quickly inventoried everything. There was almost nothing missing. Bored. so you could almost expect to leap from the queer. putting them out of action by their weight. stepping on it.SIEGFRIED. Now they were in a wu forest.” said Matt. rocketed to his frightful weapon.
the Earthlings had intended to encourage the leading caste.” but a certain ability to feed the cult of suffering on Earth (serving himself as an example). “Because they don’t know and will never know how to use it. let alone process metals. E ditor . They didn’t have any tools or weapons. The palace of Aznaya. They saw the first native “houses. and a can opener. On the contrary. joked one of the first diplomats to have returned from Azoya. knives. too?” asked Jeff. and back on Earth they hadn’t advertised the colonization of Azoya very much. “They’ve taken everything that might serve their purpose. pointing to the disintegrator. they had set up a “Gilda” launching battery which proved out of place in the first strange war against the southern tribes.” a series of hovels dug straight into the frail soil.” Matt said. rose gloomily before them. At first. from a technological point of view they were next to nothing. the only building in the capital that the terrestrials had helped erect apart from the Mission. Thus. It would never have crossed their minds to break a branch themselves. ignoring the social realities of the planet.” “Then why didn’t they take this. “They were looking for weapons.” While trying to make contact using a spare cable. When the Earthlings came to understand that it was not power that characterized each “ruler. because they were not able to make them. It was Jeff’s first visit here. The settlement was too crowded for the few food resources in the area. Matt filled the young novice in. and other sharp objects. the zero influence level had been kept by a twelve-yearold Galactic law. considering 1 0 5 | robert reginald . pieces of glass. they said. they were wholly Catholic). if one broke a branch from a shrub and made it into a club. a Xile would feel like stealing it and using it as such. it was their conviction that no oppressive measure would have been appropriate with the Xiles. The same thing happened with the mountain axes. the ignition keys. Despite the fact that the Xiles looked human (and spiritually.thought: the field knives. In fact. Originally.
about a mile off the main entrance. but such an opportunity should never be missed. “These little knives bring in a fair return. “My head hurts. the happier the population was. Don’t try to find a complex explanation. Along the extremely narrow and high staircase. The American nation should follow the example of these wonderful Xiles! “What are you thinking about?” Matt finally asked wondering why Jeff.” “But why don’t we bring them more weapons? If they need 1 0 6 | robert reginald . E ditor . The main staircase was about two hundred feet high and significant for the Xilean mentality. had been taken down a long time ago by some zealous Xile.” “Did they want to harm us?” “Not us.” was a verse from the traditional saga. hundreds of natives climbed up and down at the same time. Let’s say they wanted to harm themselves. only Death can bring perfection and peace. but the natives had almost pulled them down.the powerful cult of death and martyrdom.” Matt said. N’varunha-Gna-hunha. The staircase looked like a restless ant hill. had been silent for such a long time. “Mha-hunha is waiting for you up there. “One can make big money here. They secured the jeep. the can opener. so now everyone could slip down into the chasm during rush hour. Even the parking lot was misplaced.…” **** The palace of Aznaya was a horrible mixture of colonial bad taste and lack of comfort. Mha-hunha means happiness. I wonder what they wanted from us. Few of the Christianized Xiles would have willingly jumped. It had once had stone banisters. which the more recent editions of the Bible had included. the worse a ruler governed there. The steering gear.” “The knives. with its sharp ends. who enjoyed talking so much. and checked whether there was any sharp object that might appeal to someone. the sharp-tipped ignition key.
they found themselves with full glasses in their hands. That won’t be the case. 1 0 7 | robert reginald . having a corner all to themselves. but these creatures here are only interested in coming to blows. I hope nothing’s spilled. an absolutely genuine red-haired young woman. “I like you. E ditor . Too many natives would die. I don’t know if Matt has already warned you. It’s true that some of them sell too cheap. To the right. the more so as his babitt dose had proved sufficient. “Sorry. what’s your name?” he shouted. and have a frighteningly disgraceful cult of blood. Jeff jostled someone. you mean. twentieth-century eightbullet gun would successfully replace at least eight knives. These creatures here kick the bucket at an amazing speed. Jeff noticed a large group of Earthlings who seemed to be enjoying themselves. is breeding. The only thing they do properly. The young woman went away with the babitt bottle in her hand.” “The Governor. why don’t we bring them more?” “We’d throw them out of balance. and want to pay my respects to the king. even cause it. they have something in common with the last century’s hippie communities. Just passing through. full of guests of all colors. If you know a little bit of history.them so badly. A small. “Rea. I’m in the eighth year at Clayton University. too. “Hey. so can you imagine how much we could get for one?” They went straight into the great hall. Matt and Jeff joined them. and we should do likewise.” he said and turned around. Here Jack the Ripper would be a trade union leader!” Jeff thought it right to burst out laughing. and they’d do it too fast. we don’t want prices to go low. Of course.” the person next to him admitted frankly. They submit to fatality. honey. Presently. And for one thing. “Are you new here?” “I’m an intern.” she said and vanished in the motley crowd of silent Xiles who seemed to be getting bored looking far away within themselves. the Japanese were there. A poor knife costs three grand. judging by the ecological badge on her left sleeve.
no doubt. the atmosphere had become animated. staring at the flying knife. A plump Texan was throwing camp knives at a wooden target. As a newcomer on the planet. who indeed was imperturbably taking care of his babitt. The Xiles were eating in silence without any noticeable pleasure. E ditor . the women in particular. he looked a bit impressed by such shows. The “high society” ones stood out by their red and white striped togas. Joy brightened up the Xiles’ eyes when a handsome Xile bent over the fallen one and said in maloo: “He’s been poisoned. considering the camp conditions. Most of the audience.**** The aliens were having fun. there was a confused murmur: someone had announced that His Excellency the Governor of Azoya was arriving. A few natives had closed in courageously. Around the joy container. Even the Japs looked amused at the thrower’s clumsiness. Several priests in violet habits passed through the groups. Rea appeared unexpectedly in a magnificent lace suit without anything important underneath. everyone’s interest was elsewhere. looking critically at the Earthlings who had somehow gone over the line.” Jeff. thought it quite out of place. and the newcomers (Jeff included) crowded to see him. But when the Xilean Governor arrived. Another Earthling had drawn his knife and was now trying to hit the target. they stared greedily at the object-that-bringsdeath. Though dressed and looking somewhat neat. Suddenly. one of the Xiles collapsed. 1 0 8 | robert reginald . who had the lowest grades at hitu and couldn’t understand maloo at all. didn’t grasp exactly what the Governor meant by that. at the same time watching that stupid flying-knife game. He had a real friend. dropping his tin cup. For a moment. The victim was a felela. much to the amusement of the Earthling audience. as Matt would cold-heartedly have said. and Jeff noticed for the first time a special interest in the Xiles’ eyes.
The three high officials and the Great Priest. bowed their heads. “The Bible forbids it utterly!” “The Bible!” the ruler laughed. E ditor . “Your Excellency. one of you shall help me pass Beyond. Even if you don’t entirely accept it. gently placing his hand on his shoulders. “Thus I have decided and thus it shall be. “Why should the Chosen Governor go Beyond before us.” “You’ve got no right to take your own life.“Is it…bad?” asked Jeff. Jeff felt a fiery touch on his back. The Governor looked up politely at the inexperienced visitor. “Your Excellency.” said the second counselor.” One could still hear the noises of the party.” said a priest dressed in violet. even though he had his isothermal suit on. “That’s an alien invention. “He’s finally joined his people.” Rea said. “Anyone would be happy to have the honor…. “You’ve been accepted by the aliens as a 1 0 9 | robert reginald .” That was the sentence Jeff would hear again and again. this time dressed in a white toga himself. They were all standing in the shadow of a little secret room which the settlers had once built for their meat stocks. Two Xiles dragged the body outside quickly for fear the Earthlings might get upset. Rulers have always passed Beyond as soon as they left a descendant behind.” said the Great Priest. your destiny has been ordained.” said the Governor for the second time. who have already reached an old age? Are we again using an acquired right at the cost of the sacred right of our race?” The Governor did not stand the insolence. **** “We’ll plan the hunting for tomorrow. “Someday you might understand it.” said Bostes.” the Governor went on smiling. for the enjoyment of our guests. Tomorrow. you’ve got to protect yourself. “Each of us would like the same thing.
touched you. “This is your cabin. we wouldn’t have the tools that help us pass Beyond. and without them we wouldn’t have the metals.…” **** “Some time ago. It was.” They climbed up several short backstairs. You can’t die. But their priests finally forbade it. while hunting. and we wish nothing more than to put an end to the tortures of our poor existence. It’s high time I started the Great Rest.” said the ruler. “Tomorrow. and Jeff enjoyed the thought of being left alone. You are immune to poisons.” The corridor narrowed abruptly. and your skin has been impenetrable since that Earthly ship landed so near and the radiations. as they call them. But Your Excellency. you can’t find me. “I’m tired. you have to live because you are the Chosen one.” said Matt. in fact. We could hardly advance.” “I’m very much aware I’ve got a vulnerable spot.” The dog couldn’t survive the radiations that proved beneficial to the Governor. “traveling these roads was quite a problem. 1 1 0 | robert reginald . Matt let the young one enter first. and it had definitely been a hard one. You can find me…well. locking the jeep. “And how did they do it?” “The Bible!” “I see. It hampered their trade with us too much. but I’ll turn up at the right moment. All the Xiles used to throw themselves like hares blinded by the headlights under the tracks of the cars. The people will worship you.” The cubicle looked fairly comfortable. E ditor . It’s a place where the magic rays couldn’t penetrate because of that small Earthly creature that had jumped upon my back to protect me.go-between. Jeff. at random. God wanted us to be born with the thought of Death. his first day on Azoya. Tomorrow you’ll have to step out before the crowd and sentence to death a few of them.
“Jesus.…” She had already mounted him and started struggling impatiently with the adhesive on his space suit. The door closed behind him with a click that said the biological protection screen was working. You smell so good!” she stroked him with her fingers and leaned to kiss him. The buzz awoke him—someone was playing with the alarm system.” It didn’t last long.“I’ll take a nap. but since I first saw you. “Well. “Don’t bite or scratch me. She laughed as she unwrapped him. Or are you afraid?” **** No. “Are you normal?” “You can see for yourself. “Who is it?” he asked. Jeff hadn’t done it for a long time. frightened. rubbing and scenting his body.” he warned her with what was left of his surviving instinct.” she said. one of the reasons her wellshaped body seemed so extraordinary. “I don’t want you to think of me as rude. With his help Rea managed to get into 1 1 1 | robert reginald . E ditor . climbing upon the heavy table and dangling her feet like a child. I’ve never enjoyed living so much. The climate microcircuit within was set in the washing-mode. His sudden exhaustion made him feel embarrassed. but the result was satisfying for both. “Rea!” Even if the young man hadn’t known her name. “Will you help me?” she said. He wasn’t afraid.” answered the young man modestly. well. her sweet voice would have made him open even a castle gate. anyway. “Promise you’ll help me.” “Help you do what?” “I won’t say. as though he were a present. but promise. “It’s men that usually make the first move.” he said and Matt left.
and the Xile who had ushered them in drew a cross with tincture iodine on the ruler’s left shoulder.” “Thank you both. opened smoothly at her signal. his eyes shining with joy for maybe the first time. “He shall be elected in my place. “Are you sure?” the Governor said. your subjects will think it’s been a mere assassination. “All right then. “Don’t be afraid. as if he’d been waiting.’ They seize the weapons. From somewhere.” **** “Did you really do that?” the young man shuddered when they stepped into the hall. starting what the Governor would call ‘terrible wars.” In hitu.” The dark corridor. and Rea started running her fingers over the keys of the device while Jeff moved the counter along His Excellency’s body.” said Rea. “let’s wait until tomorrow. at least.” “Your Excellency. dug deep into the rock. The girl acknowledged in a trembling voice.” cut in the priest. the zebroses from the south rush here. “What do you know about the laws of this world? From time to time. A quiet Xile pulled back the heavy stone door behind them. We’ll put it back. a sad-looking youth. “…here. The fourth Xile. Make a sign on the toga so he can hit exactly there. was wearing a cherry-colored toga. “Here the skin is very elastic.the power plant more easily and take a Tokanaga counter. appeared the Governor of the province. You’ll be rewarded.” said the Governor. “You’ll always have an ear to listen and an eye to see your needs. unprotected and near a vital center. During the chase. E ditor . Bostes. 1 1 2 | robert reginald . followed by the Great Priest dressed in white. you try it now. like all the Xiles of noble descent. It’s a cold area.” The Governor took off his toga. “assassination” had a different meaning.
looking around for some colonist. In short. Let’s go to the Mission. Suddenly the only armed male poised his spear and thrust it into the sign on the white toga. for the time being. “I don’t want to stay here anymore. The Earthlings had taken it seriously. is meant to worship and love Death. “You can’t see a real hunting of real cofans every day. All their ancient spirituality. Jeff. A hundred years before.” **** The chieftains stood there around the Governor. Matt had joined the other Earthlings winding through the dwindling trees which could hide nothing. It’s an attempt dating from ancient times. the Xilean kings had been strong and hunting had meant killing people. polite but determined. Her anxiety didn’t escape the attention of those around them. though.” “And why don’t we help them?” “The Non-Intervention Law. E ditor . “Well.and feed the dying by force in spite of the latter’s wish to starve.” sighed Rea. they do them the most terrible harm imagined here— they don’t let them die.” “But I want to see it!” said Jeff angrily.” said the Governor. on which the religion of the Catholic priests has been exquisitely implanted. we’re welcome. “Let’s go.” said Rea. whose secrets they can’t find yet. a sort of forest that stretched as far as the green horizon. smiling threateningly. 1 1 3 | robert reginald . “I hope you haven’t made any mistake this time. The stupid law passed in 2165 without one dissenting vote in the Galactic Council.” They’d already been surrounded by several guards. to survive an overcrowded planet lacking natural resources. “I’m very keen on the sign having been correctly marked. The colonists had changed a lot of the customs.” “What’s he talking about?” asked Jeff. Another Xile swiftly pulled the knife from Jeff’s sheath and cut the “killer’s” head off at one go.
” she said. “Killing us?” “I don’t think so. “Treason!” he yelled. The Governor leaned on one knee. Theo. swaying with the spear. “My name’s not Theo. while the Governor. He did the same thing to Rea.” “What if they’re doing it according to our laws? What have we done wrong? You’re carrying the joke too far! I’m a EuroAmerican citizen!” “Take it easy. Darkness and pleasant warmth overcame him. proceed!” Despite Jeff’s yells. he was 1 1 4 | robert reginald .” Meanwhile. that would return good for evil.” he said weakly. who knew it was no use hoping. “They haven’t marked the right spot!” Jeff was immediately knocked down. He woke up on a large table with his legs and right arm tied tight. When everything cleared up. the old Xile they had seen at the secret meeting approached with Jeff’s knife in his hand. “I’m sorry.” She smiled and fainted. “What are they doing to us?” he asked. “Because I’ve got my own opinions about everything I do.” “Why on earth didn’t you show him that spot? Was it in an indecent place?” Rea looked at him sadly.” “Don’t forget I was handling that bloody device. He saw Rea next to him. “I always call them that. E ditor . The spear looked like it had pierced a clay knoll. Jeff looked at her for a few more seconds. “You shall get your punishment. “Ienarch. in the same position. the Xile skillfully cut the veins of his left hand. until that wretched sensation of emptiness made him sick. They want to punish us for not having shown the vulnerable spot. To their minds.” said the Great Priest. The blood started to flow into a tin pot. And I simply couldn’t do it. without doing any harm. was trying to stand up.” “But I’ve seen it with my own eyes. aliens!” The Governor’s voice seemed to be coming from somewhere underground.“It’s been an assassination.
She was so close. feeling her breath near him. above. He hid his tears with his left palm. though there was no one to see him anymore. The old Xile shook him mercilessly. even higher than the stone ceiling. and he felt so very happy. You’re free to go. as if they were floating somewhere high above. as though waiting for him for a long time. “The punishment has been accomplished. he could have been There! 1 1 5 | robert reginald . He was flying somewhere quickly.” Jeff put his hand on his forehead and started to cry.able to see himself and Rea again. E ditor . His left hand was bandaged.… He woke up on the table. and there were some wet leaves on his forehead. Yes. nothing could ever separate them again. unbound. forever…. You and her. You’ve been sent back. He also seemed to hear music in front of him. with luck. where someone faceless and dear to him was standing with one’s back to the light. The hot whirl carried him to the entrance of a tunnel of dense light.
huddled against the seaward knees of the Lesser Pillars. The high passes in the Pillars. draping all in mistiness and mystery.THE CALLING OF IAM’KENDRON. 1 1 6 | robert reginald . the Northern Sea reflected the blankness of the Veil of Heaven. Beyond and beneath. this standing here on his private lookout rock. destined to live there until he died. Wordsmith. until finally Veil and ocean met a breath away from land. as had his grandfather—as had been his forebears for more generations than anyone could distinctly remember. It was almost dusk. Soon the fogs of late Harvest Time would smother the Pillars. Kynne’s father had been Myvern-born. These. encompassing Myvern on two sides. He breathed deeply. watching the play of colors across the ocean as evening approached. a tiny village on the northernmost coast of Omne. the paths along treacherous rock faces. Already the Veil was nearing land. by Michael R. born in Myvern. and the enigmatic ocean curling negligently across a gravel beach. Kynne lingered for a last glimpse from the top of the cliff. fingering his cheeks and naked arms. He could hardly get enough of this. sensing even at this great height the saltiness of the sea—an odor as familiar to him as the lowing of cattle in the summer meadows or the sight of rhiam pods ripening in Growing Time. that time of day when the horizon whispered closer. The boy sighed. E ditor . expanding in an endless half-disk of opalescent light. And he loved the thought. the hidden cracks and crevices in the mountain heights—these defined Kynne’s world. narrow and long. A thin breeze curled about the cliffs. this wandering freely across the lower slopes. Myvern was home. stirring Kynne’s hair. He was a range-lad. Collings The following is a prequel to the full-length novel.
He sighed again. But there were a handful of predators. Here in the Lesser Pillars there were few wild things—far fewer than still survived in the rugged. threatening and low. perhaps he had imagined…. the largest city on Omne and the seat of the Makers. Slowly Kynne swiveled on one heel. hampered. consciously heard it. curled over jutting rocks. practically bare in the thin sandals he wore for hiking. And now there was no sound either. he followed the direction of the sound with his eyes. a low. scanning the arabesques of light and shadow staining the mountain wall towering above him. He turned from the suffusing glow and leaped lightly from rock to ledge. E ditor . Squinting to limit the dying glare from the Veil of Heaven. this Cycle. Had he actually heard it? His hearing was not especially acute. Then he heard it again. 1 1 7 | robert reginald . No movement. he had perhaps more time to himself than did the other boys. from ledge to rock. rough snarl. toward Los’ang. He had hoped. toward the south. shackled by time and maturity. wind-scoured steeps of the Pillars of Beginnings. No. Next year he would be an apprentice. He would have little time left for exploring. like unseasoned wood wrenched and twisted in a Dark Time storm. He would have responsibilities to his village and to the family who would accept him into their cottage. picking his way along invisible trails down impossibly steep rock faces. Off to his left. A rasping. But that would end soon. there it was again. to reach the southernmost peak of the range. As an orphan. moving almost imperceptibly. He could see nothing. seeking secure niches among the shifting detritus. The boy froze. to be able to look down across the great fields of Heartland. he stopped. even this close to the village…and some were dangerous to man. Then suddenly. For a moment he did not know why. He would be inhibited. His feet.And Kynne’s explorations would be over for another season. Not this Cycle.
when Omne was new. With a lunge he hoped would catch the beast unaware. poorly situated on the steep slope—everything was to the wulf’s advantage. feeling for a more secure foothold. It crouched. The tableau continued for a half dozen heartbeats before Kynne tensed to leap sideways toward a wedge-shaped chimney a few feet down slope.There! A flicker of something not mineral. unprepared. Kynne paled and swallowed hard. rippled like the sea in full tide. springing three times Kynne’s height. the thing exploded from behind a jagged knife of obsidian. reaching with his toes for firmer. and landing on an outcrop not a dozen yards away. claws raking at the detritus littering the outcrop. For a 1 1 8 | robert reginald . Long curling talons still depended from the pelt the length of a strong man’s forearm. E ditor . then slid down and around. He slid his right foot back a fraction of an inch. mollified momentarily by Kynne’s absolute stillness. Even yet there was a single hide in the village. when men had first discovered their power and destroyed the great beasts. It was a wulf. obsidian face of the Pillars. With a snarl that echoed through the volcanic stone like ripping thunder. and the fangs yellowing in the horrible grimace of the skull still chilled Kynne. Kynne leaped. eyes balefully black and piercing. flatter rock. The beast in turn had leaped even as Kynne had. His grandfather had told tales by candlelight of the great hunts in the elder days. its hackles rising like pinions along the arched backbone. old and almost hairless but terrifying nonetheless to the children. He was unarmed. striking for the boy then twisting in midair as it registered the actual thrust of its quarry’s movements. Knotted muscles bunched. putting a thin column between himself and his attacker. something live and deep and dark. He had thought that they were extinct. He could see the beast bracing. He had thought the wulfs extinct. It settled down again. he threw himself backward against the smooth.
Kynne felt a searing pain as the beast scraped the outside of his leg. catching the elusive scent. actually. With a snarl almost human in its unmuted disappointment. the boy insinuated himself through the narrow opening. the beast spun around the protruding edge of the column. since he was bleeding freely from a jagged rip extending from his thigh to just below his knee. And Kynne was inside the chimney. His blood flowed in rivulets on the cold stone. once. leaping once more toward the figure now a ledge away. With a frantic kick. Rhiam thongs hung in tatters from the thin soles of his sandals. Outside. Close…only a breath away. pulling with it energy and hope. He scuttled along the talus immediately below the narrow opening of the chimney. The escape had been close—too close. Behind him. a long. fangs bared and claws extended. Furious. the wulf leaped once more. then receded. Kynne looked down. but the boy had seen his only possible chance and had taken it. It would be close. E ditor . He had a few seconds start on the beast. poised. before it struck solid rock a few feet from where Kynne had disappeared. darkening in the air.breath it hung suspended in air. The beast lunged. already he could feel the leather slipping as he scrabbled to half-back himself further into the sheltering darkness of the Pillars. landing with a thump and a snarl. terrible 1 1 9 | robert reginald . writhing on the evening breeze. A tide of blood-red pain swept through him. The boy was not there. swirling in and out of shadows. the wulf howled in frustration. the wulf coiled around sniffing. a thing of darkness and death. Kynne had taken full advantage of the wulf’s momentary confusion to jump a five-foot gap between the ledge at the base of the column and the rubble near the mouth of the chimney. easily spanning the fissure between ledges. and much depended on how quickly the wulf could re-orient in mid-jump. …on nothing. jaws snapping shut….
Such a thing would not be unheard of. an inch at a time. E ditor . The beast would leave. Kynne shivered with a thrill of hope. It shuffled for a moment. panting noisily at the opening to the chimney. With a sharp hiss of breath. The wulf had settled down. the entire land. blocking out the faintest glimmers of light reflecting from lanterns shining valiantly but ineffectually through window openings. Already Kynne knew that he had been seriously weakened. And night was nearly complete. The wulf had backed out. It could afford to wait. almost as if the wulf had introduced a sleeping-draught into the wounds. when night was full. Kynne had a basic distrust—almost fear—of night. sprawled against the opening. highlighted in a sudden shaft of light. shadow within shadow. It would wait. lay black. The boy bit his lip as a second flush of pain suffused his wounded leg. the middle three deeper and wicked-looking. He wore no shirt. replaced by a slow numbness.paean tinged with threat. The fires that rippled through the gashes in his thigh had died. would leave him alone. the chimney had proven too confining for it. The boy could not. Kynne leaned forward. He would struggle down the mountain somehow…. thrusting its shaggy muzzle as far into the interior as its bulk would allow. Like most Omnans. it would return to the higher ranges. The light was cut in half. Kynne could no longer even see the outline of the wulf. inexorably closer. Five long lines wavered down his thigh. He could sense the beast pushing steadily nearer as it worked its way between the stone walls. braced with his hands against the round stone to avoid straining his leg. but something 1 2 0 | robert reginald . Omne was capable of strange arrangements to protect her own. The Veil of Heaven coalesced. eyes glittering in at Kynne. He could hear his breathing as it hissed through the small cave. Kynne slumped against the cold stone. All of Omne. By now light had died completely. Rough edges bit into his back and shoulders but he took no notice. For an instant. Kynne was suddenly swallowed by darkness as the wulf’s body cut off all light.
beyond volition. along his limbs. struggling up on the injured leg. And he seemed (as he dreamed) surprised and amazed that he was yet alive. Then. unmoving and unspeaking. a perception of something not blackness. until 1 2 1 | robert reginald . But he waited. concrete. and finally standing. then relaxed. waited for…he knew not what. letting his head fall back. warming tone that coursed through his body. Then it grew. At first it was merely the subtlest hint of blue. E ditor . gaining potency as it expanded until (he dreamed) his being was suffused with the same blue—not the icy blue of death. Kynne felt himself pulled upward. waiting. The darkness was absolute. but his mind remained alert. and as it did so.warned him that the beast was still lying patiently a few feet away. his blood bloomed archil in the mounting illumination. he felt the light pressure released as upper lids lifted free from lower—yet he could not see. He closed his eyes. The boy stood. beyond memory. Beneath him. wavering as one newly awakened from sleep. dead Cycles before and half dissolved from the villagers’ memories. In the dream he opened his eyes. complete. he found himself leaning against the rough stone. it seemed. The boy shrugged his shoulders to try to find a smoother stretch of stone. as if from a deep well draped in the perpetual darkness of Omnan night. then kneeling. sure of an eventual kill. He caught fragmentary glimpses of his mother and father. He half-heard Alinor’s lilting laughter whisper reassuringly through the darkness. a faint blue spark illumed somewhere in the deepness of his mind. kaleidoscoping through pathways of memories long thought forgotten. a dark rosette ripping across the unbroken stone floor of the narrow cavern. when it came. the frozen blue of unlife. and then he was lost to consciousness. but rather a living. was frighteningly surreal. yet too peripheral to be identified. **** The dream. mind-caressing sleep (he dreamed) and waited.
The words echoed slightly. one over the other. He straightened. a tall. lit up the shaggy outline of the beast crouching in sleep at the mouth of the chimney. specific to him. With a shriek almost human in timbre. For a racing second he seemed (he dreamed) to recall a face…no. the same color that now radiated from within him and lit up the cavern that was his prison. let me think. gaunt body wrapped loosely in a billowing…wait. equally evanescent. something else formed. but sharp and deadly. equally subtle. and Kynne knew that somehow the beast comprehended the warning. He did not understand the patterns. The words tumbled out. E ditor . First they warned. fully awake and unaccountably angered. bruising shoulders on outcrops. glaring into the chimney. just behind the scruff of jutting. then released him to his own will. the wulf jerked its head about. low and musical. toward the source of the light. A woman’s form. touching it lightly on the head. It lunged into the stony slit. a stranger in Myvern. Kynne remained motionless. draped in…yes. unfamiliar yet stirring responses within himself. The blue light extended toward the beast. long ago. The word eluded him. a form.there. claws outstretched. in blue. as if impatient to achieve reality without being expressed. directed at him. at the spot in his brain where the blue light had begun. once. stained bright cerulean and curving like ripened rhiam pods. The bow-taut tension in 1 2 2 | robert reginald . yet Kynne was certain (as he dreamed) that he had never seen such a form before. matted fur. entranced by the patterns now fading into a kaleidoscopic blur. And then he spoke. It was not a face but a shape. but stood in rapt attention as the remaining swirls flickered through his consciousness. He saw without seeing the glistening claws. A…a…. yes. which seemed on the verge of integrating within him into a communication. from Los’ang itself. it was not light but pattern—patterns of color which promised words. even as the patterns in his mind crystallized and he heard/saw words forming. With one hand he pointed toward the beast still sleeping on the rocks. a visitor from the south. that was not quite accurate. strangely familiar. A woman’s form. scraping fur from its haunches as it thrust. This time.
Still not enough. not yet. Kynne bent stiffly at the waist. of relaxed tension. A shuddering shriek reverberated through Kynne: he had killed! And he knew that the killing had been unnecessary. exultant. He could do as he willed. of the unaccountable blue light. The blue light glared hypnotically through pupils distended by darkness. particularly one as vicious as a wulf of the high ranges. with a silent cough the wulf lowered itself to the ground. The thought left his mouth tasting acrid. He stepped back into the depths of the cavern. And it slept…forever. For the moment. struggling unsuccessfully against a flood of tears—tears of relief. But not enough. until his legs were within the triangle of the wulf’s outstretched limbs. the scythe-like curves drooping in response. he felt his heart wrench as if he were again experiencing his first days as an orphan. The beast did not strike.the claws relaxed. He had killed. He could have merely frightened it away. in the phantasmagorical universe of Omnan night. Kynne felt power welling within him. The words sharpened. the strange light more piercing. the words of warning—and this time Kynne could see into the beast’s small brain and trace competing patterns of fear and anger. In the suffused light of Omnan day. and touched the beast lightly on the head. the paralysis of fear and incomprehension was too great for its animal mind. Instantly the eyes turned inward. He stepped forward one step. Again. feeling drained of both will and power. ominous instead of comforting and warm. ungraceful in his new power. The beast became angrier. almost accidental as he had flooded power unrestrained through the beast. Then. yet he had not. as if to follow the path of blue piercing toward the center of the beast’s being. two. E ditor . power uncontrolled by any external force. he would not have cared about the death of an animal. three. as if again his parents had been riven from him by the violence of a Dark 1 2 3 | robert reginald . of sorrow for another living being and for his involvement in that death. muzzle crossing folded forelegs as if asleep.
nor to see the flesh cleave once again. Kynne returned to the sleep he thought never to have left. rolling it along the uncomfortable stone behind him. bones outlined in the unearthly glow. He wept. at this moment. A slight breeze dared the entrance. shoulder to shoulder. seeking the wounds along his leg. just as sleep had nearly overcome the boy. With an instantaneous flash of blue. yet eminently appropriate. He slept. E ditor . complete. the…light. he stirred.Time storm hurling itself mindlessly against the ramparts of the Lesser Pillars. the…thought hidden deeply in the back of his mind winked off. He lowered himself to the stone floor. ligaments. He did not know why. unfamiliar. He seemed to see blood vessels. Once. pouring through his lips as his hands moved gently along the ragged wound in his thigh. throwing his head back and forth. he did not really care whether he survived or not. The dream had passed. indeed. But he had to survive. Already the blue light was dimming. Again the words were indistinct. Totally exhausted. Outside. unmindful of the chill settling in his naked limbs. But a lingering color/pattern impelled him. stiffening arms. he was restive. Fever crept down from his forehead. Immediately. pulling itself into his skin. whis1 2 4 | robert reginald . unmindful of the sodden cold drifting through the cleft from the Veil of Heaven. He was not surprised to see the raw edges of the five furrowed wounds close as his fingers passed over them. The diffused light entered the cleft early but did not touch the boy crouching deep in the shadows. **** Morning was late in waking the boy. Then more words bubbled from the hidden source. the Veil had remained low until hours after it usually dissipated and withdrew to its permanent line along the highest ridges. unharmed. he dropped both hands to his sides and. His eyes flew open momentarily onto a darkness at once unbroken and comforting. for a beast that would have destroyed him.
He shifted. warily. and a flood of memories burst upon him. His chest rose and fell with healthy regulating. some words—but that memory was too dim for him to hold. and a frantic flight toward the stone chimney. And the beast crouching before the entrance waited. then rose again to push its way through thick. Kynne pulled his good leg up. began descending. At first he remained still. as he usually was. but that now had been pulled loose to provide a bandage of sorts. turned palm up on a sharp fragment of rock. clotted on the rhiam clout he had been wearing. nor was he surrounded. he retained the infallible sense of time common to most Omnans. Certainly he was not in his own cot in the village. preparing to brace himself against the wall. and which he had sometime during the night twined around his 1 2 5 | robert reginald . E ditor . wavered. disheveled hair. claws raking the flesh of his leg. From where he sat. The rock pricked at the tender skin along the back of the boy’s hand. Standing upon the ledge overlooking the sea. where a fly had momentarily paused before spiraling downward toward the pools of drying and dried blood. flexed. darkness. he could see his blood… on the ground. it was nearing mid-day. The other hand stiffened. He seemed to remember vaguely a dream—a light. the wulf. It dissipated in the light and heat of day. by the bustle of late morning busyness. unaware of where he was. an appearance at least partially contradicted by the rusty crust of dried blood spread along the stones beneath him. But the boy did not awaken. Even newly awakened. tentatively. One hand rose as if of its own volition and rubbed lightly along one temple. Finally the boy stirred. The hand rubbed. He had slept late.pered warmth along arms and legs clammily cold from a night exposed and unprotected. and by the equally rust-red stains splotching the narrow length of rhiam cloth that had once been wrapped about the boy’s loins. patient and motionless. and the boy opened his eyes.
weaponless…he had killed. semi-retracted into the mat of dense gray fur along the forepaws. His thoughts were elsewhere as he began his careful way through the detritus toward the path leading to Myvern. There was no pain. though open. The animal did not move. Nothing. He had. had destroyed this beast of the high ranges. rested limply on the rock.injured thigh. The boy stepped cautiously toward the beast. poised to spring. He reached down and pulled the cloth to one side. Kynne of Myvern. E ditor . He prepared to clench his teeth against the pain as he flexed his muscles—then did indeed clench them. He shouldered the great beast. not in pain but in surprise. already flaking away as he touched it…and five thin white lines stretching from hip to knee. But Kynne could now see that the eyes. almost slipping as he did so. It was dead. As he straightened his right leg to support himself and the wulf. He turned to face the light filtering through the cleft. nor did he think again about the wounds in his leg. There was no stiffness. At the moment. He had done this. Kynne remembered more of the dream. The beast was still there. **** The villagers saw Kynne approaching while he was still on 1 2 6 | robert reginald . The bloody clout flapped irritatingly along his thigh as he walked. exposing what the night before had been vicious claw marks. waiting. Kynne barely noticed it. His heart throbbed in exultation. then over it and out into the morning light. And bit by bit vague memories of the dream returned. he could not clearly remember the circumstances of the beast’s death. his left struck a sharp edge of rock. their glistening points arching up toward the light. and crusting the uninjured inner skin of his sound leg. Just dried blood. were unseeing. There were no wounds. The claws. Blood oozed through the abraded skin and down his shin. orphan and outcast. other than as a brief moment of pain.
perhaps Alinor had. Well. half hoping to spot the boy before night fell. So the villagers had slept. unaware that one of their own was lying in a chimney of cold stone. nets to mend before the morrow. “Are you hurt?” “I’m fine. and the harvest tools must be ready on time. stooping to remove the weight of the wulf from his shoulders. once. long and piercingly. nor had he slept in the cot provided for him in a room off the village storehouse. “What happened?” she called across the diminishing distance. E ditor . Then she screamed again. farming implements to repair. Alinor screamed. In the morning. with a great beast heaped in a shaggy lump across his shoulders. but no one had urged that others risk the dangers of night by going out to search for him. who pitied the poor. touching it lightly with one toe. this time not in fear of the unknown but because she recognized the brown stains discoloring his clothing and legs. trapped by a beast of the high ranges.” He indicated the body. beginning to run toward him.” Kynne said. “It is your kill?” she asked in a voice tinged with incredulity. “I spent the night in the ranges and have brought this back with me. none had noted that Kynne was not present. familiar yet somehow altered. Perhaps she questioned briefly as she left the village along the seaside path toward a small field of rhiam pocketed in the lowest terraces of the Pillars. There had been some who had asked after him—he had not returned as usual the night before. The figure moved down the rocks and approached her. They had more pressing concerns: families to care for. nearly naked save for a dark brown loincloth. the daughter of the village elder. One or two had glanced toward the heights as evening had approached. But certainly she noticed as she glanced up a few hours later to see a figure poised on the rocks. Then the apparition resolved itself into Kynne. dinners to prepare and eat. parentless Kynne and who remained unaware of his feelings toward her. 1 2 7 | robert reginald .the slopes of the Pillars. The rhiam would be ripening soon.
I hadn’t thought of that until now. Something was not right. prodding the wulf with the wooden shaft of his harvesting scythe.Kynne was. Then the vision passed. after all. Maak gestured absently. Maak. “And your bounty?” “Yes. **** Kynne had great difficulty telling his tale. a wickedly curved length of stone-hard ranya wood polished and fire-tempered to cutting sharpness. when the rhiam—that staple of life throughout Omne—was ripening and required increasing care. He could sense their incredulity as he told of seeing the great beast flick1 2 8 | robert reginald . then more vigorously. let alone claimed to have slain one. armed with wooden weapons and streaming along the narrow path in answer to her duet of screams. Few men of the village had ever seen a live wulf. I killed this beast. The credits are mine.” he answered slowly.” Maak moved closer. bearing it down the path toward the village.” Alinor started to question further but her words were cut off by the arrival of a vanguard of Myvern men. “Yes. and the beast at his feet was legendary in its ferocity. He nodded. With my own hand. he felt the antagonism of the men gathered outside the small storehouse. are you hurt?” “No. And he has killed a beast. particularly now. Kynne saw in it the curving talons of the wulf as they had gleamed in the strange blue light of his dream. pulled away from their daily tasks by the strange tale told by the orphan boy. The boy was to follow. From the beginning. For a second. but Kynne has returned. Her father. it is. He could sense muted anger that he should be wasting his time climbing the mountains all day. To Kynne. Three came forward and lifted the carcass. only a boy. “Alinor. was among the first. E ditor . Father. There would be a moot at the village center. Maak was speaking quickly to the others.
to accuse him of the unheard-of crime of speaking words that went against reality. seeing it with a combination of regret and sorrow.” he intoned. E ditor . It did earlier. or would have. It was almost. he was too taken up in the emotions and experiences he was reliving to assess the sharp glances.” “But there is no wound. closer. He sensed all of this. touched it. “No mark of stone nor wooden blade. though. For the most part. the pointed muttering. “How close were you to the beast?” “As close as I am to you…no. for loss of blood.” Suddenly his exhilaration and pride evaporated.” Kynne bent slightly to trace one finger along the central of the five thin white lines barely visible on the outside of his leg. Along my leg…. within inches almost. then laid my hand on its head. And it died. “The blood… it was painful. “I did kill it. “You claim to have slain this beast with your own hand. then the flushes of anger rising from necks to faces. not ungently.” Maak sighed. It died. then their incredulity hardening into active murmuring as he spoke of the night in the chimney…and of the strange blue light. there is no mark.” “You were that close to the beast. as suddenly as the blue light had snapped into darkness the night before. Kynne thought. but only on a lower level of consciousness. I touched it. He stared at the beast stretched out in death before the storehouse door. “Yet. I took only a step or two. with clean emphasis on the word claim.ering like a shadow among the pillars of the high ranges.” Maak said. and it sat quiescently waiting for you. I think I nearly died. Until Maak spoke. The boy’s fabrications were becoming more and more difficult to hold 1 2 9 | robert reginald . And it died. semi-ritualistically. I stretched forth my hand. How did you kill it?” “I told you. and it died. That is all. It did not attack?” “Not then. as if the elder sought to discredit him.” Maak said. no mark of club.
one whose tale was replete with impossibilities…. Anyone could see that. his voice strained and insistent. Look. Kynne had never spoken an untruth. appalled at the thought. According to law and custom too old to alter.” “From your knee. before the blue light came. Such wickedness was rare. 1 3 0 | robert reginald . as if truth and reality were inextricably conjoined. one who presented an unmarked carcass as his evidence. It is unmarked.” Maak remained silent. apparently more for pleasure than for food. beyond his own memories. but they were obviously Cycles old. The bounty would be substantial. he realized. Even though wulfs were increasingly rare. they could on occasion invade the herdlands of the Myvern ranges (although usually farther to the north and west). as I have said. Kynne sank back into himself. no proof. now twisted in laughter at his expense. pointing to the fresh abrasion. crusted with rusty blood. He spun in anger.” Maak said quickly. for the Makers always taught the sanctity of the word. He had nothing. “look. It was perhaps to Maak’s credit that he did not meet Kynne’s eyes as he spoke. away from faces he had known his entire life. He was not speaking one now. the blood on my clothing…. “This beast is the bounty-right of Myvern. “There was. Then I touched the flesh and it closed. They did not believe him. A liar. And perhaps most tellingly. They thought him a liar. “I killed the beast.together. E ditor . one without any of the training necessary to kill a predator. But to reward a boy.” Kynne hurried on. to confront Maak. destroying wantonly. the slayer of such a beast was rewarded generously by the village. Maak did not remember precisely when and how the boy had received those scars. There could be only one judgment. And I claim the bounty as my right. He blushed—then embarrassment kindled into anger as the first muted laughter rose from the assembly. Yet everyone else laughed at him and believed that he was lying.
wordhonoring people. Honna of Los’ang. The body will be taken away and prepared. He ran northward along the broad gravel spit leading out toward the sea. not since Honna of Los’ang slept one night among the cottages of Myvern.” Kynne burned even more furiously. What little comfort he had felt in Myvern was lost forever. Kynne vaguely remembered her.” Maak’s voice hardened. “Perhaps if there were a Maker among us. to be apportioned out to those in need during the coming Cycle. And he couldn’t even bring his distant memories of that single glance from the Master Maker of Los’ang to his defense. Even worse. But none of the Makersraad have been seen here in the Lesser Pillars for a handful of Cycles. before his parents were lost. 1 3 1 | robert reginald . and then turned away. And Kynne. The boy may keep the pelt to use as a covering. “I would advise you to be more careful with your words. And he had forgotten her from that instant on. We are not children. but Maak raised one hand in an authoritative sign for silence. little caring that he seemed by his actions to be admitting guilt. when the patterns had reminded him of a tall. although he had been a mere child then.” Kynne started to retort. The bounty.” here he lowered his voice. He would be totally outcast. however. I would urge you to spend the next few days in isolation.uninjured. Maak continued. his inability to fit into a society of honest. unharmed. and was found. E ditor . That was the name. gaunt woman draped in living blue. It must have died naturally. Honna of Los’ang.” For a moment Kynne heard no more. cutting into Kynne’s reverie. until…until the night before. No one believed him. “I have spoken and thus it shall be. We cannot be gulled by wild tales. But…. the beast might have died as you said. She had looked at him once. “And Kynne. ignored. thinking on the untruths you would have us accept. will remain in the village coffers. no one would ever believe him again. long and hard. “That is all.
She did not touch him. and sat. “Kynne. His mind was so caught up in the seething patterns of irreconcilable alternatives that he failed to hear the other person arriving and taking a seat on the rock just behind him. the northernmost one.” a soft voice said. still trying to reconcile his dreams of honor and fame with the reality of his public humiliation. It was Omne. Usually. then broke off long enough to slip lightly onto the northernmost boulder and seat herself next to him. forming a tight cluster. not noticing as the water washed dried blood from his leg and seeped stingingly into the abrasion on his knee. could smell the freshness of her hair. Yet he had never 1 3 2 | robert reginald . brooding. **** At the farthest point on the spit. Always and forever. He could even smell—faintly and surprisingly—the rhiam fibers in the cloth itself. could react to the faint warmth of her body through her pale yellow dress. not as long as her own father could publicly censure him for speaking what Kynne knew to be the truth. He clambered onto one of the boulders. “I’m sorry. He splashed noisily in the salty waves. but he could feel her. He swung his head back to face away from her. to be alone. the boulders were isolated by heaving waters. He could not look into her eyes. His mind spun. “Go away. Today. he ran. however. Rhiam. Kynne did not even try to follow the ridge. during the highest tides of Seed Time.Instead. Sometimes. It was Alinor.” Kynne muttered. a handful of boulders rose as if from the womb of the sea itself. a narrow ridge of gravel threaded out toward them. hoping to injure her for his own sake and ashamed of himself for hoping so. leaving behind the beast and the crowd of villagers. darkly shaking their heads and clucking moral tongues. He turned toward the sound. He ran. not as long as she thought him a liar and a cheat. E ditor .” she began. knees hunched up to his chin. breaking the silence.
And if she believed him. continued: “I think you deserve it. I think you deserve the bounty…. A figure was climbing onto the rocks. that were dreams. He was an adult. They sat. he sailed on a small wooden vessel along the northern coast of the Lesser Pillars. even if it was dead….” His heart skipped a beat. He was already respected by the elders and had built his own stone cottage during the Dark Time just passed. unmoving and unspeaking. “Go away.” he said. Kynne did not hate Seton. at best an irritant.noticed it so strongly as he did today. He repeated bitterly. She believed him. Kynne recognized him immediately—Seton. During Growing Time. always just beneath the surface of his emotions. he felt a grudging admiration for the older boy. Indeed. then perhaps…. They turned. coupled with despair and frustration as she paused. lies. as if to allay his anger. “I really am sorry. “I killed it. E ditor . It was brave to stay alone in the ranges at night. Alinor looked northward and did not speak. Then the anger returned. He was tall and strong and handsome—all of the 1 3 3 | robert reginald . The afternoon might remain pleasant—or it might erupt with only a moment’s notice into a raging storm. And even to come near such a terrible creature. fishing and trading at other villages.” She swallowed tightly and looked away. A thin line of darkness marked a storm front bearing down on the Myvern shore. hallucinations. toward the northern horizon where the Veil of Heaven merged with the blue-gray of the sea. Suddenly aware. he realized that he could smell the fibers in his own garments…and the spots of blood…his blood…from wounds that never existed. But he could never consider him more than a potential enemy.” She laid one hand on his arm. at worst a symbol of all that Kynne had lost.” “I killed it. Seton was apprenticed to his father. until a scraping on the rocks behind them aroused them both. whose sixteen summers gave him an edge in age and consequently in height and weight over Kynne. she among all the villagers. the only one whose feelings and opinions were truly important.
high tenor. And I killed it. stretch his hand toward Seton. The rumble of thunder blended with Seton’s laughter. of course. He longed to reach deep within himself and kindle again that single spark of blue flame.” Seton’s voice cracked with laughter. lightning flashed. His life has been hard. “Oh. Kynne. I and no other. “and I caught a fish this morning that breathes air and sings.things Kynne felt that he was not. He glared at Seton. his own face contorted with rage. and now…don’t laugh at him. a single vicious streak etching into the opalescence of the Veil. caught in the contagion of Seton’s laughter. Seton glanced at Alinor before settling himself on the crest of the boulder. here’s the hero.” The barriers could no longer hold and Seton burst into cold. and…. then reach outward. It was not already dead. “I killed the wulf. “you look so…so… funny.” she struggled to say.” Seton answered smoothly. a dark counterpoint to his thin. 1 3 4 | robert reginald . sweeping before it a wall of rain. “It’s not right to mock him. joined him in unabashed enjoyment of Kynne’s discomfiture. The storm was nearing. Kynne was forced to look upward to see him. Kynne stared at Seton.” Somehow the impersonality of her appeal—her reference to him. E ditor . Seton. “Well. but his muscles locked in immobility. At his side a muffled gulp exploded into laughter as Alinor. It struck at me and raked me with its claws. In the distant north. He longed to speak words that would crush the other in his pride. And I couldn’t go back out and face the dangers of the unknown tomorrow without first seeing the man who kills…with words. cruel laughter.” “Of course. I heard all about your great adventure when we came in with our catch. “Please. He longed to strike a telling blow with his balled-up fist. but the words would not pass over his trembling lips.” Alinor said softly. as if Kynne were not present or were in a strange manner not the same kind of being as Seton and Alinor—somehow that impersonality stirred him as nothing had before. his face twisting with the effort.
that killing power to reduce Seton to…. searching out a target like a bee searching in the wilderness for the single rhiam bloom that would justify its existence. She was as bad as all the others. He stopped. wet rocks. Almost of its own volition. pointing in anger and frustration at Seton. She did not care for him at all. using him when it was to their purpose. followed by Seton. She did not believe him. searching for the key which would release that single spark. then ignoring. fluid movement. one hand flew up from his side. Alinor came first. His knees almost buckled with the shock of the impact. Kynne stared at Alinor. Both Seton and Alinor had suddenly ceased laughing and were tensed and withdrawn. cowed by the awesome seriousness in Kynne’s eyes. He hissed in horror. deep into himself.” She could speak no more. But he reached dry land without serious injury. landing hard in the rising water. Thigh-deep in the retreating swell of a wave. And his hand was trembling. like the rolling of the breakers crashing against the base of the boulders as the storm front raced closer. He slipped twice on the smooth. and looked backward. breathed heavily. E ditor . that blue light. highlighted by the diffused light of the Veil (now saffron in late afternoon).sitting there…like a…storm cloud. With a hoarse cry of outrage. unmindful entirely of the thin ridge of dry rock still struggling to connect the boulders to the shore. and watching them disintegrate. pointed as if they were hungry for Seton’s life. seeing in her his dreams. His fingers wavered. Kynne leaped from the boulder. half-floundered toward shore. but held. Even as Kynne stretched outward. whose arm was wrapped protectively around her in a gesture at once solicitous and 1 3 5 | robert reginald . he half-ran. he turned inward. Against the backdrop of the oncoming storm two figures. still slightly higher than Kynne even when the younger boy was standing. He surged to his feet in a single. casting him out. picked their way carefully along the spine of rocks.
toward Myvern. It could not be taken from him. There was nothing more to keep Kynne here. tedious way toward the ocean. for a greater expanse of shoulder and chest. Hanging in a corner near his cot had been a long robe. And so it was finished. He had no place. coarsely woven of gray. He traveled for three days. away from the familiarity of Myvern and the coast of the Lesser Pillars. no life. and ultimately the ocean 1 3 6 | robert reginald . undyed rhiam. **** He made only one stop before heading southward into the lower ranges. but the robe nearly fit. slow walk toward the high path winding behind the village. as his bounty had. he headed south into the unknown. the Jamison River. He did not remember receiving it or who had given it to him. later they flowed southward.possessive. in her turning to Seton instead of to him. It was his. almost as if the skin had been lightly burned. E ditor . as Alinor had been. toward the great plains of Heartland. Neither glanced toward Kynne. His shoulders tingled as the rough fiber pulled across them. with hood and matching tie. He turned his back to the couple and began the long. crossed the center of the village (mercifully deserted because of the oncoming storm) and slipped into his room just long enough to grab the robe and shrug into it. It seemed that he had possessed it always. in her single outburst of unguarded laughter. His final link to Myvern snapped in the horror of his instant of murderous rage. warmly robed against the stiff winds pulling down from the north. although only in the past few seasons had he grown enough to wear it. no right. Even now there was room for a few more inches in height. She seemed not to mind. At first the streams tumbled northward. drinking clear water from cold streams spilling from the upper ranges in their slow. On an impulse he swung down from the high path. He pulled the robe closed and cinched the belt tightly around his waist. Then.
he had entered a tiny valley perched below the western crest of the Lesser Pillars. rippled beneath rhiam undulating in the soft breeze. a shallow pocket scooped from the flanks of the mountains. of his lost home. rocky soil. one hand drawing idly in the wet sand. actually—partially filled the bottom of the valley. He drank once. knelt. Soon. pulled back his robe. sustained by the impetus of his drive toward the south. E ditor . of Alinor…or any of the things that had so concerned him for most of his life. an impetus he neither understood nor cared to analyze. barely noticing the stands of ranyawood trees sentineling the ridge. For the first time in Cycles. He walked to the lake. spilling into a sinuous stream that contoured beyond sight to the south. A small lake—pond. He was alone. Except perhaps sleep. He ate little—an occasional rhiam pod nearing ripeness. deeply. isolated. wrapped in the folds of the gray robe. grass-carpeted incline toward the water. yet sufficient unto himself. **** By the middle of the third day. or a handful of edible greens straggling in thin. then sat back on his heels. the Dark Time storms would sweep across this valley. Cold and freshly sweet. The shifting shadows of midday wove curious forms beneath the thick-set ranya trunks. perhaps piling snow in its exposed meadows. He felt at peace for the first time in days… no. He moved as if in a trance. The valley was only a few hundred yards across. 1 3 7 | robert reginald . The day was unseasonably warm for this late in Harvest Time. without needs or desires.near Los’ang. He walked slowly down the gentle. then again. the water seemed to quench thirst and allay hunger. drifting it against the ranyas and covering the leafless rhiam plants that marched single-file along the stream bed. He had not thought of his dead parents. and dipped one hand into the water to drink. But largely he fasted. that was not true. he realized. It was only inches deep but clear and cold.
The other hand snaked along his side to shade his eyes from the light—from the blue light that glared internally. “Kynne. pulling up a clot of grasses. He shut his eyes. impelling and frightening. refusing the summons that the blue light represented. Perhaps…. momentarily confused. rolling it into a tight bundle and laying back on it. “Kynne. Without knowing it. the grass softly inviting. a swirl of colors defying name. and sent them spinning through the distances toward…whoever or whatever was calling him. He pulled together faint strands of subliminal color-patterns wisping through his imagination. without understanding what he did. But he was not strong enough. nodules of earth and small stones clinging desperately from exposed roots. E ditor . forming an impenetrable barrier of fog and power beyond which no one could pass. He no longer felt the fragile push of grass blades against his shoulders and thighs.” it seemed to pattern from deep within his sleep. “Kynne. blinding him as the Veil of Heaven never could. welded them into a single unit. drifting above the Lesser Pillars. One hand dug into the damp soil. the softly giving moistness of earth beneath his heels. into…into nothingness. still light-headed from his dreams.” it called without words. then white. beyond Omne herself. And the blue light came. He grew increasingly lighter. weightless. He slipped his robe off. He drifted.” it repeated a third time. a sound of hue imperatively penetrant.The soaring peaks of the Lesser Pillars would turn dark and gray. and perhaps the Veil of Heaven would lower as it sometimes did. He did not open his eyes. raging to himself. He fought. But right now the light was warm. without feeling it. for there was only emptiness beyond the Veil. 1 3 8 | robert reginald . and dreamed. He woke. and slept. the breeze gentle. feeling the warmth on his limbs and face. beyond the Veil of Heaven. Nor did he feel the robe as it propped his head slightly. cutting off all access to the upper ranges. he answered.
yet it easily overshadowed the daylight. E ditor . exposed. He pulled his hand away. The blue light disappeared beneath the gray fabric. He grew dizzy as he struggled to sort out the wildly synesthetic experience. yet there it was. his eyes following it as if transfixed. was stunning in its force. until the light spread along his arms toward his chest. Who are you?” The answer was instantaneous. still shading it with a useless hand. “What do you want?” he repeated. while not actually surprising him. “Not this. a spill of something not quite scarlet murmuring into his mind. transmitting words that were not words. a momentarily querulous panic.” “What do you want?” “You. could not have imagined it. “No!” his mind screamed. “I am Honna of Los’ang. Instead he felt an uncomfortable flickering in his chest. He burst to his feet. The day was bright and the blue light muted. He opened one eye. Master Maker and Speaker for the Makersraad.” The answer. leaving only his hands and fingers. This time there was no response. followed by an uncontrollable shudder of muscles and nerves. He had not.“I am Kynne. at least no pattern. tipped with the deathly glow. startling in its swiftness and intensity. pinioning him to the ground. colors that were not colors. pleading and threatening alternately with his unseen tormenter. It seemed…his vision cleared—it was his hand shimmering in the same unearthly blue he had seen once before. shook out the robe and pulled it around him in one frantic motion. I do not want it—I refuse it!” His eyes screwed shut as he whirled in an agony of despair and fear. dissatisfied with and afraid of the previous answer. There was a light above him. I would have killed with it. feeling ripple after ripple—each stronger than the 1 3 9 | robert reginald .
in one great cathartic surge directed toward and against his world. Somewhere. pouring into him from some source beyond himself. of himself. into darkness. Behind him. Above him. And there was the faint crackling of flames. now across the narrow confines of the valley. crushing small brush and trees as it thundered past Kynne and shattered the calm of the tiny lake. drawn by the irresistible blue light glowing through his body. Still he lashed out. replaced by anger…terrible. He spun wildly. broken and dying. to point toward the Veil of Heaven. flapping awkwardly away again. One flew higher than the others. fingers extended. He lashed out as he had always wanted. a great boulder loosened itself from its centurieslong seat and rumbled down the slope. and knocked him down. yet his own feet remained steady and sure. the gray robe fluttering about his calves and thighs like a giant insect first brushing him then enveloping him with its veined wings. their union against him—and his fear disappeared. He heard shattering and crashing. unmindful of his surroundings. off to the left. as he fell into himself. **** 1 4 0 | robert reginald . their touching. crushing anger bursting through the Cycleslong barriers he had imposed upon himself.last—course through him. Eyes closed against the light. His fingers pulsed just as his blood pulsed through a jagged wound in his head and stained the grass red. needed to. Even as he fell. He remembered Alinor and Seton—their laughter. dead at his touch. his mind absently registering the datum. as if an earthquake were tormenting the Lesser Pillars themselves. he flung his arms about. thrusting them now earthward. struck Kynne’s temple. his arm flew upward. E ditor . Following it. And he remembered the wulf. clusters of smaller stones bounced from point to point in the path of the giant. only to return. he smelled wood smoke. now skyward. he seemed to hear a piercing song.
It was beautiful. swimming awkwardly through the vacuum. E ditor . He studied it dispassionately as he circled it. …passed through it…. He hesitated. There was pain. Still the light did not expand. to leave only a vague sense of emptiness and a stronger image of Alinor. And merged with it…. Then he had hated it even as he prepared to call upon it to strike Alinor and Seton. whom he had loved. The blue light drew closer without getting any larger. It remained a speck. fearful but confident. He turned.It might have been moments. until he reached out and touched it as if with the tip of one finger. But sometime. Before. the merest reality of something not quite darkness. closer. but could never be sure. For…infinities again…the boy/consciousness was content to circle the point of light. swimming back toward the darkness. 1 4 1 | robert reginald . and had killed with it. He tried to move his head. entering it purposely. It was a pinpoint. He burned with shame at the thought. And the blue light strengthened. too distant to identify. but stopped. he had known what it was. he floated upward. clean and undefiled by any hint of blue. He thought it was only moments. Darkness surrounded him. He swam toward it. he had not examined it closely. orbiting the single fleck perhaps two body-lengths from it (although he was without a body. Then he pulled himself closer. infinities later. Ahead. he realized with a shock). almost turned back. and of Seton whom (he could now admit) he had respected and admired. hoping…and disappointed. there was a faint point of light. A gray-white light. It was blue. then began to fade. He continued down ward. or hours. his arms. Then the memory disappeared. a minute rend in the fabric of darkness. then remembered the pain. blinded him. The pain receded. out of the darkness toward a light. The first time. and the blue light flickered painfully as he remembered his arrogance and his unbridled hatred.
bare and smooth. E ditor . They were completely unmarked. as if the mountains had tried to bury the valley by ripping its own substance and hurling it downward. he hoisted himself to his feet and leaned against a nearby boulder. itself painful though unfelt. This time there was no pain. Unsteady. no cuts. Blood stained the fingertips and flowed in cracked rivulets down toward his palms. examining the valley and the destruction he had caused. He was the same…and was not. vainly struggling to stop the blood. touched the injury. Kynne stared for a moment at his legs. He looked around. His legs and hips were entombed with detritus. He touched himself to assure himself of his own reality. And there was no pain. 1 4 2 | robert reginald . But his body rose. he twisted slightly. It moved.…into Omne. He knew that many bones had been broken. many. He looked down at his hand. no bruises. He felt the same as always. His fingers searched for. Even as he opened his eyes he heard a voice—his own yet not his own—speaking words he knew and did not know. The tiny white scars on his outer thigh were still there. he told himself. Biting his lip. Boulders and stones lay jackstrawed everywhere around him. memorials of his past. Words of Healing. loosening the covering of rocks just enough for him to slide free. turning his left leg a fraction within its casing of stone. as if he had pressed his fingers against the ragged cut in his temple. No abrasions. he remembered pain and numbness. Somewhere. remembering the configurations of the wound—the bruised bone and tissue. It was impossible. He pressed both hands against the grass that had been protected by his shoulders—the only green remaining in the circuit of the valley—and pushed himself upward. He sat up and examined himself carefully. The layers of stone were too crushingly heavy. Many broken bones. on the other side of the blue light. the flap of skin flayed back toward his hair…but finding only smoothness.
and had nearly killed himself. forgiveness. that Kynne had known every day of his life. he knew not what. a white-feathered sea bird. crushed and despairing. as if seeking expiation. He reached down and lifted it up. He had done this. The lake had disappeared. Yet…. The other was nearly severed from the body by a deep burn that had seared flesh and destroyed pinions. even gray extending forever. They had stretched above the level of the rock slide and so had escaped being crushed. grotesque shafts that tilted madly toward the Veil of Heaven. beautiful and melodious. The gash sliced upward until Kynne could no longer trace its outlines. the feathers finger-spread in agony. This one was dying. emerald and violet—along the edges of a deep gash that extended like a wound from east to west immediately above the valley. He had done all of this. toward the Veil of Heaven. but he turned toward it. touched it tenderly. He was whole and alive. obscured by rocks. horizon to horizon. until he found the source. somehow. A sound tugged for his attention. And there he saw the worst of his handiwork. hardly more than a mewing breath. Kynne remembered the final sound before the darkness—the song that had ended so abruptly. The Veil of Heaven was torn. the cliff face—denuded of its original surface—rose charred and blackened as if it had been struck by living fire. He looked upward. E ditor . blackened and splintered. Behind him. there was raggedness. A bird. He stumbled over rocks and boulders. A slight sound. The bird mewed. tears 1 4 3 | robert reginald . One wing twisted beneath the slight body. But they were dead and charred. Instead of the opalescent. He and that damnable blue light. But they never flew this far inland.The ranyas were gone. The Veil flickered with impossible colors—scarlet and turquoise. a snow-dove. following the sound.
encouragingly. then threatened your fellows with it. my acolyte. And the greatest wrong you have done in this valley has been healed. E ditor . Master Maker and Speaker for the Council. calm. And the Veil of Heaven was healed. He murmured empty comfort.” “I am Honna of Los’ang. that time long Cycles past when I saw you in your village. and the Makersraad with me. the snow-dove 1 4 4 | robert reginald . You first used the Makerslight to kill.” “I cannot accept. I am old and have no acolyte to assume the blue robe of the Master Maker when I die. By you. I have chosen you and I Name you. “I have destroyed with the power of the Makers.forming in his eyes. know that you are ready. not in your unworthiness. protective.” Even as the patterns swirled through Kynne.” “I hear. And then the murmurs turned to words. knitting tendons and sinews sheared by his power. you have acted in haste and in anger. smoothing feathers.” The color-pattern that was Honna of Los’ang responded gently. the patterns to color-sounds. And now I. wishing to lull both pain and fear. Your error was in your anger. a snowflake against the milky white of the Veil. But you could not call it up against the one you had loved. “Kynne. could call them up at will. I have waited with the infinite patience of age until you should grow into the powers of Omne.” Kynne said. Kynne sank to the ground as the color/sound patterns began again. He knew them. his eyes burning with remembered shame. and sang its way beyond Kynne’s sight. “I chose you as my successor. once again featureless. Words of Healing. the words to patterns. “True. His hands became surer as they moved across broken flesh. The mewing stilled. I cannot be one with you. then raised again in a triumphant song as the snow-dove spread its wings and flew.
although carrying less authority than that of the Master Maker. feminine yet strong. old yet sturdy and self-controlled. Kynne of Myvern.returned.” Kynne could read disappointment in the patterns. at least not as you would define the word. To some extent. Then a new color formed. The swirling continued. Where do our powers come from? How do they develop? For nearly ten Cycles I have immersed myself in the ancient writings concealed in the Sanctuary of the Pillars of Beginnings. which is the first step toward understanding. “My studies have been directed toward answering these questions. “And you have been healed. half in pride. youthful and exuberant. is inherent in our world. “I am Master Maker of the Pillars of Beginnings. stronger than Honna’s. We know what the power is not. Honna’s had been awesome enough. It is not magic. overflowing with life and energy. “How?” Kynne asked. all Omnans possess the 1 4 5 | robert reginald .” Honna continued. “The power that wells through you. winging low across the sky. Kynne’s heart lightened at the sound. “Indanan is the youngest of the Makersraad and has accomplished much.” the pattern stated abruptly. This voice/pattern was masculine. at the sight of the white bird as it soared upward until finally obscured by the lowest mists of the Veil. E ditor .” “I thank you. Master Maker. “Not entirely. Much more than I have in my sixty Cycles. “And I have failed.” Honna’s patterns said. as communicative in its pausing as in its speaking. that streams through your fingers. Kynne was awed by the power in the pattern.” the second voice-pattern said. hoping to find a final answer. half in consolation. although many of its manifestations seem without natural cause or seem to oppose natural law. but did not interrupt. “What is this blue light? Is it magic? Can it both kill and heal?” There was a noticeable pause in the pattern-flow. its song preceding it like the first clean breath of Seed Time breezes.
And those in whom this force is strongest become Acolytes. You belong to the Makersraad. that all of us possess at least a bit of this power. “But in some of us.” The voice fell silent. We dream as children. your patterns—we on the Makersraad refer to them as mentrans— swirl clearly and brightly. the Words of Light. How? Why?” Indanan’s masculine patterns began again. in an unbroken line. Master to Acolyte. Once.” Honna concluded. “You have proven yourself worthy through your own admission of guilt and responsibility. You know. They he raised his eyes and spoke. E ditor . thinking of evidences of that unity he had seen and felt in Myvern…and had not been allowed to taste fully.” Kynne remained silent a few moments longer. You have felt the darker urgings of the Makers-power and have passed through them into fuller light. Makers. watching over it as a mother over a child. an emanation of blue light that focuses the will and allows the wielder to make real imagination and ideas. We welcome you. troubled or at peace. Your Makerslight flares strongly. feeling…indeed. knowing without knowing that family and friends are well or ill. and those dreams are often monitory. They become visible. We can communicate with others over long distances. there was no Makersraad. these abilities concentrate until they can be drawn upon at will.Makers-power. They wear rhiam robes and through them Omne is preserved stable and healthy. as well as the potential for destruction that is the obverse of the Words of Healing. and 1 4 6 | robert reginald . we were there. “We of the Makersraad have been searching for that answer for half a millennium. We sense a communal unity that rests unbroken throughout the land. and—rarely—Master Makers. “You say there is no magic in what I do.” Kynne nodded. as if to the Veil of Heaven. “You are one of these. They protect the land. only dumb animals and beasts and darkness and death. Then suddenly. “We allow none among us who do not recognize and regard the immense power we wield.
“Beyond this we do not know. We strengthened you at a moment of crisis. “Therefore. Yet the older the Acolyte is when he first broaches the vessels of power within. when the conscious mind is directed elsewhere. Yours was prepared for you Cycles ago. We guided your thoughts through the convolutions of consciousness. You have great ability. Rhiam facilitates the break. and to burst through them. “But you drew upon the power that stopped the beast…and you stopped it painlessly. The plant—which provides food and clothing and is the staple of existence—alters us. helping you to trace the single pathway through the maze leading to your final barriers.” “That is why you are called. But we do know that they are amplified by the rhiam. anticipating the moment when you would summon your full potential.with us the force of mind we wield. What the process is. unanswered questions. allowing other levels to function… weakly…and filter through. how it functions. her colors merging with Indanan’s. the stronger those powers may develop—a paradox. “We do not know where the powers developed. contact with the Makers-power is slight. You called to me during that visit many Cycles ago. we came to you. then later tinged saffron or blue by our individual emanations. Often Acolytes are chosen as infants or children and the training begins immediately. E ditor . “You repressed the power when part of you would have called it up and childishly threatened those who mocked you without 1 4 7 | robert reginald . perhaps greater than many now serving on the Council. humanely. we of the Makersraad wear rhiam robes—undyed at first. “You were selected long ago. You have taken long to mature. the barriers between conscious and unconscious are shattered. and with sorrow. then strengthening to overwhelm the other’s.” Honna began. “Thus. occurring at moments of distraction. But for a few. For most of our people. awaiting the call. why it functions in so few of us—these are the great. amplifies the minds of the Makers and reposes within each. but true.
but the Makersraad itself. “You used the Makers-power to destroy when you felt the stability of your world threatenedk and by doing so brought great pain to another living thing…. Then the blue-robed figure at the head of the circle. High on the upper ranges of the Lesser Pillars.understanding. twelve stone seats flickered in the golden glow of stone sconces jutting from the walls. a small circle of figures. The circle burned more brightly. lean and youthful even through the drapery of the rhiam robe. standing in a curiously appointed chamber. the sconces were dark. Honna of Los’ang. Kynne felt the warmth. He knew it was himself. not merely the color/patterns of mentrans. hands joined. But even such a small action is beyond the collective powers of the Makersraad of Omne. 1 4 8 | robert reginald . Behind them. have penetrated the Veil of Heaven. On three of the twelve walls. “And you wept for that pain.” Kynne’s eyes closed and for a brief indrawn breath of time he seemed to see. in empathy with the snow-dove. opening within yourself a wound as deep and as agonizing. faces hooded and in shadow. saw his robe glow first saffron then blue in correspondence to the concentrated will of the Council. felt a tingling progress through his limbs. robed in flaming saffron or flashing blue. “For that reason we call you to the Makersraad. We hope…we pray that through you. Master Maker and head of the Makersraad. He felt gentle fingertips on his forearm. reached out and touched the gray-robed figure…touched Kynne of Myvern. this great mystery may be understood. miles distant from Los’ang and the great Makersraad. Then. nine in all. slash into it. and healed it. a tenth stood in the chamber—a form in gray. “And you…you alone of all Omnans in living memory. almost saw the fingers as he stood in the light diffusing from the Veil of Heaven. E ditor . for the briefest of instants. Not even your concentrated will was sufficient to extend beyond the Veil—you could only rend it.
touching the phantom Kynne in the Council Palace at Los’ang. I call you. and he no longer saw. lay Cycles of loneliness and frustration. of fear. Facing southward. and shafts of yellow and blue spilled from the Makers. then turned for a second and faced north. “I Name you Iam’Kendron of Los’ang. to share your knowledge and power with us. as is my right. 1 4 9 | robert reginald . He tightened the woven belt. E ditor . behind him. utterly and entirely. encircling him in a network of power—himself the center. of anger and hatred that had led him through the mazes of himself into the center and beyond. toward the rich fields of Heartland. in this valley. Kynne. “And your name comes down from before the histories. And I Name you. and of loss—and there also lay the ashes of a youthful love that could not be.surrounded by the ruin he had made.” Kynne—Kynne no longer but Iam’Kendron of the Makersraad—pulled his gray robe tightly around himself. to aid us in protecting and strengthening our land. toward the Jamison River as it wound through Omne. I Name you Wisdom. they the circumference. And here. a Name in a tongue not our own. Honna-word and Acolyte. Kynne of Myvern had lived and grown. “I am Honna. There. There. toward the inner faces of the Lesser Pillars. to be one with us. he had died. to me. noting as he did so the subtle play and interplay of yellow and blue in the fibers. but heard. to the north. and ultimately toward Los’ang itself— toward the Palace of the Makers of Omne—Iam’Kendron began the first long journey of his life. for in the Naming of a Maker lies great power. Master Maker of Los’ang. presiding Maker of the Council of Makers of Omne. The song of the snow-dove echoed through him. Honna’s patterns overrode his vision.
or to be congratulating themselves on their own sense of life. E ditor . for it was on an upper floor of a lofty Manhattan hotel—and no passerby failed to turn a momentarily quickened eye toward its large door. He turned also his feet. Grandcourt. by Arthur Jean Cox Gay. In another two hours and twenty-eight minutes there would begin. and one turned more than his quickened eye toward the large door. lilting music spilled into the hallway from the ballroom—“The Ball room in the Sky” as it billed itself. forty. who had moved forward to block his way. of course. Grandcourt. on the side nearest the door. until he was stopped by the two guards. the other was clearly a subordinate personage. but so very large that he dwarfed both the passerby and the other guard—“what is the nature of your business with him?” “I’m afraid it’s personal. “May we help you.EVERGREEN. the year 2100. “You are acquainted with Mr. It was an ordinary enough face. by a man. then?” 1 5 0 | robert reginald . as a matter of fact.” asked the guard to his right—a soft-looking man.” Their eyes searched his face. although everyone in the room behind them meant play. very much like any New Year’s Eve crowd…and. These were both serious men. with watchful eyes and positively grim haircuts: men who meant business. That door was flanked by two small ever green trees in ceramic jars and each tree was flanked. In these respects they were. at the stroke of midnight. the face of a man of. but there were a few. There were not many passersby. it was New Year’s Eve. For more than music spilled into the hallway. say. There was also laughter and the happy chatter of some three hundred men and women who seemed to be celebrating a triumph of some sort. although its eyes were still a little too quickened. “Personal?” It was again the large guard who spoke.” “And what. sir?” “I would like to see Mr.
m. gliding movement. someone who was trailed after a little uncertainly. We went to school together.“Oh. He was hoisted to his feet and hustled out of sight so quickly and so very quietly that one might almost have fancied he would never be seen again. but only on one side. suddenly. E ditor .” And in his eagerness he started forward. And. For the men all wore green tuxedoes and the women flaring gowns of muted greens and yellows. yes! I’ve known Dave for years. Men and women dining at nearby tables suspended that interesting activity. raising his arm as if to hail the man he had come to see. For someone had entered there. He was craning his neck to look past the guards into the Ballroom. by the two guards. All this was done so efficiently that the three hundred men and women in the Ballroom never knew that it had taken place or that they had ever been. It was now ten p. And they took with them the small but deadly explosive device with which he had meant to greet his old friend. in any danger. It was a glittering crowd that he saw there: obviously affluent. But neither movement was completed. But the passerby didn’t notice. “There’s Dave now—standing at that table over there under the windows and looking out over the crowd with that imperial gaze of his. And at this moment there could be detected a change in the tempo of the humming swarm in the Ballroom. He was pinned to the carpet and the object he held in his uplifted hand was wrenched from his grip.” And the faces of the two guards froze. forks and spoons poised near their mouths. for a passing moment. The near est 1 5 1 | robert reginald . and they too laid hands upon the passerby. And the music swept some scores of them across the mirrored dance floor in a lilting. But he didn’t care: he’d found what he was looking for. even a little sheepishly. and very well groomed—if you made allowance (as he did) for an eccentric uniformity of dress. at the edge of the crowd nearest the door. Both guards fell upon him and bore him to the floor. People passing by stopped and stared at this newcomer. other men with grim haircuts had come running down the hallway. distinctly youngish.
A man came forward and confronted her. as if there might be something concealed under it other than her horrible legs. And. and once one noticed that. almost as thin as the two canes with which she tested the floor before her as she advanced. one revised one’s estimate of his age downward from. The arms projecting from her ridiculously fluffy dress were painfully thin.dancing couples faltered and slowed. suspicious eye. He seemed to be almost afraid of her canes. was that they were too alive. that was made to them. “Gibraltar?” Gibraltar replied with something suspiciously like a humorous intona tion: “She’s okay. it was reflected in every face. Dave. she meets 1 5 2 | robert reginald . the face of each partner turned in her direction. So much so that he was hardly able to turn his eyes away from them to the large guard hovering to her right. But he wasn’t bald. He examined her dress carefully. There was something shocking in the appearance of this woman. E ditor . disgust. And. Her hair was gray and very scanty. Dave. He was a tall man with a forehead so high and hair so light in texture and color that one’s first glancing impression was that he was bald. And yet it was undeniable that she was old—old and horribly de cayed. The dark eyes that glittered from her ruined face were the only things about her that seemed truly alive—the objection that could have been made to them. ripples of pity. Her gown spared the viewers any glimpse of her legs and for that they might well have been grateful. Her face was spotted and bruised and wrinkled beyond repair. say. fifty to within a year or two of thirty. horror. He looked the woman over with a cold. as she advanced. and—could it be?—guilt spread outward from her through the crowd…spread outward and slowly faded away. Someone watching those faces might have seen here and there very much the same words trembling silently but visibly upon more than one pair of lips: “Old…terribly old. Every one felt that.” And then the next moment one would have seen something very strange: those lips became still and then smiled a curious inward ironic smile.
E ditor . standing just inside the door. almost fiercely. like a single strand of cobweb. “Sir. if not exactly pretty. issued from the lipless mouth. “it makes a very picturesque contrast.” He winced. I am a memento mori. Dave.” “Just a minute. “And what. ma’am?” “Sir”—a thin sibilance. with large black letters forbidding entry to all who failed to meet a very rigorous requirement. Madame Mayfly.” said 25 February. you may totter back to those who sent you. And besides…. “Thank you. stepping out of the half-circle of people that was forming about them. is the date of your birth?” She appeared to be about thirty. She was a tall woman. “What do you want. She was born”— and he chuckled—“on the third of July 1997. “And besides.” Dave hooded his eyes. “Let’s not be cruel. may I ask. And now that you have delivered your message. “It’s the contrast I object to. Wait until you’re well away from the building before you fall over. dear?” 1 5 3 | robert reginald . before he turned it back to the woman.” Dave was not amused.” “That’s right. though he had none. but her reply was: “25 February 1972. I would be very much obliged to you if you would do me the great favor of not dying in the next few minutes. with auburn hair and pleasant.” said the other guard. “The people with her showed us her birth certificate.” she went on. the skeleton at the feast. mockingly touched his forehead.the requirement. I want nothing. And to the younger woman: “Would you mind posing. Mr. don’t you see?” “I rather think I do.” “I’ll pose with her. His suspicious eye took in the small knot of grinning people standing in the hallway and a sign.” said Dave dryly.” said a woman. as if he were touching a forelock. Grandcourt. features. I am here to remind you that you too are mortal.” He rounded on her.
You’ll know her when you see her. my dearie-dear. E ditor .” Her smile was touched with a pathetic pride. it was rather worried. But 25 February had been nettled by something. as if to touch his forelock. my dear. 1 5 4 | robert reginald . Fetch her here. “Yes. We simply want you to pose with this lady here. The fresh and budding girl looked at the one hundred-and-two-year-old woman with an expression no different from that with which she regarded every one else in the room. for his frozen face had thawed by quite a few degrees. “I was Miss Flushing of 2016. you know. blue eyes.” said Dave. They all waited (the decayed woman shaking with palsy.” The guard raised his hand. “April-May. shepherding before him. a slim blonde girl. and the flawless complexion of a child. as if she were a suspect being brought in for questioning.” said Dave to 25 February. I’m quite accustomed to posing. “I think I see the possibility of an even more striking contrast.” “Yes. those in the half-circle about Dave saw that he indeed had an eye for contrast where the “old” lady was concerned. though at the moment. For April-May was ex tremely pretty. And she had a tremulous voice.“Not at all.” The girl and the decayed woman looked at each other. “There’s nothing wrong.” “If you don’t mind. as she hurried forward. As she was brought closer. sir?” “Don’t be afraid. Dave.” He turned to Gibraltar. and the malicious glitter in the eye of the decayed woman was somewhat softened. no disgust in the face of either. And bring those two photographers here. no antipathy. caught himself. Dave noticed that there was no shock. “There’s a girl in the kitchen named April-May. and ran his hand through his closecropped hair instead. wiping her hands on her apron. like an antique car with the motor idling) until he came back into sight. And it was obvious that she had nothing to fear from him. He disappeared through the swinging doors of the kitchen some thirty yards farther on at the back of the room. with blonde ringlets. Her face was thin but sweet.
saw a slim. In fact. red-jacketed fellow with light brown. I hadn’t noticed…. “Fragments of the eggshell are still clinging to him!” The subject of her remarks glanced down and about at his red tunic. “perhaps you never notice waiters—only dessert girls.” And to the junior security man: “Bring that boy here.” And to 25 February: “You needn’t concern yourself with that. though not unkindly. which caused his arrival at the half-circle to be greeted with laughter. bearing a tray to a table. his lofty brow still furrowed in puzzlement. almost blond hair. who absently nodded permission. came forward. The boyish-looking waiter.you look like you’re not more than sixteen. Sleek.” “Well.” said Dave. And April-May’s a great acquisition for the Banquet. “I’m older than I look…. “Men!” said 25 February scornfully and turned away.” And all the Evergreens standing about laughed.” And he looked upon her rather as if she were a dessert herself. He looked 1 5 5 | robert reginald . but I’m still in charge of these matters. You may outrank me in age. Strange. so he’s my waiter in the other sense too. “not everyone. “What a fledgling he is!” exclaimed 25 February. I assure you that no one gets in here without being thoroughly screened. And then. He appeared to be within a year or two of thirty—and a stranger might have said that he would be fat at fifty. here’s her twin! See that boy there— he’s not much older than she is. She makes the most delicious little desserts. Are you sure you’re old enough to have a work permit?” The girl stammered.” murmured 25 February. will you?” The guard glanced at Dave. as if he had taken her remarks literally.” Dave looked around. “One of my Mayfly waiters. I’ve already satisfied myself about her permit. he’s waiting on my table. delightedly: “Why. “Isn’t everyone?” asked a man standing at Dave’s elbow. torn from his duties. “No. E ditor .
and then he went on bravely and took up a position at her side. “Ogg. sir. “Jimmy Ogg. the mean ing of which was: “She’s for him.” And it was Dave’s turn to be nettled. He was almost as fresh-looking as April-May. “It’s past my bedtime.” said Dave into Sleek’s ear. But it was April-May whom he looked at over her bent and nodding head. He stopped. “Remember: be not proud. smiling shyly. old story. and then. “Like takes to like. Would you mind posing with these two ladies here?” “Yes. with quick jerky little movements like those of a spider. as the dancers had done when they had first seen the doddering woman. for sharper contrast. Ogg.” said Sleek.” said Sleek. we’d like to take some pictures. “I have no intention of allowing those photographs to be published.” She began working herself about to face the doorway. of the two “ladies” with so much disparity between their ages. Again there was laughter from the group standing about.” intoned Sleek. The photographers were already present and the cameras made their unnecessary but satisfying little sounds.” “Enough!” whispered the decayed woman. “Be a good egg. They took pictures of the three.about at the laughers with an inquiring smile and wide-open eyes. “Now.” said 25 February. not for the likes of you.” said someone.” said the waiter.” “The old. Your days too are numbered. A blush spread over her face…and was answered by a blush in his. Jimmy. “What is your name?” asked 25 February. he saw the two “ladies” for the first time. with a glance at Dave. and as the people parted from in front of him. though undoubtedly a year or two older. “Well. Good 1 5 6 | robert reginald . E ditor . O-g-g. “Don’t worry. “is something you don’t often see these days. He continued to stare. that.” Jimmy shrugged and obligingly moved forward.” “A euphonious name. and she lowered her eyes.
” Gibraltar was abashed. What if she had died here? Think what a focusing point for hatred that would be! Think what the media would make of it. but it was kept at bay (across Broadway and across Fifty-Second Street) by rain-coated policemen clip-clopping down the glistening asphalt on anachronistic horses. Others had chosen to have chil dren and now resented the condition the government had attached to its permission to add to the world’s population. “Gosh. But.” as it was called. “I wouldn’t do that again if I were you. regardless of which class they fell into. then revolved his disgusted eye toward the senior guard. And no one less than one hundred years old was admitted to the Ballroom 1 5 7 | robert reginald . Dave. Some of those grounds were political. believe me. And. knew that their credit ratings would never be good enough to purchase the “Tune-Up. perhaps most.” agreed Dave. Many.night. And think what that mob down there would make of it. smoldering with a bitterness that threatened to flame into violence at any moment. with more feeling than was required by courtesy. if they heard of it. even if those mysterious quotas (about which there were so many doubts) remained unchanged. Some of those who turned their faces up to the rain and shouted and sang were so old that they could no longer hope that the genetic reprogramming would take hold. But why should that happier crowd in “The Ballroom in the Sky” care? It was safe enough.” “Good night. I didn’t think of that.” For down on the wet street was a restless crowd. they all chanted slogans or carried placards that im plied that their grief and rage were not of a mere personal nature but rested on the very highest of grounds. He watched her picking her way with her two canes toward the door. E ditor . Gibraltar. No Mayfly was admitted to the hotel without some sort of legitimate business there. but most were religious: for it had come to be widely believed that anyone who had chosen to have more than the biblical three score-and-ten in this world had forfeited all hope of Eternal Life in the next. they would—within half an hour.
Ogg. “You’d better do it.” “In a minute. He stabbed a finger at the red jacket. to welcome in the century after the one that began tonight at midnight. as Jimmy had.” said Jimmy. “otherwise. you’ll never work again.itself. Dave looked after him. The dancers picked up the tempo again and the eaters gave their undivided attention to their plates. his anger growing as he spoke. **** The half-circle dispersed.” said Dave. his face grim. So back to work. and their own numbers gave them safety.” went on Dave. But Jimmy Ogg and April-May stood where they were. except under one condition: that he or she come in as part of the servants’ staff. and back to work now!” The girl whispered. The police. neither moving. All their energies could be expended in one glorious blaze of welcome to the coming century. “All right. not looking away from April-May. The only reason I don’t send you out that door right now is because we’re so shorthanded tonight. All had seen the present one come in. Na tional Secretary of the Evergreen Society…. as if at the absurdity of the notion…and Jimmy brushed by Dave on his way back to his station. E ditor . Otherwise. neither speaking. I would. Dave stopped and turned.” “You won’t run away?” She laughed. Sleek moved back to his table. “You’re President Emeritus of the Waiters’ Union. No. You can go back to work. and all hoped. preparing to follow Sleek’s example. “It’s over.” said Jimmy. President of the Caterers’ Guild.” “That’s enough!” snapped Dave. “You obviously know enough to realize that if I say you don’t work again as a waiter in this town. “You will do it now! Do you know who I am?” “Yes. not too unreasonably. the Evergreens needn’t concern themselves. then turned to the girl and made an ironical. the hotel guards. who heard impertinence in this recita tion of his titles. exasper1 5 8 | robert reginald .
of course. And when Jimmy had done so. Mr. Dave Grandcourt stood before the desk. He hadn’t really. “He’s a waiter. though not to the kitchen. watched him intently. some chairs. not a green. There were stacks of folding chairs in one corner and what appeared to be pieces of theatrical backdrop scenery propped against the 1 5 9 | robert reginald . And he walked rapidly to the back of the Ballroom. He was a man who at one time would have been called “distinguished. so to speak. and a PIN terminal. “But. been a waiter: no more than a secret agent who assumes the guise of a waiter is really a waiter. she was on her way back to the kitchen. removed the plastic card from a breast pocket and handed it to him. resigned smile.” The office was a small room with the usual furnishings: a desk. Dave said. didn’t you begin life as a waiter?” He had. for God’s sake!” April-May inclined her head to one side. the rest of the room was in shadow. “Come in. It cleared. an ornamental letter tray. “May I see your union card?” Jimmy. with a wry. He watched her disappear through the swinging doors. then turned his face again to where Jimmy was hovering about his table in the middle distance. tuxedo.” but now the silver hair at his temples carried a less flattering implication. Grandcourt. A single overhead lamp sent a cone of light down upon the desk. his brow wrinkled. “You’re wanted in the office. then flashed out brightly with. and behind the desk stood a tall man wearing a black. But this would be a little difficult to explain to April-May… and before he had quite found the words to do so. and it had never mattered. But somehow it didn’t matter. A short while later Jimmy was tapped on the shoulder by a passing waiter.ated gesture with both hands. “Ogilby! ” he muttered. And he had never for a moment lost his contempt for his fellow waiters. his face turned toward Jimmy standing in the doorway. E ditor . Dave studied it while Jimmy glanced idly about at the dark corners of the room.” said Dave.
“Mr. “When the men you’d picked as waiters came through the lobby of the hotel on the way up here to report to him.” murmured Dave. And yet you say your name is Ogg?” Jimmy shrugged. who said in a slow and puzzled voice.far wall. there’s still a crime involved. And this”—he touched his red jacket with a forefinger—“is the only way I could. “Ogg suits me better. but he replied with convic tion and a touch of warmth. I seem to remember your father’s name as Ogilby and I notice that that’s the name on the card. Naturally. Tapping the card against the knuckles of his left hand. “Why did you do it?” Jimmy grinned. “you must be about sixty years old?” Jimmy was at first blank.” said Jimmy. Even if he handed it to you voluntarily. I simply joined them and handed him my PIN card and that union card. “I did not steal it!” “Didn’t you? It doesn’t matter. he now studied Griesé in much the same way he had studied Jimmy. Griesé knows nothing about this. But Dave’s face was still glazed over with suspicion.” 1 6 0 | robert reginald .” Jimmy was a little startled by this deduction. I meant our young friend here. he assumed that you had hired me. “I didn’t mean you. E ditor . So only one solution is possible: You stole this card off your father’s desk. Choosing their own names after they had left home had become a widespread fashion among the young. “Why…yes. who has a union card issued forty years ago. “One thing is obvious—you’re not an Evergreen.” Griesé nodded. By the way. easily accepting this. with out looking up. then looked at the silver-templed man behind the desk. as a matter of fact. Am I fired?” Dave didn’t reply immediately. I am. The only difference is: he’s an accessory. I thought it would be a lot of fun. “Let’s see.” Dave’s laugh was of the snorting I-can’t-believe-I-heard-that kind. “I wanted to attend the Banquet. Griesé.” He examined Jimmy as if he were some previously unclassified specimen of insect.
“Naturally. We’re very short on waiters tonight. then came sliding back to his employer. and I was going to have him kicked out of the Union. I found him…a little lacking in respect. but he saved me the trouble by disappearing before the showdown—on the very evening of the Hearing. Griesé. besides. And then Dave. And. “Our paths crossed briefly some years back. softly: “Mr.” Jimmy left. was sardonic. You may go. But I think I’ll retain this superannuated card. The door had hardly clicked shut behind him when a man came out from behind the theatrical scenery propped against the wall. The two men stared at each other for some moments in silence. as head of the Waiters’ Union. Dave stepped to this man and whispered into his grizzled ear three. as I recall. let us say. Jimmy repeated: “Am I fired?” Dave’s smile was very slow in forming…and so slight as to seem hardly worth the wait. They may have been words of dismissal. perhaps four words. and that is that you hired as a waiter a Mayfly 1 6 1 | robert reginald . not while it’s in progress. I don’t want anything to mar this historic occasion. You may go back to your station. “No…no. I have the right to do that. as if fascinated. turned sideways. Well? Is there something else?” For Jimmy had hesitated. He must have remembered that he had pressing business elsewhere.” said Dave. I don’t think so. for the man touched his forelock very briskly and left the room. “You say you knew my father?” Dave’s green eye. He turned his inquiring blue eyes on Dave. It may be”—and he allowed his smile to reappear—“that your resemblance to him is more than physical. So you’re perfectly welcome to hang around for…what did you call it?… the fun. Griesé’s eyes followed him out the door. E ditor . may I suggest that you don’t worry about his skin? There’s only one thing you need fret yourself about. but he had a face so remarkably hard-looking that it wouldn’t have greatly recommended him as a waiter to a prospective employer—his uncompromising mouth alone would have cost him many a job. He wore the red jacket of a waiter.
I will. and nodding my head and smiling while you torture and maybe murder that boy is one of them. may consider it done. and walked out of the room. and you. Mr. I won’t go along with that. or you have some other motive I don’t know about. there are some things I won’t do for it. And may I make a sugges tion? You have only a few years of life left now. by God. E ditor . but if you’re still here after midnight. I suggest you disappear very quickly. He was suddenly very hungry. I won’t come looking for you.” “Griesé. And I know as well as you do that you’re not turning that boy over to your secret police because you think he’s some sort of anti-Evergreen spy or assassin. for all I know. as the stricken Griesé turned to retrieve his overcoat from the back of a chair. “Mayfly!” he said with infinite scorn.” He regarded the silver-haired (and younger) man with an expression in which respect and contempt were for the moment uneasily mingled. where his friends were already dining. And there’s something else. He 1 6 2 | robert reginald . But. It cost him an effort to speak. it may be something worse. but he managed it. dropping his voice so low that it could barely be heard. But he had eyes for things other than his table. I know—your name is on the List and you’re up for processing in January. Grandcourt. You’re either acting out of sheer malignity.” said Dave.” Griesé backed away from the desk a little. “Mr. If you want to keep those few years. sir. You don’t think that for a moment. things will go badly for you. I can do that.not previously screened by me. and. You will never be an Evergreen. there was only contempt. And then. Oh. shaking his head. Grandcourt.” The blood drained from Griesé’s face: his face and white hair stood out in startling contrast to his black tuxedo. and if there’s anything I can do to prevent it. But I’m removing your name. That is an act of inexcusable negligence at best. I want that extra century or so of life. “You don’t believe that. “you’re fired.” “There’s nothing you can do to prevent it.
He had become very adept. all unconscious of what was waiting for him at the end of the evening. he still had to move on every dozen or so years when it became apparent that he wasn’t aging at the usual rate. she wasn’t at all bad…except when brought into unhappy contrast with April-May. and in the lull that followed everyone thought they heard (although it was clearly impossible) a faint 1 6 3 | robert reginald . The assembled diners all looked in that one direction. It was because of Sleek. he might have guessed that Dave Grandcourt’s titles included one not generally known. Dave smiled to himself. He resumed his seat beside his friend Sleek and found that 25 February was at the same table.” A helicopter chose that moment to come shuddering by. and when it came ate it with real enjoyment. except to be near him? Actually. but no matter how ingenious he was. The others had mostly finished eating. He didn’t have that problem himself. discreetly surveying her as she ate. so that she could be at this table—and why should she do that. and others like him.” that no television cameras or outside photographers were allowed within a thousand feet. he asked himself. He was served by a quietly efficient Jimmy Ogg. She must have asked someone to trade places with her. And he looked too. in any direction. although what passed for beef these days usually bored him. who insisted on living what they called “normal lives. The idiot!—he had saluted him! If Jimmy Ogg had seen that. once. of the Ballroom: they didn’t want to run the risk of being recognized by their “friends. in the direction of the kitchen. because he lived apart from Mankind in a high-security building. he said. He ordered the beef. and the lofty windows quaked and chattered in sympathy. instantly apprehensive.glanced aside twice. startlingly close. E ditor . Dave listened with only one ear. as if with some thought to future appetites. Once at the hard-featured man in the red jacket who stood unobtrusively to one side of the room. and Sleek was holding forth in his usual whimsical way on the difficulties of living life incognito among the Mayflies. he decided. at acquiring forged PIN cards and at establishing covers.
“You know. he added. “we have seen some evidence of your ‘perspective’. Two Mayfly waiters approached. Two weeks during which. and the Evergreens denied that it had ever existed with a brave burst of laughter and talk. One was Jimmy Ogg. with a series of shoves and sharp little taps. and bound less hope. She wasn’t at all bad. with a sly look around. Who was it who said. It will take about two weeks with this one.” “Yes. to a boy of seventeen you’re probably an old hag—and that would be true even if you really were only twenty-eight and not a hundred twenty-eight.” He instantly regretted having tossed this little barb. the glow of youth. But still. “Ogg. with so much bitterness in her voice that he was taken by surprise. which was certainly below his dignity. innocence. But did he really want that? Well. E ditor . like some apocalyptic Angel of Destruction. He bore in each hand a flaming brand. It had probably been a news-wasp. But he knew it hadn’t succeeded: for he had chosen the drapes. trying to sneak a peek. he would much prefer to see the lovely. who presented a rather startling appearance. he would walk her backwards until she tripped and sprawled across his bed. To soften the sting a little.” said 25 February. but his amiable purpose was sim ply to light the Blackbeard Rum Pudding that the other waiter—a remark ably hard-looking man.” murmured Sleek. the tender. Son of Fire.” said Dave. “What a lovely boy that is!” said 25 February. the delicious April-May sprawling on his bed. thought Dave. perhaps tearfully pleading as he stripped the clothes from her body…. Miss February. “He has a kind of glow to him. after Jimmy had gone and she and the others were putting April-May’s pudding to the proof. “Of course. But the apprehension dropped away almost as soon as it became conscious.” And he again smiled to himself. ‘No young man believes he will ever die’?” “Hazlitt. with an uncompromising mouth—was placing be fore each diner. 1 6 4 | robert reginald . I have a different perspec tive…. maybe….shout from the angry streets below.
where there stood a green-tuxedoed and wasp-like figure on fragile legs.**** His flashing fantasy was blotted out by the voice of a bugle. “I am happy to announce that of the one hundred and one Founding Members of the Evergreen Society. The platters 1 6 5 | robert reginald . 25 February.” Stentor waved a hand. as if this were some sort of signal. They burst out of the swinging doors of the kitchen.” Wild applause from the several hundred present members of the soci ety.” “In a moment we shall have the Contest of the Elders. A ripple of laughter moved through the room. But the figure had a mighty voice that boomed out over the audience: “I am Stentor. The dancers drifted back to their tables and all eyes were turned to the dais. each balancing on the fingers of one hand a heaping platter. Three of those. The crowd came to attention. with a painful contraction still about her eyes. two abreast. And at that moment all the waiters who had so mysteriously vanished when Stentor had begun to speak made a sudden reappearance. a stir of excitement. bravely at first. and then with a dying fall into something like a catcall. “Of the thirty-nine who are missing. and the sixty-two here tonight. have promised to be with us on our next Centennial celebration. But first…. and a platter was placed on each and every table.” Again. sixty-two are with us tonight.” And.” went on the clarion voice. “it is believed that five are still alive in various parts of this planet. The trumpet sounded again. to see who shall be our Man or Woman of the Century. wild applause: although everyone there knew that at least half of those would be lost to what was called “attrition. all the waiters began filing out of the room into the kitchen—as if Mayfly ears were not to be allowed to hear what Stentor had to say…although his next words were innocu ous enough. on the eve of the year 2200. E ditor . applauded almost desperately. They moved quickly and with a kind of comic emphasis.
were piled with buns, and the diners instantly fell upon the buns like starved savages and disemboweled them with knives and buttered their insides and sla vered them with jams and jellies. It was all done in a minute or two, though with a great bustle of chatter and laughter; and as it was being done, the waiters filed to one side of the room and lined up just under the windows. The faces of the celebrants all turned toward the dais…and a large screen some fifteen feet square slowly unrolled from the ceiling in front of the dais until its bottom reached within a foot or so of the floor. The screen displayed the familiar countenance of Isaac Asimov, a popular sci ence writer of the last half of the twentieth century. It was a haughty expression that had been caught in this photo: head tilted backward a little, lips forming a slight moue, nose in the air. Even as it was descending there had burst from the audience whistles, raucous cheers and jeers, loud catcalls, and foot stampings. And now the purpose of those heaping plat ters, of those hundreds of buttered and jellied buns, became evident—for a barrage, a hailstorm, a blizzard of buns rained through the air, pelted and spattered the screen, which dimpled and winced under their impact. There was much laughing and shouting, some persons standing in the aisles and pitching the buns like baseballs, some standing up at the tables and lobbing them like hand grenades. And, through the miracle of mod ern animation, Isaac Asimov’s expression changed from one of disdain to dismay and fright, eyes and mouth wide. The picture began slowly rewinding, withdrawing from sight into the scroll near the ceiling, like a snail retreating into its shell; and as it did so the whistles and foot stampings gradually ceased. It was gone, and the audience burst into unanimous applause, enthusiastically congratulating itself on its own triumphant sense of community. Such a warmth of feel ing moved through the room that even the Mayfly waiters felt the tug of it. All smiled or grinned; all, that is, except the waiter who stood beside Jimmy Ogg. 25 February’s brow lost that contraction of pain; she threw back her head and laughed. And it may be that even the high forehead of Dave Grandcourt was touched by a
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mellower gleam. The uproar subsided and the diners sank into their seats. A signal was given by a captain; and the waiters, moving in a single file (like a train of ants, in their red jackets), each claimed a wicker basket from a stack of baskets behind the orchestra, and moved to collect the piles of scattered buns from the dance floor. The waiter who had stood beside Jimmy at the wall had kept up a string of sarcastic remarks during the Ritual Bunning of Asimov; and he apparently had more to say along the same lines, for he stuck close to Jimmy. He wasn’t a very personable man, but there was something ingratiating in his assumption that Jimmy would naturally share his resentment of the Evergreens. His face, as he stooped to pick up the buns, was reflected by the mirrored floor, showing his uncompromis ing mouth twisted a little by bitterness. “Do they think Asimov invented the Flaw?” he asked, disgustedly chucking buttered and jellied buns into his basket. Jimmy, bending near him, voiced no opinion; and he went on, “Of course, you know all about Asimov’s Flaw?” Jimmy was doubtful. “I don’t believe I’ve ever met the man. But, you know,” he added tolerantly, “most of us have some sort of flaw.” The other gave the reflection of Jimmy’s face in the floor a hard, search ing look—and then snorted. “Does your mother let you cross the street alone, kid?” And he fell silent, as if momentarily defeated. They finished the harvesting of the buns and were soon standing again, like the others, with their backs against the wall. Jimmy was not inclined to talk, but his newfound friend’s need to confide in him was still unsatis fied. “Okay, kid,” he said out of the corner of his mouth nearest Jimmy, “I’ll take pity on your ignorance and tell you what this bunning business is all about. I’ll tell you why these people hate Isaac Asimov so. “You see”—looking straight ahead and hardly moving his lips, like a conspirator divulging guilty secrets—“what we call
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a ‘natural death’ is really a form of suicide. From Nature’s viewpoint there’s no reason for us to hang around once our kids are old enough to take care of themselves, so a self-destruct mechanism is triggered which prevents the cells of our bodies from repairing themselves, and so we get old and sick and die. What the younger Dr. Ives did was, he discovered a way to defuse the self-destruct mechanism and this made it possible for people to remain in the prime of life and no longer die of ‘old age,’ as it was called. It was even thought for a while they might live forever. But Isaac Asimov had already discovered that there’s a limit to which human life can be extended. He called it his clinker theory, but it’s now called Asimov’s Fatal Flaw. “You see, even if the self-destruct mechanism is defused and the cells keep on repairing and renewing themselves, a small number of mistakes will still occur. The genetic mechanism of a cell is extremely complicated and delicate, so it sometimes happens that a defect will occur when a cell reproduces itself; the result is that this new cell becomes a kind of dead end. This happens about twice in a hundred thousand duplications. That doesn’t sound like much, I know, and in a normal lifetime of sixty or seventy years it wouldn’t matter—but it matters very much over a period of two hundred years, because there’s one of those rising-curve effects. You see what this means? It means that even our friends, the Evergreens, are not immortal. They’re around longer than we are, but already some who looked perfectly okay have dropped dead because groups of dead cells have accumulated in vital parts of their brains or in the places that manufacture the enzymes we can’t get along without. And there’s no cure for that.” He chuckled, as if this afforded him some gratification. “No, and there never will be. It’s been estimated that the average life of an Evergreen can be only— only!—two hundred years. And the greedy rascals, they’re not satis fied. They want more! But they’re not going to get more and they know it, because of Asimov’s Fatal Flaw. That’s why they hate the very name of Asimov.” He was silent a moment. He stood looking out across the
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large room crowded with the laughing and playful Evergreens; and then, speaking very softly, as if to himself: “I think that if everyone can’t have long life, then no one should have it.” “I don’t agree,” said Jimmy. “I’d like to see everyone live longer and healthier and happier lives. But if they can’t, that’s no reason why some shouldn’t, even if it’s only a few.” The hard-faced waiter turned toward him a little and regarded him a long while. He shook his head sadly. “Your mother should have kept you at home tonight, kid.” **** Eleven p.m. The orchestra, and not just the bragging trumpet, sounded again. Stentor came forward. “It is now the moment for the Contest of the Elders. We trust that those seated about each table have already identified the eldest at that table. As I call upon each table, that person must stand and proclaim him or herself. If challenged, he or she must be able to prove his or her date of birth.” As luck had it, the oldest at the first table was very young, having been born in 1997. He was almost as young as that horribly decayed woman, but he was nevertheless the oldest at his table. The man at the second table somewhat restored the balance. He had been born August 19, 1948—he followed the old system of stating the month first, then the day. He had not taken his reprogramming until 2008; but, despite his then sixty years, the process had “taken” and…“Well, here I am.” Applause. The man at Table Three had been born 27 April 1985. By an odd coinci dence, another man at the same table had been born the same day, but, it had been discovered, two hours later…“and so I take precedence.” Laughter. Tables Four and Five. And then: “Dave?” said Stentor. But Dave Grandcourt astonished everyone present by not rising. He replied from where he sat. “Not this time, Bob. It’s true that I’m one of the Founding Members of this Society. It’s also true that I’m one of the very
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first persons to receive the reprogramming, which I had from the hands of the younger Dr. Ives himself. But I am by no means the oldest member here, nor, as it happens, the oldest at this table, although I had meant to be. I am junior by three years to the lady who sits across from me. As you know, an Evergreen woman, unlike Mayfly women, is never”—he turned a sly glance across the table—“ashamed of her age. And so I think she might be persuaded to rise and introduce herself.” She did. “I was born 25 February 1972.” And she confessed to having been christened with a name, like any other human being: Margaret Pressburger. And so it went, as rapidly as possible through forty tables, for the midnight hour was approaching. Most of those present had been born in the 1980s and ’90s, but they, with some exceptions, kept their seats. Those who rose to their feet had been born, mostly, in the 1960s and ’70s. There were a few from the 1950s and one man who had been born in 1949 on Christmas Day. 1949? Could it be, then, that the man at Table Two whose long life had begun on 19 August 1948 was the oldest person present? Stentor thought so. “It would seem,” he mused, “that the Convention has found its Elder.” There was scattered applause and a tooting of paper horns. “Not so fast!” cried a voice. It had come from Table Three. “There’s someone here”—and the speaker rose and lurched forward clumsily, scrap ing a chair. There was laughter from the nearby tables, for they saw that he was tipsy. “There’s someone here,” he tried again, pointing to a man seated at his table and wearing a tam-o’-shanter, “who has declined to tell us his birthday. I think we should know his age before we…we… what?…commit ourselves.” Stentor decided to fall in line behind this. His brassy voice carried a note of facetiousness. “Will you please rise, sir?” The man who had been pointed out rose to his feet, but with a some what rueful expression. Most of those in the room now saw for the first time that he was wearing below his green tuxedo
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E ditor . and punctuated by shouts of recognition. why the kilt?” “That. cried from diverse parts of the room: “Who is the man who’s here today?” And the congregation responded: “GEORGE CLAY!” And one man at the very back of the room rose and shouted: “And who’s the man who’s here to stay?” And any doubts anyone might have had about this proposition were swept away by the unanimous.” “Never mind. his handsome and dignified face gravely amused: posing a bit. Vari ous persons rushed forward to greet Clay. again a few remarks (someone observing that the tartan was that of the MacDonald clan). Others stared not so much at his kilt as at his face. Again there was laughter. but growing in confidence and volume. perhaps. George Clay! The applause and enthusiasm were unbounded. then. “would be a long story. He stood there with one arm akimbo. but did so: “12 August 1907. The shouts became concerted.” said its wearer. but carrying it off. “Who is the man who led the way?” And it answered itself: “GEORGE CLAY!” And two or three voices. The man himself was in no way abashed by the laughter. Stentor asked. the remarks.jacket not tuxedo trou sers but a kilt. But would you confide in us. For they knew him at last. to 1 7 1 | robert reginald . became a chant that grew and swelled and rocked the room. the date of your birth?” The kilted man seemed a bit reluctant to part with it. Only the tam and the kilt had prevented them from recognizing him from old pictures (and that may have been the purpose of those articles of dress).” The audience gasped as one…and then there was applause— hesi tant at first. enthusiastic reply: “GEORGE CLAY!” Yes. Life is too short for long stories. briefly. raggedly overlapping. “Sir. or the stares.
” pronounced Stentor with a genial humor. “I believe. he appeared to be within a year or two of thirty. “that we may safely assume that you are the oldest person here. but Dave Grandcourt. Most of the congratulators of George Clay gravitated back to their tables. It hadn’t yet done so completely when Stentor overrode it and brought the room to order. almost aggressive. Truth to tell. who almost ran from his remote (as it seemed at the moment) Table Seven to grab both of Clay’s hands and agitate them. still glowing with elation. It wasn’t. And it wasn’t by nobility of countenance. a man at Table Eleven in the second row. in fact. But of course that was a story too well known to everyone present to need retelling. there was something a little odd about him. He certainly wasn’t distinguished by gray hair: his. Mr. **** It took a while for this tumult to die. But once again there came that same startling interruption: “Not so fast! ” And a man stood up. The other people at the table where this man had been sitting looked up at him.” Cheers and laughter. There were not many men he admired. and then with some continuing uncertainty. first with slack mouths (he evidently had not prepared them for his announce ment).shake his hand. E ditor . Clay. George Clay—the first Evergreen and still flourishing. that man who in old age had been. 1 7 2 | robert reginald . He wasn’t distinguished by an impressive bearing. not ten feet from where George Clay and Dave Grandcourt stood. by the strangest set of chances. of course. for his face showed a peculiarly intense. because. struck at once young and long-lived. although it was difficult to say just what it was. was almost oppressively black. but this was one of them. like everyone else. because his middle-sized frame seemed to have gone a little soft. held his ground. age that set him apart. One of these was Dave Grandcourt.
blandness: as if a meek man had decided to be arrogant, or an arrogant man to be meek. “I believe,” said this man, speaking very deliberately and somewhat coarsely, “that I can lay claim to a longer life than can George Clay.” The ripple of astonishment that spread through the room was followed by a quieter one of skepticism…with, here and there, little eddies and whorls of outright disbelief and scorn. “Well, sir,” said Stentor cautiously, “can you prove that? Do you have with you proof of age?” “That man,” said the challenger, leveling an arm at George Clay, who stood looking on with a good deal of interest and yet without concern, “offered no proof of age.” “He doesn’t need to,” replied Stentor. “There are those here who know him from very long ago and those who recognize him by sight. But we do not know you, sir. I am afraid that you will have to show us some proof of your rather astonishing claim.” The challenger shrugged. “Oh, well, if you insist….” And he reached inside his jacket. He extracted something and held it out, not toward Stentor or his nearest neighbor, but toward George Clay, as if offering him such proof as was needed. A deafening explosion clapped the walls of the large room and George Clay flung up his arms and toppled backward like a falling tree. There were shouts, screams, shattering glass, chairs being scraped back and clattering to the floor—and the assailant, screaming an incoherent curse, dashed toward the fallen patriarch, with gun extended. People everywhere stood frozen where they were, or ducked or huddled, or fell to the floor. And Dave Grandcourt, diving gracefully in a single movement, hid his forehead and his body under the table in front of which his hero had stood. The screaming man halted at George Clay’s feet and pointed the gun at his head, as if to finish him off execution style.
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But Jimmy Ogg had reacted with astonishing swiftness. His red jacket blurred as he moved away from the wall and past an intervening table. He flung himself upon the gunman. They grappled and swayed. There was another shot, not so loud, it seemed, as the first; in fact, curiously muffled—and a woman at the nearest table screamed and clutched her leg. The other man outweighed him by forty pounds, but Jimmy showed unexpected strength. He seized the man’s gun hand at the wrist and forced it upward and out. The hand jerked convulsively and the gun discharged itself again and again, deafeningly but harmlessly, into the soft roll at the ceiling bearing Asimov’s scrolled features. But all this time the security guards had been converging upon them from all parts of the room, moving (as it seemed to some) in slow motion. Gibraltar was foremost; and he and two, three, four others now fell upon the struggling couple and wrestled them to the ground, handling Jimmy rather roughly in the process. Jimmy at last managed to get to his feet. He moved back out of harm’s way…and bumped into Dave Grandcourt, who at that moment looked out from under Table Three, one flap of the cloth draped over his forehead. Jimmy stepped aside and Dave crawled out and raised himself to his feet, looking about with a dismayed face. There were people clustered about and bending over George Clay and there rose from one of them the glad cry: “He’s alive!” And Clay’s voice was heard, protesting feebly, “I’m all right…all right.” The guards, having wrestled the would-be assassin to the floor, now wrestled him to his feet; and he was borne backward, arms out-flung, heels dragging, toward the large door—shouting as he went and with a laugh wildly and bitterly triumphant: “Fools! Your life is but a day and is gone. You are like the grass that is cut down. But I, I shall have Life Everlasting!” “Maybe,” said the grim-faced waiter, who now stood near
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Jimmy again. He was holding in his hand the plastic gun the fanatic had used and was examining it with a professional eye. “Maybe. But it won’t be continuous with the one you have now.” **** Dave was at first rather sheepish; but with a little effort, and very little loss of time, he recovered his arrogance. He had already taken in the entire situation and, straightening himself, he resumed his role as one of the Elders of the Convention. He saw first to George Clay. But after he had seen that Clay’s wound was not critical, and that the woman’s wound was only superficial, and that the hotel medics were forcing their way through the throng toward the injured parties, he came back to Jimmy Ogg. His manner was lofty yet, but not so severe as it had been. “You may congratulate yourself. I had been planning a little surprise for you at the end of the evening.” “Had been?” said Jimmy. His hair was disheveled and his face was very pale. He was fidgeting with his red jacket, pulling it more tightly about his midriff, as if he wanted to button it; but the buttons had been torn off in the struggle. “Yes, had been.” And he glanced at the grim-faced waiter, who nodded and moved away. “But because of this little service you have done us, I’m going to forget that you obtained entrance here under false colors. Your heroic action,” he said, turning upon Jimmy what looked very much like a disparaging eye, “proves that your presence here was innocent. I suppose you really did mean just to see the fun. And you saw it, didn’t you? You’re very pale, Jimmy Ogg. But now you have something to brag to your father about…if he’s still around.” He was silent a moment, looking out over the dining room like the survivor of a battle over a battlefield. Everywhere he looked, he saw shock and grief and the aftermath of hysteria. There were men and women huddled in their chairs, slumped over their tables, or fearfully clinging to each other. Nearby,
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a woman who had fainted was lying on the floor, anxiously tended by her friends. His face was sickened by disgust and self-loathing. His eyes were hooded. His lips moved. “Our long lives, our pre cious long lives and our desire to protect them, have made cowards of us all. It has made a coward of me. We are not fit to rule. I am not fit to rule.” His half-hooded eyes revolved back to Jimmy. “You saved George Clay’s life and for that I’m going to let you live. I’m going to let you live out the rest of your natural life span.” “Thanks,” said Jimmy. “But that’s it. You’ll never be an Evergreen. There are two lists. And I’m putting your name on the second.” Jimmy smiled and shrugged. “Yes, I know, Mayfly. That doesn’t bother you. You think you’re going to live forever, just as everyone your age does. That’s why you dashed forward to grab the gunman, while I took cover. The possibility that you can actually die hasn’t sunk in yet. But it will. Your courage is grounded in ignorance and in lack of imagination—and I’m going to cut those grounds out from under you. You think you’re a hero and I’m a coward… but we’ll see how much of a hero you are forty years from now when you’re banging on my door and pleading to be made an Evergreen. You may go, Mayfly.” “Thank you. I’ll just stop in the kitchen and collect April-May on the way.” An expletive burst from Dave. “You believe in pressing your luck, don’t you, Mayfly?” He broke off, because 25 February 1972, née Margaret Pressburger, was approaching. She was crying and wringing her hands. She flung herself upon Dave. “You were so brave! ” She buried her face in his green jacket. “I forgive you. I forgive you everything.” Grandcourt was only momentarily baffled. It seemed that in the confusion and uproar she had not quite followed the sequence of events. He gave Jimmy a rueful, sideways, threatening look. “Okay,” he said. Margaret was sobbing and couldn’t hear. “Okay”—with resignation and, again, a touch of disgust—“I
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suppose that girl is more in your age group than in mine.” “I should think so,” said Jimmy, and moved off. The hard-faced waiter touched his forelock, or perhaps saluted him, as he passed. He made his way between the tables (ignoring persons who plucked at him, trying to order drinks) to the kitchen. But he didn’t enter the kitchen immediately. He stopped a few yards to one side of the swing ing doors and leaned against the wall there, steadying himself with one hand. His face was still very pale, his forehead damp. Some minutes passed before he had quite recomposed himself and had adjusted his tunic and hair and wiped his brow. He went into the kitchen. **** April-May, her dessert duties done, was sitting beside a small table, facing the doors as if she were waiting for someone. On the other side of the table was a kitchen chair, also facing the doors. Jimmy sat down in it, as if claiming it. Silence for a long moment; and then their eyes met and they laughed. “I had an idea you might be here,” said Jimmy. “I had an idea that someone, anyway, might be here, and I hoped it would be you. And so I came.” “I knew you would be here,” said April-May. “It was the one place where your curiosity and humor would be sure to bring you. And I thought you might come looking for me. So I came.” There was another pause and then Jimmy asked slowly, “Where is He Who Tamed the Horses?” Her eyes, turned sideways, reproved him for his irony. “My beloved Harry was destroyed in the crash of the Topeka Space Shuttle.” She added, quoting Borges, “‘The Gods who live past all imploring, aban doned him to that tiger, Fire’.” “I’m sorry,” said Jimmy. And then: “The Topeka Space Shuttle crash? That was some time ago. You’ve been alone all this while?”
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” “I’m sorry about that too. bright morning of the race. haven’t you?” His smile was so tender it was almost painful to see—only the boyish ness of his face kept it from suggesting unfathomable heartbreak and loneliness. The bullet went right through me and struck the leg of a woman seated behind me. seeing their touching hands. and. leaned forward a little to do so…and winced. She moved her hand sideways across the table until her fingers barely touched his. when the pyramids were as yet undreamed of. She looked at him with concern.” She laughed again. sweet smile.” She sat watching him with a sly. “Does it still hurt?” “Only a little. She whispered. Behind them someone was scraping pans.” “And how long will you go on loving me?” His reply was a whisper.” But for the moment she didn’t move. through the swinging doors would come a waiter or one of the security personnel. It was a language that had broken the stillness of the dawn in the glad. They didn’t care who came or went. The healing process is almost completed. when the men with hair streaming behind them like manes had chased the 1 7 8 | robert reginald . and besides. E ditor . “You’ve loved me for a long time. He lifted his hand to cover hers. clattering and splashing them in the soapy water.“Yes.” “I’ll get you some. was a red spot about the size of a dime. he opened his red jacket. “That long?” His right arm was resting on the table. “For ages. On the white cambric shirt underneath. occasionally. on his right side. by way of explanation. But I will need food soon. except by a few. “Forever. they spoke in a language that had been forgotten. not wanting to break the contact with his hand. who in passing would give them a glance of incurious appraisal or. They spoke in very low voices. And. an amused and ready understanding.
” “Perhaps.” said Jimmy. a wave of music and melodious laughter. thunderous hullabaloo from the larger room: cheers. It was the language with which they had greeted the Man Without Flaw when he had stepped from the glistening sphere that had dropped from the sky. the laughter triumphant and self-congratulatory. who. There was a sudden. It was now midnight—midnight of New Year’s Eve of the year 2100. 1 7 9 | robert reginald . The boy and the girl.horses and had hallooed to each other across the great rolling steppes of Central Asia. It seemed that the Evergreens had quite recovered themselves: for the song was exuberant. the first few seconds of the twenty-second century. and they had been granted a glimpse of the Evergreens at play. And there swept over them. E ditor . They were gliding to the music across the mirrored dance floor like mayflies above the surface of a pond.” agreed April-May. looked at each other… and smiled sadly. the two who sat there in the kitchen. had almost negligently granted them the Boon. “There can’t be many of us left now. as if forced open by a gust of gaiety (or by a hurrying waiter). before departing. and the tooting of paper horns drowned by the blaring orchestra. “Perhaps there’s only the two of us. with the freshness of the dawn still and forever upon them. applause. For the swinging doors had swung inward and had hung open for a moment.
fair-complected. —Placard waved after Bali settlement massacre by Mohammed Ghandour. Mother.” she said. “Mother…?” “Yes. when it was on fire. and handsome in her teal-blue Suzi Marchette housedress. Laura was Suzi Marchette. but we love Death. It still looked like the mythical creature. tall.MOHAMMED’S ANGEL. Laura went back into her air-conditioned study. directing Helpless to put her tea and cigarettes on the cloisonné table beside a chair with carved spiral arms where she had been sketching. “Hello. Jr. All photos of her.” The voice seemed to 1 8 0 | robert reginald . I can hear you very well. 4 July 2019 Laura McKenzie Langer. Laura suggested to Jason that he hire her as a provisional indentured at half-wages. E ditor . and then tried calling her mother again. The maid was a tall. It was another stinking hot morning. dear. But it was easy to see that her entry papers were forged. leaned against the cast iron railing of her balcony and looked out at Wilson’s Promontory.. Laura had loved the Prom since she was a child. almost pretty girl from Wales who had presented herself to Laura’s husband Jason as a legal entrant. especially now. the Suzi Marchette. blonde. ordered her live-in housemaid—whom she had nicknamed ‘Helpless’—to bring her another cup of tea and a Turkish cigarette. Smoke billowed up from the eastern tip of the national park like dragon’s breath. by Jack Dann The Australians love Vegemite. Large fashion photos in white mats and black lacquered frames covered the walls. even if her mother had created and established the couturier brand. She used to imagine its landmass was a stone-gray dragon rising from the sea. The air was bitter and autumn-dry.
darling. I’ve got Hannah home today. remember? I told you to marry Murray Taschen. “I was talking to Helpless.” The maid brought the matches and a cut-crystal ashtray. I can’t talk to you like this. agitated. I appreciate your concern.” “And why not?” “Well.” Laura said. I haven’t done that since the riots.” “Thank you.” Laura motioned to her maid. Always with the news. come back to Melbourne and buy me lunch at Vito’s. I was terribly worried about you. remember? And I’m not ready to be presentable. I’m dying to walk down Collins Street again. breezy air. “May he rest in peace. and you wouldn’t have to work yourself to the bone and prostitute your talent so the Schmuck can afford to stay in office.” “If you want to see me. Laura waved her away. and it’s 1 8 1 | robert reginald . dear.” “That’s why you called me?” her mother asked.” “Don’t call him that.” Laura said.” “Mother. “Yes. who had his own money and would have given you a happy life. “I need an ashtray.come from nowhere and float in the cool.” “You called me. remember? I don’t care how you look. turn on the visual right now. resigned and frustrated. Please.” “You do.” “Murray Taschen is dead. E ditor .” Laura said. Mother. Turn on the visual. “Well that’s very kind of you. and I’m your daughter. “No.” “You know I can’t do that. I told you never to marry a politician. The school called another day of prayer because of the shortfalls. you would have been a wealthy widow. first of all.… I can’t stand talking to a disembodied voice. Mother. goddammit. “I’ve been trying to reach you all morning. And matches.” Have you seen the news?” “Again with the news.
You don’t mean the Ghandour family? You don’t mean Mohammed. You’re his wife. E ditor . I only called to see if you were all right…and. Mother.” “I haven’t been feeling up to par.the nanny’s day off. didn’t you. I was so worried. “She’s always off on Wednesdays. “Well. “It’s the only way I can get a good night’s sleep.” 1 8 2 | robert reginald .” her mother said very quietly.” “You’re too lax with your help. even the Premier’s wife has an unrestricted pass. Then. my travel-pass is good only for Thursdays and Saturdays.” “I’m not the Premier’s wife. “You shut down your implants.” Laura said.” “My temple?” “Unless there’s another Beth David Synagogue on Grey Street.” she said vaguely. the synagogue and the Catholic hospital complex next to it were completely destroyed.” her mother said. and as you well know. so I’ll hang—” “And why shouldn’t I be all right?” her mother said placatingly. you’re all right. I think his name was something like that. “Did anyone survive the martyrdom?” “No.” her mother said. “Worse than the Opera House. because you’re always at the temple on Wednesday mornings. “Don’t tell me you didn’t hear the explosion…or feel the vibrations.” “I slept in. Mother. “Obviously.” Laura said.” Laura said. thank the good Lord you weren’t there.” Laura said.” “The Schmuck has his diplomatic pass.” “Mother. Now do you see why I was calling you?” “My neighbor…you said my neighbor. “Mother. sighing. do you…?” “Yes. turn on the damn visuals. half a block away from you. God. obviously.” Her mother didn’t respond. “Because your shahid neighbor martyred himself in your temple this morning.
I think I’d better call a doctor for you anyway. His mother and father were both in the temple.” Laura’s mother said and checked the news again. He always brings me presents. I should have known something was up when he said it was just beneath his thumb.” her mother said. it was Mohammed.” “How would I know?” Laura said. 1 8 3 | robert reginald . He lives right next door in 11 E. “Your sister Lorraine was always the smart one in the family. He saved me. Laura called to her. “You know all the answers. I’m sure that’s why he picked today. Mother. “I must have some flowers sent to his parents.” “I was just about to call emergency.” “You’re talking utter nonsense. she would.” “I just checked the news. ignoring Laura’s threat to call the doctor. I told him I was going to stay home today. then said. he told me that paradise was right in front of his eyes. “Mother. The line was still intact. dear. “Terrible…terrible.” “I thought you said you checked the news.” She paused. but she wouldn’t call me if I was dying.“He’s such a lovely boy.” “Yes. Mother…? Are you all right?” “Yes.” Her mother sighed and said. Don’t be so impatient.” “Wait. and I understand what Mohammed meant.” “Whatever for? They’re Muslims.” her mother answered. “I haven’t got your university education. Well.” “And what was that. Go find Lorraine and ask her. Yes. E ditor .” “So. now you’ve got the business and most of my money.” “What does he bring you…what did he bring you? “Just presents.” “He brings you presents?” “Yes…presents. and then dead silence. “He meant that a detonator lies beneath his thumb. and you’re as dum—” She stopped herself and said. mother?” Laura said coldly.
” Hannah said. Hannah. The mayor and the bishop and that blind teli-minister who speaks in tongues—and God only knows who else—will have been there.” Laura’s mother said. I wasn’t talking to Grandpa’s ghost. “Mohammed shouldn’t have carried his parents away with him. and she doesn’t get mad all the time like you. but he once told me—” “Told you what. on all the churches. scowling and dropping back onto two feet.” “Go put some shoes on. “Mommy. E ditor . “That he belongs to God…and that an angel came down from Heaven to tell him that God is going to take revenge on all religions. It’s a big deal.” “He’s in Canberra. I was talking to your pigheaded grandmother. You’ll get a sliver in your foot running around like that. that’s why I thought maybe you were talking to him.“Ah…it was the ecumenical breakfast.” Laura’s mother sighed and said.” “Grandma doesn’t have a pig head. mosques. huh. who is in the process of going completely mad and has forgotten all her manners.” She balanced on one foot and held the other one in her hand. remember?” Hannah nodded sagely. I remember. who are you talking to? Daddy?” The little girl looked around and said.” “And you never thought it might be an idea to report that to the authorities?” At that moment little Hannah ran into Laura’s study. and synagogues.” “No. honey. I’m surprised your husband wasn’t in attendance. and she was wearing pearl pink jodhpurs and a matching pearl-neck cardigan. Mother?” Laura insisted. but you can see them. Her image suddenly appeared big as life and in high-defi1 8 4 | robert reginald . “Uh. baby. Mother. At least he would have made some sense. “He’s not here. She had her mother’s white-blonde hair and dimples. “Were you talking to Grandpa’s ghost? I talk to angels in the garden. “That’s right.” Then in a hushed voice: “Are you talking to…Grandpa?” “Grandpa’s in Heaven.
“Lorelei would be a nice name if you have a female dog. Mommy’s talking to Grandma. Lorelei looked as young as her daughter.” Indeed. I want a puppy too. “She’s mean to me. she shrieked with joy. Lorelei said. he’s named after your grandfather. “Old Oar. I’d name him after you.” “If I had a dog. Now!” Laura shouted. “He was a present. and a satin mourning scarf. Mommy. “Mommy’s being very mean to Grandma. who had her mother’s features. “I want to pat the puppy too.” “What’s the puppy’s name. and Hannah skipped out of the room. why can’t I have one? is that one for me.” Hannah said. Grandma?” “This puppy’s mine. hey?” Lorelei said. but I am certainly not old. Although Laura was attractive. “Now where on earth did you get that name from?” “From Daddy.” Hannah said.” “I may be a whore.” she said to her granddaughter as she petted a brown and white masked beagle puppy that was wriggling around on her lap.” Hannah said with authority. but what if it’s a male?” “It won’t be. too.” She turned her gaze meaningfully to Laura. smiling. banging the Hindu temple door back against the wall. Grandma. darling. E ditor . She wore an appropriate sea blue night-dress. privacy veil.” “That’s not my name. sweetheart. It’s up to your Mommy and Daddy whether or not you get a dog. The fact that the Schmuck always talks to my bust proves that something about me must be youthful. “And when I get one. is that your puppy? where’d you get him. especially the thin. “Go put your shoes on. 1 8 5 | robert reginald . and then suddenly realizing that there was a puppy on her grandmother’s lap. aquiline nose.” Hannah’s grandmother said.” “Shoes. I’m going to name it Old Oar after you.nition color and contrast in the center of the room. Grandma?” “Henry. “Mother….” “Ah….
“Yes. as if she had forgotten she was still on the line with her daughter.” Lorelei said. “At least Mohammed was interested in the ways of the flesh…if not in the ways of the world. 1 8 6 | robert reginald .” “And what’s this business about Hannah talking to angels in the garden?” “All children have imaginary friends. that’s all that concerns me. Perhaps that explained why the media. still called out for Lorelei at Marchette mannequin parades. “No. and watch Hannah sneaking shoeless back into the garden to talk with the angels. I’ve got to go. Mother. call Helpless. As long as you’re all right.” “Don’t you want to know who gave me the dog?” Lorelei asked. Lorelei ended the connection. I know you do.” “Look. “Mother.” Then Lorelei smiled with nostalgia and mumbled to herself.Lorelei was beautiful.” Laura said. as if it was something she just remembered. especially the paparazzi. leaving Laura with nothing to do but light another Turkish cigarette.” “That’s all she gets is attention. E ditor .” “I’m not buying her a dog.” “I miss your father. Jason is just—” “A schmuck.” “She needs a companion. sit back down on her blue mohair velvet settee. Mother.” With that. “She’s not getting enough attention.
As it was white I could follow it without difficulty under the high. by John Russell Fearn The vision of an ambulance hurtling through the London streets in the early evening. E ditor . “What do you do. is enough to stir almost anybody from preoccupation. killed the ignition. and to a reporter like me it is a positive clarion call. For all the signs of life there were. I was just coming out of the doorway of the London Argus when the white vehicle swept by. and there’s nothing lying around that even resembles a crime!” I glanced back at the great shadowy house. I trailed it for four miles or so. turned to me in surprise. as I followed him up the front path. One thing registered automatically in my mind—a story— and even as I thought of it I had my own car engine roaring. then scrambled out of my car to join the ambulance men as they opened the rear of the vehicle and pulled forth a stretcher.” I told him.” he said. the ambulance driver whom I knew well. “Somebody phoned from here. “It isn’t a murder.” he commented dryly. and carried on up the main road. took the danger traffic lights at full speed. “Said he was dying—all alone—and to pick 1 8 7 | robert reginald .” Tony said. and Tony. There was not even a glow behind the shades. I jammed on my brakes. smell these things out?” “Official secret. and raced with a supreme disregard for all law and order in the wake of the hurtling ambulance. “Well. Finally the ambulance pulled up outside a residence in Kennedy’s Crescent. swinging street lamps. heaving his end of the stretcher into his hands. blasting a path by the savage clanging of its bell. out of the heart of the city to the lordly dignity of West Kensington.ULTRA EVOLUTION. it might have been deserted for months. “You would be here. I don’t think there’s much to interest you. “What goes on?” I asked. whipped away from the curb.
No story? Well. I switched on the hall lights. an object like a gigantic enlarging camera depending from a girder athwart the ceiling. my real attention was centered on the man on the floor. It was massive 1 8 8 | robert reginald . “Gosh!” Tony exclaimed. I’m not very much of a scientist. He was not very old. anyway. no more than thirty-three or four. seeming somehow like the central focus of the whole mass of junk. All this equipment sort of registered in my brain in a matter of seconds. chiefly electromagnetic. He was not dead yet. I was beginning to feel interested. about whom the two ambulance men were now working. and his lips thick and sensual. recalling something. We had found the front door open. complicated control boards. and we three men glanced about us in mystification for a moment. He stirred flaccidly as the two ambulance men bent over him. It was here that it dawned on me where I’d heard the name before. “what do you make of it?” He said no more than this. looking round a room which seemed to me to be an inchoate jumble of scientific apparatus. E ditor . together with banks of insulators. but I did recognize electromagnetic apparatus of a pretty advanced type. and had stepped into the hall. since it was his job to attend to the man lying prone on the floor. Then from somewhere down the corridor that led off the hall came a faint cry: “Here…in here!” Immediately we hurried along to a doorway through which high ceiling globes were casting a curious shadowless glow upon the room beyond. he’d still have been mighty ugly. and in the midst of it all.” I frowned. and even if his face had not been contorted through the pain of some mysterious illness he’d developed. Chap by the name of Dale Cavendish. Only his forehead redeemed him. Dale Cavendish! Of course! He had been scientific reporter on the Daily Planet about five years back. I remained in the doorway. its narrowing end pointing towards the floor. There was nobody around. His nose was flat like a heavyweight’s.him up at once.
“I telephoned and—and left the front door open just to—so’s you could take that…. “You’ll—never get me to a hospital. E ditor . the police were informed. Though the ambulance men rushed him to the hospital. until he had quit to do scientific research.” He motioned weakly and closed his eyes for a moment. he died on the way without further comments. It’ll—explain—” He was silent for a while.” That definitely was the last statement Dale Cavendish made.beyond the normal. they asked Kensington Institute of Science to take a look around. and scientific apparatus not being in their line. moved to a machine rather like an outsized dictaphone standing on a bench. Like everything else in the place. I recognized that map the moment I saw it—a bit older but still the face of the badtempered bloke who’d been the scientific reporter of the Daily Planet. only instead of electronic impulses being converted into 1 8 9 | robert reginald . My gaze. It was Dale Cavendish all right. Don’t move it. and then whispered a few further words. with disordered. but the scientists who controlled it told us that thought vibrations had been imprisoned on sensitive vibration-reactive drums inside the thing. Everything’s in it. “He—managed it after all. In a way it was like radio. I’m hazy on the system it utilized. I don’t know what they did or how they did it. and that of the ambulance men. “Just press the red button and—and let the power run. “It’s—a—” Dale Cavendish opened fading gray eyes for a moment. Just—just—” He gulped for breath and twisted spasmodically.” he whispered to Tony as he kneeled beside him. damp with the sweat of anguish. dark hair. So? Well. “—a—a thought—recorder. it was confoundedly complicated and possessed a multitude of wires leading back to the switchboards. which in turn had been transformed into speech—or rather the words of the person who would have spoken had he been able. Cleverer than I’d thought…. curling down it. but I do know that I was one of the reporters who heard the weird thoughtrecorder when it started explaining things.
See what you think. our walk amongst the merrymakers to my car on the parking ground was interrupted by a tall man in an overcoat and soft hat barring our 1 9 0 | robert reginald .” That was how it started off. So. of the lower grade. and through the thoughtrecorder I am able to tell you the true facts leading up to the death. I met her first at a staff dance given by the Scientific Institute. Then. the murder. I was irritated with myself to think that a red-haired. That which follows is the story I noted down and which appeared condensed in the Argus. when one of the boys in my department introduced me to Ellen. E ditor . My position was that of a physicist. albeit unconsciously. into easily understandable words.sound. thought was converted instead. Still. but it had a habit of worrying me. if you like. come to think of it. blue-eyed charmer of her type had been in the clerking department all the time and I’d never noticed. as we were leaving the building. and in an hour we were chatting as though we’d known each other all our lives. Cavendish and I first became acquainted through both of us happening to know Ellen Fielding. otherwise he’d have seen just how big an idea Dale Cavendish had really had. “I believe I’ve seen you now and again. I insisted on seeing her home.… **** My name is Robert Jesmond. the pay was good and there was chance of promotion. “Bob Jesmond. smiling and considering me under the bright lights as we sat together at the supper table after a pretty hectic evening. eh?” she said. I loved my work. My editor has no imagination. because my editor didn’t think the world in general was much interested in the doings of a rather obscure research scientist. Though Ellen does not figure much in what I have to tell. of Dale Cavendish. I do think that she was the cause of all the trouble.
” I smiled at her.” I said. Ellen. and by degrees I got the facts out of her. Cavendish. E ditor . “I’ve known him quite a few months. The only trouble is he’s so moody.” I said quietly. well. looking at Cavendish. “Apparently I’ve wasted my time. didn’t I?” He had a quiet yet peculiarly hard voice. hello!” Ellen exclaimed. I had a job in the same office before I came here. “Oh—er—Mr. Cavendish. Jesmond—Mr. We’ve sort of.” The gray eyes in the ugly face gleamed at me disapprovingly. and 1 9 1 | robert reginald . “I—that is.” With that I left them to it. all I did notice was that he was astonishingly ugly.” Ellen introduced us. glancing up at him.path. as though he were keeping himself in check. we—” Ellen looked from one to the other of us helplessly. Bob. Half the time he forgets to keep his appointments. I didn’t know then who he was. “You seem to be well taken care of. “I met him when he was on the staff of the Daily Planet as science reporter. I even thought I saw her beseeching me to go away. “Why. so you ought to have something in common. “Dale is a physicist.” he added. always thinking about scientific things. “Apparently. Been having a good time together?” “Look here.” “Bob?” Dale Cavendish repeated. “it has been your privilege up to now. “So you managed to get along and meet me after all?” “I said I’d see you home if I could spare the time. Bob. and I wouldn’t dream of upsetting it. chiefly because there didn’t seem to be anything else I could do—though I did wonder in a vague kind of way what a pretty girl like Ellen could see in an ugly devil like Dale Cavendish. “That sounds interesting. Dale. but I don’t like the way you behave! You—” “Which of us is to see you home. Thanks for a happy evening.” She smiled a little self-consciously. Next day I went out of my way to see her during the lunch hour. “I’ll make a point of seeing you at the institute tomorrow. gone about together. “I don’t particularly care who you are. Ellen?” he interrupted me.
that’s why I can never rely on him—like last night, for instance. It was quite a surprise to me when he turned up.” “Is there anything—serious in all this?” I asked. She was silent; then she shrugged. “He’s wealthy, Bob. That means something.” “He needs to be to offset a face like that,” I said bluntly, unable to keep it back. “I suppose he is a bit clumsy featured,” she admitted. “But he seems kind enough—except for last night when he blew up. I like him well enough.” I considered her intently and finally she looked away and changed the subject. If I was to be good mannered I could not bring the matter up again, so I left it at that. But in private I made up my mind that I’d give Dale Cavendish a run for his money. I had taken a profound fancy to Ellen Fielding. I was surprised, therefore, on returning to my apartment that evening to find Dale Cavendish awaiting me. The janitor had let him in and he was sprawled in an easy chair, smoking and glancing through a magazine. He got up the moment I entered and held out his hand. His big, ugly face was smiling. “Hope you won’t mind me barging in like this.” I shook his hand and considered him dubiously. “I felt that I should apologize for last night. I didn’t behave at all well. Just that I was a bit piqued. You know how it is sometimes.” I murmured something and asked him if he’d have a drink. He accepted. We got to smoking, and by the end of an hour’s chat I was quite convinced that he really was contrite. When he left it was with the invitation for me to call upon him and take a look at his scientific apparatus sometime; as a scientist myself I might be interested. I was interested, because I had heard a good deal at odd times about his scientific attainments. It occurred to me that I might learn plenty from a man of his talents. So a week later I called upon him and he showed me around his private laboratory. It was the first of many calls on my part. In two months I was dropping in on him regularly, chiefly because I was by this time
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absorbed by some sort of theory he had on ‘timeless evolution’. “I see you don’t grasp the idea, Bob,” he said one evening, when we were in his laboratory. “To you evolution simply means progress through time, doesn’t it?” “Naturally. What else can it be?” “That’s natural evolution,” he said. “There’s another form of it—disorganization of energy.” I contemplated the electromagnetic apparatus about us— particularly a gigantic instrument like an enlarging camera with a downwardly turned lens. Dale Cavendish stood regarding me with a faint smile on his abysmally ugly face. “As we progress through time the more energy becomes disorganized,” he went on. “You know the commonly accepted fact that there was more order in the universe yesterday than there is today.” I nodded, and he spread his hands. “Very well, then. If instead of waiting for normal progress to disorganize the atoms of which we’re composed, we artificially disorganize them, they can be made to form into a pattern they would normally possess at a much later date.” “Presumably,” I said, “the same effect as moving normally to the time when that pattern would exist?” “Exactly!” He looked pleased. “That’s the purpose of this apparatus here.” I studied the apparatus for a moment or two and then looked back at him. “But look here, Dale, how do you know what sort of pattern future atomic setups will have? How can you plan for a fixed pattern produced by a given amount of disorganization?” “I’ve spent years on that problem,” he answered, musing. Atoms, Bob, move in charted paths as the stars do. It is possible, by studying atomic science to the last detail, to predict with mathematical certainty what sort of a pattern will be produced from a given quantity of disorganization. “That is, up to a point. If one tries to work it out too far, the accumulated postulations get out of hand. But, at least, I know what vibration is needed to produce a pattern of, say, a man as
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he will appear five thousand years from now!” His eyes were upon me—piggy little gray eyes that had nothing in common with the brilliant brain he possessed. “And after that?” I asked grimly. He shrugged. “I just don’t know. There are limits to my calculations. Five thousand years’ patterning is as far as I can get at the moment. It becomes conjecture after that, but obviously the patterns will form as they would have formed had normal evolution taken place. What comes after the man of five thousand years hence, I don’t know. Not that I need to,” he added, and even then I didn’t notice that a sinister edge had crept into his voice. “But what’s the good of the idea?” I demanded. “What does it prove?” “You’re a scientist, and you ask me that! Isn’t it obvious what a benefit it will be to scientific knowledge to know just how a thing will be at a time in the future? With this system we can positively know the appearance of anything from a lump of soil to a man. Science can then plan and chart accordingly. That is what I propose to do, and incidentally make myself famous as the greatest mathematical scientist of my age…. But there is a small personal matter to which I must attend first.” I waited. He turned and to my surprise locked the door of the laboratory, then without glancing at me he went to the switchboard and closed several knife-blade contacts. I heard a hum of power from somewhere, and the vibratory apparatus for the shuffling of atomic setups came to life. I watched the glowing tubes and complex meters with their quivering needles; then I moved my eyes to find Dale was studying me intently. “You’re not a bad-looking chap, Bob, are you?” he asked pensively. I grinned. “You don’t expect me to answer truthfully, do you?” “Compared to me, I mean.” He brooded. “I’m as ugly as sin, and I know it. Ellen knows it too, but I think my other—er— attractions such as money, scientific fame, and so forth could
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have kept her interested in me—if you hadn’t darned well got in the way!” Suddenly his voice was hoarse, malignant. I stared at him in amazement. At that time I was, I suppose, pretty goodlooking—even handsome compared to Dale Cavendish—but naturally I had never taken it into account. It was only now, in this moment, that I saw how he really writhed at the thought of his own ugliness. “I’m ugly, yes,” he breathed, clenching his fist and still glaring at me, “but compared to a man of five thousand years hence I won’t be! By present-day standards a man that far ahead would be grotesque, a—a baroque!” I glanced about me. Something ominous was coming. Jealousy had evidently gone to his head. “Why do you think I’ve cultivated your friendship?” he demanded. “Why do you think I have so lightly passed over your constant association with Ellen? For only one reason, to study you, to study your electronic pattern on my instruments without your being aware of it. “I know all about you, Bob—and you’re going to be my guinea pig! If you become a baroque—as you will!—I know Ellen won’t have you. I don’t say she will have me instead, but at least I’ll stand a better chance than I do now.” He broke off, and nodded to an instrument rather like a radio beside the vibratory apparatus. “See that?” he snapped. “Well?” I asked coldly. “It’s a thought recorder. Your thoughts and mine are picked up by it, and electronic processes convert them back into actual words so that everything that happens can be repeated. Even as you hurtle forward in a disorganization-path, you will still think, and I shall know what you are thinking, and be able to turn the history of your scientific change to my own advantage.” “The law will have something to say about that,” I told him grimly. “Excluding the fact that I’m not quite the passive idiot you seem to imagine.” He closed a switch and grinned crookedly. I said nothing but
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I felt some subtle, deadly influence sap every scrap of strength out of my system. “Energy has been absorbed from you,” he said briefly. “That magnetic instrument behind you is doing it. I can be sure of you this way. As for the law, I have that taken care of, too. You fell into the range of my instruments by accident. No witnesses can prove you didn’t; none can prove you did. A man can’t be convicted on those grounds in British law. You’re going ahead five thousand years, my friend,” he whispered, approaching me, “and before my eyes I’ll watch you change, and know of what you are thinking! “Five thousand years in about ten minutes. Interesting, isn’t it? The vibrations of this apparatus of mine, mathematically planned, will shuffle your atomic setup into the pattern you would possess if by some fluke you could live five thousand years and evolve normally.” I couldn’t speak or move. I just stood and glared my helplessness; then suddenly he thrust out his hands and pushed me into the area of the thing like an enlarging camera lens. I landed flat on my back on metal plating, staring upwards at a glowing filigree of orange-tinted wires. They seemed to have a hypnotic effect upon me. I could feel my brain spinning in a gulf and the details of the laboratory became hazy. Peculiarly enough, I did not lose consciousness. I was still aware of who I was, but not of where I was. The orange glow above faded out after a while, and I was in a blank grayness in which nothing moved. It was odorless, tasteless, formless, yet having a light that was neither sunshine nor daylight. Looking back on it, I can only think that it must have been time itself, so utterly jumbled and woven on itself that it made no sense. I was evolving, yes—if it could be called that. I was sternly conscious of the fact, but time itself was a condition outside my development. So, helpless in this blank gulf—for I could not rise from the metal plating, which, in fact, I could neither feel nor see—I lay staring at myself, along my body and then at my hands. With
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mad creature that moved when I moved. “It’s incredible!” he breathed.every passing second. if seconds they were. I cannot describe it in any other way. I knew why. But my limbs were narrowing in dimensions. and he nodded to a full-length mirror at the other end of the laboratory. a button-hole of a mouth. a feeling upon my skin as though the wings of butterflies were burring against it. tiny. quickly. naked. My body was far smaller than it had been. “it’s marvelous! I knew I couldn’t be wrong. Suddenly the opacity was gone and the laboratory had come back. and I could tell that it was swelling. There was instead a sense of tremendous inner movement. I was only about five feet high. you devil!” I swung around to him and then broke off. E ditor . It was a distended. “Take a look at yourself. I was changing incredibly. “Dale.000 years ahead. a look of profound awe on his blunted features. Since they were included in the electronic disorganization for 5. My eyes seemed capable of penetrating the mist a little. Dale Cavendish was contemplating me from the switchboard. Presently my clothes rotted and fell away from me. and with a still aching head I staggered. The shufflings and patternings that were going on electronically within me were more or less painless. they naturally could not exist then. It was myself. to my feet. socket-rimmed eyes. my hands were losing their flesh and becoming like claws. The sense of helplessness left me. The orange lights were right above me. but I could. aching abominably and feeling terribly top heavy. Presently my head began to ache.” Cavendish ordered grimly.” I passed my hands over myself. I stumbled to it and saw something with a mighty cranium. 1 9 7 | robert reginald . because the normal event of death did not enter into the calculation. balanced on pipestem legs and with the skinniest chest and hands imaginable. My head was the biggest thing about me.
Bob. The paralyzing effect began to work on me again. you have no more intelligence than you ever had despite the massive braincase. “Not that I need to ask you. I was flung back and once more tumbled into the area of that devilish electronic machine. “Your atomic setup has configurated to that of a man five thousand years hence. I can’t compute them. “Obviously. “I can’t have you running around loose like this. but the apparatus will form the necessary patterns automatically. And I’m also wondering what configurations lie beyond the five thousand year span. “If only Ellen could see you now!” It was sheer blind. and your brain-case has distended to allow for what. That would be bad for me. brooding. and I hurled myself at him. don’t you? 1 9 8 | robert reginald . The body has wasted at the expense of what would have been the mental—” “How do you suppose you’ll ever get away with this?” I shrieked at him. however.” Cavendish paused. exasperated fury that hurled me at him. Your thoughts were perfectly recorded.startled by the reediness of my voice. I think we ought to find out. superman?” he asked dryly. knowing that when a subject is chosen I can’t help but be right because you will have gone before.” His voice goaded me.” he commented. is only gained through mental absorption in the normal course of time. scrambling up again. but as he had said. smiling cynically. then Cavendish came forward and stood looking down at me. Knowledge. E ditor . “Just as I’d expected. and I know exactly what you experienced. but with the merest flick of his arm he sent me sprawling into a corner. he was superstrong compared to me. “You daren’t reveal anything to the authorities because they’ll know I was your subject!” “I have no intention of revealing anything about you.” he said. I’m using you as a guinea pig. by normal evolution. would have been a superpowerful brain. therefore. “How do you feel. so that later on I can state my conclusions with absolute certainty.
I presume. and at the same time my skin was giving place to a horny. How long it took for the metamorphosis to complete itself I have no conception. can’t you?” Protest was useless. staring at me. the process is irreversible. I waited in a kind of horrified interest to discover what next I was to become. ape. “Amoeba. Extra legs were appearing from the region of the pelvis.” he said. but became gradually aware of change stealing over me.“You see. man. he was waiting for me with a gun leveled in his hand. and then ant—to deal with the underworld life of earth as the surface cools. There must finally come a time. Yes. his expression showed it. by the way. and had become a termite of gigantic proportions. Human speech had gone. The grotesque form was slowly but inevitably dissolving and becoming something else. covered with fine hair. I only began to receive the first clue when I noticed a change in my hands.” Naturally. fish. E ditor . I could not speak. The gray mist returned. Cavendish must have been aware of what was happening from the thought-recorder. physical attack out of the question. Obviously my appearance gave him a shock. They were altering into claws like those of a lobster! My legs too were extending into even thinner appendages. as I increasingly disorganize the pattern of your atoms you become further and further removed from normal standards. Something of Bob Jesmond still lived 1 9 9 | robert reginald . and this time it seemed to last an interminable length of time. Via the thought-recorder you can tell me what leads up to that state. And. As on the previous occasion I did not lose consciousness. The one thing I did know was that I had lost the entity of man. but not human emotions. “I thought it might mean this. but I wasn’t sure. for when I merged back into the laboratory. when the limit is reached and you become a zero quantity with perfect thermodynamic equilibrium. He had the orange glow upon me again in a few seconds and once more the atomic shiftings overwhelmed me. shell-like substance. a biological necessity.
I had become a bacterium. I realized that I now had stupendous power. whirled up a chair and smashed it futilely across my back.within me. He staggered away. the appendages. Suddenly I sprang. a rod-like flagellum to be exact. in comparison with normal standards. in spite of being the victim. Backwards I went. the stalked eyes. Quite wrong. He switched on the nozzle of the electric welding equipment and dived at me. ironhard mandibles with which to tear my tormentor to pieces. the antennae. But I was wrong. By degrees the termite I had been was changing yet again. Before he could grasp it. but just the same he permitted me to 2 0 0 | robert reginald . All signs of a termite body disappeared—the claws. I began to shrink with terrific speed and changed into something which. and then I got something I had not expected. Dale Cavendish must have been aware of this also through the thought-recorder. I snapped my mandibles within an inch of his legs. As far as I could imagine. the termite was the last stage of evolution. and with the change the hurt of my burned body subsided. until too late I saw I was once again within the area of that orange glow. My shell plating was not strong enough for that and I screeched involuntarily as the searing flame bit deeply into me. must have been—and still is—microscopically small. Holding me at bay with the flame Cavendish slammed switches with his free hand and plunged me into yet another utter disorganization of atomic paths. I went for him again. but he twisted free just in time and snatched at a bottle of acid. Cavendish’s revolver exploded but the bullet ricocheted off my shell-like exterior. my pincer claws had knocked his hand down and he went colliding into the bench. and therefore endowed with the power of movement. Then I grasped at the simple but astounding truth. Instead. E ditor . I wondered for a moment if the ultimate man was destined to descend into the microcosm to escape the rigors of a dead world. What other form could there be beyond that of the termite? I was interested enough to wonder.
and Cavendish. and the hardest to kill. an accomplishment that is normal to a lowly earthworm. all normal signs of life gone—except bacteria! Some forms of bacteria can survive and multiply in the zero of space and the torrid heat of boiling waters. I don’t think that I could really see either. At will I could become a saprophyte and do inestimable good for Dale Cavendish’s constitution. the longing for vengeance. In a word. It was at this point. consumed by only one thing.come into the laboratory again. I moved through the air of the laboratory as an invisible speck. with the knowledge of a man. the laboratory was gigantic and out of focus. As I moved. and even more so to a bacterium. some time after I had merged back into the laboratory. Whether or not he had switched off the thought-recorder I don’t know. He was a Colossus staring blankly at the apparently empty plate of the instrument. the toughest form of life. I realized why I had become a bacterium. that I think he must have switched on the thought-recorder to gain some idea of what I was thinking. E ditor . Not that I was much troubled. No matter what Cavendish learned of my thoughts he couldn’t see me. struggling to discover where I might be. the last to die. or I could become a parasite and destroy him little by little. And here was I—sentient. because the power of hearing had ceased for me. In the last stages of earth’s life. 2 0 1 | robert reginald . and that was the point. made no effort to leave the laboratory. for I had the chance at last to strike back for the things he had done to me. and then automatically stopped until a new pattern was set. but in truth sensed everything by vibratory waves. the sounds didn’t have any meaning for me. The choice was mine. a frozen world. for I gathered that his apparatus only worked for a certain period. for a dull resonant booming filled the laboratory. At my tiny size and working by vibratory senses only. To me. This suited me. But this time I had Dale Cavendish where I wanted him! As I returned to the laboratory I was beyond his visual range. cold must grip it—a dead sun. In fact I don’t think he could help doing so.
Presently the booming noises ceased and he glanced anxiously about him. and in this time he remained either in the house or in the laboratory. He left the laboratory and went into the house. on such a vast scale I could not judge properly how he occupied his time in the laboratory. First I beheld intense interest. E ditor . It was amusing. and was evidently determined to cash in on the facts he had learned from me. With everything being. But from the thought-recorder he knew that I was still hovering. waiting for the chance to get at him. I hovered and still waited—for the blood to cease flowing. particularly when shaving. growing more and more confident as nothing happened to him. I alighted gently on a crease of his laboratory smock and waited to see what he’d do next. Immediately blood welled. then gradually the look changed to one of deep fear as he realized I was somewhere in the laboratory. Then with my microscopic size I passed 2 0 2 | robert reginald . His frantic efforts to disinfect the cut and swathe it rapidly in bandages were amusing to me. waiting. and I in the meantime had to sustain myself by consuming vegetable matter. I was floating in the air near to him as he bathed himself thoroughly in disinfectant. As it happened many days passed. presumably with the idea of making himself free from all taint of microbial dust. invisible. and now he was desperately afraid of me.As I moved through the air I saw his gigantic face filling all the void. All this time he was careful to avoid causing himself injury. presumably as he listened to the reactions I had experienced in changing from a termite into a mobile bacterium. and pretty futile! He had turned me into an invisible foe. to me. Then one morning he made his mistake! In lifting a test-tube from its rack he caught it accidentally against the edge of the bench and the glass top splintered in his hand. but it seemed that he was making endless notes on the villainous experiment he had carried out. But at least he was scientist enough to know that I was beaten until he cut himself or sustained some slight scratch. which would give me access to his bloodstream.
Ellen. I suppose the thought-recorder will reveal everything that has happened. As for me…. a dispenser of justice if I desire. I could not tell what they were saying. I can go where I will. These are my last thoughts to be imprinted and played back over that machine. I am that rare thing—a bacterium with the intellect of a modern man. my laboratory job. though being within him I was not conscious of his actions. 2 0 3 | robert reginald . an indestructible bacterium. or equally a giver of benefits. invisible to the eye of man. but possibly with all the facts laid bare by the thought-recorder it will be used by scientists with a less sadistic turn of mind for investigation into the mysteries of Time’s future patternings. I can travel space. What will happen to his invention I don’t know. the human pursuit of happiness.through the bandaging and torn flesh and became absorbed into his bloodstream. and because of it have become emancipated. for I saw Cavendish motion towards it. In an hour he knew he was doomed. a devouring. unregretted. I have left behind me the world of Man. being a bacterium. and to the stars themselves. and Termite. I found him lying on the floor with three men around him. I no longer have the emotions of man. breaking down healthy tissue at the fastest possible speed. It was only when he began to cease moving that I emerged again from the selfsame cut by which I had entered. I became a parasite. I can plumb the deepest oceans and pass through the hottest fires. deadly parasite. In a way that compensates me a little for my lost birthright because. Dale Cavendish gave me one thing he never intended to give me—the key to the infinite. all gone. but I was quite satisfied that Dale Cavendish was close to death. E ditor . Superman.
Champ!” a woman cooed. Race gypsies. he feels a dizzying rush of nervous excitement and spiking fear. being back home. slapping warmth into cold arms. Murmur of voices drops away. Problem was. A TV camera pans over to his lightweight. The silver eye pauses. a shimmering kaleidoscope against the city skyline. Pacific air. One. He raises two fingers in a victory sign. dispelling the empty sensation in his stomach that had been there since he landed at LAX two days ago. with long blonde hair. Wheelers lean toward each other. by Sheila Finch Wheeling up to the START in the wintry dawn. voices brittle. hands—palms already hot in leather gloves—to unclench. **** The day was warm for early January. working on tension in his neck. Strangers were always recognizing him. Good feeling. hello. veterans from all the marathons across the nation and across the globe. Waiting. He stretches his head from side to side. Adrenaline floods. He recognizes many of them. had been eager to show him around 2 0 4 | robert reginald . Women talk in brief spurts together.MILES TO GO. Runners churn around him. He breathes deeply of cold. he’d been too popular with a couple of French actresses. drawing in energy. He eased his van into a handicapped slot outside the office of the Long Beach Marathon and took a deep breath. He is the silent center of jittery activity. Two minutes and three seconds to go. Been away too long. threewheeled racing chair. and the city seemed to have sprouted a more elegant skyline in the year Jeff Brandeis had been in Europe. Stretching tight leg muscles. after breaking records in a string of races from Oxford to Cannes. “Well. “Good to see you!” Jeff waved. E ditor . sweeps on. He wills his bunching muscles to relax.
the way her pertly cut coppery hair bounced on her shoulder as she moved. The next couple were crucial. Came right over to register. and the years were beginning to pile on.” “Jeff! I didn’t know you were in town. a do-gooder who got off on the inconvenience of dating a guy in a chair. I’m enjoying the view. He was in even better form now. “Hey. Her idea of a swell time was to stir the sugar in his coffee. Meg Lowenthal glanced up as the door banged behind him. “Who told you that?” “Well—you were out of the country. he saw they’d hung a large collection of marathon photographs on the white wall. He shut the car door and swiveled the chair.” “Sexist pig. Athletics.Paris after dark. He grinned. Life was good to champions. E ditor . Inside the office. A far cry from the early days when his mother fixed him up with a friend’s daughter.” “Oh? We thought you might not want to race. then 2 0 5 | robert reginald . “Just got home. Give me a minute here. Some new training tactics he’d figured out with a couple of European racers. She’d liked it enough to hop into bed with him one time after a race. but we thought. several of him crossing the FINISH in previous years. the thicker and longer the better. He wheeled up to her desk. the deep neckline revealing cleavage. Something his mother could think about without tears. gorgeous. even the wheeled variety.…” She turned back to the computer. as if he’d lost the use of his hands instead of his legs. a new aerodynamic wrinkle for the chair from a former Italian auto designer. He had plans to hammer his own record so hard it’d take anybody else a decade to catch up. “Take your time.” He gripped the chair’s arm-rests.” she said. He admired her expensive-looking yellow linen suit. He’d always been more attracted by a woman’s hair than by her face. was a young man’s game.…” She looked as if she were about to say something else.
He was my surgeon. “Dorkins? Dorsey? He called here trying to find you. The hollow feeling in the pit of his stomach came back. The champ. “What’s it got to do with me racing? I’m ready to roll.” Zukowski picked up a mug by the slick gray Mister Coffee pot. “Want some coffee. could’ve played professionally. Jeff. but he didn’t say that. A pleasure to see you. Champ?” Jeff shook his head.” He’d seen a report about Schwann cell research on CNN. “Brandeis. headed for the narrow doorway. The blonde French actress had pretended to get all excited for him. Jeff banged a fist on her desk. He jerked the chair round. “Cannes. You going to tell me I can’t?” The door at the back of the office opened and a middle-aged man in a gray Armani suit stood frowning.” “What’s this about. “We’re always delighted to have you. “You know this guy personally. Give me the entry form. but organizing the marathon was his passion.” Zukowski gave him a thoughtful look. and found it blocked by a tiny 2 0 6 | robert reginald . Meg opened a drawer and handed him an entry form. You’re a superior athlete.” While Jeff had gone on to a series of dead-end jobs and a serious accident.” “Right. Played baseball at Cal State—but before my time. so we thought—” “I was in France. I want to register. frowning. Zukowski came quickly forward.” Zukowski said. He was good. hand outstretched. Champ.changed her mind. Went to med school instead. E ditor . rattling pencils.” “We just thought—Doctor Dorseter must want—” Zukowski squirmed under Jeff’s gaze. Phil Zukowski made his money from a car dealership in Signal Hill. don’t you?” “Tommy Dorseter. Zukowski?” “That orthopedics guy at UCLA that’s been in the news. “Look. right? A whole minute better than your own world record. When he saw who it was.
Jeff. her fragile appearance disguised a determined racer. barely listening to her stories about other racers. her cheeks showing a faint pink. baby-fine. Tommy’s interest in orthopedics had been spinal cord injuries long before Jeff’s accident. E ditor . CNN had reported. Prostheses were good and getting better all the time—Jeff knew a couple of amputees who raced—but the docs couldn’t seem to fix severed cords.” she said. but I drop by once in a while to keep in touch. Carrie’s glance flicked from Jeff to Zukowski and back again. they sat outside the coffee bar on the pier beside an overgrown fern that seemed about to make a break from ceramic captivity. “Sure. Carrie Stevens had short. Want to go for coffee?” He’d taken her out for coffee or a movie a couple of times. she wore a pink warm-up suit embroidered with small flowers. He stirred Sweet n’ Low into his coffee mug as Carrie talked. The breeze off the water was sharp and clean like crystal. “That doctor from UCLA was asking about you. Why not?” “There’s a new place opened on the pier since you’ve been gone. couple of weeks ago. taking it in.woman in a wheelchair that seemed two sizes too big. looked like they might change that.” Carrie said. “Does the whole goddamn city know my business?” She startled at his tone. Schwann cell transplants. thinking about Dorseter.” “Got nothing to do with me!” “Well. A gull landed on the rail beside his chair. though she’d never taken the sport as seriously as he had. That’s all. He’d known Carrie for several years.” Half an hour later. “Let’s catch up. before his fame had brought lookers like Meg Lowenthal around. I’m not racing much any more. “I was in the office when he called. light brown hair. I’m not trying to intrude. stared 2 0 7 | robert reginald . Delicate featured. but they’d remained friends. I thought—” She broke off and stared out at the ocean. “You look like you need a break.
“Don’t want to?” Dorseter repeated.” “Haven’t you ever thought what it might be like if they could give you back your legs?” “No. but he didn’t want to think about Dorseter or his work. E ditor . “There were a couple of articles on Dorseter in the L. not even with her. And kidney 2 0 8 | robert reginald . Jeff. remembering a phone call soon after he’d won his first marathon.” “Not interested. “Someday you’ll be able to throw away your chair!” “What if I don’t want to?” he’d said.” he said. He pulled up the collar of the black Italian leather jacket the French actress had given him. Not even counting the enormous high he got from racing. “Why the hell would you want to be handicapped if you didn’t have to?” **** It was ironic. but this wasn’t something he wanted to talk about. “Snake oil.insolently at him for a second.A. The chair had freed him from the handicaps of his youth—no talent and mediocre looks—replacing his early lack of success with fame and a fan club of good-looking women. her face a mask he couldn’t read.” “I don’t think so. Times. The breeze off the ocean had turned cold. They’d always been upfront with each other. You ought to take a look.” He could tell from her expression she didn’t believe him. “People get artificial hearts when they need them. “What’s so difficult about the concept?” Carrie asked.” She turned back to him. **** “Animal results show great promise. the way he looked at it. It wasn’t Carrie’s fault. “Cold fusion. He flicked a finger and it flapped away.” Tommy Dorseter had said. Perpetual motion.
**** The answering machine blinked notice of messages from Maia and Jen that had come in while he was out. He is aware of a background world where sun sparks water below the bridge as he heads over it. But it was a two-way street. Why not a fix for legs that don’t work?” “The word is ‘need. blotting out all thought except what he needs to move swiftly and smoothly down the course. A cop on a motorcycle salutes. snagged a passing waitress. knitting together man and chair. slender-spoked wheels so that man and machine find a synthesis of efficient motion. as usual. He aims only to beat his own best time in each race. He does not need the other competitors.transplants are commonplace. **** The race officials start the wheelers five minutes before the runners. and got into a thing about the bill. and there were no strings attached to the transaction. He was a photo-op. His bed never needed an electric blanket. never has. his concentration is on action. The minute he starts rolling. The third message still waiting was from Tommy Dorseter. the cool breeze slides past his brow. E ditor . spectators along Shoreline Drive wave him on. his personal groupies welcoming him home. gulls pace him then fall away.” He pulled money out of his wallet.’ I don’t. He knew the real reason behind his appeal for them. something begins to grow that he calls the Race Mind. Easier than answering her question. the powerful muscles working in his arms. For the first few miles. 2 0 9 | robert reginald . Aspiring models. good for publicity. strong fingers rhythmically turning the shining.
“Outta practice. a Pepsi endorsement. same type of injury. He’d been hooked early on the thrill of competing even when he was no good at it.” Mendez laughed. tacking inexpertly across Alamitos Bay. a line of racing gloves he’d designed were paying for this condo unit. “Sal? Hey. “Nurse’s aide. right?” He gazed out the French windows at a group of kids in sabots. He grabbed the phone and punched in Salvador Mendez’s number. The streaks of white sunblock on their faces gave them the look of small-fry Apaches. “Been workin’ for a livin’.” Mendez said. Sunlight reflecting off the bay streamed through open French windows leading onto his balcony.What he needed right now was a shot of reality. he’d have been stuck working another dead-end job. Race money. No time for playin’ ’round no more. “Hard to believe. amigo.” “Gettin’ married. His had been less dramatic.” He regretted making the call. sails luffing. Or at home with his mother where the furniture was better but the pity worse. Gonna be an inspiration to all them new Crips!” Rancho Los Amigos. Got me a job out at Rancho. he’d smacked a motorcycle into a utility pole on a day when he couldn’t blame the 2 1 0 | robert reginald . ’mano. E ditor . He couldn’t imagine spending time there by choice. but Sal’s accident had been gang related. Sal was a couple of years older than he. maybe selling cars at Zukowski’s dealership in Signal Hill. amigo! How much am I gonna beat you by this year?” The Barrio Bear was one of the few who could make a race interesting for him. living in a bachelor apartment with furniture from the Salvation Army thrift shop. the county’s orthopedic rehab facility where they’d first met. not some medical fantasy. He’d taken sailing lessons on this bay when he was a boy.” “You gotta be kidding. Without racing. too. “Not racin’ this year.” “Congratulations.
“…bridges the fucked up nerves again. Didn’t he think Tommy Dorseter’s work could be The Light at the End Of the Tunnel for His Problem? He could almost hear the capitals in her words. Gonna fix us up. He made a date for dinner. They’d been two of a kind. then found clean sheets for the bed just in case he got lucky. He almost didn’t answer it. he feels cleansed of all the strangling difficulties of his life. checks out his students. Sal? You get your legs back. She’d already called once today. “What?” “Doc Dorseter. thinking it was his mother again. He comes maybe coupla times a week.” “So?” “Don’ you watch TV. So what? He didn’t need anybody else. Another example of his general failure at everything in those days. He hung up the phone and went out. He’d never considered Sal might get married.” “That what you want.” Mendez sounded puzzled. You willing to give that up?” “Just a race. you’ll never race again. one a these days. He put in two hours practice on the track at Cal State before sunset. the aching happiness that comes to him from racing.weather. “Just a fuckin’ race. This time it was Meg Lowenthal. ’mano. All the hard decisions fall into place. consumers of all the thrills they could find. **** He settles into his pace with an upwelling sense of robust health and fierce strength. After a race. Doc says.” There’d be no competition this year. freed by their chairs from a world of responsibilities. He was finishing his second glass of milk after lunch the next day when the phone rang.” Mendez was saying as Jeff shook his attention loose from the past. E ditor . Chair ain’t no badge of sainthood. racing and women had kept the friendship going. 2 1 1 | robert reginald .’ he calls ’em. ’mano? ‘Schwann cells. The shared frustrations of rehab had brought them together.
A dog barks. Couldn’t hurt to see what was on his mind. Children on bicycles keep pace along the edge of the course. Music blares at an intersection.” He high-fived the girl’s tiny hand. marked up carefully so he wouldn’t miss the important parts—Jeff gave in and called Dorseter at UCLA. a local combo playing enthusiastically. He slid out of the driver’s seat into his folding chair. “Come anyway. “You’re her hero. white petals drift like confetti.” Dorseter said. Got a proposition for you. then flattens again. Mr.” 2 1 2 | robert reginald .” “You got Sal already. Dorseter laughed. The course climbs a small hill. supervising interns. Champ.” the mother said. He went out and spent several hours circling the university track until rain splattered in from the ocean. **** After three more pleading messages from his mother over the next week—followed by a fax of the L.” Waste of time. driving him indoors. I’m not looking for work. he told himself. Brandeis. The van in the next slot had the back door open. E ditor . “I’m there Thursdays. Plum trees line the next block. Women in bright tracksuits cheer. “She has photos of you on her wall. Maybe they’d swap tall stories about glory days on Cal State’s diamond. Times articles about Dorseter’s work.The chair sets his spirit free. “Gonna win the next one for you. He feels as if he could race like this forever.A. The scent of fresh-cut lemon teases his nose. Rancho’s parking lot was wet as he drove up on Thursday. sweetheart.” But he could guess what Dorseter wanted to propose. sounding rushed. and it wasn’t emptying bedpans. “Come on out to Rancho and we’ll talk. The child grinned when she saw him and held up a hand. and beside it a woman was opening an umbrella over a small girl in a chair.
He’d have equipped people with wheels instead of legs. Dorseter was halfway down the TC. or walking up and down ramps getting used to new prostheses. if God had shown a little imagination. A nurse indicated Jeff would find the surgeon down the hall in physical therapy. it contained some of the most fiendishly designed equipment ever to coax damaged body parts to work again. Two male physical therapy aides in white coats lifted him to his feet and propped him upright. He glanced up and motioned for Jeff to come over. A cross between a high school gymnasium and a NASA training facility for astronauts.” “You said you’d read about my work. anyway? He’d been quoted in the papers once saying. talking to a female intern. He remembered this place well. what d’you think?” Jeff played it cool. some climbing low racks of stairs on crutches. What was the big deal about walking. A buzz of noise came from the TC as the door sighed open at his approach. she took this disabled stuff too seriously.” The child giggled. put an end to the tearful messages. he wasn’t enjoying it.” 2 1 3 | robert reginald . He figured he’d listen to Dorseter to satisfy his mother. a room he and Sal had referred to in the old days as the “TC. Caused quite a reaction in some quarters with that remark. But he wasn’t interested. Dorseter’s office was at the end of a white corridor lined with children’s art. some moving scarred arms against the resistance of weights and pulleys. A young guy sitting on a bench at the far end of the room caught his attention. His mother hadn’t liked the joke either. In a good mood now. Not necessarily read. Then he thought of the child and his mood darkened again. Half a dozen men and women practiced new strategies for old tasks. E ditor . Judging by the way the guy’s face scrunched.” “Saw the articles. “Well.“Promise?” “I promise.” the Torture Chamber. Not my game. he wheeled away as raindrops spattered his leather jacket. but Dorseter himself wasn’t in it. “Same old TC.
the frustration of learning to accept limits. Should I?” Dorseter turned serious. Jeff saw the young man resting alone on a bench. We’ve never found anything like this. Jeff. Champ. the energy it took to perform the simplest tasks. We grow the Schwann cells in the lab. Jeff turned to stare. but he wasn’t sure for what. The aching sense of loss. the nausea that tore through his gut as they hoisted him painfully upright. A deep yearning swept through him. The renown of being a star 2 1 4 | robert reginald . “Yes. “You don’t change. we’re ready to use this treatment on humans. Severed nerves re-grow. man! Why me? Got to be a lot of other guys salivating for the chance.” Somebody shrieked nearby. “That sounds defensive.” “Have you. the despair that flooded through him when he glanced down at legs he couldn’t feel any more.” “Don’t look at me. Look: I’ll give it to you straight. I’ve got my life together without it. Doc. looking washed out as if he’d just finished a race. He remembered the clumsiness of that first chair. “I could show you the dogs—” “Bizarre.” “In a petri dish. then transplant them into the spinal cord. Establish their own blood supply. Jeff? How long’s it going to last?” Across the echoing room. E ditor .Dorseter studied him thoughtfully. They coax nerve fibers to regenerate.” “Cruel and unusual experiments on humans went out of fashion with the Nazis. towel pressed to his forehead. I think you should.” “In lab animals. An orderly arrived to clean up. I’m not a guinea pig. This is revolutionary. He had a wrenching memory of the first day they got him out of bed at the hospital after the accident. Not uncommon in the TC. It had taken him a long time to put all that behind him. The guy he’d noticed was now doubled over. Animal results are so good. Even develop protective myelin sheaths. do you?” “No. vomiting—a sour stench.” The orthopedic surgeon laughed. Dorseter said.
Something you should seriously consider. You need this chance now.” “Give it up. A world-class nothing. Dorseter put a hand on his shoulder. sweat pours off his brow and stings his eyes. “Something else. In spite of the headband he wears. I don’t have the time. Tommy. he told himself. “You could be just the way you were before the accident.” “Right. Face the truth. Fingers cramp. I need another couple of years racing before I even consider something like this. “Later.athlete? The thought of walking again? His hands clutched the arm-rests of his chair till he could feel the pulse hammering at his wrists. **** Breath burns in his throat now. His lungs labor. expelling tension in a long sighing breath. E ditor . 2 1 5 | robert reginald . This was why he hadn’t come back home sooner.” “There may not be a ‘later’ for you. His chest seems encased in crushing iron. “Wait much longer and we won’t be able to reverse the changes in the vertebrae that’re taking place. not the French actress. Ever since he’d heard the CNN report. How long’s it been since your accident? Four years? Five?” “You’re thinking foot drop. “A straight-C bozo the chicks avoided. “Think about it. Blood roars in his ears. his eyes stinging.” He swiveled the chair to face the exit. Great. man.” he said. “You don’t understand.” “You don’t have another couple of years!” Dorseter said.” He stared at the surgeon’s grim expression. A zero on the field. Fucking great!” He wheeled urgently out of the Torture Chamber.” Dorseter squeezed Jeff’s shoulder. I’ve got work to do. Pain knifes his shoulder muscles. he’d been afraid to be hit with an impossible choice.” Jeff shook his head. muscle atrophy—” “No. no matter whether the nerves regenerate or not. He let go.
If it even worked. He hadn’t seen Carrie since the day he’d registered. She offered to cook at her place instead. It’d been a mistake to go out to Rancho. The breeze fails him. How could he make a decision like that? He went down to the condo’s garage and found the van. The day grows hotter. a distraction from the serious training he needed to do. But he couldn’t rid himself of Dorseter’s words. He’s a fool to put himself through such agony. he sees dimly a jumble of spectators waving flags—gaunt palm trees—volunteers sprinkling water from garden hoses—pelicans gliding overhead like stone age icons—police cars blocking traffic. Another guilt rap for him to come to his senses. not to be scared. Carrie lived alone in an old house she rented. but she’d turned him down. In the sweaty fog. To her. So many more agonizing miles to go. He has hit the Wall. a small guest 2 1 6 | robert reginald . Everything passes in a slow-motion. Despair claws at his heart. he’d tried pouring all his energy into preparing himself for the race. He didn’t tell her he’d called Meg Lowenthal first. but he needed to do something to clear his mind.blinding him. **** Carrie refused his invitation to go out for dinner. nightmarish blur of silence and pain. Maia was on location and Jen hadn’t called back. He doesn’t have to prove anything to anybody. For days after his conversation with Dorseter. to take advantage of his golden opportunity. The phone rang while he was dressing. His mother again. E ditor . He told her he’d be there at five. he let the machine answer. wheeling along the race route for several hours in the gray light of early morning until the swelling rush hour traffic drove him off. But only a fool would trade the future he had in sight for the uncertainties of pain and obscurity that would come with Dorseter’s surgery. his choice seemed clear.
the water churned with white caps. maybe a librarian. A large tortoiseshell cat slumbered next to a pot of scarlet geraniums. He felt comfortable. She came back into the room and refilled his water glass. Tomato plants heavy with winter fruit.” she said. as if he’d just taken off a too-heavy winter overcoat. He watched for a moment. tomatoes. All she could afford on her salary. and baking bread. admiring the unknown sailor’s pluck challenging the weather. what he would’ve expected of Carrie. light and shadow quilted the living room. “Never understood what people see in cats. “Must everybody get on my case?” “Sorry. probably. he couldn’t remember. “That’s Gertie.” “Kind of lonely with only a cat in your cheering section.” she called. E ditor . He gazed through the window at the tiny back yard. explaining the casserole needed a few more minutes. Carrie poured him a glass then went into the kitchen. She turned on a lamp. Across busy Ocean Boulevard.” Mozart wrapped it up. Sal was just excited for you.house behind the larger one on the bluff. isn’t it?” 2 1 7 | robert reginald . nodding at the cat. In the silence he heard the slow tick of an antique clock somewhere in the house. He wheeled up the ramp and rang the doorbell. Something unspectacular but socially useful. “I heard you went out to Rancho. She was a teacher.” “She’s my best friend. Mozart played softly in the background. Going all out for life no matter what. the house was warm and unpretentious. Miniature orange and lemon trees made splashes of color along a battered redwood fence. A lone sailboat beat into the stiff wind. A water jug waited on a small oak dining table. pots of chrysanthemums and cactus crowded on benches and shelves for easy reach from her wheelchair. rounding the oil island. coming home before darkness fell. Dishes rattled and he caught the rich smells of onions. Taking risks. Inside.
” She said lightly.” “Why would I want to take the risk? I’ve got it good now. “They restored his sight somehow.” “The promises were to myself. Pain lanced 2 1 8 | robert reginald .” she said. There’d been endless possibilities to his world back then and infinite time. Is it?” He stared out the window. no. “Maybe it won’t work on humans. maybe anger at his remark. the only person with no stake in what he did or didn’t do. But then he took to wearing dark glasses indoors. ‘The woods are lovely. “If you’re not the champ.” “But if you could?” “I read about a blind man once. Carrie?” “I’ve used a chair since I was fourteen. But she was right.She gazed at him. E ditor . something in the blue eyes he’d never seen before. “Would you do it.” “Robert Frost. A bittersweet memory from childhood flooded over him: A picnic in El Dorado Park by a lake speckled with ducks— Running barefoot over fragrant summer grass—A flop-eared dog barking excitedly beside him.” “You figure I’m scared?” “Not of the surgery.” He was mildly surprised to dredge up even one name from his mediocre undergraduate performance.” “I don’t think I could live without racing. “I don’t know.” “I remember a poem that meant a lot to me in my blackest moments. I’m not a good candidate like you.” she said. avoiding her gaze. But he couldn’t avoid this. “There are never any real guarantees in life. you’re nobody?” He regretted the cheering section remark. And maybe she was the only one he could talk to. Things happen. she saw clear through his pretenses. “‘And miles to go before I sleep’.” She folded napkins and set them in place before answering. dark and deep. Jeff. But I have promises to keep’. No point in arguing. Champ.
He is invincible. Exhilarated. ocean—all fall away. birds. E ditor .” he said. “Jeff? D’you know 2 1 9 | robert reginald . He excused himself soon after and went home. weightless. He could go on forever. This is what he lives for. making awkward stabs at conversation. Carrie. he punched out Dorseter’s home number. free. **** And then all at once the fog lifts from his eyes. they sat stiffly at table together. he reached for the phone.” “Let it go. Wind carries his voice away as he sweeps down the course on invisible wings. Nothing can stop him. It had seemed so simple before Dorseter interfered. forking pieces of meat. trees. at one with the chair that has turned into an elfin carriage. He has reached the Race Mind. he yells. He soars. Jerking upright. Dorseter sounded groggy with sleep. over the wall that once threatened to defeat him. Crowds. **** He dreamed of Carrie’s cat and woke in a tangle of sweaty sheets. The phone rang several times before the surgeon picked it up. In the darkness.” “What’s that supposed to mean?” “Maybe that’s the possibility you’re afraid of. He is an eagle breaking out from a cage and leaping up into silky vastness of sky. When the casserole was ready. Now all the alternatives looked wrong. avoiding the one topic on both their minds.” “Maybe there’s more than one race. “Only promise I make is to be the champ. His body—a magical machine itself—floods with power. not even Time itself.through his stomach.
“You need this. You gave and you got back. Champ. “It’s hard to be one hundred percent certain of anything. You’re high profile. the t-shirt vendors. I’m doing you a favor—” “Bullshit. That was life too. possibly serious.” “Can’t they wait till morning?” “You came looking for me. This is what he lives for. **** The FINISH looms. huge as the sound of winter surf.” Dorseter sounded as if he were choosing his words carefully. the cells might not take. E ditor . especially experimental ones. Gotta be risks. A photo-op for the Nobel committee. “Next question. Meg Lowenthal. He flies toward it.” “Got it. a hundred yards ahead.m. He sees the cameras. I got questions. The crowd yells. And suddenly the blur of faces waiting for him sharpens. Try this. jubilant. Give ’em to me. All medical procedures entail a certain amount of risk. Everything melts dizzyingly in the bright sunshine. Then he is through the tape. whooping with excitement.” He hung up. This is who he is.” “And I’d be back to square one?” He heard the hesitation in Dorseter’s reply.” “Bottom line.what time it is?” “Two a. He sweeps past. Maybe infection. Why me?” Dorseter let out a deep sigh. Hands reach out toward him as if to catch some of his wild energy for themselves. remember? First question.” “Okay.” He wasn’t surprised. Jeff. He is a champion. “Could be a lot of pain and wasted time for nothing. a child in a wheelchair waving a flag. 2 2 0 | robert reginald . Sound bursts roaring on his ears again. The one thing he is certain of.
catches the barely hidden smile. Jeff makes a vee with his fingers to a camera that isn’t watching him. In the space. where the handicapped slots are.” He glances at her. Exhaustion is catching up with him now. E ditor . are playing baseball with a plastic bat. and says. The crowd jostles behind the race barriers to catch the first sight of the winners.” she says. is almost empty. **** “Ten seconds better than your time in Cannes. The yellow tennis ball sails out of reach and comes arcing toward Jeff. It’s an effort to keep turning the wheels. “Get our ball?” 2 2 1 | robert reginald . One of the boys hits high and wide. a TV crew vies with photographers to catch a Hollywood starlet who’s here with her entourage to be seen at the race.Carrie is waiting for him behind a barrier. and his fingers have sprouted blisters. A few yards away. Champ. shoulder muscles ache. He could wheel over. “Nice going. The high mood of the race is still on him. “Hey. though. “I’m buying tonight.” This end of the parking area. he lets go of the wheels and throws his arms up into the air in fierce exultation. “This calls for steak and lobster.” Carrie says. Carrie’s van is parked nearby.” She maneuvers her chair beside his as they move away from the FINISH line.” “Champagne too. The reporters who took Jeff’s picture as he crossed the line turn back to the course where the runners will soon be coming in. tired of waiting for something exciting to happen. make a photo op. Lungs burn. mister!” one kid yells. “Out of my league. Slowing. A flop-eared dog runs in circles between them. seeing the way her short brown hair lifts off her brow in the breeze. two young boys. draping a sweatshirt across his shoulders. He waits patiently while she lowers the ramp.
E ditor . Maybe he was afraid they’d look away. “Nice catch. He half-turns. Afraid of nothing. sharp-eyed trader in uncertainty. or are there many races over many different courses as Carrie seems to think? He prides himself on being a tough competitor. the crowd roars again. someday. He reaches up and touches her short hair. The race has to be over. The wave of excitement and adulation sweeping out from the race buffets him till every nerve in his body thrums with tension and he shuts his eyes against the pain. 2 2 2 | robert reginald . his throat tightening. He sighs. “Jeff?” she says. Her face isn’t beautiful. He wheels up the ramp and into Carrie’s van. a roar goes up from the crowd as the runners begin to cross the FINISH line. Stops again. He bows in her direction then sends the ball winging back.” She brushes his cheek with her lips but says nothing. The dog barks. He’s never really looked at it before. Then what? And is a man given only one chance to do something with his life. but strong. Behind them.” Carrie says. The kids wave. He swings the chair toward the van. he knows that. Nature will see to it if Dorseter doesn’t. one way or another. “I’ve made my decision. He realizes he’s never really looked at any woman before. “Ready?” she asks.His hand shoots out and cups the ball as it falls. He glances at Carrie’s face. Behind him.
too. Mr. Ms. and as the kids removed their helmets their argumentative voices filled the lounge. “Are there aliens?” Mr. Fosdick wasn’t around. “I actually met some actual aliens. Arthur was tall for his age. E ditor . and that’s all.” Ms. Her beauty gave her confidence. She had a long thin face—like a horse. in her conservative brown suit. was leading them. Arthur and Beatrice frowned.” Little Dan looked at him with wide-eyed wonder. “You have such imaginative grandchildren. “There is no life on the Moon. He ran a hand through his hair. Little Dan always said when Ms.” Beatrice said.” “Arthur’s right. What you saw was a rock formation. Everybody knows that. At fourteen. Slatterman was older than all three kids put together.” he said as he sat down on a long yellow couch.THE LITTLE FINGER OF THE LEFT HAND.” Little Dan insisted. Fosdick.” Arthur said. but she was very pretty—everybody knew that. Strangers looked at them. “What do you say. Fosdick hurried them in through the public airlock. Even in their bulky suits the old guy could tell them apart: red suit for Arthur. 2 2 3 | robert reginald . smiled. “Never has been. “When I was not much older than you are. He was a sturdy boy of seven. blue suit for Beatrice. Slatterman. “There are no aliens. “I’m not kidding! I saw an alien fossil out there. but it refused to lie down. by Mel Gilden The old guy stood in the lounge looking out through the big picture window at the kids bounding across the surface of the Moon. Ms. Gramps?” Little Dan asked. and went back to their own affairs. Fosdick said as she smiled indulgently.” Beatrice was only thirteen. and yellow suit for Little Dan.
“I see where the children get their imagination. becoming more fearful all the time. “Aliens. Something must have crashed! Howard ran toward it. his sense of direction failed him in any region that wasn’t paved. Were there bears around here? Were any of these plants edible? He had no idea. “Hello!” he cried. He was picking at the skin around one fingernail when he heard the shriek of something big diving through the sky. It could have been a secret government project.” **** Young Howard Slatterman was lost in the big woods that surrounded his uncle Fred’s cabin. “No. He walked among the big leafy trees. he crept up on it. She shook her head with disapproval. but as he approached the crash site he became more cautious.” Ms. Fosdick said. Attempting to be both silent and invisible. Because he was a city boy. E ditor . He’d developed a headache from reading comic books all day. really. Slatterman said. then an explosion that rattled the trees around him and the teeth in his head. but he didn’t 2 2 4 | robert reginald . He entertained himself by trying to decide whether he’d rather be eaten by a bear or die of starvation. Not wanting to get more lost. and Uncle Fred suggested that a walk in the fresh air might help. Cold came up through his jeans. Howard supposed. but Howard would have taken it back if it came with a good map. He looked around the side of a big bush and saw something in a clearing—a spaceship about the size of a school bus. Off to his right a single spout of fire rose into the air and disappeared. bent in half and smoking. It looked like a broken toy. but the wilderness seemed to swallow the sound whole. Howard leaped to his feet and glanced around. The headache was gone. he sat down on a big rock.” Mr. Forgetting his fears for the moment.
his fear overwhelmed by his curiosity. Howard had seen enough TV shows and movies to know that not all aliens were friendly. He seemed to be wearing a long. two legs. E ditor . Howard stepped forward slowly. **** The guy fell face down on the ground. To Howard the guy looked kind of like a turtle. a single head. Slatterman agreed. “It was a coincidence that you were out there when that ship crashed. From the odd look of the ship.” the guy said. Howard hurried over and studied him.” “What was it?” Little Dan demanded.think so. Howard almost knelt to help. humans had not had anything to do with designing or building it. would they hurt him? Even if they were dead.” Mr. but he stopped. From this angle the guy looked human enough—two arms. “It could have happened to anybody. “Yo. Were there beings aboard the ship? Were they alive or dead? If they were alive. It was not a face that was easy to read.” Howard replied. “I was totally unprepared for what the guy wanted me to do. heavy-lidded eyes. hoping that was a greeting and not a 2 2 5 | robert reginald . **** “Gosh.” Little Dan exclaimed. like the tinkle of a little bell. Struggling. “Yo. “Absolutely. would they give him a strange alien disease? Something clambered out of the wreckage and staggered toward him. brown raincoat.” Beatrice added. The front of his raincoat was covered with pockets of all sizes.” Arthur pointed out. the guy turned himself over and leaned on one elbow so he could look up at Howard with large. His voice was surprisingly high and clear. His mouth was a long slit. wondering how he could help or if he even should help.
“Zeemoo’s agents will be here soon. E ditor . I am being followed by agents of the evil Kralndor.” He coughed and once again hawked up one of those tiny. A single fin rose from one end. his voice now more of a croak.” the guy said. but you know what I mean—the entire galaxy will be at risk. The police will take over from there. “What was that?” “I’m badly injured.” He was wracked with a coughing fit. entirely mystified. yellowish blob that grew frog’s legs and hopped out of sight into the underbrush. the guy handed the thing to him. “Everybody out in the galaxy speaks English. English is a characteristic of life itself.war cry. and lights chased each other around the long side. “We haven’t much time. “I am special operative Sandar Mons of the Galactic Police.” he said.” the guy said. Every second or so it made a quiet blooping sound. “What is this?” Howard asked. After considering for a few seconds. Zeemoo. But I don’t have time to argue about it. He opened one of the larger pockets on the front of his raincoat and took from it a small football-shaped object.” “You’re kidding. If this McGuffin falls into Zeemoo’s hands—he doesn’t actually have hands. “You speak English. Howard liked this situation less the more Sandar talked. and when he was done he spit out a gelatinous.” “And I come into this sad story where?” Howard asked.” Howard said. Your job is to prevent them from getting the McGuffin until more Galactic Police arrive. 2 2 6 | robert reginald . To Howard’s surprise.” “No. gelatinous frogs. astonished. “I need your help. “You’ve probably been monitoring our radio and TV broadcasts. Their ship was right on my tail when I lost control in your atmosphere. he continued more calmly. “Why would we do that?” the guy tinkled.” the guy said.” “They do?” “Of course.
he looked like a man-sized cock2 2 7 | robert reginald . You and the agents of Zeemoo might both be bad guys. Maybe. You must help.” he said. for instance. They dazzled him so that he stopped fighting. you might be the bad guy.” He collapsed back onto the ground and shut his eyes. his body shape. “But why should I trust you? For all I know.“When are the Galactic Police coming?” he asked. “and some simple codes that will allow you to change into several pre-determined shapes— the shape of a Galactic Policeman. Sandar’s face morphed until it was less like a turtle’s and more like an insect’s. even his clothing began to run slowly. Howard could not help being fascinated. E ditor . “I see! This is easy!” He looked at Sandar. “Hey!” Howard cried and fought to get free.” Sandar said. as if they were made of warm wax. Altogether.” Sandar said.” “Yeah! Sure!” Howard exclaimed. Don’t kill anybody by accident. Sandar began to change. Soon. He reached out with a hand that seemed to have too many fingers and tightly gripped the front of Howard’s head. ideas began to fill his mind. “I’m just a kid. you have to go with your guts.” Howard was not encouraged by that. Howard shook him frantically. kid. sounding very tired. Despite his distress. “I have given you the ability to change your form at will.” He took something else from another pocket and thrust it into Howard’s hands. The features of his face. “But what if—?” Sandar waved one hand in the air briefly before it dropped to the ground. Suddenly. “I’m just a kid!” he shouted. “I don’t know.” “Sometimes. Here. frowning. He now had a complicated mouth and big compound eyes. “It’s a Lightning Five Thousand Proto Blaster. hoping it would be soon. “How am I supposed to fight the agents of an alien super bad guy?” “With this.
” Howard said out loud. It was unusual but not entirely unpleasant. Even so. yet thinner and lighter. You have a super power and a super weapon. Howard stood up straight and thought one of the codes Sandar had taught him. he might be a Galactic Policeman after all. Still. to forget any of this ever happened. he continued to stand there hefting the object in each hand. but should he? Identifying the bad guys was of more than theoretical interest. the McGuffin in one hand and the proto blaster in the other. A sensation came over him that he had never felt before. He could describe it only as squirmy. His guts told him to put down the McGuffin and the weapon and walk away quickly. squishing feeling of movement that went through his body as it changed shape. he advised himself. Howard was sure Sandar was dead. but that didn’t quite cover the sliding. and tried to let his guts tell him what to do. E ditor . he might endanger the entire galaxy. He waited for his guts to give him another clue. He wore a long jerkin that seemed to be made of plastic straps. He stood up. He was sure that Sandar’s intergalactic enemies were more than he could handle. His body flowed until it was somewhat taller than it had been. Near his left shoulder was a round midnight blue patch with a silver needle of a spaceship that zoomed across it again and again. Wait a minute.roach with a thick lizard tail. Maybe. Sandar’s new shape was not one that inspired confidence. an odd experience 2 2 8 | robert reginald . “Gosh. A moment later a second ship dropped out of nowhere and touched down softly on the ground near the wreckage of Sandar’s ship. Yes. If he made the wrong decision. He flexed his new hands. He was hard on the outside and soft on the inside. A long jerkin that seemed to be made of plastic straps covered his body. You can do this. The sound of thunder began far away and rolled toward him like a giant bowling ball until it was so loud he had to put down the McGuffin and the blaster and insert his fingers into his ears. His guts spoke again.
Or in what.” the lead bulldog said.” the lead bulldog went on politely. “Yo. but he didn’t feel like one. “I have a better idea. or the shapes of their ears. Howard had no idea where the bulldogs should come along to. A hole opened in the second ship and a creature stepped out into the air in front of it. It took him a moment to realize that his antennae were whipping around. E ditor . Howard had watched enough TV to know you could not sort the good guys from the bad guys by the bulges on their foreheads. When it spoke its voice sounded like many voices which seemed to be talking through a mechanical voice box. for gosh sakes. His voice tinkled as Sandar’s had at first. The creature looked like an intelligent bulldog. Its body was large and muscular and wore a bright yellow outfit that was as tight as a superhero’s uniform. Howard 2 2 9 | robert reginald . He felt an odd sensation on his forehead. However. greeting him. but with an extra claw on each hand. their hairstyles. Howard might look like a Galactic Policeman. The McGuffin didn’t even bulge under his jerkin. Altogether. He hurriedly shoved the McGuffin into a pocket which seemed to be bigger on the inside than it was on the outside. as frightened as he was. “Yo. two more bulldogs stepped through the hole and began to descend. It looked a lot more noble than Sandar. of course. “Cool!” he said as he caught his breath. Did looks mean anything? Appearance was not a reliable guide when dealing with humans—when dealing with aliens it was even less certain.because they seemed like lobster claws. Just come along quietly and nobody’ll get hurt. the bulldog creature looked very heroic. He shoved the proto blaster into a holster which had bloomed at his waist.” Howard replied. When the lead bulldog neared the bottom of the invisible ramp. who looked like a bug. “Please give us the McGuffin. he stood his ground.” It was just a bluff.
The lead bulldog held up one hand and for the first time Howard saw that it had a thumb at either end. “Now we are certain that you are not a Galactic Policeman. but a brilliant jagged projectile like the lightning bolt one might see in a comic strip. “If you are truly a Galactic Policeman. A Galactic policeman wouldn’t do a thing like that.” the lead bulldog said. “Very well. before he figured out what was going on. hoping for the best.” The bulldog was firm but still pleasant. The three bulldogs stepped forward. Please give us the McGuffin.” Howard didn’t want to be hurt either. A moment later they broke up and the lead bulldog stepped forward. if that’s what he was. “I’m sorry. “Oops. and fired another green blast.” the lead bulldog said. He could feel himself melting. He fired at the ground in front of the first bulldog. Howard leaped aside as a blast of green fire shot out from where the thumbs touched and struck the ground where he had been standing. He made his thumbs touch. his limbs feeling 2 3 0 | robert reginald . “We don’t want to hurt you.” the bulldog said. It struck the ground with a loud boom and kicked up clods of dirt as it burst into sparkles that disappeared as they settled. feeling queasy all over.” Howard began. He watched in horror as his blaster arm sagged like taffy at the elbow.pulled his proto blaster and the bulldog froze. he had no choice. “We are sure. Howard was inclined to fire again just for the entertainment value of it.” “In the name of the Galactic Police…. “If?” Howard cried. you will not shoot us. “Please give us the McGuffin. but he controlled himself.” he said.” was all he said. “We are the police. “but we must have the McGuffin. It is the right thing to do.” he said to himself. Howard and all three of the bulldogs jumped when the blaster spit a lightning bolt—not a real lightning bolt like one would see in the sky.” he said. If Howard did not want the game to be over right now. As best he could Howard ran into the woods. E ditor . “Aren’t you guys sure?” The bulldogs huddled.
and stopped under him. His tail thrashed from side to side and he bellowed as he entered the clearing in the shape of a Tyrannosaurus rex—one sporting a very un-T-rex pair of antennae. He didn’t know if he could stop them permanently. the McGuffin goes with it. still glancing around.” “If we destroy the planet. “Nobody makes fools of us.” another bulldog said. But Howard had a lot of friends on Earth. and he didn’t think Feklar would buy his Galactic Police form now even if he’d bought it before. Howard chuckled at what he decided to do. he was now a tree.like rubber. Howard didn’t like the sound of that. Howard thought another code that Sandar had given him. The bulldog things were not far behind. but he knew he could stop them temporarily if he went back to the clearing. They walked back to the clearing in which their ship had landed. He couldn’t go as a tree. Soon he was slithering over the rough ground. And there were a few movies he hadn’t seen yet. Would the good guys think it was a fair trade— destroy the Earth to save the universe? Maybe. “If we don’t find him soon we’ll destroy the planet. “We dare not go home empty-handed. he personally wouldn’t have much use for the rest of the universe. divided and divided again.” “Nobody makes a fool of Feklar. If the Earth was gone. pseudopod over pseudopod. and he found himself unable to move. The three bulldogs strode right by him without even slowing down. And his comic book collection. their thumbs at the ready.” the lead bulldog said. His arms stretched upward. They returned a short time later. grumbling. He could still see and hear from a place somewhere among the leaves and branches.” the lead bulldog reminded his assistant. He made himself a little shorter and a lot more muscular. Maybe they were even right to think that way. 2 3 1 | robert reginald . As his body softened. running became more difficult. but Howard didn’t want to take any chances. like a giant amoeba. however. E ditor . As he had intended. “Destroy the planet” might just be a figure of speech.
After all. This was a frustrating situation. and if they destroyed the universe.” cried Feklar. Giving up the McGuffin wouldn’t buy Howard anything. Howard considered giving up the McGuffin to save the Earth. but it didn’t look like the proto blaster. “Put down your thumbs and back away from the policeman. “I’m afraid that’s unacceptable. “I am Khar Nolo. Howard could barely believe it when. this wasn’t his fight.” The two bulldogs who had been following Feklar around trained their thumbs on the new arrival. given a choice. And if these bulldogs were the good guys.” Khar Nolo said and held one claw out to Howard.The three bulldogs seemed surprised. He had never killed anything bigger than a fly. Were the Galactic Police aboard? If they were.” Feklar said. Feklar would rather take home the McGuffin than destroy the Earth. men. a cherry gumdrop. It was bright red and covered with tiny shards of white crystal. “Give us the McGuffin. On the other hand. the Earth would probably go with it. making the word boom through the clearing. Apparently.” “No tricks. the bulldogs might be the bad guys.” Howard roared. or die here and now!” He aimed his blaster at them.” the ship vibrated. It might have been a weapon. “Go back and report that you failed.” the cockroach said. 2 3 2 | robert reginald . “Give me the McGuffin. A cockroach dressed as Howard was walking out from behind the ship holding an object in one hand.” “Careful. “It’s another trick. “Put down your thumbs and back away from the policeman.” They readied their thumbs. “This is my real form. was that a good thing? “Feklar!” The entire ship vibrated. they deserved the McGuffin. The ship looked like a gumdrop. hoping he would not have to fire. Feklar kept his attention on Howard. at that moment. All this upping and backing was driving him crazy. E ditor . a loud thump filled the clearing as a third ship suddenly appeared on the ground.
” Feklar and his friends were backing toward their ship.” Howard explained. “That’s a good argument. “No!” Feklar cried. Khar Nolo caught it in one claw with leisurely skill. “that the good guys wouldn’t mind losing the McGuffin as long as the bad guys didn’t get it. At the same moment a lightning bolt kicked up dirt just to one side of it. That was no doubt true. Feklar stepped toward it but Howard waved his blaster at him. “Cool. “Give me the McGuffin or I’ll be forced to destroy your world. and fired. so I’ll just have to destroy it. When Feklar retreated. “Uh.” Howard said as he picked up the McGuffin and tossed it to Khar Nolo. “I’ll tell you what. Khar Nolo said nothing. He quickly adjusted the McGuffin. “That’s a good argument. “Sandar would have wanted you to give it to me.” Feklar suggested. “Yes. 2 3 3 | robert reginald .” He set the McGuffin on the ground and stepped back. “That answers my question.” Howard said as he took a few steps forward. He still didn’t know which group was the bad guys. E ditor . Khar Nolo picked up the sphere and showed it to Howard. uh. Howard aimed at the McGuffin. uh. “Absolutely. too.” Howard said and fired at the McGuffin. An idea came to him. cautioning Feklar. “I knew. the three bulldogs were pounding on the wall. and all three bulldogs screamed.” Howard said. aimed it at the bulldogs.” was all he said. but knowing what Sandar wanted did not make Howard’s choice any easier.” Howard agreed.” he said.” Khar Nolo said. They were surrounded by a rainbow bubble which immediately shrank to a transparent sphere no larger than a baseball.” Feklar said. His guts were silent.“Give it to me. Inside. and his antennae whipped around. “I can’t decide who to give the McGuffin to.” Khar Nolo said. It was difficult to nod because his head was connected directly to his body.
When they reached the level of the treetops. “Now I have one more thing to do. Some kind of souvenir would have been nice. **** “Did you find your way home. delighted that the story had no moral. Fosdick seemed unsure what she ought to think. Suddenly Howard forgot how to shapeshift.” the old guy said. even as it faded. “Nope. He lifted the body of Sandar Mons of the Galactic Police and carried it into his cherry gumdrop ship. making no more noise than the soft summer wind in the trees. “Uncle Fred had to find me with dogs. But no.” Khar Nolo said.” He chuckled. “Thank you for your help. Now all he could do was go with his guts.” “That’s okay. all three ships suddenly disappeared. like not quite remembering a dream. “The galaxy will sleep a little safer tonight. Mr. Fosdick asked with some concern. Howard realized that he should have asked Khar Nolo to take him home. The ship rose into the air. E ditor . But I wish you’d left me the shapeshifting ability. and the other two ships rose behind it.” “What’s that?” Khar Nolo surprised Howard by gripping his antennae with one three-clawed hand. Slatterman?” Ms.” Khar Nolo said. “Huh?” Howard cried. All by itself his body flowed into its normal shape.“Very cool. His head felt right too. like almost knowing a date he needed for a history test. The three children laughed. fearing that he’d chosen the wrong group after all. but he would have had a ride in a real spaceship. What a doofus. Not only would that have gotten him home. 2 3 4 | robert reginald . Knowing how to do it was like having a word at the tip of his tongue.” Khar Nolo agreed. He looked down at his familiar arms and body. but Ms.” “Fear not.
It waved its antennae at them.” Beatrice said. Ms. silly. Your parents are probably back from shopping. Soon the little finger of Mr.” Arthur said. It began to change as if things under the skin were moving. Slatterman’s left hand formed into a cockroach wearing a jerkin made of straps. “Of course it is.“What souvenir did Khar Nolo leave you?” Little Dan asked. Slatterman said. 2 3 5 | robert reginald . “I think we should go home now.” Mr.” Beatrice said. Khar Nolo didn’t entirely take away my ability to shapeshift. Slatterman put both hands into his pockets. “He didn’t leave any souvenir. Fosdick and the three children looked at the finger doubtfully. “It’s just a story.” all three children cried.” “Maybe we should take another look at that rock where Dan says he saw the fossil. “As it turned out. “Of course it isn’t. Fosdick and the children got very quiet. Mr.” “Is it just a story?” Little Dan asked. Ms.” Ms. “Eew. “Tomorrow.” He held up the little finger of his left hand. Fosdick said firmly. E ditor .
Noura pressed the SALVAGE key. from Noura’s view. The staff in the birth cubicle was superbly competent. her fingers going down too hard. Noura. While the machine was cautiously severing the brain’s 2 3 6 | robert reginald . her padded shape warmed to comfort the child. made of an amalgam of plastic and metal. One of the staff slid the gurney on which the sweating. seeming to look directly into Noura’s. too fast. their pseudoflesh fingers agile. Golden hands. their electronic nervous systems incredibly swift. by Ardath Mayhar The infant never breathed. bent forward. The tiny lungs never fluttered. It moved down onto the small head. knew that at times only flesh-and-blood intelligence could step in with necessary insights. and the others closed in about the table on which the child had been placed. closing the features. placing the infant beneath the cupped protrusion. still streaked with birth fluids. exposing the mass of the brain to those ready to link the life-support systems. E ditor . She winced. tensed over her control board in the observation station.THE NEXT GENERATION. exhausted mother lay into the tube leading to PostDelivery. Noura touched another key. and at the instant of severing the eyes went dull. For one instant they stared into the monitor. in her role as observer and representative human being. if it should breathe on its own. Yet Noura. Golden figures moved. There was a Nan on duty. Then the umbilicus was snipped and tied. which opened like a flower to reveal petals of keen metal. her fingers ready over the keyboard. the eyes opened in the blood-streaked face. No blip on the monitors offered any hope. sending the Skull-System down from its position in the oval top of the cubicle. drew the child from its mother’s body. knowing that the blades were slicing away the soft skull like the peel of a fruit.
The woman now recovering from childbirth was the last one of fertile years in all the small remaining enclave of their kind. waiting. watching. Her part was done now. for the thousandth time. shining body came sliding down the delivery tube into the hands of the attendants. to live with pleasure and pain in the bodies they should have. her old joints creaking and painful. and they were grateful for that effortless manner of getting about. instead of plasmoid and metal shells. Noura’s fingers were racing. here in its third millennium of technology. that had doomed its children. She wondered. By the time the leads and the tubes of nourishing fluids were in place. and there would be no more pregnancies for Lisha. It would make her. Noura came to a corner and touched another point on the map. the tiny. Was it the artificial manipulation of viruses? Was it the experimental use of radiation to spur growth and intelligence? 2 3 7 | robert reginald .connections to the dead body of the infant. feel a bit more cheerful. perhaps. and the strip began to move. she would go and observe the School. smoothly. what error her species had made. and she was forty-three. which carried those who lived in the Laboratory Complex wherever they wanted to go. E ditor . This was almost to be considered a wasted effort. The birth had been hard. She rose. and Noura found that she could not sit there. and turned to the Slip. It would be some time before the child would be secured in his new environment. She could recall when human children were born with the ability to breathe on their own. shiny-clean with steel and paint. until that was completed. riding the Slip smoothly around and down another angled branch. No. ordering up the components of the body for this newly salvaged child. slowly. except for the fact that there was one more human mind available to their dwindling complement. along the dim hallways. She could remember when all this had been sparkling new. She touched a button on a map of the interior of the Lab. All were almost as old as she.
The human brain being conditioned over the generations to exist at each step in its development in a body of a certain size. in those long reaches of the night while 2 3 8 | robert reginald . Estil would have been a woman now. always made her feel less despairing. but one hand went up in a shy wave. closing down holo-generators. and it was now a teacher of its younger kindred. Noura saw Estil bending over a youngster who was manipulating shapes and colors into intricate patterns. No matter how alien the School might be. the sight of all those small bodies. Some felt that it was better for their species to die out entirely. playing. stopped immediately. heavy feel of a baby in her arms. Instead. from infant to adult. its gleaming metallic skull reflecting the clean pinkish light. The light in the Schoolroom turned blue. Noura felt a surge of pain rise in her chest. so it could not smile. creating. What did they think. instead of creating what might become a race of monstrous semi-robots. the mutual comfort of physical contact with her own flesh and blood. She remembered the warm. learning. The oldest Salvaged child was now twenty. was a smooth curve with only the eye-cells breaking its symmetry. of course. the milky smell. needing no sleep. putting away tapes and viewers. all sizes from toddler to teenager. They did not object to stopping their play or to going to bed. though once there they lay wakeful. she was a sexless creature cased in a body without sensation. the robot bodies into which the salvaged brains went were made in various dimensions. The dozen children. The face. Bodiless children had no feelings. One of the smaller children glanced up and noticed her face at the window.The Slip came to a halt beside a long rank of windows. There had been a great deal of hesitation before the Elders had agreed to put Salvaged brains into mechanical bodies. Some feared the resulting intelligent and emotionless personality. Noura stepped off and moved to lean against the glass. Even diapers and spit-ups had been worth it. she now knew. shutting off computers. E ditor .
” Then it was gone. E ditor . passed her. nourished with uncontaminated and perfectly formulated nutrients. who came to stand beside her at the window. She had often watched the Schoolroom here in the Labs. and she heard the speaker that was its voice say. “Goodbye. She smiled at Lotta and Wim. straining to recall the name. Noura recalled with sudden intensity a time. One of the toddlers tripped and fell. identified by an orange dot on the upper front of the metal skull. pick its way out of the room. holding small metal hands in their own. Had there ever been that sort of caring among her flesh-andblood schoolmates? She tried to think. mutual understanding. of the thing that made the species work best. eighty years in the past. tenderness. were leading their young away. The small one who had waved. that she didn’t know. and effort had not been a part of the human condition for centuries before her birth. There had been no gentleness there.” she said. she now knew. still long for contact? For love? Noura shivered. She had never seen one of the children assault or tease another or otherwise disrupt the even tenor of life there.” “Goodbye. was slipping smoothly into the hall beside her. “Goodbye. and Orange-dot bent and set it gently onto its feet. did the human brains. She and her peers had been taught to excel. 2 3 9 | robert reginald . cleansed of waste with mechanical efficiency. Now the line of parents. when she had tripped in the schoolroom and a larger boy had taken great delight in stepping onto her outflung hand. a Blue-dot. Perhaps I shall see you tomorrow. cold corridor of misery and competition. watching their nine-year-old. fed exactly the correct amount of oxygen. and she knew that the time had come to return to her terrible task. but her memories of childhood were a long. and those teaching them had lost sight. sliding effortlessly along the corridor amid a light hum of conversation.their parents slept? Noura was grateful. here to take away their young for the evening. In their chilly. unfeeling bodies. Ma’am Noura. Cooperation. Petro. sometimes. The parents.
Those back there in the Schoolroom will carry on. “It is…normal?” “Normal for the present. He had paled. E ditor . she found herself moving along beside Andre. “What sort of world can they shape. the minds are human. They are not distracted by the matters that have made our kind self-centered and aggressive and brutish. When Lisha and those of her age-group are gone. keeping his gaze away from her face. Lisha is alive. though her vital signs were alarming during the delivery. if they manage to survive? Have we sentenced them to a hopeless future that will end in intolerable loneliness and death?” He pulled the cloth gently from her fingers and stepped free of the Slip. “How?” The question came almost as a cry. who once had been her mate. without even hormones and ova?” She caught his robe as he prepared to step off at his own workspace. the demands. She left the Slip at her door and stood staring into space for a 2 4 0 | robert reginald .” Andre’s fingers clenched on his loose robe.” she said. “No. There is no point in going on. He glanced aside and his narrow mouth thinned in a smile. Perhaps they may create a better world. “Whatever their bodies may be like. the unmapped wilderness of the future that must lie before them. though never again will I ask her to undergo this. He was bent—more than she. “For what? And how could they ever carry on the species.In the main corridor again. when their time comes. she noted with satisfaction—and his wrinkled hands were spotted with brown. than our sort ever did. “They are making the transfer now. tell me. But she will recover. “The child—it is born?” he asked her.” Then he was left behind. Have we done a terrible thing to these children? They would be safely dead. It should be finished by the time I return.” She could see his pain in the set of his frail body. “Andre. as Noura slid on toward her own place. out of the stress. without bodies. And she—she was the last woman capable of conceiving. his face going gray. however long they can make it last. the little ones will be on their own.
her warm padding wasted on the chilly shape in her hands. staring about at this untamed world outside the Labs. No hunter had invaded the forest beyond it. Surely they would not work the damage upon it that their ancestors had done. but I wanted you to see it before it is shut away forever. Now that we can create our own sustenance. Her father. Noura. fly across that unpolluted sky. but she had. the exhaust chutes. stood there. Animals we had thought gone forever. Remember. holding her hand and leading her through this unimagined world outside their protecting walls. using the reactors. came. But remember. Even as she moved toward her keyboard and the waiting chair. No plow had broken its soil in many centuries. prowl in the fields. feeling a lifting in her heart.” 2 4 1 | robert reginald . and walk out into the wonder of a planet healed of its wounds and free of the poisons her species had loosed there? She turned. there is no necessity for us to come out into the wild. for it is the world to which our kind was born. the grass as high as her waist. “Here is the child. and it slid into the frame.” said her somewhat metallic voice. We no longer know how to deal with them. The Nan. “Soon we will close the portals permanently. E ditor . Perhaps they would revel in the freedom. indeed. “It is dangerous here now.” The vision fled. iris their round locks open. the ventilators. A memory. no fisherman had dropped his lures into the stream wandering through it for so long that those things might never have happened on this world at all. These children cared. She touched her door. “Ma’am Noura. after their long captivity. taught her daughter about that invisible world beyond the barriers. and tell your children about this. a few generations ago.moment. was speaking to her. She could see it in their interactions in the Schoolroom. now hunt the wood. there came a sound from the door connecting her post to the Birth Cubicle. Was it possible that the young ones in the Schoolroom might one day unseal the portals. She stood in an open field. sharp as a cameo. and there is no need for us to learn.
Noura drew a deep breath. Then she turned and opened her arms. 2 4 2 | robert reginald . allowing the robot to set into them the body of her newborn grandchild. E ditor .
W. And. Bamberger has penned a dozen books.ABOUT THE AUTHORS W. I Would Like to Mention Hydrogen: 11½ Essays and 1½ Stories. and trying at the same time to solve the mysteries and save themselves—and an unexpected next generation. Bamberger mesmerizes”—Robert Reginald. Overhead. and Literature. Essays. C. 173 p. & A J A B A M B E R G E R Aja Bamberger lives and works in southeastern Michigan. in Conclusion. mysterious objects are appearing just beyond our atmosphere. BP. and always interesting. Some say our machines are absorbing us. “Intriguing. some say aliens have come here to commit suicide. 2010. His Borgo Press offerings include: A Llull in the Compass: A Science Fiction Novel. Borgo Press. leaving behind only small stains of glycerin. RORY BA R N E S 2 4 3 | robert reginald . trying to make their way safely through a collapsing world. beguiling. Kzrdock the Onion Man and the Spring Fresh Methuselah. C. A small band of wanderers spins the wheels of a Llull Machine. and deliberately burning themselves to dust as they fall toward earth. Bamberger. This is her first publication with Borgo Press. translated by W. (Wildside Double #17). 2009. People are mysteriously disappearing. The world is running down. 2011. Borgo Press. 2010. Borgo Press. Locust Gleanings: Reviews. 141 p. E ditor . and Other Interregna on Books. Language. 183 p. C . 135 p. by Louis Levy.
(Wildside Double #6). Space Junk is a coming-of-age tale in which true love and survival don’t always walk hand-in-hand. thinks Earth—which her ancestors left centuries ago—is unbelievably primitive—including Ned and his beliefs. slim and pretty. 2010. His fictional works for Wildside Press and Borgo Press include: The Pit and the Pendulum: Five Mystery Stories of “Pit Bull” Peter Geller.au/~rory. com.optusnet. Ned believes the refugees from outer space have been interbreeding with cockroaches the size of dinosaurs. forthcoming. The Dragon Raft: A Young Adult Novel. Together. rolling hills and unblemished mountains and fields of amber grain waving in a light breeze. Earth. Human’s Burden: A Science Fiction Novel. Borgo Press. he and his friend Billy build the raft. the reality—a junk world. 2010. One dark night Wal sets sail into the teeth of a storm. rundown planet. 2 4 4 | robert reginald . the storied vista of green. “Great characters plus a great setting make for a truly great read”—Robert Reginald. 265 p. But Em. a dirty. Borgo Press. Borgo Press. dangerous. with Damien Broderick. His Borgo Press books include: Space Junk: A Science Fiction Novel. E ditor . Wal learns much about his own strengths and weaknesses—and the need to combine his dreams with a clear vision of reality. 2011. Borgo Press. In the wild hours that follow. Earth. 130 p.is an Australian writer (his website is http://members.barnes/). Wal’s a dreamer who wants to escape his parents by sailing away on a raft. 157 p. the fantasy—the place where mankind originated. A grand adventure of storm and sea! JOH N GR E G ORY BETA NCOU RT is a well-known writer and editor.
240 p. Wildside Press. with Linda E. Bushyager. 197 p. 1: The Strange Portrait and Other Stories. 188 p. 2: The Wayward Ship and Other Stories. this novel follows a band of catmen as they prowl the animalform underworld. 228 p. Congress has seized power. 220 p. Forthcoming: 2 4 5 | robert reginald . 2000. he sets out to win his fortune. led by the mysterious figure. 2002. abolished the Presidency. 1999. SYDNEY J. Rememory. A classic science fiction adventure. Bounds. seventeen stories.Pacifica. his fate is sealed. In a near-future America. 2003. Vol. ed. “Johnny Zed. 244 p. Wildside Press. Wildside Press. Ker Orrum longs for a life of magic. and rules by decree. Vowing to challenge the mighty god known as the Blind Archer. When an Oracle tells him of a journal and a gem. This artificial island created in the middle of the Pacific Ocean is designed to feed the starving millions of the world. Johnny Zed. 164 p. Vol. 2001. Dimension of Horror. by Philip Harbottle.” The Blind Archer: A Tale of Zelloque. Wildside Press. Small terrorist cells work toward the restoration of democracy. science fiction novels. BOU NDS (1920-2006) was a wonderfully versatile British author of supernatural stories... Set in the same universe as Johnny Zed. Wildside Press. nine stories. His Wildside Press and Borgo Press books include: The Best of Sydney J. Wildside Press. crime thrillers. 1999. and westerns. E ditor .
Enforce. “If you love animals. Borgo Press. Sword of Damocles. Burgess’s new novel will delight as few stories can. 2009. it’ll keep you glued to the page until the very end. and a budding romance with one special girl on campus. The Girl Hunters. smart and silly. The Cleopatra Syndicate. Borgo Press. Funny and poignant. 398 p. Hell Hath No Fury. Borgo Press. Borgo Press. full of ‘pus and vinegar’. Foreign Assignment. Helping to ease the burden of the constant work and fatigue is the relationship he forms with his new classmates. When a young college student visits an animal emergency clinic during his summer vacation. The World Wrecker. Carla’s Revenge. Borgo Press. Borgo Press. E ditor . and chuckling out loud. Borgo Press. Borgo Press. Borgo Press. he’s captivated by what he sees. Quite simply a great read—and the début of a major talent!”—Robert Reginald. thrilled. Borgo Press. Forthcoming: 2 4 6 | robert reginald . BU RGESS is a veterinarian with a special interest in exotic pets. His books for Borgo Press include: Dog Daze & Cat Naps: A Vet Student’s Odyssey.Boomerang. Mission of the Brains. His adventures—and humorous misadventures—will keep every reader chilled. Borgo Press. Borgo Press. M A R K E. Borgo Press. and vows to become a veterinarian himself. Dragnet. Murder in Space. Thus begins a four-year odyssey of mastering the art and science of healing our four-legged companions.
VICTOR CILINCĂ is a Romanian engineer. Borgo Press. The old woman had wired the entire house for video. MICHAEL R. “The Loneliest Thing in the World. When an elderly recluse dies. Borgo Press. Borgo Press. E ditor . Includes the tales. 2011. But gradually something begins to intrude.” and “The Tale of the Little Fish That Fished a Fisherman. Book Three. At first. Part of a series of military SF stories by various authors about an ongoing conflict between mankind and an alien race. His Borgo Press fictional works include: Static! A Novel of Horror.” “The Little Giant-Tamer. Based on a premise created by Ardath Mayhar. but when the films begin changing without human help.The Battle for Eden: The Human-Knacker War.” “The Tale of the Lying Apothecary. the two men become friends. translated by Petru Iamandi and Richard Wright. COLLINGS is a Professor Emeritus of English at Pepperdine University.” “The Eat-All Dragon.” “The New Year’s Eve.” “A Tale from the Country Where Everything Was Done Eight Times Over. Nick knows that another entity has intruded. 398 p. her nephew inherits her home…plus another house rented by Nick. The newest tale of terror by a major talent! 2 4 7 | robert reginald . Borgo Press. translated by Petru Iamandi and Tom Carter.” Polonius: A Political Farce: A Play in Two Acts. Forthcoming from Borgo Press are two interesting projects: The Little Giant-Tamer: Seven Children’s Fantasy Stories.
Collings is quickly gaining the reputation of a modern master of the classic horror novel. unpleasant life as a half2 4 8 | robert reginald . evaluate the clues left by the killer. one piece missing from each. physically! Even to visit the place challenges fate…and promises horror for everyone there. 102 p. Singer of Lies: A Science-Fantasy Novel. Borgo Press. When Erik is shipwrecked on a forgotten Colony world. one by one—spiritually. “Michael R. E ditor . dangerous. she alone must face its terrors—beginning with 70 boxes of chocolates. Wer Means Man and Other Tales of Wonder and Terror. delivered to the front door every year on St. First-rate!”—Robert Reginald. 241 p. and evil to the core. Borgo Press. Three great stories. The Slab: A Novel of Horror. 196 p. is about to be flooded to create a reservoir. Three Tales of Omne: A Companion to Wordsmith. 309 p. What no one—not even the closest neighbors—grasps is that this house is deadly: dark. Borgo Press. Can Lila escape the spirit that haunts the old place? Or will the curse continue for another generation? A haunting tale of horror! Devil’s Plague: A Mystery Novel. 2010. Shadow Valley. Valentine’s Day: A Novel of Terror. 2010. Sixteen wonderful stories. Victoria. a small. When young Lila Ellis arrives to clear out the old Stevenson place. A Borgo Press bestseller. Borgo Press. 2010. 2011. 149 p. psychologically. 311 p. 2011. he seems compelled to spend a short. Valentine’s Day. Borgo Press. and solve the mystery. When a young woman’s body is found at Porcupine Falls.A Pound of Chocolates on St. consuming those who enter it. 2009. (Wildside Mystery Double #4). isolated farming community. 1066 Oleander Place seems a typical tract house in the California town of Tamarind Valley. it’s up to Lynn and her new friend. to explore the intimacies of death. Borgo Press. (Wildside Double #8).
Borgo Press (Wildside Double). is to become a singer—and not just any singer. Two: The Thousand Eyes of Flame.naked savage. armed with a . Borgo Press (Wildside Double). but a Singer of Lies! Wordsmith: A Science-Fantasy Novel. black Cadillac alone on a dark stretch of highway. E ditor . inspired by a tale by Ross Rocklynne. 263 p. and horror shorts. on a world so sunk into barbarism that its inhabitants have no concept of the wheel. Three people witness the shooting and see the car crash. Borgo Press. fantasy. 2007.38. Donny drives the Southern California freeways. His only possible chance. Several of Cox’s best short stories. 215 p. A masterpiece of modern SF and fantasy. his only hope of becoming one with the Folk. 2009. Vol. But when the police arrive. they find the auto empty of anything save blood…and the horror locked in its trunk. Vol. His first two books are forthcoming from Borgo Press: The Asteroid Murder Case. Borgo Press. Another Collings classic! A RT H U R J EA N COX is a well-known writer of SF. The House Beyond the Hill: A Novel of Horror. published back-toback with The Asteroid Murder Case. A Collector of Ambroses: Curious Tales. JACK DA N N 2 4 9 | robert reginald . 315 p. He finds his victim soon enough—an old. One: The Veil of Heaven. A compelling science fiction mystery novel set in the Asteroid Belt..
2011. This story is a celebration of larger-than-life America and the American dream. 2011. Borgo Press (Wildside Double). and ethical dilemma.is an award-winning writer of SF. 2011. (Wildside Double #9). including crime and SF. Borgo Press. In this marvelous story of high political intrigue. and mainstream novels. (Wildside Double #9). He wrote 180 novels. Decimated. 128 p. of William Randolph Hearst and Horatio Alger. 198 p. Winner of the 1996 Nebula Award! The Diamond Pit. A collection of stories. 118 p. Then he makes an astonishing discovery: Marvia inhabits a completely different plane of existence! A marvelous SF discovery. Borgo Press. VERY nouveau-riche. JOH N RUSSELL FEA R N (1908-1960) sold his first book in 1933. E ditor . Winner of the Ditmar Award! Forthcoming: The Economy of Light / Jubilee. Borgo Press. sees a beautiful woman on his TV who doesn’t speak any known foreign language. a “ham” engineer. His Borgo Press books include: Here and Now. first publication in book form. of the very. Borgo Press (Wildside Double). danger. with George Zebrowski. Chris. His Borgo Press books include: Da Vinci Rising. Leonardo faces the difficult and dangerous consequences of what happens when you try to turn your dreams into reality. adventure. fantasy. Two more high-calibre short SF novels. Imagine what would have happened if Leonardo da Vinci had actually been able to build his fabulous flying machine. 2 5 0 | robert reginald .
240 p. A novel of the many possible lives of Anastasia Stein. 2011. Her Borgo Press books include: Triad. Garden of the Shaped: Shaper’s Legacy #1. 2007. SHEILA FINCH is an award-winning writer of science fiction and fantasy. 2011. Borgo Press. Borgo Press. But not everything is what it seems.000year voyage from which there can be no return—or can there? The Crimson Rambler. Banished to an uninhabitated planet. Borgo Press. Borgo Press. including one alternate reality in which the Third Reich rules England. 212 p. Was it murder by vampire? It certainly appears so. 2007.1. Borgo Press. impossible crime mystery. 240 p. A classic British locked-room mystery that will keep you guessing right up to the very end! The Empty Coffins. The dictator of Earth is exiled with his entourage on a multi-generation. creating new hybrids of humanity. E ditor . It doesn’t get much better than this! What Happened to Hammond?. 180 p. 1.… Another nail-biting British crime novel. with the classic puncture marks on the throat and the empty coffins. Although only women were judged fit for space travel. 2007. Borgo Press. 2011. a group of scientists prepare to live out eternity by experimenting with mankind’s genome. 228 p. Another firstrate British police procedural and locked-room. Why? Infinity’s Web. Borgo Press. 2 5 1 | robert reginald . 207 p.000-Year Voyage. Earth’s Central Computer had for some reason placed a man (an artist) among them on the expedition to the world called Chameleon. 172 p. 2011.
Then Watson comes home to find both his house and father vanished. he sets out to solve the mystery of his father’s disappearance—and also to save the Earth from alien creatures who want to transform the planet’s atmosphere. Watson Congruent’s father runs “Captain Conquer PX. Many years after the events of Captain Conquer. Borgo Press. 288 p. 316 p. Borgo Press. The last of the Shapers faces justice at the hands of their genetic creations. 2007. Watson Congruent’s son. Borgo Press. “A remarkable work”—Gregory Benford. Shaping the Dawn: Shaper’s Legacy #3. want to make Rodney a permanent display in their exhibit. 2011. their sneaky alien competitors.The Shaper’s Exile: Shaper’s Legacy #2. but has also penned Star Trek and other TV and movie tie-in novels. His forthcoming Borgo Press books include: The Return of Captain Conquer. the descendants of man and their genetic creations are becoming one people. 2011. MEL GILDEN is best known as a writer of quality fiction for children and young adults. Only the appearance of the hero himself can save the day! The Planetoid of Amazement. Borgo Press. finds himself traveling through time with Grubber and Drum. With the help of some eccentric Captain Conquer fans. two alien treasure hunters.” selling memorabilia of that long-canceled TV superhero show. Rodney. 600 years after Garden of the Shaped. 2007. 175 p. But Mara and Grits. E ditor . Can Rodney thwart the evil intentions of multiple alien species? PETRU I A M A N DI 2 5 2 | robert reginald .
Borgo Press. Borgo Press. A cosmic adventure in the grand style. translated by Petru Iamandi and Tom Carter. translated by Petru Iamandi. Angel of Death: A Suspense Novel. Thirty-two stories by a well-known Romanian author. by Aurel Stancu. scarcely notice the difference. Texas. translated by Petru Iamandi. young adult fiction. westerns. and the Universe opens to a new dimension—a dimension of information. and much else. His current and forthcoming translations from Borgo Press include: The Little Giant-Tamer: Seven Children’s Fantasy Stories. The signs and portents are all there!: when the destiny of a Universe is about to be fulfilled. by Doru Tătar. translated by Petru Iamandi and Raymond Humphreys. by Victor Cilincă. historicals. 207 p. A posthumous thriller by a Romanian writer. The Praetor and Other Stories. 2 5 3 | robert reginald . A R DAT H M AY H A R writes SF.is an English professor at Dunărea de Jos University of Galaţi. Polonius: A Political Farce: A Play in Two Acts. fantasy. the energy released by the conjunction of a quasar and a black hole suddenly breaks loose. 2007. translated by Petru Iamandi and Richard Wright. Romania. Her 54 Borgo Press books include: The World Ends at Hickory Hollow. 2011. 168 p. the residents of Hickory Hollow. by Victor Cilincă. by Christian Russell. When the bombs fall and Western civilization ends. E ditor . intelligent life and civilizations fill the great void. Top Priority: A Science Fiction Novel.
2 5 4 | robert reginald . as Joel Karsh must fight for survival on a bug factory world. The first tale is a western set in the 1820s’ South. and the second is the third Wash Shipp detective story. much as before. The gentle rhythms of country existence. the sense that the world will continue (with or without us). 2010.They’re already fending for themselves—growing their own food. The Loquat Eyes: More Tall Tales from Cotton County. Slaughterhouse World: A Tale of the Human-Knacker War (#1). all combine for a poignant tale celebrating the best of what it means to be human. In Mayhar’s perceptive eyes. The World Begins in Hickory Hollow. (Wildside Double #7). E ditor . 27 tales from the hand of a master storyteller. The Exiles of Damaria: A Novel of Fantasy. 2010. the joy of living close to the earth. plus several long fairy stories. 2010. 83 p. 188 p. the nature of community itself. A Borgo Press bestseller. Stewart’s classic post-holocaust novel. 2010.”— Robert Reginald. Borgo Press. and trying to figure out why the Knackers are so afraid of the indigeneous fursnakes. 2009. Borgo Press. Borgo Press. 164 p. Crazy Quilt: The Best Short Stories of Ardath Mayhar. Great military SF. helping their neighbors survive. with an introduction by Joe R. Lansdale. Here’s the novel that created the Knackers. 190 p. Borgo Press. “I was reminded constantly of George R. 17 fanciful tales dealing with rural Texas. while rescuing a human woman being used as bait. Texas. keeping their rural life going. 271 p. Borgo Press. The Methodist Bobcat and Other Stories. Born Rebel and The Guns of Livingston Frost: Two Short Novels. Earth Abides. Borgo Press. Thirty-nine of the most entertaining stories by an absolute master of the short form.
an evil creature of the north who has reawakened from his ages-old sleep. 2010. and heart-wrenching sacrifice. “Bet’cha can’t read just one!” ROBERT R EGI NA LD has edited over 1. Mayhar’s fantasy novels. Exiles is filled with well-drawn characters. Borgo Press. (Wildside Double #7).2009. among them: Knack’ Attack: A Tale of the Human-Knacker War. 174 p. who have been influenced by Dinorm. introduction by Robert Reginald. must flee or be killed. The Judgment of the Gods and Other Verdicts of History. There they plan to construct a great ship to ferry them to safety in the Western Isles. He also has penned more than twenty-five books of fiction. The Elder of Days: Tales of the Elders. 332 p. The Ancient Race of enhanced humans in Damaria has been all but destroyed by the New People. More tales of the fantastic from East Texas. The second riveting book in this military SF series. Four fantasy stories of near-immortals. Strange Doin’s in the Pine Hills: Stories. 2011. (Wildside Mystery Double #2). (Wildside Double #8). Riddle the Poet and his nephew Lute (the young heir to the throne). where some of their kin yet remain. 171 p. nailbiting suspense. Two of the remaining survivors. Four mysteries taken from the pages of history. 2 5 5 | robert reginald . E ditor . 174 p. But Dinorm is not yet finished with them—or with the Ancient Race! “The longest and best-realized of Ms. they overcome great danger and implacable enemies to reach temporary shelter in the City in the Mist. Along with the other refugees from the persecutions. Borgo Press.600 volumes in his career. Borgo Press. Absolutely firstrate!”—Robert Reginald. Borgo Press. 2009. 123 p. 2010.
2011. E ditor . 125 p. Borgo Press. 2011. (Wildside Double # 17). 174 p. 219. (Wildside Mystery Double #5). Borgo Press. in press 2011. Academentia: A Future Dystopia. a fantasy trilogy. War of the Worlds. 2 5 6 | robert reginald . A trilogy of military SF novels based around H.Invasion: Earth vs. Wells’s novel. 206 p. The Martians Strike Back! (War of Two Worlds #1-3). The religious right takes over America. A mystery at a paperback con. Borgo Press. The Hypatomancer’s Tale. G. 2011. the Aliens!. The Paperback Show Murders. Operation Crimson Storm. 247.
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