The Galactic Concilium had dealt sternly with such transgressions, which were fortunately few. Nevertheless a remnant of the old "alien invasion" psychosis persisted in human folklore even after the Intervention had opened the way to the stars. Mild manifestations of xenophobia were rather common among human colonists; but not many people carried their prejudice as far as Richard Voorhees.
Fanned by feelings of personal inadequacy, the irrational fears of the child matured into full-blown hatred in the grown man. Richard rejected Milieu service and turned instead to a career as a commercial spacer. There he could pick and choose his shipmates and the ports he visited. Farnum and Evelyn tried to be understanding of their brother's problem; but Richard knew all too well that the Fleet officers secretly looked down upon him. "Our brother the trader," they would say, and laugh. "Well, it's not quite as bad as being a pirate!"
Richard had to pretend to be a good sport about the jibing for more than twenty years, while he worked his way up from spacehand to mate to hired skipper to owner-operator. The day came at last when he could stand at the dock at Bedford Starport and admire the quarter-klom sleekness of CSS Wolverton Mountain, rejoicing that she was his own. The ship had been a VIP speedster, equipped with the most powerful superluminal translator as well as oversized inertialess drivers for slower-than-light travel. Voorhees had the passenger accommodations ripped out and converted her to full-auto express cargo, because that was where the real money was.
He let it be known that there was no journey too long or too dangerous for him to dare, no risk he was not prepared to undertake in the delivery of a rare or desperately needed load anywhere in the galaxy. And the clients came. In the years that followed, Richard Voorhees made the appalling Hub run eight times before the precarious colonies there were abandoned. He burned out four sets of updkm energy-field crystals and nearly fused his own nervous system on a record-breaking run to Hercules Ouster. He carried drugs and life-saving equipment and parts to fix vital machinery. He expedited samples of ores and cultures of suspect organisms from outlying human colonies to the vast laboratories of the Old World. He was able to prevent a eugenic catastrophe on Bafut by rushing in replacement sperm. He had given mild gratification to a dying tycoon by speeding one precious bottle of Jack Daniel's from Earth to the faraway Cumberland System. He had toted just about everything but the serum to Nome and the message to Garcia.
Richard Voorhees became rich and a little famous, underwent rejuvenation, acquired a taste for antique aeroplanes, rare Earth vintages, gourmet goodies, and dancing women, grew a big black mustache, and told his distinguished older brother and sister to go screw themselves.
And then, on a certain day in 2110, Richard sowed the seed of his own ruin.
He was alone as usual on the bridge of Wolverton Mountain, deep in the gray negation of subspace, going balls-up for the isolated Orissa system 1870 light-years south of the Galactic Plane. His cargo was a large and intricate temple of Jagannath, including sacred images and rolling stock, intended to replace a religious complex that had been accidentally destroyed on the Hindu-settled planet. Old World artisans, using tools and ancient patterns now unavailable to their colonial kin, had crafted a perfect replica; but they had taken much too long doing it. Voorhees' contract specified that he had to get the temple and its statuary to Orissa within seventeen days, before the local celebration of Rath Yatra, when the god's effigy was scheduled to be transported in solemn procession from the temple to a summer dwelling. If the ship arrived late and the faithful had to commemorate their holy days without the sacred edifice and images, the shipping fee would be halved. And it was a very large fee.
Voorhees had been confident of meeting the deadline. He programmed the tightest hyperspatial catenary, made sure he had extra dope for the pain of breaking through the superficies on short leash, and settled down to play chess with the guidance computer and trade gossip with the ship's other systems. Wolverton Mountain was completely automated except for her skipper; but Richard had sufficient vestigial social tendencies to program all of the robotics with individual identities and voices, together with input from the scandal sheets of his favorite worlds, jokes, and sycophantic chatter. It helped to pass the time.
"Communications to bridge," said a winsome contralto, interrupting Richard's attack on the computer's queen.
"Voorhees here. What is it, Lily darling?"
"We've intercepted a contemporaneous subspace distress signal," the system said. "A Poltroyan research vessel is dead in the matrix with translator trouble. Navigation is plotting its pseudolocus."
Damn grinning little dwarfs! Probably poking around in their usual busybody way and all the while letting the u-crystals deteriorate without proper maintenance.
"Navigation to bridge."
"That vessel in distress is damn near our catenary, Captain. They're lucky. This slice of the hype doesn't get much traffic."
Richard's fist closed around a chess pawn and squeezed. So now he could go nursemaid the little buggers. And kiss half his commission goodbye, like as not. It would probably take several subjective days to make repairs, considering the fumble-fingeredness of the Poltroyans and the fact that Wolverton Mountain carried only three robot excursion engineers. If it was a ship-full of humans in distress, there'd be no question of heaving to. But exotics!
"I've acknowledged receipt of the distress signal," Lily said. "The Poltroyan vessel is in a state of life-system deterioration. They've been trapped for some time, Skipper."
Oh, hell. He was only two days out of Orissa. The Poltroons could certainly hang on for a few days longer. He could catch them on the flip-flop.
"Attention all systems. Carry on original subspace vector. Communications, cease all external transmissions. Lily, I want you to erase from the log that distress signal and all subsequent inter and intraship communications up to the sound of my mark. Ready? Mark ."
Richard Voorhees made his delivery in time and collected the entire fee from the grateful worshippers of Jagannath.
A Lylmik Fleet cruiser rendered assistance to the Poltroyans at about the same time that Voorhees docked on Orissa. The Poltroyans had less than fifteen hours of oxygen remaining in their life-support system when the rescuers arrived.
The Poltroyans turned their recording of Voorhees initial response to the distress signal over to the Sector Magistratum. When Richard returned to Assawompset, he was placed under arrest on suspicion of violating the Galactic Altruism Statutes, Section 24: "Ethical Obligations of Deep-Space Vessels."
After being convicted of the charge, Richard Voorhees was fined a stupendous sum that wiped out most of his assets. Wolverton Mountain was confiscated and her skipper proscribed from engaging in any aspect of abrogation or interstellar commerce for the rest of his natural lives.
"I think I'll visit the Old World," Richard told his solicitor after the whole thing was over.
"They say you can't beat it as a place to blow your brains out."
Felice Landry sat erect in the saddle on the back of her three-ton verrul, stun-gun cradled in her right arm. She bowed her head in acknowledgment of the cheers. There were nearly fifty thousand fans in the arena for the big game, a splendid turnout for a small planet such as Acadie.
Landry nudged the verrul into a complicated routine of dressage. The hideous beast, resembling a stilt-legged rhino with a ceratopsian neck frill and wicked glowing eyes, minced in and out of the bodies without stepping on a single one. Of an the players on the green-and-white sawdust grid, Landry was the only one still mounted and conscious.
Other verruls in the sideline pens behind the burladero added their trumpeting to the crowd's applause. With casual skill, Felice had her mount pick up the scarlet ring with its nose horn. Then she sent the animal galloping toward the now undefended Whitewing goal, even though there was no longer any need for speed.
" Lan-dree! Lan-dree!" screamed the spectators. It seemed that the young girl and the beast would crash into the cavernous scoop at the end of the field. But just before they were upon it, Landry gave the verrul a sharp crossrein and an unspoken command. The creature wheeled full about, tossing its monstrous head, which was nearly as long as the girl's body. The ring went sailing through the air and entered the scoop dead center. The goal signal lit up and blared in triumph. "Lan-DREEE!"
She held her gun high and shouted back at the mob. Shock waves of orgasm surged through her. For a long minute she could not see, nor did she hear the single deep peal from the referee's bell that marked the end of the game.
As her senses cleared, she condescended to smile at the leaping, gesticulating throng. Celebrate my victory, people-children-lovers. Call my name. But do not press. "Lan- dree!Lan -dreeLan- dree!"
A ref came trotting up with the championship banner hanging at the end of a long lance. She bolstered the stun-gun, took the flag, and raised it up. She and the verrul made a slow circuit of the arena, both of them nodding to the deafening plaudits of Greenhammer and Whitewing fans alike.
There had never been such a season. Never such a championship game. Never before the coming of Felice Landry.
The sports-mad people of "Canadian" Acadie took their ring-hockey very seriously. At first, they had resented Landry for daring to play the dangerous game. Then they had devoured her. Short, slightly built but preternaturally strong of mind and body, with an uncanny ability to control the evil-tempered verrul mounts, Felice had vanquished male players of talent and experience to become a sports idol in her first professional season. She played both offense and defense; her lightning-fast stun coups became a legend; she herself had never fallen.
In this, the last match of the championship series, she had scored eight goals, a new record. With all of her teammates downed in the final period, she had singlehandedly fought off Whitewing's last-ditch assault on the Greenhammer goal. Four stubborn giants of the Whitewing team had bitten the dust before she triumphed and went on to score that last go-to-hell goal.
Applaud. Adore. Tell me I am your queen-mistress-victim. Only stay back.
She guided the verrul toward the players' exit, fragile on the back of the monstrous animal. She wore an iridescent green kilt, and green head plumes on the back-tilted helmet. The once buoyant frizz of her platinum hair now straggled in limp ropes against the shiny black leather of her skimpy hoplite-style cuir bodily armor.
" Lan-dree! Lan-dree!"
Ihave poured myself and discharged myself for you, slaves-eaters-violators. Now let me go.
Small medical carts were scuttling through the passageway toward the arena to bring in the stunned. Felice had to keep firm control of the nervous verrul as she moved toward the Greenhammer ramp. Suddenly there were people all around her, assistants, trainers, verrul grooms, second-string bench-warmers, gofers, and hangers-on. They raised a ragged cheer of greeting and congratulation, tinged with over-familiarity. The heroine among her own.
She gave a tight, regal smile. Someone took the bridle of the verrul and soothed it with a bucket of feed.
"Felice! Felice, baby!" Coach Megowan, hot from the observation booth and still trailing game-plan tapes like a person caught in an old-time ticker tape parade, came pounding down from the upper level of the arena. "You were unbelievable, lovie! Glorious! Pyrotechnic! Kaleidoscope!"
"Here you go, Coach," she said, leaning down from the saddle and passing him the banner. "Our first pennant. But not our last."
The jostling partisans began to shout. "You tell the world. Felice! Say again, sweetie-baby!" The verrul gave a warning growl.
Landry extended a graceful black-gauntleted arm toward the coach, Megowan yelled for somebody to bring a dismounting platform. Grooms steadied the animal while the girl allowed the coach to hand her down. Adulation-joy-pain-nausea. The burden. The need.
She slipped off her Grecian helm with its tall green feathers and handed it to a worshipful female trainer. One of her fellow players, a massive reserve guard, was emboldened by the frenzy of victory.
"Give us a big wet smack, Landry" he giggled, gathering her in before she could sidestep.
An instant later he was spread-eagled against the corridor wall. Felice laughed. A beat later, the others joined in. "Some other time, Benny precious!" Her eyes, brown and very large, met those of the other athlete. He felt as though something had taken him by the throat.
The girl, the coach, and most of the crowd passed on, heading for the dressing rooms where the reporters were waiting. Only the importunate guard was left behind, sliding slowly down the wall to sit, panting quietly, feet stuck out and arms limp at his sides. A medic driving a meat wagon found him there a few minutes later and helped him to his feet. "Jeez, guy . . . and you weren't even in the game!"
With a sheepish scowl, Benny admitted what had happened.
The medical attendant wagged his head in amazement. "You had a lotta nerve making a pass. Sweet-face that she is, that little broad scares me shitless!"
The guard nodded, brooding. "You know? She likes shooting the guys down. I mean, she actually gets her bang from it. Only you can see she'd just as soon the poor sods was dead as snoozing. You grab? She's a freak! A gorgeous, talent-loaded, champion bitch-kitty freak."
The medic made a face. "Why else would a woman play this crazy game? Come on, hero. I'll give you a lift to the infirmary. We've got just the thing for that wonky feeling in your tummy."
The guard climbed onto the cart beside a snoring casualty. "Seventeen years old! Can you imagine what she's gonna be like when she grows up?"
"Jocks like you shouldn't have an imagination. It gets in the way of the game-plan." The medic gunned the cart down the corridor upward the sound of distant laughter and shouting. Outside in the arena, the cheering had stopped.
"Try again, Elizabeth."
She concentrated all of her mind's strength on the projective sense, what there was left of it. Hyperventilating and with heart racing, she strained until she seemed to be floating free of the chair.
Project from the plaque in front of you:
SMILE-GREETING. TO YOU KWONG CHUN-MEI THERAPIST FROM ELIZABETH ORME FARSPEAKER. IF I HAD THE WINGS OF AN ANGEL OVER THESE PRISON WALLS I WOULD FLY. ENDS.
"Try again, Elizabeth."
She did. Again and again and again. Send that ironic little message that she had chosen herself. (A sense of humor is evidence of personality integration.) Send it. Send it.
The door to the booth opened and Kwong came in at last "I'm sorry, Elizabeth, but I still don't get a flicker."
"Not even the smile?"
"I'm sorry. Not yet. There are no images at all, only the simple carrier. Look, dear, why don't we wrap it up for today? The vital-signs monitor has you in the yellow. You really need more rest, more time to heal. You're trying too hard."
Elizabeth Orme leaned back and pressed her fingers to her aching temples. "Why do we keep up the pretense, Chun-Mei? We know there is slightly better than zip probability that I'll ever function as a metapsychic again. The tank did a beautiful job of putting me back together after the accident. No scars, no aberrations. I'm a fine, normal, healthy specimen of female humanity. Normal. And that's all, folks."
"Elizabeth . . ." The therapist's eyes were filled with compassion. "Give yourself a chance. It was almost a complete neo-cortical regeneration. We don't understand why you didn't regain your metafunctions together with your other mental faculties, but given time and work, you may very well recover."
"No one with my sort of injury ever has."
"No," came the reluctant admission. "But there is hope and we must keep trying to get through. You're still one of us, Elizabeth. We want you operant again no matter how long it takes. But you must keep trying."
Keep trying to teach a blind woman to see the three full moons of Denali. Keep trying to teach a deaf woman to appreciate Bach, or a tongueless one to sing Bellini. Oh, yes.
"You're a good friend, Chun-Mei, and God knows you've worked hard with me. But it would be healthier if I just accepted the loss. After all, think of the billions of ordinary people who live happy and fulfilling lives without any metapsychic functions at all I simply must adapt to a new perspective."
Give up the memory of the mind's angel wings lost. Be happy inside the prison walls of my own skull. Forget the beautiful Unity, the synergy, the exultant bridging from world to world, the never-afraid warmth of companion souls, the joy of leading child-metas to full operancy. Forget the dear identity of dead Lawrence. Oh, yes.
Kwong hesitated. "Why don't you follow Czarneki's advice and take a good long vacation on some warm peaceful world? Tuamotu. Riviera. Tamiami. Even Old Earth! When you return we can begin again with simple pictorials."
"That might be just the thing for me, Chun-Mei." But the slight emphasis wasn't lost on the therapist, whose lips tightened in concern. Kwong did not speak, fearing to cause even deeper pain.
Elizabeth put on her fur-lined cloak and peered through the drapes covering the office window. "Good grief, just look how the storm has picked up! I'd be a fool not to grab at a chance to escape this Denali winter. I hope my poor egg will start. It was the only one in the transport pool this morning and it's very nearly ready for the scrap heap."
Like its driver.
The therapist followed Elizabeth Orme to the door and placed one hand on her shoulder in impulsive empathy. Projecting peace. Projecting hope. "You're not to lose courage. You owe it to yourself and to the entire metacommunity to keep on trying. Your place is with us."
Elizabeth smiled. It was a tranquil face with only a few fine lines about the corners of the eyes, stigmata of deep emotion subsequent to the regeneration that had restored her broken forty-four-year-old body to the perfection of young adulthood. As easily as a crayfish grows new limbs, she had grown new cells to replace smashed arms and rib cage and pelvis, lungs and heart and abdominal organs, shattered bone and gray matter of her skull and forebrain. The regeneration had been virtually perfect, so the doctors had said. Oh, yes.
She gave the therapist's hand a gentle squeeze. "Goodbye, Chun-Mei. Until the next time."
Never, never again.
She went out into the snow, ankle-deep already. The illuminated office windows of the Denali Institute of Metapsychology made squarish golden patterns on the white quadrangle. Frank, the custodian, gave her a wave as he plied a shovel along the walk. The melting system must have broken down again. Good old Denali.
She would not be coming back to the Institute where she had worked for so many years, first as a student, then as counseling farspeaker and redactor, finally as patient. The continuing pain of deprivation was more than her sanity could bear, and Elizabeth was basically a practical woman. It was time for something completely different.
Filled with purpose, clutching the hood of her cloak closely about her head, she headed for the egg park. As was her custom now, she moved her lips as she prayed.
"Blessed Diamond Mask, guide me on my way to Exile."
Admitting the Human race to the Galactic Milieu in advance of its sociopolitical maturation had been risky. Even after the first metaphysic human threat to Milieu security had been put down by the venerated Jack and Illusio, there persisted stubborn evidence of humanity's original sin.
People such as Aiken Drum.
Aiken was one of those peculiar personalities who drive behavior modification specialists to distraction. He was normally chromosomed. His brain was undamaged, undiseased, and of superior intelligence quotient. It was crammed with latent metafunctions that might, in due time, be coaxed into operancy. His childhood nurturing on the newly founded colony of Dalriada was no different from that of the other thirty thousand nonborns who were engendered from the sperm and ova of carefully selected Scottish forebears.
But Aiken had been different from the rest of the batch. He was a natural crook.
Despite the love of surrogate parents, the devotion of skilled teachers, and the inevitable corrective courses administered almost continuously throughout his stormy adolescence, Aiken stubbornly dung to his destined path of knavery. He stole. He lied. He cheated when he felt he could get away with it. He took joy in breaking the rules and was contemptuous of peers with normal psychosocial orientation.
"The subject Aiken Drum," summarized his personality inventory, "displays a fundamental dysfunction in the imaginative sense. He is essentially flawed in his ability to perceive the social and personal consequences of his own actions and is self-centered to a deleterious degree. He has proved resistant to all techniques of moral impression."
But Aiken Drum was charming. And Aiken Drum had a roguish sense of humor. And Aiken Drum, for all his rascal ways, was a natural leader. He was clever with his hands and ingenious in dreaming up new ways to outrage the established order, so his contemporaries tended to view him as a shadow hero. Even Dalriada's adults, harried by the awesome task of raising an entire generation of test-tube colonists to populate an empty new world, had to laugh at some of his enormities.
When Aiken Drum was twelve, his Ecology Corps crew was charged with the cleanup of a putrefying cetacean carcass that had washed up on the beach of the planet's fourth-largest settlement. Saner heads among the children voted for bulldozing the twenty-ton mess into the sand above high-tide level. But Aiken convinced them to try a more spectacular means of disposal. So they had blown up the dead whale with plastic explosive of Aiken's concoction. Fist-sized gouts of stinking flesh showered the entire town, including a visiting delegation of Milieu dignitaries.
When Aiken Drum was thirteen, he had worked with a crew of civil engineers, diverting the course of a small waterfall so that it would help feed the newly completed Old Man of the Mountain Reservoir. Late one night, Aiken and a gang of young confederates stole quantities of cement and conduit and modified the rocks at the rim of the falls. Dawn on Dalriada revealed a passable simulacrum of gigantic male urogenital organs, taking a leak into the reservoir forty meters below.
When Aiken Drum was fourteen, he stowed his small body away on a luxury liner bound for Caledonia. The passengers were victimized by thefts of jewelry, but monitors showed that no human thief had entered their rooms. A search of the cargo deck revealed the young stowaway and the radio-controlled robot "mouse" he had sent foraging, programmed to sniff out precious metals and gemstones that the boy calmly admitted he planned to fence in New Glasgow.
They sent him home, of course, and the behaviorists had still another shot at redirecting Aiken's errant steps toward the narrow road of virtue. But the conditioning never took.
"He breaks your heart," one psychologist admitted to another. "You can't help but like the kid, and he's got a brilliantly inventive mind in that troll body of his. But what the hell are we going to do with him? The Galactic Milieu just has no niche for Till Eulenspiegel!"