She took his face in both hands and kissed him. "I know why you have to go, Blue Eyes. But I've also seen your PS profile. The squiggles in it have nothing to do with heredity, whatever you may think. Given another nurturing situation, you would have turned out fine, laddie."
"Animal. He called me a murdering little animal," Stein whispered.
She rocked him again. "He was hurt terribly when she died, and be couldn't know you understood what he was saying. Try to forgive him, Steinie. Try to forgive yourself."
The deep-driller began to lurch violently as massive eruptions of gas rose from Stromboli's guts. They decided to get the hell out of there before the sigma-field heat shields gave way, and burrowed out of the lava chamber via an extinct underwater vent. When they finally emerged on the floor of the Mediterranean west of the island, the driller's hull clanged and pinged with the sounds of rocks falling through the water.
They rose to the surface and came into a night of mad melodrama. Stromboli was in eruption, farting red and yellow fire clouds and glowing chunks of lava that arched like skyrockets before quenching themselves in the sea.
"Holy petard," said Georgina. "Did we do that?"
Stein grinned at her owlishly as the driller rocked on steaming waves. "You wanna try for continental drift?" he asked, reaching for her.
Richard Voorhees took the Express Tube from Unst to Paris to Lyon, then rented a Hertz egg for the last part of his journey. His earlier notion of eating and drinking and screwing his way across Europe and then jumping off an Alp had been modified when a fellow passenger on the liner from Assawompset happened to mention the odd Earth phenomenon of Exile.
That, Richard knew instantly, was just the kind of reprieve he needed. A new start on a primitive world full of human beings with no rules. Nothing to bug you but the occasional prehistoric monster. No green Leakie-Freakies, no dwarf Polli-wogs, no obscene Gi, no glaring Krondaku making you feel like your nightmares just came true, and especially no Lylmik.
He started pulling the strings as soon as he got out of decon and was able to get to a teleview. Most Exile candidates applied months in advance through their local PS counselors and took all the tests before they ever left home. But Voorhees, the old operator, knew that there had to be a way of expediting matters. The magic passkey had come via a big Earthside corporation for which he had done a delicate job less than a year ago. It was to the advantage of both the corporation and the ex-spacer that he exit the here and now as soon as possible; and so with scarcely any arm-twisting at all, the outfit's XT-Operations agreed to use his good offices to convince the people at the auberge to let Richard take abbreviated tests right there at the starport, then proceed directly to Go.
This evening, however, as he glided out of the Rhône Valley toward the Monts du Lyonnais, he still admitted to a few qualms. He landed at Saint-Antoine-des-Vignes just a few kilometers from the inn and decided to have one last meal on free turf. The August sun had dropped behind the Col de la Lucre and the resolutely quaint village drowsed in leftover heat. The café was small but it was also dim and cool and not, thank God, too cutesy atmospheric for comfort. As he ambled in, he noted approvingly that the Tri-D was off, the musicbox played only a subdued, jangling tune, and the smells of food were incredibly appealing.
A young couple and two older men, locals by the look of their agrigarb, sat at window tables wolfing large plates of sausage and bowls of salad. On a stool at the bar sat a huge blond man in a glossy suit of midnight nebulin. He was eating a whole chicken prepared with some pinkish sauce and washing it down with beer from a two-liter pewter tankard. After hesitating for a moment, Richard went and took another stool.
The big fellow nodded, grunted, and kept feeding his face. From the kitchen came the proprietor, a jolly pot-bellied man with a heroic aquiline nose. He beamed a welcome to Voorhees, spotting him as an offworlder immediately.
"I have heard," Richard said carefully, "that the food in this part of Earth is never prepared with synthetics."
The host said, "We'd sooner gastrectomize than insult our bellies with algiprote or biocake or any of the rest of that crap-diddle. Ask any gorf in the place."
"Say again, Louie!" cackled one of the oldsters at the window, hoisting a dripping hunk of sausage on his fork.
The proprietor leaned on the counter with hands palm down. "This France of ours has seen a lot of change. Our people are scattered over the galaxy. Our French language is dead. Our country is an industrial beehive underground and a history buff's Disneyland on top. But three things remain unchanged and immortal, our cheeses, our wines, and our cuisine! Now, I can see that you've come a long way." The man's eyelid drooped in a ponderous wink. "Like this other guest here, maybe you still have a ways to go. So If you're looking for a really cosmic meal, well, we're a modest house, but our cooking and our cellar are four-star if you can pay for it."
Richard sighed. "I trust you. Do it to me."
"An aperitif, then, which we have chilled and ready! Dom Pérignon 2100. Savor it while I bring you a selection of whimsies to whet your appetite."
"Is that champagne?" the chicken muncher asked. "In that little bitty bottle?"
Richard nodded. "Where I come from, a split of this will set you back three centibux."
"No shit? How far out you be, guy?"
"Assawompset. The old Assawomp-hole of the universe, we call it. But don't you try."
Stein chortled around his chicken. "I never fight with a guy till I meet him formal."
The host brought a napkin with two small pastries and a little silver dish full of white steaming lumps. "Brioche de foie gras, croustade de ris de veau a la financière, and quenelles de brochet au beurre d'ecrevisses. Eat! Enjoy!" He swept out.
"Financier, huh?" muttered Richard. "There's a good epitaph." He ate the pastries. One was like a cream puff stuffed with delicious spiced liver. The other seemed to be a fluted tart shell filled with bits of meat, mushrooms, and unidentifiable tidbits in Madeira sauce. The dish with white sauce consisted of delicate fish dumplings.
"This is delicious, but what am I eating?" he asked the host, who had emerged to take the credit cards of the local diners.
"The brioche is filled with goose liver pâté. The tart has a slice of truffle, braised veal sweetbread, and a garnish of tiny chicken dumplings, cock's combs, and kidneys in wine sauce. The pike dumplings are served in creamy crayfish butter."
"Good God," said Richard.
"I have an outstanding vintage coming up with the main course. But first, grilled baby lamb filet with little vegetables, and to set it off, a splendid young Fumé from the Chateau du Nozet."
Richard ate and sipped, sipped and ate. Finally the host returned with a small chicken like that which Stein had lately devoured. "The speciality of the house, Poularde Diva! The most adolescent of young pullets, stuffed with rice, truffles, and foie gras, poached and coated with paprika supreme sauce. To accompany it, a magnificent Chateau Grillet."
"You're kidding!" Richard exclaimed.
"It never leaves the planet Earth," the host assured him solemnly. "It rarely leaves France. Get this behind your uvula guy, and your stomach'll think you died and went to heaven." Once again he whirled out.
Stein gaped. "My chicken tasted good," he ventured. "But I ate it with Tuborg."
"To each his own," Richard said. After a long pause for attending to business, he wiped pink sauce off his mustache and said, "You figure somebody on the other side of the gate will know how to brew up some good booze?"
Stein's eyes narrowed. "How you know I'm goin' over?"
"Because you couldn't look less like some colonial gorf visiting the Old Country. You ever thought about where your next bucket of suds is coming from in the Pliocene?"
"Christ!" exclaimed Stein.
"Now me, I'm a wine freak. As much as I could be, dragging my ass all over the Milky Way. I was a spacer. I got busted. I don't wanta talk about it. You can call me Richard. Not Rick. Not Dick. Richard."
"I'm Steinie." The big driller thought for a minute. "The stuff they sent me about this Exile told how they let you sleep-learn any simple technology you think would be useful in the other world. I don't remember if it was on the list, but I bet I could cram brewing easy. And the hard sauce, you can make that outa just about anything. Only tricky bit would be the condensation column, and you could whip that up outa copper-film decamole and hide it in your hollow tooth if they didn't wanta let you in with it on the up. You with your wine, though, you might have a problem. Don't they use special grapes and stuff?"
"Don't they fuggin' ever," said Richard gloomily, squinting through the glass of Grillet. "I suppose the soil would be different back then, too. But you might be able to come up with something halfway decent. Let's see. Grapevine cuttings of course, and definitely yeast cultures, or you'd end up with moose pee for sure. And you'd have to know how to make some kind of bottles. What did they use before glass and plass?"
"Little brown jugs?" Stein suggested.
"Right. Ceramic. And I think you can make bottles outa leather if you heat and mold it in water, Christ! Will you listen to me? The hung spacer carving out a new career as a grape-squash moonshiner."
"Could you get a recipe for akvavit?" Stein was wistful. "It's just neat alcohol with a little caraway seed. I'll buy all you can make." He did a double take. "Buy? I mean barter, or something . . . Shit. You think there'll be anything civilized waiting for us?"
"They've had nearly seventy years to work on it."
"I guess it all depends," Stein said hesitantly.
Richard grunted. "I know what you're thinking. It all depends on what the rest of the fruitcakes have been up to all this time. Have they got a little pioneer paradise going, or do they spend their time scratching fleas and carving each other's tripes out?"
The host came up with a dirty old bottle, which he cradled like a precious child. "And here . . . the climax! But it'll cost you. Chateau d'Yquem '83, the famous Lost Vintage of the Metapsychic Rebellion year."
Richard's face, furrowed with old pain, was suddenly transformed. He studied the tattered label with reverence. "Could it still be alive?"
"As God wills," shrugged mon hôte. "Four point five kilo-bux the bottle."
Stein's mouth dropped. Richard nodded and the host began to draw the cork.
"Jeez, Richard, can I hit you for a little taste? I'll pay if you want. But I never had anything that cost so much."
"Landlord, three glasses! We will all drink to my toast."
The host sniffed the cork hopefully, gave a beatific smile, then poured three half-glasses of golden-brown liquid that sparkled like topaz in the lantern light.
Richard lifted his glass to the other two.
A man may kiss his girl goodbye.
A rose may kiss the butterfly.
A wine may kiss the crystal glass.
But you, my friends, may kiss mine ass!
The ex-spacer and the cafe proprietor closed their eyes and sampled the wine. Stein tossed his down in one gulp, grinned, and said, "Hey! It tastes like flowers! But not much sock to it, is there?"
Richard winced. "Bring my buddy here a crock of eau de vie. You'll like that, Steinie. Sort of akvavit without the seeds . . . You and I, landlord, will continue to bless our tonsils with the Sauternes."
So the evening wore on, Voorhees and Oleson told each other edited versions of the sad stories of their lives while the proprietor of the café clucked in sympathy and kept refilling his own glass. A second bottle of Yquem was called for and then a third. After a while, Stein bashfully told them what Georgina's other farewell presents had been. His new friends demanded that he model them; so he went out into the darkened egg park, got the stuff from the boot, and stalked back into the café resplendent in a wolfskin kilt, a wide leather collar and belt studded with gold and amber, a bronze Vikso helmet, and a big steel-bladed battle-axe.
Richard toasted the Viking with the last of the Chateau d'Yquem, which he chugalugged from the bottle.
Stein said, "The horns on the helmet were really like ceremonial, Georgina said. Vikings didn't wear 'em in battle. So these are demountable."
Richard giggled. "You look perfeck, Steinie ole rascal! Jus' perfeck! Bring on th'mashtodons 'n' dinosaurs 'n' whatall. All they hafta do's look at you and they'll piss blue." His face changed. "Why din' I bring a costume? Everybody goes back in time needs a costume. Why din' I think? Now I'll hafta go through the time-gate in fuggin' civvies. Never did have no class, Voorhees, dumb damn Dutchman. No fuggin' class never."
"Aw, don' be sad, Richard," begged the caféman. "You don't wanna spoil yer meal 'n' lovely wine." His beady eyes lit with an expression of drunken craft. "Got it! There's guy in Lyon runs the flickin' opera. Comes up here 'n' eats himself shtooperuss. An' this guy's au ciel du cochon over one kinda wine, 'n' I gotta whole case you c'd use t'bribe 'em if y'could stan' the tab. They got any kinda, costume y'd want at the opera. Merde alors, it's not even two hunnerd hours yet! Guy might not even be 'n bed! What say?"
Stein whacked his new buddy on the back and Voorhees clutched the edge of the bar. "Come on, Richard! I'll pop for halvsies!"
"I c'd call the guy up ri' now," said the smirking host. "Bet he'd meetcha at the oper'house."
So they did work it out, and in the end Stein piloted the egg with the half-conscious Richard and a case of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild '95 down to the Cours Lafayette of sleeping Lyon, where a furtive figure guided them into the parking subway and then through a maze of turned-off walkways to the opera's backstage rooms and costumery.
"That one," Richard said at last, pointing.
"So! Der fliegende Hollander!" said the impresario. "Never would have pegged you for that one, guy."
He helped Richard to put on the seventeenth-century garb, which included a rich black doublet with slashed sleeves and a wide lace collar, black breeches, funnel-top boots that folded over, a short cape, and a wide-brimmed hat with a black plume.
"By damn, that's more like it!" Stein whacked Richard on the back. "You make a pretty good pirate. So that's what you're like deep down inside, huh? A reg'lar fuckin' Blackbeard?"
"Black Mushtash ," said Voorhees. He collapsed, out cold.
Stein paid off the impresario, flew them back to the darkened cafe to transfer Richard's luggage from the rented egg, and then hopped it for L'Auberge du Portail. By the time they got there, the ex-spacer had revived.
"Let's have another drink," Stein suggested. "Try my oh-dee-vee."
Richard took a swallow of the raw spirit. "Not mush bouquet . . . but consider'ble authority!"
The two costumed roisterers went singing through the rose garden and pounded on the oaken door of the inn with the blunt side of Stein's battle-axe.
The staff responded unperturbed. They were used to having clients arrive in a more or less fuddled condition. Six powerful attendants took charge of the Viking and Black Mustache, and in no time at all they were snoring between lavender-scented sheets.
Felice Landry and the psychosocial counselor strolled into the flagged courtyard of the auberge, down an open passage, and into an office that looked out at the fountain and flowers. The room had been copied from the study of a fifteenth-century abbess. The stone fireplace with its bogus coat of arms had a huge bouquet of scarlet gladioli fanned between dog-headed andirons.
"You've come such a long way, Citizen Landry," said the counselor. "It's a pity that your application has encountered such difficulties."
He leaned back in the carved chair, forming a church-and-steeple with his fingers. He had a pointed nose, a perpetual half-smile, and tightly curled black hair with a flashy white blaze in front. His eyes were wary. He had read her profile. Still, she looked docile enough in that gray-blue gown, twisting her poor little fingers in anxiety.
Kindly, he said, "You see, Felice, you're really very young to be contemplating such a serious step. As you may know, the first custodian of the time-portal", he nodded to an oil portrait of the sainted Madame that hung above the fireplace, "set a minimum age of twenty-eight years for her clients. Now, we may agree today that Angélique Guderian's restriction was arbitrary, based upon antiquated Thomistic notions of psychomaturation. But nevertheless, the basic principle does remain quite valid. Fully formed judgement is essential for life-and-death decisions. And you are eighteen. I'm sure you are far more mature than most persons of your age, but nevertheless, it would be prudent to wait a few more years before opting for Exile. There is no return, Felice."
I am harmless and afraid and small. I am in your power and I need your help so badly and would be so grateful. "You've studied my profile, Counselor Shonkwiler. I'm rather a mess."
"Yes, yes, but that can be treated, Citizen!" He leaned forward and took her cool hand. "We have so many more facilities here on Earth than were available on your home planet Acadie is so remote! It's hardly to be expected that the counselors out there would have the latest therapy techniques. But you could go to Vienna or New York or Wuhan, and the top people would certainly be able to smooth out your little SM problem and the male-envious hyperaggression. There would be only the smallest bit of personality derangement. You would be quite as good as new when the course of treatment was finished."
The melting and submissive brown eyes began to brim up. "I'm sure you have only my best interests at heart, Counselor Shonkwiler. But you must try to understand." Pity, aid, empathize, condescend to help the pathetic little ones "I prefer to remain the way I am. That's why I've refused treatment. The thought of other persons manipulating my mind, changing it, fills me with the most dreadful fear. I just couldn't permit it!"
I wouldn't permit it.
The counselor moistened his lips and suddenly realized that he was stroking her hand. He gave a start, dropped it, and said, "Well, your psychosocial problems wouldn't ordinarily preclude transfer into Exile. But besides your youth, there is the second matter. As you are aware, the Concilium does not permit persons having operant metapsychic powers to pass into Exile. They are too valuable to the Milieu. Now, your tests show that you are possessed of latent metafunctions with coercive, psychokinetic, and psychocreative potentials of extremely high magnitude. No doubt these were partly responsible for your success as a professional athlete."
She showed a smile of regret, then slowly dropped her head so that the now limp platinum hair curtained her face. "That's all over now. They wouldn't have me any longer."
"Quite so," said Shonkwiler. "But if your psychosocial problems were successfully dealt with, it might be possible for the people at the MP Institute to bring up your latent abilities to operant status. Think what that would mean! You would become one of the elite of the Milieu, a person of vast influence, a literal world shaker! What a noble career you might have, spending yourself in service to a grateful galaxy. You might even aspire to a role in the Concilium!"
"Oh, I could never think of doing that. It's frightening to think of all those minds . . . Besides, I could never give up what I am. There must be a way for me to put through the time-portal, even if I am underage. You must help me find the way, Counselor!"
He hesitated. "The recidivist clause might have been invoked if the unfortunate MacSweeney and Barstow had elected to press charges. There is no age restriction for recidivists."
"I should have thought of that myself!" Her smile of relief was dazzling. "Then it's all so simple!"
She rose and came around to Shonkwiler's side of the desk. Still smiling, she took both his shoulders in her cool little hands, pressed with the thumbs, and snapped his collarbones.
Cicadas buzzed in the branches of the old plane trees that shaded the dining terrace. The scent of mignonette distilled from the gardens in the noontime heat and mingled with the perfume of the roses. Elizabeth Orme toyed with her fruit salad and drank minted iced tea while she marveled over the list that slowly glided over the surface of the plaque-book before her.
"Will you listen to these vocations, Aiken? Architect, Daub-and-Wattle. Architect, Log. Architect, Unmortared Stone. Bamboo Artificer. (I didn't know bamboo grew in Europe during the Pliocene!) Baker. Balloonist. Basketmaker. Beekeeper. Brewer. Candle and Rushlight Maker. Ceramicist. Charcoal-burner. Cheesemaker. Dompteur (-euse) . . . What in the world is that, do you suppose?"
Aiken Drum's black eyes flashed. He leapt to his feet, reddish golliwog hair abristle, and cracked an imaginary whip. "Hah, sabertooth kittycat! Down, sirrah! So you defy the commands of your master? Roll over! Fetch! . . . Not the ringmaster, you fewkin' fool!"
Several of the nearby lunchers gawked. Elizabeth laughed. "Or course. Wild-animal tamers would be very useful in the Pliocene. Some of those large antelopes and things would be valuable if they could be domesticated. Still, I wouldn't want to tackle a mastodon or rhino on the strength of a quickie sleep-course in the art."
"Oh, the people here will do better than that for you, candy-doll. What happens is, you sleep-soak a very basic education in neolithic technology and general survival. Then you'll at least have the wits to dig a latrine that won't swallow you whole, and you'll know what Pliocene fruits aren't going to send you pushing up the daisies. After you sop up the basics, you pick one or more of the japes on that little list to specialize in. They give you a detailed sleeper on it, and lab work, and reference plaques for the tricky bits."
"H'mm," she mused.
"I imagine they try to steer you into a field that isn't already overcrowded. I mean, the folks on the other side of the gate would be apt to get testy if you sent 'em eighty-three lutanists and a taffy puller, when what they really wanted was somebody who knew how to make soap."
"You know, that's not really so funny, Aiken. If there is any kind of organized society on the other side, they'd be entirely dependent on the gate operators to send suitably trained people. Because the women timefarers are sterile, there'd be no young apprentices to replace workers who died or just wandered away. If your settlement lost its cheesemaker, you'd just have to eat crud and whey until another one popped through the gate."
Drum finished his iced tea and began to chew the cubes. "Things can't be too shabby in Exile. People have been going through since 2041. The vocational guidance thing hasn't been perking for anything like that long, just the last four years or so, but the older inmates of the nut-loft must have got something going." He thought for a minute. "Figure that most of the ones who went through were macroimmune and maybe even rejuvenated, since that was perfected in the early Forties. Barring the expected attrition from accidents, getting eaten by monsters, emigration to the Pliocene Antipodes, or just plain human bloody-mindedness, there ought to be quite a crowd still knocking around. Eighty, ninety thou easy. And like as not with a barter-style economy operating. Most of the time-travelers were damn intelligent."
"And crackers," said Elizabeth Orme, "even as thee and me."
She made an unobtrusive gesture toward an adjoining table, where a great blond man in a Viking outfit drank beer with a saturnine, well-used wayfarer in floppy seaboots and a ruffled black shirt.
Aiken rolled his eyeballs, looking more gnomish than ever. "Do you think that's weird? Wait till you see my rig-out, lovie!"
"Don't tell me. A Highland lad with bagpipe and tartan and a sporran full of exploding joints."
"Pissy patoot, woman. You certainly were telling the truth when you said your mind-reading powers were washed up. Ah-ah-ah! Don't plead with me! It's going to be a big surprise. What I will tell you now is my chosen vocation for the Land of No Return. I am going to be a Jack-of-all-trades. Scottish-style Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court! . . . And how about you, my beautiful burned-out brain-bender?"
Elizabeth's smile was dreamy. "I don't think I'll take a new persona. I'll just stay me, maybe in red denim, and wear my farspeaker's ring with one of Blessed Illusio's diamonds in remembrance of times past. As for the vocation . . ." She speeded up the book so that the list of occupations raced past, then turned back to the beginning. Her brow furrowed in concentration. "I'll need more than one trade. Basketmaker, Charcoalburner, Tanner. Put them all together, add one more that begins with B . . . and guess my new profession, Aiken Drum."
"Balls o'brass, woman," he howled, slapped a hand on the table delightedly. The Viking and the pirate stared in mild surprise. "A balloonist! Oh, you lovely lady. You'll soar again in one way or another, won't you, Elizabeth?"
There was a soft chime. A disembodied woman's voice said, "Candidates in Group Green, we would be most pleased if you would join Counselor Mishima in the Petit Salon, where a most interesting orientation program has been arranged for you . . . Candidates in Group Yellow . . ."
"Green. That's us," said Aiken. The pair of them drifted into the main building of the inn, all whitewashed stone, dark heavy beams, and priceless objects of art. The Petit Salon was a cozy air-conditioned chamber furnished with brocaded armchairs, fantastically carved armoires, and a faded tapestry of a virgin and her unicorn. This was the first time that the group, which was destined to pass through the time-portal in a body after five days' training, had come together. Elizabeth studied her fellow misfits and tried to guess what exigencies had driven them to choose Exile.
Waiting for them in the otherwise empty room was a lovely pak-haired child in a simple black cheongsam. Her chair was separated from the others by a couple of meters. One of her slender wrists was fastened to the heavy chair arm by a delicate silver chain.
The pirate and the Viking glanced in, looking bashful and truculent because nobody else was yet in costume. They clomped forward and sat down precisely in the center of the row of seats. Another pair that seemed acquainted entered without speaking, a milkmaid-hale woman with curly brown hair, wearing a white coverall, and a stocky man who appeared to be middle-aged, having a snub nose, Slavic cheekbones, and corded hairy forearms that looked able to throttle an ox. A quasi-academic personage in an antique Harris jacket arrived last of all, carrying a briefcase. He looked so self-possessed that Elizabeth found it impossible to imagine what his problem might be.
Counselor Mishima, tall and sleek, came in beaming and nodding. He expressed his delight at their presence and hoped they would enjoy the introduction to Pliocene geography and ecology that he was pleased to present at this time.
"We have among us a distinguished person far more knowledgeable in paleoecology than I," the counselor said, bowing low to the Slavic type. "I would appreciate his interrupting me should my little lecture require correction or embellishment."
Well, that explains him, Elizabeth thought. A retired paleontologist bent on touring the fossil zoo. And the dolly on the leash is a recidivist whacko, a few stripes blacker than poor Aiken, no doubt. The boys in fancy dress are your obvious anachronistic losers. But who is the White Lady? And the Thinking Man who wears tweeds in August?
The room light faded and the tapestry rose to reveal a large holograph screen. There was music. (Lord Jesus, thought Elizabeth. Not Stravinsky!) The screen went from black to living Tri-D color in an orbiter's view of Pliocene Earth, six million years, give or take a few, backward in time.
In a long shot, it looked pretty familiar. But then the lens zoomed in.
Mishima said, "The continents, you will observe, are in their approximate modern positions. However, their outlines have an unfamiliar aspect, primarily because shallow epicontinental seas still covered some areas, while others, now lying underwater, Were then dry land."
The globe rotated slowly and stopped when Europe was well positioned. The lens zoomed in closer and closer.
"You will all be furnished with a set of durofilm maps, small-scale for the entire Lower Pliocene Earth, one-to-seven-million of Europe, and one-to-one-million of France. Should you plan an excursion to other parts of the world or simply have an interest in them, we will do our utmost to provide you with suitable maps or marine charts."
"How accurate will they be?" asked the pirate.
"Extremely so, we believe." Mishima's response was smooth. "The Pliocene being one of the most recent geological epochs, our computers have been able to map its topography with an accuracy that must approach eighty-two percent. The areas most speculatively derived include fine details of the littoral, minor watercourses, and certain aspects of the Mediterranean Basin."
He began to show them close up views of different areas, all in vivid relief and supplemented by an outline overlay of the modern landform.
"The British Isles are fused into a single very large mass, Albion, which is probably joined by a narrow isthmus to Normandy. The Low Country area is submerged by the Anversian Sea, as is northwestern Germany. Fennoscandia is an unbroken unit, as yet unsundered by the Baltic. Poland and Russia are strewn with swamps and lakes, some quite large. Another great body of fresh water lies southwest of the Vosges in France, and there are large Alpine lakes . . ."
To the east, the land looked almost completely unfamiliar. A brackish lagoon, the Pannonian Basin, covered Hungary and drained through the Iron Gate and the Dacian Strait to a shallow remnant of the once dominant Tethys Sea, also called Lac Mer. This spread swampy lagoons and salt water far into Central Asia and northward to the iceless Boreal Ocean. In years to come, only the Aral and the Caspian Seas would remain as souvenirs of the vanished Tethys.
"Note also that the Euxinic Basin, which will someday become the Black Sea, is also fresh water. It is fed by the towering ranges of Caucasia, Anatolia, and the Helvetides to the west. A vast swamp occupies the area of the modern Sea of Marmara. Below this is Lake Levant, roughly corresponding to the Aegean Sea of today."
"The Med looks pretty mixed up to me," the Viking observed. "In my line of work I had to know something about the crazy geology of that region It seems to me you gotta be doing a whole lotta guessing to come up with that layout there."
Mishima acknowledged the point. "There are problems connected with the chronology of the successive Mediterranean inundations. We believe this configuration is most plausible for the early Pliocene. Please observe that the now vanished peninsula of Balearis juts eastward from Spain. There is a single narrow island in place of modern Corse and Sardegna. Italy during that time has only its Apennine spine above sea level, together with an unstable southern area called Tyrrhenis, which once was much larger but now is sinking."
He gave them a closer view of western Europe.
"This is the region that should be of immediate interest to you. The Rhône-Saône Trough contains a great river, draining swamps north of Switzerland and the large Lac de Bresse. The lower Rhône Valley of Pliocene times was probably invaded by the Mediterranean. Many of the volcanoes in the Massif Central were active, and there was also vulcanism in Germany, Spain, central Italy, and in the subsiding Tyrrhenian area. Farther north in France, we see that Brittany is an island separated from the mainland by the narrow Strait of Redon. The Atlantic forms a deep embayment southward into Anjou. Part of Gascony is also inundated by the sea."
"But Bordeaux seems to be all right, thank God," said the pirate.
Mishima chuckled. "Ah! Another connoisseur! You will be delighted to know, Citizen, that a number of other timefarers expressed a wish to settle in the Bordeaux area. They have carried with them certain portable apparatus and cuttings of many different grapes . . . Incidentally, Citizens, such information as we have about these earlier time-travelers is available from our computer at your convenience. And if you wish to have other information, for example, data on religious or ethnic groups, or on the kinds of books, art materiel, or other cultural items known to have been translated, please do not hesitate to request it."
The academic type in the tweed jacket asked, "Will the computer give information on individual persons?"
Aha! thought Elizabeth.
"The usual statistics, similar to those in your dossiers, are available on those persons who have already passed through. It is also possible to obtain information on the items taken as baggage and the traveler's destination in the Pliocene world, if stated."
"If there are no further questions . . .?" Mishima nodded to Felice, who had raised a languid hand.
"Is it true that none of these travelers took any weapons with them?"
"No modern weapons were allowed by Madame Guderian, and we have followed her wise dictum. No zappers, no stun-guns, no atomics, no sonic disrupters, no solar-powered blasters, no gases, no gunpowder-based weapons. No psychocoercive drugs or devices. However, many kinds of primitive weaponry from different eras and cultures have been taken into the Pliocene."
Landry nodded. Her face was void of expression. Elizabeth tried, without realizing what she was doing, to throw a red-active probe into her, but of course it was useless. Nevertheless, the ex-metapsychic was amazed when the young woman turned her head and stared directly at her for a long minute before looking back at the screen.
She couldn't have felt anything, Elizabeth told herself. There was nothing to feel. And even if the carrier went out, there's no way she could have known that it was me. Was there?
Counselor Mishima said, "Let us briefly note some of the names that have been given to the geographical features. Then we will survey the plant and animal life of the so-called Pontian Focus of Lower Pliocene times . . ."
Just as soon as the lecture ended, Grenfell hurried to his room and the computer terminal, which was housed in a renaissance credence of wormy fruitwood. He requested the data in permanent durofilm sheets, not really knowing what to expect. What did emerge was pathetically meager, but it unexpectedly included a full-length color portrait, probably taken just prior to her passing through the gate.
Mercy Lamballe was wearing a cowled cloak of deep reddish brown that concealed most of her auburn hair and made dark pits of her eyes. Her face was white and strained. The dress was long, simply cut, of Nile green with a trimming of gold embroidery about the neck, wrists, and hem. Her narrow waist was held in a girdle of some dark color, from which hung a purse and a small scabbard with unidentifiable instruments in it. She wore gold bracelets and a gold necklace, both with purple stones. A large brocaded valise sat beside her. She carried a covered basket and a leather case that looked as though it held a small harp.
She was accompanied by a huge white dog wearing a spiked collar, and four sheep.
He stared at the picture for some time, memorizing it while his eyes stung. Then he read her tersely summarized dossier:
Baggage : Survival Unit A- 6*. Smallholder Unit F-1 *. Sheep Kit Ov-1 *. Fleck, Music, 5Ku, w/AVP (Supp4). Fleck, Library. 1 0Ku. w/AVP (SuppS). Decamole appl : spin-wheel, hand-spindle, carder, loom L4H, dye-tub. Valise, leather- brocade. Basket esparto, cov. Necklace, Au & amethyst. Bracelets, Au & amethyst 3. Ring, Au & pearl. Mirror, Ag, 10 cm. Noteplaque, 1 Ku. Sewkit S-1 *. Harp, gilt carved sycamore wood, Celtic, w/case, leather. Harp strings & pegs, asst spare. Fife, open, Ag.
Plants: Strawberry "Hautbois Superieur 1 2e," 1 00 pts. Hemp (Cannabis s. sinsemilla) 1 5 ctgs. CulHb Unit CH-1 *. SmGram Unit SG-1 *. Misc seed pkts : Bluebell (Campanula bellardi). Indigo (Indigofera tinctoria). Madder (Rubia tinctorium). Pea "Mangetout."
Animals : Chien des Pyrenees, "Bidarray's Deirdre Stella- Polaris" (1 F. pr4M 4-4F). Sheep, Rambouillet x Dibouillet (3F@pr2F;1M).
There was more, the supplements with details of her medical psychiatric history, the library supplements listing her music and books. He skimmed these, then returned to the poignant inventory and the portrait.
Will I find you again, Mercy in your silken gown and golden jewelry, with your harp and your fife and your strawberries and bluebells? Where will you go to tend your pregnant sheep? (Dest: NS.) Will I find you alone, except for loyal Deirdre and her pups, as you've always lived? (Attmt: NS.) Will you welcome me and teach me the songs of old Lauguedoc or old Ireland, or will your heartswound still be too deep for me to fill? (MDep-2, .25 dis UT.)
What did you find on the other side of the time-portal when you stepped through on your birthday, beginning your twenty-ninth year of life six million years before you were born? And why am I leaving this bravest of all new worlds for a constricting unknown? What's in the dark that I'm so afraid of finding/not finding?
Beguiled my heart,
I know not why.
And yet I love her till I die.
Claude Majewski opened his eyes, wiped the rheum out of them with a tissue, and removed the earplug that had been teaching him while he slept how to mortise wind beams into the rafters of a log cabin. His left arm was full of pins and needles and his feet were cold. Damn crocky old circulation shot to hell. As he kneaded the blood back into the muscles, he reflected that he would miss the luxury of the auberge's goose-down pillows, liquicelle mattress, and real muslin sheets. He hoped the survival kit they would test today had a decent camp bed.
He padded across the sunny room to the bath. Here the compassion of Madame Guderian was made manifest in black-and-white marble and golden plumbing, in thick towels, perfumed soap and toiletries by Chanel, in sauna and sunlamp and la Masseuse ready to cradle the clients of the inn in soothing elegance after sobering lessons in la vie sauvage.
Some poor timefarers struggling to endure the Pliocene world would remember the last days at the auberge for French cooking, soft beds, and precious works of art. But Majewski knew that his fondest memories would be of the sybaritic John. The warm padded seat that welcomed his spindly shanks! The tissue, like perforated rabbit fur! He harked back to some of the primitive conveniences he and Gen had suffered on boondock planets, portacans with broken heating units; noisome stone and wood tillyhouses full of lurking critters; rough two-holers over flooded trenches; even one ghastly night of storms on Lusatia when he had squatted on a log and then discovered that it harbored little mitey monstrosities.
O blessed sanitary plumbing! If no one else invented a Pliocene water closet, Claude intended to give it an earnest shot.
He had a cool perfumed shower, cleaned his teeth (third set, good as new), made a face at himself in the Louis XIV mirror. Not too decrepit. A casual appraisal might judge his age to be late fiftyish. He was vain about his Polish green eyes and striking thatch of waved silver hair, the result of having the male-pattern baldness codons erased from his genetic heritage on the last rejuv. But thank God he'd depilated the rest of his pelt! Characters like that pirate who prized facial hair might have another song to sing in a primitive world, especially a warm and buggy one like Pontian Europe. The old paleobiologist had noted with grim humor that yesterday's lectures and clever animated movies on Pliocene ecology had barely mentioned the insects and other invertebrate denizens. It was more dramatic to show vast herds of hipparions and graceful gazelles being harried by scarcely less graceful cheetahs; or machairodont lions sinking their long canines into bellowing hoe-tuskers.
Claude went back into the bedroom and asked room service to send coffee and croissants. Since this second day was to feature simple survival techniques, he put on the clothing he planned to wear through the gate. Experience had made his choice of kit easy: fishnet underwear, old-fashioned bush shirt and pants made of the best Egyptian long-staple cotton, socks of Orcadian wool with the fat left in, indestructible boots from Etruria. He had brought along his old backpack even though the auberge stood ready to furnish all equipment. It contained his poncho of breathable grintlaskin and an Orcadian sweater. And in one zip compartment was a beautiful Zakopane box, all carved and ornamented wood. Gen's box. It hardly weighed a thing.
As he breakfasted, he studied the program for the day's activities. Introduction to Survival Unit A-6. Shelter and Fire. Minimizing Environmental Hazards (ho ho). Orienteering. Fishing and Trapping.
He sighed, drank the perfect coffee, and munched a flaky bread roll. It was going to be a long day.
Sister Annamaria Roccaro had done a fair bit of camping, but the expensive new decamole equipment contained in Unit A-6 was a delight and a revelation to her.
She and the other members of Group Green had first gone to class, where a hearty woman instructor briefed them; then they had paired up and descended to a cavern carved out of the living rock 200 meters below the cellars of the auberge. They were let loose into a sunny meadow with a winding stream and told to become acquainted with their survival gear.
The simulated sun felt hot, even though the reset of their body thermostats was progressing apace. After she and Felice hiked a short distance, Amerie decided that she would have to forgo the sandals that had been her first choice for Pliocene footgear. They were suitably monastic and airy, but they also admitted twigs and small stones. Short buskins or even modern boots would be better for cross-country travel. She also decided that the white doeskin habit was over-worn, even with detachable sleeves. Homespun would be better. She could have a doeskin scapular, cowl, and cloak to keep off the weather.
"Aren't you hot in that outfit, Felice?" she asked her companion. Landry was wearing the green-and-black ring-hockey uniform, which was evidently her choice for the Pliocene.
"It suits me," the girl said. "I'm used to working in it, and my planet was much warmer than Earth. That doeskin looks very high-priestess, Amerie. I like it."
The nun felt strangely flustered. Felice, looked so incongruous in her warrior's cuirass and greaves and that Grecian helm with its brave green feathers perched on the back of her head. Stein and Richard had started to tease her when she appeared in the costume that morning; but for some reason, they had broken off almost immediately.
"Shall we camp here?" the nun suggested. A large cork oak grew beside the brook, shading a flat surface that looked like a good place to set up the cabin. The two women shed their packs, and Amerie extracted the fist-sized inflator from hers and studied it. Their instructor had said that the sealed power supply would be good for about twenty years. "Here are two nozzles, one to blow things up and the other to deflate. It says:
IMPERATIVE TO SHEATH UNUSED NOZZLE."
"Try my cabin-pak." Felice held out a wad about the size of a sandwich. "I can't believe it'll grow into a four-by-four house."
Sister Roccaro fixed the dangling flat tube of the pak to the inflator, then pressed the activating stud. Compressed air began to spurt into the wad, turning it into a large silvery square. The two women positioned the cabin properly, then watched it grow. The floor thickened to about nine centimeters and became quite rigid as air filled the complex micropore structural web between the layers of film. The walls, somewhat thicker for insulation, grew up, complete with transparent zipable windows and interior screen-curtains. A steeply gabled silvery roof that overhung the doorway inflated last of all.
Felice peered inside the doorless entry. "Look. The floor has sprouted fixed furniture."
There were bunks for two with semidetached pillows, a table, shelves, and at the rear a silvery box with a pipe leading to the roof. Felice read aloud: "BALLAST STOVE WITH SAND OR UNIT WILL COMPRESS UPON COOLING . . . This material must be nearly impossible to destroy!" She reached behind her left greave and produced a glittering little gold-handled dirk. "Can't puncture it, either."
"What a pity they've made it to degrade in twenty year. Still, we should be at one with our environment by then."
Large bucket-shaped hollows in each comer of the cabin had to be ballasted with stones, earth, water, or whatever else was to hand. A very small pocket near the door yielded up a whole handful of pillsized wads that were to be inflated separately, then weighted with sand or with water. The latter could be injected into the interstitial area by means of a simple collapsible bulb siphon. The pills grew into a cabin door, chairs, cooking gear (with the sand-ballast note), filamentous rugs and blankets, and other miscellany. Less than ten minutes after they had begun to set up camp, the women were relaxing in a fully equipped cabin.
"I can hardly believe it," Sister Roccaro marveled, rapping on the walls. "It feels quite solid. But if there were any wind, the whole cabin would blow away like a bubble unless you weighted it down."
"Even wood is mostly thin air and water," said Felice with a shrug. "This decamole just seems to reproduce the structurally reinforced shell of a thing and lets you add mass. Wonder how the stuff compensates for heat and pressure changes? Some kind of valves, I suppose. You'd obviously have to guy this house in a high wind, though, even if you filled most of the wall hollows with water or dirt. But it sure beats a tent. It even has ventilators!"
"Shall we inflate the boat or the mini-shelter or the bridge sections?"
"They were optional. Now that I've seen how decamole works, I'll take the rest of the equipment on faith." Felice crossed her legs and pulled off her gauntlets slowly. She was seated at the small table. "Faith. That's your game, isn't it?"
The nun sat down. "In a way. Technically, I intend to become an anchoress, a kind of religious hermit. It's a calling that's completely obsolete in the Milieu, but it used to have its fans in the Dark Ages."
"What in the world will you be doing? Just praying up a storm all day long?"
Amerie laughed. "Part of the night, too. I intend to bring back the Latin Divine Office. It's an ancient cycle of daily prayers. Matins starts it off at midnight. Then there's Lauds at dawn. During the daytime there are prayers for the old First, Third, Sixth, and Ninth Hours. Then Vespers or Evensong at sunset, and Compline before going to bed. The Office is a collection of psalms and scripture readings and hymns and special prayers that reflected centuries of religious tradition. I think it's a terrible pity that no one prays it any more in the primitive form."
"And you just keep saying this Office all the time?"
"Good grief, no. The individual hours aren't that long. I'll also celebrate the Mass and do penance and deep meditation with a little Zen. And when I'm hoeing weeds or doing other chores there's the Rosary. It's almost like a mantra if you do it the old way. Very calming."
Felice stared at her with well-deep eyes. "It sounds very strange. And lonely, too. Doesn't it frighten you, planning to live all alone with nobody but your God?"
"Dear old Claude says he'll maintain me in style, but I'm not too sure I can take him seriously. If he does supply me with some food, I may be able to handcraft some items in my spare time that we can barter."
"Claude!" Landry was contemptuous. "He's been around, that old man. He's not a complete case like those two machos in fancy dress, but I caught him looking at me in a fishy way."
"You can't blame people for looking at you. You're very beautiful. I've heard you were a great sports star on your home world."
The girl's lip curled in a grim little smile. "Acadie. I was the best ring-hockey player of all time. But they were afraid of me. In the end, the other players, the men, refused to come up against me. They made all kinds of trouble. Finally, I was barred from the game when two players claimed I had deliberately tried to do them serious injury."
Felice lowered her gaze. She was twisting the fingers of her gloves and a flush was rising from her neck into her cheeks. "Maybe. I think I did. They were so hateful." She raised her pointed chin in defiance, the hoplite helmet pushed to the back of her head giving her the look of a miniature Pallas Athene. "They never wanted me as a woman, you know. All they wanted was to hurt me, to spoil me. They were jealous of my strength, and afraid. People have always been afraid of me, even when I was just a child. Can you imagine what that was like?"
"Oh, Felice." Amerie hesitated. "How, how did you ever begin playing that brutal game?"
"I was good with animals. My parents were soil scientists and they were always moving around on field expeditions. Newly opened lands, still full of wildlife. When the local kids in the area would snub me, I'd just get myself some pets for friends. Small creatures at first, then larger and more dangerous kinds. And there were some beauties on Acadie, I can tell you. Finally, when I was fifteen, I tamed a verrul. It's something like a very large Earth rhinoceros. A local animal dealer wanted to buy him for ring-hockey training. I'd never paid much attention to the game before, but I did after I sold the beast. I woke up to the fact that there was a big-money business that might be perfect for my special talents."
"But to break into a professional sport when you were only a young girl . . ."
"I told my parents I wanted to become an apprentice verrul trainer and groom. They didn't mind. I had always been excess baggage. They just made me finish school and let me go. They said, 'Be happy, baby.'"
She paused and stared at Amerie without expression. "I was a groom only until the team manager saw how I could control the animals. That's the secret of playing the game, you see. The verrul has to make the goals and maneuver to keep you from getting stunned by the short-range weapons the players carry. I played in the preseason as a novelty, to give the Green-hammer box office a hype. The team had been in the cellar for three years running. When they saw that I was more than a publicity gimmick they put me onto the first string in the season opener. I whipped the other clowns on the team into such a froth trying to outdo me that we won the bloody game. And all the rest . . . and the pennant, too."
"It should have been. But I had no friends. I was too different from the rest of the players. Too freakish. And in the second year . . . when they really began to hate me and I knew they would force me out, I . . . I . . ."
She pounded both fists on the table and her child's face twisted in anguish. Amerie waited for the tears, but there were none; the briefly revealed hurt was masked almost as soon as it had showed itself. Sitting across the table, Felice relaxed, smiling at the other woman.
"I'm going to be a huntress, you know. On the other side. I could take care of you much better than the old man, Amerie."
The nun rose up, blood pounding in her temples. She turned away from Felice and walked out of the cabin.
"I think we need each other," the girl said.
Auberge du Portail, FrEu, Earth
24 August 2110
My dear Varya,
We have completed our little games of survival and craftsmanship now, and our bodies are fully acclimated to the tropical world that was Pliocene Earth. There remain only a Last Supper and a good night's sleep before passage through the time-portal at dawn. The apparatus is inside a quaint cottage in the gardens of the auberge, and you can't imagine a more incongruous site for the gate into another world. One looks in vain for the sign above the doorway saying, per me siva tea la perduta oente, but the feeling is there all the same.
After five days of working together (more like a holiday camp than basic training, you must understand), the eight of us in Group Green have achieved shaky competence in our chosen fields of primitive technology and a faith in our ability to cope that is probably dangerously inflated. Few of the others seem to appreciate the potential hazard that we might face from our predecessors into Exile. My fellow Greenies are more inclined to worry about being stamped upon by mammoths or bitten by python-sized vipers than to anticipate a hostile human reception committee greedily awaiting the day's grab bag of well-heeled wayfarers.
You and I know that the time-gate arrival would certainly have been ritualized in some manner by the people on the other side. What the ritual will be is another matter. We can hardly expect to be treated as casual commuters, but whether we shall encounter welcome or exploitation is impossible to fathom. The literature offers certain speculative scenarios that make my flesh crawl. Personnel at the auberge are careful to present a neutral face while at the same time reinforcing our childhood self-defensive training. We will pass through the portal in two groups of four persons, with larger pieces of baggage following. This, I feel, is designed to give us a certain safety in numbers, although the momentary pain and disorientation of ordinary subspace translation will probably affect time-travelers as well, putting us at a tactical disadvantage for the first minute following our arrival in the Pliocene.
Your amused speculations upon my new vocation in the primitive world were much appreciated. However, since the last dinosaurs perished at least 60 million years before the Pliocene Epoch, there will be little can for sweeping up after them! So much for your visions of me as an antediluvian fertilizer tycoon. Prosaically enough, my new job is to be little more than an extension of my erstwhile hobby of sailing. I shall fish for a living and ply the seas on my Quest, and perhaps undertake the odd bit of trade if the occasion presents. The sloop was far too sophisticated a vessel to take to the Pliocene, so I traded her in for a smaller trimaran that can be ballasted with water and sand instead of mercury. If need be, I can whip up a very simple craft from scratch materials as well. We are furnished with toolheads of a gemlike glassy material, vitredur, which stays eyersharp and is virtually indestructible for some 200 years, after which it degrades, like decamole. Besides the shipwright's kit, I am equipped with the auberge's survival gear (very impressive) and what they call a Smallholder Unit, tools and decamole appliances for setting up light housekeeping on a subsistence farm, together with a few packets of seeds and a large fleck library with a raft of "how-to" books on every subject from animal husbandry to zymurgy.
The latter, by the way, is the vocation of choice for our Viking. He also confided to me that if there should be a demand for swash-buckling mercenary warriors, he might combine the two trades.
The individual whom I dubbed the Pirate also plans to get involved with alcoholic beverages, wines and brandies, that is. He and the Viking are now the straightest of friends, spending their off-hours tossing down the most expensive spirits that the auberge can supply and speculating on the quality of female consolation that might be available in the By-and-By. (Group Green itself has lean pickings. Besides the Nun, our female members include a sinister Virgin Huntress who seems to have wreaked mayhem or worse on one of the auberge counselors in order to qualify as a recidivist, and an extremely cautious ex-Meta Lady who is, at the moment at least, content to remain just one of the boys.)
Last night we had a fascinating glimpse into the background of the Pirate. His brother and sister turned up unexpectedly to say adieu and turned out to be Fleet line officers of the most impressive stripe. The poor P was very discomfited and the ex-Meta Lady speculates that he must be a cashiered spacer himself. He's a competent sort if you don't mind grouches. I worked with him for a few hours in the Small Boat Handling exercise, which he wanted to cram, and he seemed to have a natural flair for messing about in the water.
Most of the others in Group Green seem to be alone in the world. The Nun received a long conference call from her religious sistren in North America bidding her bon voyage. And earlier today she met with a Franciscan Brother in full conventual fig, no doubt hearing her last confession or whatever. (The friar drove one of those souped-up Gambini eggs with the heat dissipation fins, not the patient gray donkey you might have anticipated from memoirs of Il Poverello.) The Nun was a medic and psychological counselor by profession and plans to retire to a hermitage. I hope the poor woman isn't counting on ministering angels such as the Old Paleontologist overmuch. He's a fine chap with a penchant for carpentry, but I dare say the ex-Meta is right when she pegs him as a death-wisher.
I concur with your analysis of the little Joker. There must have been some valid square-peg reason for him to be thrown off his home world, but it's a pity that his wild talents couldn't be harnessed for the Milieu. Poor little nonborn. He's endeared himself to the rest of us Greenies, not only for his ghastly sense of humor, but also for his fantastic ability to make something out of nothing. He has assembled a large collection of vitredur toolheads that need only be equipped with shafts or bandies to be operational. You get the feeling that after this boy has been in the Pliocene for a week or two, the Industrial Revolution will be raging! He has a whole forge lashup in decamole for his village blacksmith and rustic mechanician acts, and has acquired a plaqueful of geological survey charts to clue him in on metal ores in the unlikely event that none of the other Exiles has gone in heavily for prospecting.
You may be interested in the peculiar social structure of Group Green. The foundress of the auberge was a practical psychologist of no mean ability and realized quite early on that her clients would need support from fellow travelers in order to maximize survival potential beyond the gate. On the other hand, they would tend to be far too eccentric to stand for any of the more obvious schemes of imposed organization. So Madame Guderian fell back on the old "put 'em through hell together and they'll end up buddies" shtick, which you must admit is apt to induce feelings of solidarity in all but the most sociopathic. (And it did, too, with the obvious exception.)
During each day's Group activities we have spent the most strenuous sessions working together, often thrust into outlandish situations where we were forced to cooperate with one another in order to complete a difficult task quickly and well. For example, we bridged a thirty-meter pond full of alligators in one lesson; captured, butchered, and "utilized" an elk in another; and defended ourselves against hostile human stalkers in third. Ironically, the most accomplished primitive in the Group is the Old Paleontologist, who seems to have knocked about the wilder shores of Galactica for more than a century while gleaning fossil bones.
We are known to each other by first names only, and we may divulge such details of our background as we choose or don't choose. As you may imagine, this leaves a wide margin for parlor psychoanalysis, with the ex-Meta Lady as head gamesmistress. She had me taped as a Questing Lover after the first day, and I'm afraid that she anticipates a melancholy end to my masculine Evangeline-fixe, since she keeps trying to distract me with speculations on idle playing among the auberge clientele, the political implications of Exile, and other anthropological amusements.
Do you think I'm doomed, too, Varya? I don't, you know.
Late this afternoon I got a call from London, and it was Kaplan and Djibutunji and Hildebrand and Catherwood, bless their bones, telling me goodbye. Aunt Helen sent a note, but she is really nearly gaga now, since declining rejuv.
Your dear letter was in this morning's post. I don't have to tell you how much I appreciate your agreeing to carry on with the liaison committee. It's the one work I really hated to leave unfinished. There is still the ultimate correlation of the pre-Rebellion mazeway material, but I feel that Alicia and Adalberto have that pretty well in hand.
And so I come at last to the farewell, Varya, and I wish I could be eloquent and memorable instead of just my stodgy self. The gaudiness of the act will have to speak for me. Whatever you do, don't mourn. My only hope of happiness lies on the other side of the Exile gate and I must risk going after it. Remember the years we shared as lovers and colleagues and friends and know that I'm glad they happened. Joy and light to you, my Very Dear.
Forever, BRY Chapter Eighteen
When the Last Supper, with its crazy smorgasbord of requested dishes, was finally over, the eight members of Group Green took their drinks out onto the terrace, where they instinctively gathered apart from the other guests. Even though itwas only half after twenty, the sky over Lyon had turned black as the scheduled weekly storm built up in the north. Pink flashes silhouetted approaching thunderheads.
"Feel the static buildup!" Elizabeth exclaimed. "Even with my metafunctions out, the ionization before a really big storm always gets to me. Every sense sharpens. I begin to feel so clever I can barely contain myself! Capacitor Earth is charging and so am I, and in just a minute or two I'll be able to zap mountains!"
She faced into the strengthening wind, long hair streaming and red denim jumpsuit clinging to her body. The first sub-sonics of distant thunder curdled the air.
Felice affected a languid tone. "Were you able to move mountains before?"
"Not really. The larger psychokinetic powers are really very rare among metas, almost as rare as genuine creativity. My PK ability was only good for a few parlor tricks. What I specialized in was farspeaking, the glorified telepathy function. It should really be called farsensing because it includes a species of sight as well as hearing. I was also operant in redaction, which is the therapeutic and analytical power that most lay persons call mind-alteration. My husband had similar faculties. We worked as a team training the minds of very young children in the first difficult steps toward metapsychic Unity."
"They wanted me to go to a redactor," Felice said, her voice thrilling with loathing. "I told them I'd rather die. I don't know how you meta people can stand rummaging around in others' brains. Or always having some other meta able to read you own secret thoughts. It would be horrible never to be alone. Never to be able to hide. I'd go mad."
Elizabeth said gently, "It wasn't like that at all. As far as metas reading each other . . . there are many different levels to the mind. Modes, we call them. You can farspeak to many people on the declamatory mode, or speak at short range to a group on the conversational mode. Then there's the intimate mode, that only one person can receive from you. And beneath that are many other conscious and unconscious layers that can be screened off by means of mental techniques that all metapsychics learn when they're very young. We have our private thoughts, just as you do. Most of our telepathic communication is nothing more than a kind of voiceless speech and image projection. You can compare it to electronic audio-visuals, without the electromagnetic radiation."
Felice said, "Deep redactors can get into a person's innermost thoughts."
"True. But with them, there is almost always a doctor-patient relationship appertaining. The patient gives conscious permission for the scrutiny. Even then, a dysfunction may be so strongly programmed that the therapist is powerless to get behind it, no matter how much the patient may be willing to cooperate."
"Yeah," said Stein. He tilted his great mug of beer, holding it before his face.
Felice persisted. "I know that metas can read secret thoughts. Sometimes the coach of our team would bring in redactors to work on guys in slumps. Metas could always spot the ones who'd lost their nerve. You can't tell me those poor bastards would deliberately let the shrinks find out something that'd get them fired!"
Elizabeth said, "An untrained person, a non-meta, gives away information in subverbal ways without being aware of it. Think of it as mental mumbling. Haven't you ever stood next to a person who was talking to himself, muttering under his breath? When a person is frightened or angry or trying very hard to work out a problem or even sexually aroused, the thoughts become . . . loud. Even non-metas can sometimes pick up the vibes, the mind-pictures or subvocal speech or emotional surges. The better the redactor, the better he is at making sense out of the crazy mishmash that human brains broadcast."
Bryan asked, "Is there any way an ordinary person can shut out a mind reader?"
"Of course. It's possible to stymie superficial snooping rather easily. Just keep a firm grip on your mental broadcasting. If you think someone is really digging, think of some neutral image like a big black square. Or do some simple exercise when you're not speaking out loud. Count one-two-three-four, over and over. Or sing some dumb song. That'll block out all but the best redactor."
"I'm glad you can't read my mind now, lovie," Aiken Drum put in. "You'd fall into a quagmire of sheer funk. I'm so scared about going through this time-gate that my red corpuscles have gone puce! I tried to back out. I even told the counselors I'd reform if they'd let me stay here! But nobody believe me."
"I can't think why," Bryan said.
A reddish bolt of lightning reached from cloud to cloud above the hills; but the sound, when it came, was muffled and unsatisfying, a beat from a dead tympanum.
Aiken asked Elizabeth, "How did the ballooning work out, sweets?"
"I crammed the theory of building one from native materials, tanning fishskins for the envelope and weaving a basket and plaiting cordage from bark fibers. But I did my practicing in one of these." She took a package the size of two large bricks from her shoulder bag. "It blows up five storeys tan, double-walled and semidirigible. Bright red, like my suit. I have a power source to inject hot air. Of course, the power won't last for more than a few flight-weeks, so eventually I'll have to shift to charcoal. Making that's a mess. But it's the only ancient fuel that's suitable, unless I can find some coal."
"No sweat, doll-eyes," Aiken said. "Stick with me and my mineral maps."
Stein laughed contemptuously. "And how you gonna mine the stuff? Draft Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs? The nearest coal's gotta be a hundred kloms north, around Le Cresuot or Montceau, and way to hell and gone underground. Even if you reach the stuff without blasting, how you gonna tote it around to where it'll do you some good?"
"So I'll need a week or two to work out the fewkin' details!" Aiken shot back.
There would be other coal deposits much nearer," Claude Majewski said. "Those modern maps of yours are deceptive, Aiken. They show the strata and deposits as they exist today, in the twenty-second century, not as they were six million years ago. There used to be little limnic coal basins all over the Massif Central and a really large deposit at Saint-Etienne, but they were all worked out late in the twentieth century. Go back to the Pliocene and you'll probably find easy pickings just a few kloms south of here. Find some near a volcano, and you might luck out with natural coke!"
"Better hold off establishing Pliocene Mining, Unlimited, until you eyeball the territory," Richard advised Aiken with a sour grimace. "The local honchos might have their own ideas about us helping ourselves to the natural resources."
"Entirely possible," Bryan agreed.
"We could convince them to let us have a piece of the action," said Felice. She smiled. "In one way or another."
The nun said, "We could also try to avoid conflict by going to an unsettled area."
"I don't think that's Felice's style," Aiken said. "She's looking forward to a little fun and games, aren't you, babe?"
Landry's pale frizzy hair was standing out from her head in a charged cloud. She was wearing the simple cheongsam again. "Whatever I'm looking forward to, I'll find. Right now all I want is another drink. Anybody coming with me?" She strolled back into the auberge, followed by Stein and Richard.
"Somebody should tell those two they're wasting their time," the old man muttered.
"Poor Felice," Amerie said. "What an ironic name for her, when she's so dreadfully unhappy. That aggressive pose is just another form of armor, like the hockey uniform."
"And underneath she's just crying for love?" Elizabeth inquired, her eyes nearly shut and a faint smile on her lips. "Be careful, Sister. That one's standing in the need of prayer, all right. But she's more of a black hole than a black sheep."
"Those eyes eat you alive," Aiken said. "Something damned inhuman is moving around in there."
"Not even normally homophilic," Majewski said. "But I'll certainly grant you the damned."
"That's a cruel and cynical thing to say, Claude!" exclaimed the nun. "You don't know anything of the girl's background, any of the things that have maimed her spirit. You talk as though she were some monster, when all she is, is a pathetic child who has never learned how to love." She took a deep breath. "I'm a medic as well as a nun. One of my vows is to help the suffering. I don't know if I can help Felice, but I'm certainly going to try."
A gust of wind lifted Amerie's veil and she clutched it impatiently with one strong hand. "Don't stay up too late, guys. Tomorrow's creeping up on us." She hurried off the terrace and disappeared into the darkened garden.
"Could be it's the nunnie who'll need the prayers," Aiken said, giggling.
"You shut up!" barked Claude. Then he said, "Sorry, son. But you want to watch that smartass mouth of yours. We're going to have enough trouble without your adding to it." He looked at the sky as a prolonged and powerful bolt of lightning descended over the eastern hills. Ground-strokes rose up to meet it and there was a grumble of thunder. "Here comes the storm. I'm going to bed, too. What I want to know is, who the hell ordered the omens for this outfit?"
The old man stomped away, leaving Elizabeth, Aiken, and Bryan staring after him. Three successive thunderbolts gave him a ridiculous theatrical exit; but none of the people still on the terrace was smiling any more.
"I never told you, Aiken," Elizabeth ventured at last, "how much I like your costume. You were right. It's the most spectacular one in the whole auberge."
The little man began snapping his fingers and clacking his heels like a flamenco dancer, turning and posing. Lightning shone on his loose-fitting garment. What seemed to be cloth of gold was actually a costly fabric woven from the byssus threads of Franconian mollusks, famed throughout the galaxy for beauty and toughness. All up and down the arms and legs of the suit were small flapped and fastened pockets; pockets covered the breast area and the shoulders and hips and there was a very large pocket on the back with an opening on the bottom. Aiken's golden boots had pockets. His belt had pockets. Even his golden hat, with the brim tipped up jauntily on the right side, had a band full of tiny pockets. And every pocket, large or small, bulged with some tool or instrument or compressed decamole appliance. Aiken Drum was a walking hardware shop incarnate as a golden idol.
"King Arthur would dub you Sir Boss at first sight," Elizabeth said, explaining to Bryan: "He plans to set himself up as a Pliocene Connecticut Yankee."
"You wouldn't have to bother with Twain's solar eclipse to gain attention," the anthropologist conceded. "The suit alone is enough to overawe the peasantry. But isn't it rather conspicuous if you want to spy out the land?"
"This big pocket on my back has a chameleon poncho."
Bryan laughed. "Merlin won't have a prayer."
Aiken watched the Lyon city lights dim and disappear as the approaching storm curtained the valley with rain. "The Connecticut Yankee had to contend against Merlin in the story, didn't he? Modern technology versus sorcery. Science against the superstition of the Dark Ages. I cant remember too much about the book. Read it when I was about thirteen there on Dalriada and I know I was disappointed with Twain for wasting so much space on half-baked philosophy instead of action. How did it end? You know, I've forgotten! Think I'll go hit the computer for a plaque of the thing for bedtime reading." He gave Bryan and Elizabeth a wink. "But I may decide to aim higher than Sir Boss!"
He slipped off into the auberge.
"And then there were two," Bryan said.
Elizabeth was finishing her Remy Martin. She reminded him in many ways of Varya, calm, incisively intelligent, but with the shutters always closed. She projected cool comradeship and not the slightest jot of sex.
"You won't be staying with Group Green for long, will you, Bry?" she remarked. "The rest of us have built a dependence in these five days. But not you."
"You don't miss much. Are you sure your metafunctions are really gone?"
"Not gone," she said. "But they might as well be. I've dropped into what we call the latent state because of brain damage. My functions are still there, but inaccessible, walled up in the right half of my brain. Some persons are born latent, with the walls. Others are born operant, as we say, and their mind-powers are available to them, especially if they receive proper training from infancy. It's closely analogous to the acquisition of language by babies. My work back on Denali involved a good deal of that kind of training. Very rarely, we were even able to coax latents into operancy. But my own case is different I have just a few teaspoonful of my original cerebrum left. The rest is regenerated. The leavening was enough for a resoul job, and a specialist restored my memories. But for some unknown reason, metapsychic operancy seldom survives a really spectacular brain trauma."
"What happened, if you don't mind my asking?"
"My husband and I were caught in a tornado while we were egging on Denali. It's a sweet little world, with some of the galaxy's worst weather. Lawrence was killed outright. I was broken to bits but ultimately restored. Except for the MP functions."
"And is losing them so unbearable . . ." he began, then cursed and apologized.
But she was calm, as always. "It's nearly impossible for a non-meta to understand the loss. Think of going deaf, dumb, blind. Think of being paralyzed and numb all over. Think of losing your sex organs, of becoming hideously disfigured. Put all of the anguish together and it's still not enough, once you've known the other thing and then lost it . . . But you've lost something, too, haven't you, Bry? Maybe you can understand something of the way I feel."
"Lost something . Perhaps it does make more sense to say it that way. God knows there's no logic to the way I feel about Mercy."
"Where will you look for her? If the others in the Pliocene don't know where she's gone?"
"All I have is an instinct. I'll try Armorica first because of her Breton ancestry. And then Albion, the Britain that will be. I'll need the boat because there's a question whether the Channel was dry land at the precise period well be living in. Sea level seems to have fluctuated in an odd way at the beginning of the Pliocene. But I'll find Mercy somehow, no matter where she's gone. "And what will I find in my beautiful balloon, Elizabeth wandered. And what will it matter? Will the Exile world be any lessempty than this one?
Perhaps if she and Lawrence had wanted children . . . but that would have compromised the work, and so they had agreed to forgo them, finding love fulfillment in each other, mating for life as almost all metapsychics did, knowing that when one had inevitably gone there would still be the Unity, the billion-fold mind-embrace of the Galactic Milieu.
Or there would have been . . .
The first large drops of rain made a rataplan on the leaves of the plane trees. Blue-white flashes lit the whole valley and the thunder seemed to shake the mountain roots. Bryan grabbed Elizabeth's hand and pulled her through the porte-fenêtre into the main salon a few seconds before the real downpour began.
The predawn was chilly, with gray clouds scudding southward as though late for an appointment at the Mediterranean. The Rhône Valley brimmed with mist. A small log fire had been lit in the main salon and it was there that the members of Group Green gathered after breakfasting in their rooms. Each person carried the materials for a new life and dressed for the role chosen. (Their extra baggage had proceeded them to the time-gate staging area: Claude's case of Wybrowa, Bryan's Scotch, Richard's supplies of spices and yeasts and sodium bisulfate, Stein's keg, Elizabeth's liqueur chocolates, and Amerie's large painting of Saint Sebastian.) Richard and Stein whispered together as they stared at the weak flames. Amerie, a half-smile on her lips, fingered the beads of a large wooden rosary that hung from her belt. The others stood apart, waiting.
At precisely five hundred hours, Counselor Mishima came down the broad staircase from the mezzanine and bid them a solemn good-morning.
"Please accompany me."
They picked up their things and followed in single file out of the salon, across the terrace, and into the sodden garden, where the flagstones were still puddled with rain and the blossoms on the rose-standards hung torn and battered from the storm.
The balconies of the main guesthouse overlooked the garden. Up above, dim faces behind glass doors were watching them, just as they themselves had watched other dawn processions of eight time-travelers led by a single counselor. They had seen Gypsies and Cossacks and desert nomads and voortrekkers, Polynesians with feathered capes and warriors with crossbows, swords, and assegais; there had been Bavarian hikers in leder-hosen, bearded white-robed prophets, shaven-headed Oriental votaries, sunbonneted American pioneers, cowboys, fetishists costumed in pathetic grotesquery, and sensible-looking people wearing levis or tropical gear. The travelers in the early morning parades had moved through the garden to an old cottage shaded by mulberry trees, its white stucco and half-timbering shrouded in climbing vines. Madame Guderian's lace curtains still hung at the windows and her pink and white geraniums bloomed in earthenware pots beside the large front door. The eight guests and the counselor would enter the cottage and the door would close behind them. After half an hour had elapsed, the counselor alone would emerge.
Bryan Grenfell stood behind Counselor Mishima as he unlocked the Guderian cottage with an old-fashioned brass key. A large ginger cat sat in the dry shelter of the shrubbery, watching the group with a sardonic golden eye. Grenfell nodded to it as he passed inside. You've seen a lot of us go this way, haven't you, Monsieur le Chat? And how many of them by now felt as used and foolish and died as I do, but still too stubborn to turn back? Here I go, in my pragmatic tropical kit with a haversack full of simple necessities and high-protein food, armed with a steel-tipped walking stick and a small throwing knife hidden beneath the sleeve of my left forearm, and Mercy's dear picture and dossier in my breast pocket. Here I go into the deep cellar . . .
Stein Oleson had to duck his head passing through the door and walk with caution through the hall lest he brush against Madame's tall clock with its wagging brass pendulum, or knock some fragile bibelot from its place on the wall, or catch the curling horns of his Viking helmet on the little crystal chandelier. Stein was finding it more and more difficult to keep silent. Something was expanding inside of him that demanded to cry out, to roar, to vent a great gust of laughter that would make all the rest of the group shrink away from him as from the door of a suddenly opened furnace. He felt his manhood coming alive beneath the wolfskin kilt, his feet itching to leap and trample, his arm muscles tensing to swing the battle-axe or brandish the vitredur-tipped spear he had added to his armory. Soon! Soon! The tangle in his guts would come free, the fire in his blood would power him to heroism, and the joy would be so huge that he would damn near die with the swallowing of it . . .
Richard Voorhees followed Stein carefully down into the cellar. His heavy, folded-over seaboots were awkward on the worn steps. He had a suspicion that he would have to switch to the more comfortable athletic shoes in his backpack once they had passed through the gate and done a first reconnaissance on the other side. Practicalities first, then rôle playing! The secret of success, he told himself, would lie in a swift assessment of the local power structure, covert appeal to the have-nots, and establishment of a suitable base. Once he got the distillery operating (with Stein, and maybe Landry, to keep the locals from muscling in), he'd be on a sound economic footing and ready to jockey for political influence. He smiled in anticipation and carefully adjusted the hipband of the backpack so that it would not wrinkle the skirts of his doublet. Didn't some of those old sea rovers set themselves up as virtual kings in early America? Jean Lafitte, Bloody Morgan, even old Blackboard himself? And how do you like Richard Voorhees for King of Barataria? He chuckled out loud at the thought, completely forgetting that his costume had not really belonged to an operatic buccaneer, but to a different kind of seafarer altogether . . .
Felice Landry watched Counselor Mishima manipulate the elaborate lock mechanism of the cellar door. It swung ponderously open and they entered the old wine-keep, dank and musty and with a faint over-scent of ozone. She stared at the gazebo, that unlikely gate to freedom, and clutched her new arbalest to her black-armored bosom. She was trembling, nauseated, exerting all her willpower to keep from disgracing herself in this ultimate moment. For the first time since early childhood, her eyes, within the T-shaped Grecian helmet opening, were sticky-lashed with tears . . .
"We will translate you in groups of four, as I have already explained," said Counselor Mishima. "Your extra baggage will follow after an interval of five minutes, so be prepared to retrieve it from the tau-field area. And now, if the first people will position themselves . . ."
Elizabeth Orme watched without emotion as Bryan, Stein, Richard, and Felice crowded closely into the latticed booth and stood motionless. All of them, she thought, have made their plans except me. They have their goals, touching or comical or mad. But I'll be content to drift through the Exile world in my scarlet balloon, looking down on all the people and the animals, listening to wind and the cry of birds, smelling pollen, resin from the forest, smoke from wildfire on the grassland. I'll come to earth only when I feel that the Earth is real again and I am. If we ever can be . . .
Mirrored walls sprang up as Mishima threw the switch. The four people in the gazebo were on their way. Aiken Drum, his golden suit glittering with a hundred reflections from the cellar lights, stepped forward impulsively.
"Damn! So that's all there is to it? Not even enough power drain to dim the lamps!" He studied the vinelike cables that seemed to grow out of the packed soil of the floor and disappear somewhere short of the vaulted ceiling. Mishima warned him to touch nothing, and Aiken gave him a reassuring gesture. But he had to get a close look. The glassy framework was shot through with faintly moving patterns hovering at the edge of visibility. The black bodies of the lattice-nodes each enclosed a tiny point of unwinking light that seemed to be shining at a great distance.
"How long does it take for people to get from here to there?" Aiken asked. "Or should I say from now till then?"
"The translation is in theory instantaneous," replied Mishima. "We maintain the field for some minutes in order to enable a safe exit. And I may say that never once, in the four years that the Human Polity has carried on the work of Madame Guderian, has there been an accident to time-travelers."
Aiken said, "Counselor, I'd like to take one more thing with me into Exile. Can you give me a description and diagram of this device?"
Without a word, Mishima opened the oaken cabinet and took out a small plaque-book It was obvious that other travelers had made the same request. Aiken kissed the plaque triumphantly and stowed it in a large pocket below the right knee of his shining suit.
Mishima stepped to the control console and switched off the field. The mirror-walls winked out. The gazebo was empty.
"They have passed safely through the portal. Now the rest of you may enter."
Claude Majewski hefted his twenty-kilo pack and was the first inside. Old Man, you're crazy, he said to himself, then smiled because he could hear Gen saying it. On a sudden impulse, he opened the pack compartment that held the carved and inlaid box from the Polish mountains and took it out. Is there really a Pliocene world beyond the gate, Black Girl? Or is it a hoax after all, and do we step out of the glass cage into death? Oh, Gen, go with me. Wherever . . .
Sister Annamaria Roccaro was the last to get into position, smiling in apology as she crowded next to Aiken Drum and felt the hard tools in his pockets pressing through the sleeves and skirts of her habit. Aiken was nearly a head shorter than the sturdy nun, almost as small as Felice but in no way as vulnerable. He'd survive, would Aiken Drum. May the rest of us as well! And now, Mother of God, hear my archaic prayer: Salve Regina, mater misericordiae; vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra, salve. Ad te clamamus, exsules, filii Hevae. Ad te sus-piramus, gementes et flentes in hac lacrimarum valle. Eia ergo, advocato nostra, ilka tuos misericordes oculos ad nos convene. Et Jesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui, nobis post hoc exih'um ostende . . .
Mishima threw the switch.
There was pain of translation and a momentous snap hurtling them into the gray limbo. They hung without breath or heartbeat, each one screaming alone into silence. And then they felt sudden warmth and opened their eyes to a blinding dazzle of green and blue. Hands were pulling them, voices urging them to step forward out of the shimmering area that had been the gazebo, to step down a little, to come out quickly before the field reversed itself, to enter into Exile.