Authors: Alan Dean Foster
A Pip & Flinx Novel
Alan Dean Foster
A Del Rey
THE BALLANTINE PUBLISHING GROUP * NEW YORK
For my niece, Lauren Elizabeth Hedish
With love from Uncle Alan . . .
When bad people are chasing you, life is dangerous. When good people are chasing you, life is awkward. But when you are chasing yourself, the most simple facts of existence become disturbing, destabilizing, and a source of unending waking confusion.
So it was with Flinx, who in searching for the history of himself, found that he was once again treading upon the hallowed, mystic soil of the spherical blue-white womb among the stars that had given birth to his whole species. Only, the soil he was treading presently was being treated by those around him with something other than veneration, and a means of sourcing the information he hoped to uncover was still to be found.
Tacrica was a beautiful place in which to be discouraged. Sensitive to his frustration, Pip had been acting fidgety for days. An iridescent flutter of pleated pink-and-blue wings and lethal, diamond-backed body, she would rise from his shoulder to dart aimlessly about his head and neck before settling restlessly back down into her customary position of repose. As active as she was colorful, the mature female minidrag was the only thing he was presently wearing.
His nudity did not excite comment because every one of the other sun and water worshipers strolling or lying about on the seashore was similarly unclothed. In the human beach culture of 554 a.a., the superfluity of wearing clothing into the sea or along its edge had long been recognized. Protective sprays blocked harmful UV rays without damaging the skin, and frivolous, transitory painted highlights decorated bodies both attractive and past their prime. It was these often elaborate anatomical decorations that were the focus of admiring attention, and not the commonplace nakedness that framed them.
Flinx flaunted no such artificial enhancements, unless one counted the Alaspinian minidrag coiled around his neck and left shoulder. Such contemporary cultural accoutrements were as alien to him as the primeval grains of sand beneath his feet. Culturally as well as historically, he was an utter and complete stranger here. Nor was he comfortable among the throngs of people. With its still unsettled steppes and unexplored reaches, Moth, where he had grown up, was far more familiar to him. He was more at home in the jungles of Alaspin, or among the blind Sumacrea of Longtunnel, or even in the aggressive world-girdling rain forest of Midworld. Anyplace but here. Anywhere but Earth.
Yet it was to Earth he had finally come for a second time, in search of himself. All roads led to Terra, it was said, and it was as true for him as for anyone else. Beyond Earth, the United Church had placed a moral imperative lock, an elaborate Edict, on all information about the Meliorares, the society of renegade eugenicists responsible for whatever bastard mutation he had become. Travels and adventures elsewhere had left him with hints as to their doings, with fragmentary bits and pieces of knowledge that tantalized without satisfying. If he was ever going to unravel the ultimate secrets of his heritage, it was here.
Even so, he had been reluctant to come. Not because he was fearful of what he might find: He had long since matured beyond such fears. But because it was dangerous. Not only did
want to learn all the details of his origins: so did others. Because of contacts he had been compelled to make, the United Church was now aware of him as an individual instead of merely as an overlooked statistic in the scientific record. As high-ranking an official as thranx Counselor Second Druvenmaquez had taken a personal interest in the red-haired, bright-eyed young man Flinx had become. The novice beachgoer smiled to himself. He had left the irascible, elderly thranx on Midworld, slipping away quietly when the science counselor had been occupied elsewhere. When he eventually discovered that the singular young human had taken surreptitious flight, the venerable thranx would be irked. He would have to be satisfied with what little he had already learned, because neither his people nor anyone else would be able to track Flinx’s ship, the
Ever cautious, Flinx had decided for the moment to hew to the hoary principle that the best place to hide was in plain sight. What better place to do that than on one of the Commonwealth’s twin world centers of government and religion, where he had come looking for information years ago? It was where he needed to be anyway, if he was ever going to find out the truth about himself. In addition to his burgeoning curiosity, there had come upon him in the past year a new sense of urgency. With the onset of full adulthood looming over him, he could feel himself changing, in slow and sometimes not-so-subtle ways. Each month, it seemed, brought a new revelation. He could not define all the changes, could not quarantine and assess every one of them, but their periodic nebulosity rendered them no less real. Something was happening to him, inside him. The self he had known since infancy was becoming something else.
He was scared. With no one to talk to, no one to confide in save a highly empathetic but nonsapient flying snake, he could look only to himself for answers—answers he had always wished for but had never been able to acquire. It was for those reasons he had taken the risk of coming back to Earth. If he was going to find what he needed to know, it lay buried somewhere deep within the immense volume of sheer accumulated knowledge that was one of the homeworld’s greatest treasures.
But if he was
as every human who came to Earth was supposed to be, then why did he feel so much like an alien? It bothered him now even more than it had when last he had visited here some five years ago.
He tried to wean himself from the troubling chain of thought. Belaboring the accumulated neuroses of twenty years would solve nothing. He was here on a fact-finding mission; nothing more, nothing less. It was important to focus his attention and efforts, not only in hopes of securing the information he sought, but in order to avoid the attention of the authorities. With the exception of the thranx Druvenmaquez and his underlings, who were specifically looking for him, what other agencies and individuals might also be interested in one Philip Lynx he did not know. It did not matter. Until he left the homeworld, a little healthy paranoia would help to preserve him—but not if he allowed his thoughts to float aimlessly, adrift in a distraught sea of incomplete memories and internal conflicts.
Of course, he might well secure answers to all the questions that tormented him by the simple expedient of turning himself in. Druvenmaquez or a specialist in some other relevant bureau would gladly take the plunge into the secrets of him. But once committed to such research, he would not be allowed to leave whenever it might please him. Guinea pigs had no bill of rights. Revealing himself might also expose him to the scrutiny of those he wished to avoid—the great trading houses, other private concerns, the possible remnants of certain heretical and outlawed societies, and others. Becoming a potentially profitable lab subject carried with it dangers of its own—a long, healthy, and happy future not necessarily being among them.
Somehow he had to discover himself
himself, without alerting to his presence the very authorities who might help alleviate his seemingly illimitable anxieties. And he had to do it quickly, before the changes he was experiencing threatened to overwhelm him.
For one thing, the unpredictable, skull-pounding headaches he had suffered from since childhood—the ones that caused blinding flashes of light behind his eyes—were growing worse, in intensity if not frequency. When and if it occurred, would he be able to tell the difference between a common headache and a cerebral hemorrhage? Would he be able to deal with the physical as well as the mental consequences of the changes he was undergoing? He needed answers to all the old questions about himself, as well as to the new ones, and he needed them soon.
Of all the billions of humans on all the settled worlds scattered across the vast length and breadth of the Commonwealth, no one could claim that “nobody understands me” with the depth of veracity of a tall young redhead named Philip Lynx, who was called Flinx.
Before setting his small transfer craft down at the Nazca shuttle-port north of Tacrica, he had spent much time in free space planning his approach to the grand library that was Earth. First he had tried accessing the Shell, the free and omnipresent information network that spanned the globe, from one of the numerous orbiting stations that circled the planet. Unsurprisingly, the small segment he was able to access from orbit had been devoid of all but the most fundamental, freely available birth information on the subject of himself—save for one small historical reference to the destruction of the outlawed Meliorare Society in 530, three years before his birth. That information was already known to him. For what he wanted, for data that was no doubt restricted, banned, or even under Church Edict, he would have to probe much deeper.
That meant accessing in person one of the intelligence hubs that sustained the Shell. The Commonwealth Church and Science hub on Bali would have been ideal, but presenting himself at a highly visible and tightly secured site that offered only restricted access to the general public would have been asking for trouble—especially since he had entered its corridors once before, seeking information then only on the specifics of his birth. Ignorant of how widely and well his current physical description might have been disseminated to local authorities, it behooved him while conducting his research on Terra to keep as low a profile as possible. That meant avoiding the most famous and closely monitored centers of research.
Names and faces from his past congealed in the mirror that was his memory. Did a padre named Namoto still roam the depths of Genealogy Sector on Bali? Was Counselor Second Joshua Jiwe still in charge of security there? And where might a certain lissome thranx named Sylzenzuzex be working these days? On the other side of the vast ocean that lapped against his feet, which humans called the Pacific, remembrances lay like driftwood on a beach, waiting to be reexamined. He forced all such thoughts from his mind. He could not afford to present himself at the entrance to Church science headquarters for a second time in five years. Like it or not, whatever research he chose to conduct would have to be done from afar.
Roaming the Shell from the comparative anonymity of the orbiting station, he had reduced the number of suitable hubs he might safely visit to three. From centers in the Terran provinces of Kalahari, Kandy, and Cuzco, he chose the Shell hub at Surire, on the western slope of the mountain range called Andes. On-site access to the physical core was naturally off-limits to all but qualified personnel. But as with many such impressive, meaningful facilities, tours of its outer, less sensitive areas were offered to the public. They were deemed educational.
Wanting ardently to be educated, Flinx had taken one such tour. As expected, internal security, to which the tour guide casually alluded, was conspicuous. To penetrate both the facility and the knowledge it hopefully contained, he would need help. In order to secure it, he for one of the few times in his life prepared to use his talent not simply to receive, but to project. To perceive, and to then act upon those perceptions. Previously, he had done so only to defend himself against those intending to do him harm.
This time it made him feel, well, dirty.
It was why he was presently strolling along the beach at Point Argolla, well south of the highly developed mouth of the Garza River, with its amusement park and dedicated hotels that occupied choice sites both above and below the water. Though he was surrounded by hundreds of fellow sun worshipers, he did not feel comforted, or at home. The sooner he left this world of origins for the far reaches of Commonwealth space, the happier he would be. He did not like being here, and he liked what he was having to do even less.
Off shore, children frolicked in the gentle surf. The chilly waters of the northward sweeping Humboldt Current were warmed by excess heat outflow from the massive desalination plant to the south, but the transitory warmth extended only to a depth of four to five meters. Below this artificial thermocline, the life of the Pacific ebbed and flowed normally. Behind the beach, the fruit and vegetable gardens of the Atacama Desert rapidly gave way to the foothills of the high Andes. Known as Tacrica, the elongated beach resort was one of the least crowded on the continent. It well suited the multitudes that thronged to its shores in search of sun, fun, and sea. Like the rest of Earth, it did not suit Flinx. He had felt no sense of homecoming when he had set foot on its soil. No tears of upwelling, deep-seated feeling had been forthcoming from the redheaded, olive-skinned offworlder. To him the Earth was nothing but a spherical clump of history circling a third-rate sun. From it he wanted answers, not spurious emotion. That much he had learned in the course of his previous, awkward visit.
Elena had told him where he could expect to find her. He perceived her before he saw her. The carefully memorized nodule of individual feminine emotions was as recognizable to his talent as the odor of day-old meat to a dog: tincture of mildly infatuated young woman. She had become interested in him not because he represented the partner she had been looking for all her life, not because he was some peerless paragon of manly virtues, but because he had projected those feelings onto her, mixing and applying them as precisely as an artist would lay paint on canvas.
Flinx was an empathetic telepath. When his inconsistent abilities were functioning, he had always been able to read the emotions of others. Within the past year he had discovered that his ever-mutating, apparently blossoming talent, while still only hardly less erratic than ever, could occasionally also be projected onto others. Using equipment on board his ship
he had even managed to measure the minuscule electrical discharges that were generated by specific moieties of his mind when he undertook such efforts. Understanding the actual neurophysical mechanism would require a great deal more study, as well as expertise he did not possess. One thing was not in dispute: It took considerable effort of will, of mental strain, for him to accomplish the feat.