Authors: Terry Carr
Tags: #Science Fiction
“What were the sciences of Kor?” Rynason asked again, not wanting to think of the cheapness and dirt of the Earth outpost which huddled so near to the Hirlaji domes.
He felt Horng's quiet gaze, heavy with centuries, resting on him. THEY WERE ARE THOSE SCIENCES QUESTINGS WHICH KOR PROCLAIMED INFORMED WERE SACRED PART OF THE ESSENCE.
“Part of Kor?”
Horng's head dipped to one side. APPROXIMATELY.
“How is this known? Tebron broke the power of the priesthood, didn't he?”
TEBRON REPLACED THE PRIESTS. THE KNOWLEDGE WAS GIVEN TO TEBRON.
“Including the information that these sciences were prohibited?”
Horng shifted forward, like a massive block of stone wavering. His fingers moved briefly and then rested. THE MEMORIES ARE BURIED DEEPLY. TEBRON PROCLAIMED THIS PROHIBITION AFTER COMMUNICATING WITH KOR.
Rynason's head jerked up from the interpreter. “Tebron spoke with Kor?”
After a pause, Horng's dry voice came. APPROXIMATELY. THERE WAS ... COMMUNICATION RAPPORT. TEBRON WAS KING PRIEST.
“Then Tebron made this prohibition in the name of Kor. When did this occur?”
THE KNOWLEDGE PROHIBITION WAS COMMUNICATED TO HIRLAJ WHEN TEBRON ASSUMED POWER RIGHT.
“The same day?”
THE DAY AFTER. TEBRON COMMUNICATED WITH KOR IMMEDIATELY AFTER OUSTING REPLACING THE PRIESTS.
Rynason watched Horng's replies as they were recorded by the interpreter; he was frowning. So this dawn-era king was supposed to have spoken, perhaps telepathically, with the god of the Hirlaji. Could he have simply claimed to have done so in an effort to stabilize his own power? But the fact that this race was telepathic threw some doubt on that supposition.
“Are there memories of Tebron's conversation with Kor?” he asked.
Horng's eyes closed and opened in acknowledgement, and then abruptly the alien rose to his feet. He moved slowly past Rynason to the base of a long, sweeping flight of stairs which led upward toward the empty dome, trailing the wires of the interpreter. Rynason moved to unplug the wires, but Horng stopped at the base of the stairs, looking up along the curving ramp to where it ended in a blunt, weathered break two-thirds of the way up. Rubble lay below the break.
Rynason watched the grey being staring silently up those broken steps, and asked softly, “What are you doing?”
Horng, still gazing upward, dipped his head to one side. THERE IS NO PURPOSE. He turned and came slowly back to his stone seat.
Rynason grinned wryly. He was beginning to get used to such things from Horng, whose mind often seemed to run in non sequiturs. It was as though the alien's perceptions of the present were as jumbled as the welter of memories he held. Crazy old mound of leather.
But he was not crazy, of course; his mind simply ran in a way that was alien to the Earthmen. Rynason was beginning to learn to respect that alien way, if not to understand it.
“Are there memories of Tebron's conversation with Kor?” Rynason asked again.
TEBRON COMMUNICATED WITH KOR IMMEDIATELY AFTER OUSTING THE PRIESTS. IT OCCURRED IN THE TEMPLE.
“Are there memories of what was said?”
Horng sat silently, perhaps in thought. His reply didn't come for several minutes.
THE MEMORIES ARE BURIED DEEPLY.
Can you remember
the actual communication?”
Horng's head tilted to one side in a peculiarly strained fashion; Rynason could see a muscle jumping where the alien's neck blended with his torso. THE MEMORIES ARE BURIED SO DEEPLY. I CANNOT REACH THEM.
Rynason gazed pensively at the interpreter as these words were recorded. What could have happened during that conversation that would have caused its memory to be so deeply buried?
“Can you find among any of the rest of Tebron's memories any thoughts about Kor?”
YES. TEBRON HAD MEMORIES THAT HE HAD COMMUNICATED WITH KOR, BUT THESE ARE FLEETING. THERE IS NOTHING CLEAR.
The Hirlaji was shaking, his entire body trembling with some sort of tension which even communicated itself through the interpreter, causing the stylus to quaver and jump forward, dragging a jagged line across the paper. Rynason stared up at the alien, feeling a chill down his back which seemed to penetrate through to his chest and lungs. This massive creature was shaking like the rumbling warnings of an earthquake, his eyes cast downward from the deep shadows of their sockets; Rynason could almost feel the weight of their gaze like a heavy, dark blanket. He lifted the interpreter's mike slowly.
“Your race does not forget,” he said softly. “Why can't you remember this conversation?”
Horng's four-digited hands clasped tightly and the powerful tendons stood out starkly on the heavy wrists as Horng drew in long breaths of air, the sound of his breathing loud in the great space under the dome.
THERE IS NOTHING CLEAR. THERE IS NOTHING CLEAR.
The Earthman called the town Hirlaj too, because the spaceport was there. It was a new town, only a few months old, but the gleaming alloys of the buildings were already coated with dirt and pitted by the frequent dust storms that swept through. Garbage littered the alleys; its odor was strange but still foul in the alien atmosphere. The small, darting creatures were here too, foraging in the alleys and the outskirts of the town, where the streets ended in garbage heaps and new cemeteries or faded into the trackless flat where the spacers touched down.
The Earthmen filled the streets ... drinking, fighting, laughing and cursing, arguing over money or power or, sometimes, women. The women here were hard and self-sufficient, following the path of Terran expansion in the stars and taking what they felt was due them as women or what they could get as men. Supply houses did a thriving business, their prices high between shipments on the spacers from the inner worlds; bars and gambling houses stayed open all night; rooming houses and restaurants and laundries displayed crude handlettered signs along the streets.
Rynason pushed his way through a jostling crowd outside the door of a bar. He was supposed to meet the head of his Survey team here—Rice Manning, who had been pushing the survey as hard as he could since the day they'd set foot on Hirlaj. Manning was hard and ambitious—a leader of men, Rynason thought sardonically as he surveyed the tables in the dim interior. The floor of the bar was a dirty plastic-metal alloy, already scuffed and in places bloodstained. The tables were of the cheap, light metals so common on the spacer-supplied worlds of the Edge, and they wobbled.
The low-ceilinged room was crowded with men. Rynason didn't know many of them by name, but he recognized a lot of the faces. The men of the Edge, though they lacked money, education, often brains and usually ethics, at least had the quality of distinctiveness: they didn't fit the half-dozen convenient molds which the highly developed culture of the inner worlds fitted over the more civilized citizens of the Terran Federation. These men were too self-interested to follow the group-thoughts which controlled the centers of empire, and the seams and wrinkles of their faces stamped a rough kind of individuality even more visually upon them.
Of them all, the man who was instantly recognizable in any crowd like this was Rene Malhomme; Rynason immediately saw the man in one corner of the room. He stood six and a half feet tall, heavily muscled and a bit wild-eyed; his greying hair fell in disorder over his dirty forehead and sprayed out over his ears. He was surrounded by laughing and shouting men; Rynason couldn't tell from this distance whether he was engaged in one of his usual heated arguments on religion or in his other avocation of recounting stories of the women he had “converted”. He waved a black-lettered sign saying REPENT! over his head—but then, he always did.
Rynason found Manning in the back, sitting under a cheap print of a Picasso nude with cold light trained on it in typically bad taste. He had a woman with him. Rynason recognized her—Mara Stephens, in charge of communications and supplies for the survey team. She was a strange girl, aloof but not hard, and she carried herself with a quiet dignity. What was she doing with Manning?
He passed a waiter on his way to the table and ordered a drink. Malhomme saw him as he passed: “Lee Rynason! Come and join me in repentance! Give your soul to God and your money to the barman, for as the prophet sayeth, lo, I am dry! Join us!”
Rynason grinned and shook his head, walking past. He grabbed one of the light-metal chairs and sat down next to Mara.
“You wanted to see me,” he said to Manning.
Manning looked up at him to apparent surprise. “Lee! Yes, yes—sit down. Wait, we'll get you a drink.”
So he was in that kind of a mood. “I've got one coming,” Rynason said. “What's our problem today?”
Manning smiled broadly. “No problem, Lee; no problem at all. Not unless you want to make one.” He chuckled goodnaturedly, a tacit statement that he was expecting no such thing. “I've got good news today, by god. You tell him, Mara.”
Rynason turned to the girl, who smiled briefly. “It just came over the telecom,” she said. “Manning has a good chance for the governorship here. The Council is supposed to announce its decision in two weeks.”
Rynason looked over at Manning, his face expressionless. “Congratulations. How did this happen?”
“I've got an inside track; friend of mine knows several of the big guys. Throws parties, things like that. He's been putting in a word for me, here and there.”
“Isn't this a bit out of your line?” Rynason said.
Manning sat back, a large man with close-cropped dark hair and heavy features. His beard was trimmed to a thin line along the ridge of his jaw—a style that was popular on the inner worlds, but rarely seen here on the Edge. “This
my line,” he said. “God, this is what I was after when I took this damned job. Survey teams are a dime a dozen out here, Lee; it's no job for a man.”
“We've got sort of a special case here,” Rynason said evenly, glancing at Mara. She smiled at him. “We haven't run into any alien races before that were intelligent.”
Manning laughed, and took a long swallow of his drink. “Twenty-six lousy horsefaces—now there's an important discovery for you. No, Lee, this is peanuts. For that matter, they may be running into intelligent aliens all over the Edge by now—communication isn't so reliable out here that we'd necessarily know about it. What we've found here isn't any more important than all the rubble and trash the Outsiders left behind.”
unique so far,” Mara said.
“I'll tell you exactly how unique it is,” Manning said, leaning forward and setting down his glass with a bang. “It's just unique enough that I can make it sound important in my report to the Council. I can make myself sound a little impressive. That's how important it is; no more than that.”
Rynason pursed his lips, but didn't say anything. The waiter arrived with his drink; he threw a green coin onto the table which was scooped up before it had finished ringing to a stop, and sat back with the glass in his hand.
“Is that your pitch to the Council?” he asked. “You're telling them that Hirlaj is an important archaeological area and that's why you should get the governorship?”
“Something like that,” Manning nodded. “That, and my friend at Seventeenth Cluster headquarters. Incidentally, he's an idiot and a slob—turns on quadsense telemuse instead of working, drinks hopsbrau from his own sector. I can't stand him. But I did him a few favors, just in case, and they're paying off.”
“I think it's marvelous the way our frontier policy caters to the colonists,” Mara said quietly. She was still smiling, but it was an ironic smile which suddenly struck Rynason as characteristic of her.
He knew exactly what she meant. Manning's little push for power was nothing new or shocking in Terran frontier politics. With the rapid expansion of the Edge through the centuries, the frontier policy of the Confederation had had to adapt itself to comparatively slipshod methods of setting up governments in the newly-opened areas. Back in the early days they'd tried sending out trained men from each Cluster headquarters, but that had been foredoomed to failure: travel between the stars was slow, and too often the governors had arrived after local officialdoms had already been established, and there had been clashes. The colonists had almost always backed the local governments, and there were a few full-scale revolts when the system had been backed too militantly by Cluster headquarters.
So the Local Autonomy System had been sanctioned. The colonists would always support their own men, who at least knew conditions in the areas they were to govern. But since this necessarily limited the choice of Edge governorships to the roustabouts and drifters who wandered the outworlds, the resulting administrations were probably even more corrupt than they had been under the old system of what had amounted to centralized graft. The Cluster Councils retained the power of appointing the local governors, but aside from that the newly-opened worlds of the Edge were completely under their own rule. Some of the more vocal critics of the Local Autonomy System had dubbed it instead the Indigenous Corruption System; it was by now a fairly standard nickname in the outworlds.
The system made for a wide-open frontier—bustling, wild, hectic, and rich. For the worlds of the Edge were untamed worlds, raw and forbidding, and the policy of the Councils was calculated to attract the kind of men who not only could but would open these frontiers. The roustabouts, the low drifters of the spaceways ... men who were hard and strong from repeated knocks, who were looking for a way to work or fight their way up. The lean and hungry of the outworlds.
Rynason glanced across the table at Manning. He was neither lean nor hungry, but he had that look in his eyes. Rynason had been around the Edge for years—his father had travelled the spacers in the commercial lines—and he had seen that look on many men, in the fields and mines, in the spaceports, in the quickly-tarnished prefab towns that sprang up almost overnight when a planetfall was made. He could recognize it on Manning despite the man's casual, self-satisfied expression.
“You don't have to worry about the colonists here,” Manning was saying to the girl. “I‘ll treat ‘em decently. There'll be money to be made here, and I can make it without stepping on too many toes.”