Authors: Terry Carr
Tags: #Science Fiction
Mara seemed amused. “And what would happen if you
to step on them to make your money? What if Hirlaj doesn't turn out to have any natural resources worth exploiting—a whole civilization has been here for thousands of years? What if the colony here starts to falter, and the men move on?”
Manning frowned at her for a moment, then gave a grunting laugh. “No chance of that. It's like Lee was just saying—this planet is an important discovery—we've got tame aliens here, intelligent horsefaces that you can lead around with a rope on their necks. That alone will draw tourists. Maybe well set up an official Restricted Ground, a sort of reservation.”
“A zoo, you mean,” Rynason interrupted.
Manning raised an amused eyebrow at him. “A reservation, I said. You know what reservations are like, Lee.”
Rynason glared at the heavier man, then subsided. There was no point in getting into a fight over if's and maybe's; in the outworlds you learned quickly to confine your clashes to tangibles. “Why did you want to see me?” he said.
“I want your preliminary report completed,” Manning said. “I've got to have my complete report collated and transmitted within the week, if it's to have any effect on the Council. Most of the boys have got them in already; Breune and Larsborg have promised theirs within four days. But you're still holding me up.”
Rynason took a long swallow of his drink and put it down empty. The noise and smell of the bar seemed to grow around him, washing over him. It might have been the effects of the tarpaq in the drink, but he felt his stomach tighten and turn slightly when he thought of how Earth's culture presented itself, warped itself, here on the frontier Edge. Was this land of mercenary, slipshod rush really what had carried Earthmen to the stars?
“I don't know if I'll have much to report for at least a week,” he said shortly.
“Then give me a report on what you've got!” Manning snapped. “If nothing else, turn in your transcripts and I'll do the report myself; I can handle it. What the hell do you mean, you won't have much to report?”
“Larsborg said the same thing,” Mara interjected.
“Larsborg said he'd have his report ready in a couple of days anyway!”
“I'll give you what I've got as soon as I can,” Rynason said. “But things are just beginning to break for me—did you see my note this afternoon?”
“Yes, of course. The part about this Tedron or whatever his name was?”
“Tebron Marl. He's the link between their barbaric and civilized periods. I've only begun to get into it.”
Manning was waving for more drinks; he caught a waiter's eye and then turned back to Rynason. “What's this nonsense about some damned block you ran into? Have you got a crazy horse on your hands?”
“There's something strange there,” Rynason said. “He tells me this Tebron was actually supposed to have communicated with their god, or whatever he was. It sounds crazy, all right. But there's more to it than that, I'm sure of it. I wanted time to go into it further before I made my report.”
“I think you've got a nut alien there, boy. Don't let him foul you up; you're one of my best men.”
Rynason almost sneered, but he managed to bring it out as a grin. The role of protective father did not sit well on Manning's shoulders. “We're dealing here with a remarkably sane race,” he pointed out. “The very fact that they have total recall argues against any insanity in them. There've been experiments on the inner worlds for over a century now, trying to bring out total recall in us, and not much luck so far. We're a sick, hung-up race.”
Manning slapped his hand down on the table. “What the hell are you trying to do, Lee? Are you trying to measure these aliens by our standards? I thought you had better sense. Total recall doesn't necessarily mean a damn thing in them—but when they start telling you straightforward and cold that they've talked with some god, and then they throw what sounds like an anxiety fit right in front of you.... Well, what does it sound like to you?”
Rynason accepted one of the drinks that the waiter banged down on the table and took a sip. He felt lightheaded. “It would have been an anxiety fit if Horng had been human,” he said. “But you're right, I do know better than to judge him by our standards. No, it was something else.”
He shook his head. “I don't know. That's the point—I can't give you a decent report until I find out.”
“Then, dammit, give me an
report! Fill it out with some very learned speculations, you know the type....” Manning stopped, and grinned. “Speaking of indecent reports, what have we turned up on their sex lives?”
“Marc Stoworth covered that in his report yesterday,” Mara said. “They're unisexual, and their sex life is singularly boring, if you'll pardon the expression. At least, Stoworth says so. If it weren't I'm sure he'd tell us all about it.”
Manning chuckled. “Yes, I imagine you're right; Marc is a good boy. Well look, Lee, I've told you the position I'm in. Now I'm counting on you to get me out of this spot. I've
transmit my report to Council within a week. I don't want to pressure you, but you know I'm in a position to do it if I have to. Dammit, give me a report.”
“I'll turn something in in a few days,” Rynason said vaguely. His brain was definitely fuzzy now from the tarpaq.
Manning stood up. “All right, don't forget it. Trick it out with some high-sounding guesses if you have to, like I said. Right now I've got to see a man about a woman.” He paused, glancing at Mara. “You're busy?”
“I'm busy, yes.” Her face was studiedly expressionless.
He shrugged briefly and went out, pushing and weaving his way through the hubbub that filled the bar. It was dark outside; Rynason caught a glimpse of the dark street as Manning went through the door. Night fell quickly on Hirlaj, with the suddenness of age.
Rynason turned back to the table, and Mara. He looked at her curiously.
“What were you doing with him, anyway? You usually keep to yourself.”
The girl smiled wryly. She had deep black hair which fell to her shoulders in soft waves. Most of the women here grew their hair down to their waists, in exaggerated imitation of inner-world styles, but Mara had more taste than that. Her eyes were a clear brown, and they met his directly. “He was in a sharp mood, so I came along as peacemaker. You don't seem to have needed me.”
“You helped, at that; thanks. Was that true about the governorship?”
“Of course. Manning seldom brags, you should know that. He's a very capable man, in some ways.”
Rynason frowned. “He could be a lot more useful on this survey if he'd use his talents on tightening up the survey itself. He's forcing a premature report, and it isn't going to be worth much.”
“Is that what's really bothering you?” she asked.
He tried to focus on her through the haze of the noisy bar. “Of course it is. That, and his whole attitude toward these people.”
“The Hirlaji? Are they people to you?”
He shrugged. “What are people? Humans? Or reasoning beings you can talk to, communicate with?”
“I should think people would be reasoning beings you could relate to,” she said softly. “Not just intellectually, but emotionally too. You have to be able to understand them to communicate that way—that's what makes people.”
Rynason was silent, trying to integrate that into the fog in his head. The raucous noise of the bar had faded into an underwater murmur around him, lost somewhere where he could not see.
Finally, he said, “That's the trouble with them, the Hirlaji. I can't really understand them. It's like there's really no contact, not even through the interpreter.” He stared into his drink. “I wish to hell we had some straight telepathers here; they might work with the Hirlaji, since they're telepathic anyway. I'd like to make a direct link myself.”
After a moment he felt Mara's hand on his arm, and realized that he had almost fallen asleep on the table.
“You'd better go on back to your quarters,” she said.
He sat up, shaking his head to clear it. “No, but really—what do you think of that idea? What if I had a telepather, and I could link minds with Horng? Straight linkage, no interpreter in the middle. I could get right at that race memory myself!”
“I think you need some sleep,” she said. She seemed worried. “You're getting too wrapped up in this thing. And forget about the telepathers.”
Rynason looked at her and grinned. “Why?” he said quietly. “There's no harm in wishing.”
“Because,” she said, “we've got three telepathers coming in the day after tomorrow.”
Rynason continued to smile at her for several seconds, until her words penetrated. Then he abruptly sat up and steadied himself with one hand against the edge of the table.
“Can you get one for me?”
She gave a reluctant shrug. “If you insist, and if Manning okays it. But is it a good idea? Direct contact with a mind so alien?”
As a matter of fact, now that he was faced with the actual possibility of it, he wasn't so sure. But he said, “We'll only know once we've tried it.”
Mara dropped her eyes and swirled her drink, watching the tiny red spots form inside the glass and rise to the surface. There was a brief silence between them.
, Lee Rynason!” The words burst upon his ears over the waves of sound that filled the room. He turned, half-rising, to find Rene Malhomme hovering over him, his wide grin showing a tooth missing in the bottom row.
Rynason settled back into his chair. “Don't shout. I'm going to have a headache soon enough.”
Malhomme took the chair which Manning had vacated and sat in it heavily. He set his hand-lettered placard against the edge of the table and leaned forward, waving a thick finger.
“You consort with men who would enslave the pure in heart!” he rumbled, but Rynason didn't miss the laughter in his eye.
“Manning?” he nodded. “He'd enslave every pure heart on this planet, if he could find one. As a matter of fact, I think he's already working on Mara here.”
Malhomme turned to her and sat back, appraising her boldly. Mara met his gaze calmly, raising her eyebrows slightly as she waited for his verdict.
Malhomme shook his head. “If she's pure, then it's a sin,” he said. “A thrice-damned sin, Lee. Have I ever expostulated to you upon the Janus-coin that is good and evil?”
“Often,” Rynason said.
Malhomme shrugged and turned again to the girl. “Nevertheless,” he said, “I greet you with pleasure.”
“Mara, this is Rene Malhomme,” Rynason said wearily. “He imagines that we're friends, and I'm afraid he's right.”
Malhomme dipped his shaggy head. “The name is from the Old French of Earth—badman. I have a long and dishonorable family history, but the earliest of my ancestors whom I've been able to trace had the same name. Apparently there were too many Smiths, Carpenters, Bakers and Priests on that world—the time was ripe for a Malhomme. My first name would have been pronounced Reh-
before the language reform dropped all accent marks from Earth tongues.”
“Considering your background,” Mara smiled, “you're in good company out here.”
“Good company!” Malhomme cried. “I'm not looking for good company! My work, my mission calls me to where men's hearts are the blackest, where repentance and redemption are needed—and so I come to the Edge.”
“You're religious?” she asked.
religious in these days?” Malhomme asked, shrugging. “Religion is of the past; it is dead. It is nearly forgotten, and one hears God's name spoken now in anger. God damn you, cry the masses!
is our modern religion!”
“Rene wanders around shouting about sin,” Rynason explained, “so that he can take up collections to buy himself more to drink.”
Malhomme chuckled. “Ah, Lee, you're shortsighted. I'm an unbeliever, and a black rogue, but at least I have a mission. Our scientific advance has destroyed religion; we've penetrated to the heavens, and found no God. But science has not
proved Him, either, and people forget that. I speak with the voice of the forgotten; I remind people of God, to even the scales.” He stopped talking long enough to grab the arm of a passing waiter and order a drink. Then he turned back to them. “Nothing says I have to
in religion. If that were necessary, no one would preach it.”
“Have you been preaching to the Hirlaji?” Rynason asked.
“An admirable idea!” Malhomme said. “Do they have souls?”
“They have a god, at least. Or used to, anyway. Fellow named Kor, who was god, essence, knowledge, and several other things all rolled into one.”
“Return to Kor!” Malhomme said. “Perhaps it will be my next mission.”
“What's your mission now?” Mara asked, smiling in spite of herself. “Besides your apparently lifelong study and participation in sin, I mean.”
Malhomme sighed and sat back as his drink arrived. He dug into the pouch strung from his waist and flipped a coin to the waiter. “Believe it or not, I have one,” he said, and his voice was now low and serious. “I'm not just a lounger, a drifter.”
“What are you?”
“I am a spy,” he said, and raised his glass to drain half of it with one swallow.
Mara smiled again, but he didn't return it. He sat forward and turned to Rynason. “Manning has been busily wrapping up the appointment for the governorship here,” he said. “You probably know that.”
Rynason nodded. The headache he had been expecting was already starting.
“Did you also know that he's been buying men here to stand with him in case someone else is appointed?” He glanced at Mara. “I go among the men every day, talking, and I hear a lot. Manning will end up in control here, one way or another, unless he's stopped.”
“Buying men is nothing new,” Rynason said. “In any case, is there a better man on the planet?”
Malhomme shook his head. “I don't know; sometimes I give up on the human race. Manning at least has a little culture in him—but he's more vicious than he seems, nevertheless. If he gets control here....”
“It will be no worse than any of the other planets out here,” Rynason concluded for him.