Authors: Terry Carr
Tags: #Science Fiction
She looked up at him, surprised. “Check back? Why?”
“I put in a requisition myself, yesterday. Wine from Cluster II, vintage '86. I was hoping for some company.”
She smiled. “All right.”
Manning was ending the session. “...Carl, be sure to get those studies of the Outsiders artifacts together for me by tonight. And I'm going to hand back your reports to each of the rest of you; go through them and watch for those inconsistencies you skipped over the first time. We may be able to turn up something else that doesn't check out. Go over them
—all the reports were sloppy jobs. You're all trying to work too fast.”
Rynason rose with the rest of them, grinning as he remembered how Manning had rushed those reports. Well, that was one of the privileges of authority: delegating fault. He started for the door.
“Lee! Hold it a minute; I want to talk to you, alone.”
Rynason sat, and when all the others had gone Manning came back and sat down opposite him. He slowly took out a cigaret and lit it.
“My last pack till the next spacer makes touchdown,” he said. “Sorry I can't offer you one, but I'm a fiend for the things. I know they're supposed to be non-habit-forming these days, but I'm a man of many vices.”
Rynason shrugged, waiting for him to come to the point.
“I guess it makes me a bit more open-minded about what the members of my staff do,” Manning went on. “You know—why should I crack down on drinking or smoking, for instance, when I do it myself?”
“I'm glad you see it that way,” Rynason said drily. “Why did you want me to stay?”
Manning exhaled a long plume of smoke slowly, watching it through narrowed eyes. “Well, even though I'm pretty easy going about things, I do try to keep an eye on you. When you come right down to it, I'm responsible for every man who's with me out here.” He stopped, and laughed shortly. “Not that I'm as altruistic as that sounds, of course—you know me, Lee. But when you're in a position of authority you have to face the responsibilities. You understand me?”
“You have to protect your own reputation back at Cluster headquarters,” Rynason said.
“Well, yes. Of course, you get into a pattern of thinking eventually ... sort of a fatherly feeling, I suppose, though I've never even been on the parentage rolls back on the in-worlds. But I mean it—it happens, I get that feeling. And I'm getting a bit worried about you, Lee.”
Rynason could see what was coming now. He sat further back into the chair and said, “Why?”
Manning frowned with concern. “I've been noticing you with Mara lately. You seem pretty interested in her.”
“Is she one of those vices you were telling me about, Manning?” said Rynason quietly. “You want to warn me to stay away from her?”
Manning shook his head, a quick gesture dismissing the idea. “No, Lee, not at all. She's not that kind of a woman. And that's my point. I can see how you look at her, and you're on the wrong track. When you're out here on the Edge, you don't want a wife.”
“What I need is some good healthy vice, is that what you mean?”
Manning sat forward. “That puts it pretty clearly. Yeah, that's about it. Lee, you're building up some strong tensions on this job, and don't think I'm not aware of it. Telepathing with that horseface is getting rough, judging from what you've told me. I think you should go get good and drunk and kick up hell tonight. And take one of the town women; they're always available. Do you good, I mean it.”
Rynason stood up. “Maybe tomorrow night,” he said. “Tonight I'm busy. With Mara.” He turned and walked toward the door.
“I'd suggest you get busy with someone else,” Manning said quietly behind him. “I'm really telling you this for your own good, believe it or not.”
Rynason turned at the door and regarded the man coldly. “She's not interested in you, Manning,” he said. He went out and shut the door calmly behind him.
Manning could be irritating with his conceited posing, but his veiled threats didn't bother Rynason. In any case, he had something else on his mind just now. He had finally remembered what it had been about the carvings over the Hirlaji building in the photo that had touched a memory within him: there was a strong similarity to the carvings that he had seen, through Tebron's eyes, outside the Temple of Kor. The symbols of Kor, Tebron had called them ... copied from the works of the Old Ones.
They had some trouble getting cooperation from Horng on any further mind-probing. The Hirlaji lived among some of the ruins out on the Flat, where the winds threw dust and sand against the weathered stone walls, leaving them worn smooth and rounded. The aliens kept these buildings in some state of repair, and there was a communal garden of the planet's dark, fungoid plant life. As Rynason and Mara strode between the massive buildings they passed several of the huge creatures; one or two of them turned and regarded the couple with dull eyes, and went on slowly through the grey shadows.
They found Horng sitting motionlessly at the edge of the cluster of buildings, gazing out over the Flat toward the low hills which stood black against the deep blue of the horizon sky. Rynason lowered the telepather from his shoulder and approached him.
The alien made no motion of protest when Rynason hooked up the interpreter, but when the Earthman raised the mike to speak, Horng's dry voice spoke in the silence of the thin air and the machine's stylus traced out, THERE IS NO PURPOSE.
Rynason paused a moment, then said, “We're almost finished with our reports. We should finish today.”
THERE IS NO PURPOSE MEANING QUEST.
“No purpose to the report?” Rynason said after a moment. “It's important to us, and we're almost finished. There would be even less purpose in stopping now, when so much has been done.”
Horng's large, leathery head turned toward him and Rynason felt the ancient creature's heavy gaze on him like a shadow.
WE ARE ACCUSTOMED TO THAT.
“We don't think alike,” Rynason said to him. “To me there is a purpose. Will you help me once more?”
There was no answer from the alien, only a slow nodding of his head to one side, which Rynason took for assent. He motioned Mara to set up the telepather.
After their last experience Rynason could understand the creature's reluctance to continue. Perhaps even his statement that there was no purpose to the Earthmen's researches made sense—for could the codification of the history of a dying race mean much to its last members? Probably they didn't care; they walked slowly through the ruins of their world and felt all around them fading, and the jumbled past in their minds must be only one more thing that was to disappear.
And Rynason had not forgotten the terrified waves of hatred which had blasted at him in Horng's mind—nor had Horng, he was sure.
Mara connected the leads of the telepather while the alien sat motionlessly, his dark eyes only occasionally watching either of them. When she was finished Rynason nodded for her to activate the linkage.
Then there was the rush of Horng's mind upon his, the dim thought-streams growing closer, the greyed images becoming sharper and washing over him, and in a moment he felt his own thoughts merge with them, felt the totality of his own consciousness blend with that of Horng. They were together; they were almost one mind.
And in Horng he heard the whisper of distrust, of fear, and the echoes of that hatred which had struck at him once before. But they were in the background; all around him here on the surface was a pervading feeling of ... uselessness, resignation, almost of unreality. The calm which he had noted before in Horng had been shaken and turned, and in its place was this fog of hopelessness.
Tentatively, Rynason reached for the racial memories in that grey mind, feeling Horng's own consciousness heavy beside him. He found them, layers of thoughts of unknown aliens still alive here, the pictures and sounds of thousands of years past. He probed among them, looking again for the memories of Tebron ... and found what he was searching for.
He was Tebron, marching across that vast Flat which he had seen before, the winds alive around him among the shuffling feet of his army. He felt the muscles of his massive legs tight with weariness, and tasted the dryness of the air as he drew in long gasps. He was still hours from the City, but they would rest before dawn....
Rynason turned among those memories, moving forward in them, and was aware of Horng watching him. There was still the wariness in his mind, and a stir of anxiety, but it was blanketed by the tired hopelessness he had seen. He reached further in the memories, and....
The temple-guard fell in the shadows, and one of his own warriors stepped forward to retrieve his weapon. The remains of the guard's body rolled down three, four, five of the steps of the Temple, and stopped. His eyes lingered on that body for only a moment, and then he turned and went up to the entrance.
There was a moaning of pain, or of fright, rising somewhere in his head; he was only partly aware of it. He walked into the shadows of the doorway and paused. But only for a moment: there was no movement inside, and he stepped forward, down one step into the interior.
Screams echoed through the halls and corridors of the Temple—high and piercing, growing in volume as they echoed, buffeting him almost into unconsciousness. He knew they were from Horng, but he fought them, watching his own steps across the dark inner room. He was Tebron Marl, king priest ruler of all Hirlaj, in the Temple of Kor, and he could feel the stone solid beneath his feet. Sweat broke out on his back—his own, or Tebron's? But he
Tebron, and he fought the blast of fear in his mind as though it were a battle for his very identity. He
The screaming faded, and he stood in silence before the Altar of Kor.
So this is the source, he thought. For how many days had he fought toward this? It was useless to remember; the muscles of his body were remembrance enough, and the scar-tissue that hindered the movement of one shoulder. If he remembered those battles he would again hear the fading echoes of enemy minds dying within his, and he had had enough of that. This was the goal, and it was his; perhaps there need be no more such killing.
He opened his mouth and spoke the words which he had learned so many years before, during his apprenticeship in the Region of Mines. The rituals of the Temple were always conducted in the ancient spoken language; Kor demanded it, and only the priest-caste knew these words, for they were so old that their form had changed almost completely even by the time his people had developed telepathy and discarded speech; they were not communicated to the rest of the people.
“I am Tebron Marl, king priest leader of all Hirlaj. I await your orders guidance.”
He knelt, according to ritual, and gazed up at the altar. The Eye of Kor blinked there, a small circle of light in the dark room. The altar was simple but massive; its heavy columns, built upon the traditional lines, supported the weight of the Eye. He watched its slow waxing and waning, and waited; within him, Rynason's mind stirred.
And Kor spoke.
Remain motionless. Do not go forward.
He felt a child as a wave of sensitivity spread through all of his skin and his organs sped for a moment. Then it was true: in the Temple of Kor, the god leader really did speak.
“I await further words.”
The Eye held his gaze almost hypnotically in the dimness. The voice sounded in the huge arched room.
The sciences quests of your race lead you to extinction. The knowledge words offered to me by your priests make it clear that within a hundred years your race will leave its planet. You must not go forward, for that way lies the extermination of all your race.
His mind swam; this was not what he had expected. The god leader Kor had always aided his people in their sciences; in the knowledge word offerings they reported to the Eye the results of their studies, and often, if asked properly, the god leader would clarify uncertainties which they faced. But now he ordered an ending to research quests. This was unthinkable! Knowledge was godhood; godhood was knowledge, of the essence; the essence was knowing understanding. To him, to his people, it was a unity—and now that unity repudiated itself. Faintly in the darkness somewhere he again heard screaming.
“Are we to abandon all progress? Are the stars so dangerous?”
The concept wish of progress must die within your people. There must be no purpose in any field of knowledge. You must remain motionless, consolidate what you have, and live in peace.
The Eye in the dimness seemed larger and brighter the longer he looked at it; all else in the echoing room was darkness.
The stars are not dangerous, but there is a race which rises with you, and it rises more rapidly. Should you expand into the stars you will only meet that race sooner, and they will be stronger. They are more warlike than your people; already you are capable of peace, and that must be your aim. Remain on your world; consolidate; cultivate the fruits of your civilization as it is, but do not go forward. In that way, you will have five thousand years before that race finds you, and if you are no threat to them they will not destroy you.
He felt a rising anger in him as the god leader's words came to him in the dark room, and a fear that lay deeper. He was a warrior, and a quester ... how could he give up all such pursuits, and how could he be expected to force all his people to do the same? There would be no hope wish of advance, no curiosity ... no purpose.
“Is this other race so much more advanced than we are?” he asked.
He heard a low humming from the altar and the Eye grew brighter again.
They are not so much ahead of you now ... but they are more warlike, and will therefore develop more quickly. In both your races, war is a quest which you use as a release for what is in you. Your sciences questings and your wars are the same thing ... you must suppress both. They are discontentment, and you will find that only in peace, if at all.
He dipped his head to one side, a gesture of acquiescence or agreement. He couldn't argue with the god leader Kor, and he had been wrong even to think of it.