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The Stars My Brothers



The Stars My Brothers







From: The Stars, My Brothers

He was afraid--not of the present or the future,
but of the past. He was afraid of the thing
tagged Reed Kieran, that stiff blind voiceless
thing wheeling its slow orbit around the Moon,
companion to dead worlds and silent space.




1.

Something tiny went wrong, but no one ever knew whether it was in an
electric relay or in the brain of the pilot.

The pilot was Lieutenant Charles Wandek, UNRC, home address: 1677
Anstey Avenue, Detroit. He did not survive the crash of his ferry into
Wheel Five. Neither did his three passengers, a young French
astrophysicist, an East Indian expert on magnetic fields, and a
forty-year-old man from Philadelphia who was coming out to replace a
pump technician.

Someone else who did not survive was Reed Kieran, the only man in Wheel
Five itself to lose his life. Kieran, who was thirty-six years old, was
an accredited scientist-employee of UNRC. Home address: 815 Elm Street,
Midland Springs, Ohio.

Kieran, despite the fact that he was a confirmed bachelor, was in Wheel
Five because of a woman. But the woman who had sent him there was no
beautiful lost love. Her name was Gertrude Lemmiken; she was nineteen
years old and overweight, with a fat, stupid face. She suffered from
head-colds, and sniffed constantly in the Ohio college classroom where
Kieran taught Physics Two.

One March morning, Kieran could bear it no longer. He told himself, "If
she sniffs this morning, I'm through. I'll resign and join the UNRC."

Gertrude sniffed. Six months later, having finished his training for the
United Nations Reconnaissance Corps, Kieran shipped out for a term of
duty in UNRC Space Laboratory Number 5, known more familiarly as Wheel
Five.

Wheel Five circled the Moon. There was an elaborate base on the surface
of the Moon in this year 1981. There were laboratories and observatories
there, too. But it had been found that the alternating fortnights of
boiling heat and near-absolute-zero cold on the lunar surface could play
havoc with the delicate instruments used in certain researches. Hence
Wheel Five had been built and was staffed by research men who were
rotated at regular eight-month intervals.

* * * * *

Kieran loved it, from the first. He thought that that was because of the
sheer beauty of it, the gaunt, silver deaths-head of the Moon forever
turning beneath, the still and solemn glory of the undimmed stars, the
filamentaries stretched across the distant star-clusters like shining
veils, the quietness, the peace.

But Kieran had a certain intellectual honesty, and after a while he
admitted to himself that neither the beauty nor the romance of it was
what made this life so attractive to him. It was the fact that he was
far away from Earth. He did not even have to look at Earth, for nearly
all geophysical research was taken care of by Wheels Two and Three that
circled the mother planet. He was almost completely divorced from all
Earth's problems and people.

Kieran liked people, but had never felt that he understood them. What
seemed important to them, all the drives of ordinary day-to-day
existence, had never seemed very important to him. He had felt that
there must be something wrong with him, something lacking, for it seemed
to him that people everywhere committed the most outlandish follies,
believed in the most incredible things, were swayed by pure
herd-instinct into the most harmful courses of behavior. They could not
all be wrong, he thought, so he must be wrong--and it had worried him.
He had taken partial refuge in pure science, but the study and then the
teaching of astrophysics had not been the refuge that Wheel Five was. He
would be sorry to leave the Wheel when his time was up.

And he was sorry, when the day came. The others of the staff were
already out in the docking lock in the rim, waiting to greet the
replacements from the ferry. Kieran, hating to leave, lagged behind.
Then, realizing it would be churlish not to meet this young Frenchman
who was replacing him, he hurried along the corridor in the big spoke
when he saw the ferry coming in.

He was two-thirds of the way along the spoke to the rim when it
happened. There was a tremendous crash that flung him violently from his
feet. He felt a coldness, instant and terrible.

He was dying.

He was dead.

The ferry had been coming in on a perfectly normal approach when the
tiny something went wrong, in the ship or in the judgment of the pilot.
Its drive-rockets suddenly blasted on full, it heeled over sharply, it
smashed through the big starboard spoke like a knife through butter.

Wheel Five staggered, rocked, and floundered. The automatic safety
bulkheads had all closed, and the big spoke--Section T2--was the only
section to blow its air, and Kieran was the only man caught in it. The
alarms went off, and while the wreckage of the ferry, with three dead
men in it, was still drifting close by, everyone in the Wheel was in his
pressure-suit and emergency measures were in full force.

* * * * *

Within thirty minutes it became evident that the Wheel was going to
survive this accident. It was edging slowly out of orbit from the
impetus of the blow, and in the present weakened state of the
construction its small corrective rockets could not be used to stop the
drift. But Meloni, the UNRC captain commanding, had got first reports
from his damage-control teams, and it did not look too bad. He fired
off peremptory demands for the repair materials he would need, and was
assured by UNRC headquarters at Mexico City that the ferries would be
loaded and on their way as soon as possible.

Meloni was just beginning to relax a little when a young officer brought
up a minor but vexing problem. Lieutenant Vinson had headed the small
party sent out to recover the bodies of the four dead men. In their
pressure-suits they had been pawing through the tangled wreckage for
some time, and young Vinson was tired when he made his report.

"We have all four alongside, sir. The three men in the ferry were pretty
badly mangled in the crash. Kieran wasn't physically wounded, but died
from space-asphyxiation."

The captain stared at him. "Alongside? Why didn't you bring them in?
They'll go back in one of the ferries to Earth for burial."

"But--" Vinson started to protest.

Meloni interrupted sharply. "You need to learn a few things about
morale, Lieutenant. You think it's going to do morale here any good to
have four dead men floating alongside where everyone can see them? Fetch
them in and store them in one of the holds."

Vinson, sweating and unhappy now, had visions of a black mark on his
record, and determined to make his point.

"But about Kieran, sir--he was only frozen. Suppose there was a chance
to bring him back?"

"Bring him back? What the devil are you talking about?"

Vinson said, "I read they're trying to find some way of restoring a man
that gets space-frozen. Some scientists down at Delhi University. If
they succeeded, and if we had Kieran still intact in space--"

"Oh, hell, that's just a scientific pipe-dream, they'll never find a way
to do that," Meloni said. "It's all just theory."

"Yes, sir," said Vinson, hanging his head.

"We've got trouble enough here without you bringing up ideas like this,"
the captain continued angrily. "Get out of here."

Vinson was now completely crushed. "Yes, sir. I'll bring the bodies in."

* * * * *

He went out. Meloni stared at the door, and began to think. A commanding
officer had to be careful, or he could get skinned alive. If, by some
remote chance, this Delhi idea ever succeeded, he, Meloni, would be in
for it for having Kieran buried. He strode to the door and flung it
open, mentally cursing the young snotty who had had to bring this up.

"Vinson!" he shouted.

The lieutenant turned back, startled. "Yes, sir?"

"Hold Kieran's body outside. I'll check on this with Mexico City."

"Yes, sir."

Still angry, Meloni shot a message to Personnel at Mexico City. That
done, he forgot about it. The buck had been passed, let the boys sitting
on their backsides down on Earth handle it.

Colonel Hausman, second in command of Personnel Division of UNRC, was
the man to whom Meloni's message went. He snorted loudly when he read
it. And later, when he went in to report to Garces, the brigadier
commanding the Division, he took the message with him.

"Meloni must be pretty badly rattled by the crash," he said. "Look at
this."

Garces read the message, then looked up. "Anything to this? The Delhi
experiments, I mean?"

Hausman had taken care to brief himself on that point and was able to
answer emphatically.

"Damned little. Those chaps in Delhi have been playing around freezing
insects and thawing them out, and they think the process might be
developed someday to where it could revive frozen spacemen. It's an iffy
idea. I'll burn Meloni's backside off for bringing it up at a time like
this."

Garces, after a moment, shook his head. "No, wait. Let me think about
this."

He looked speculatively out of the window for a few moments. Then he
said,

"Message Meloni that this one chap's body--what's his name, Kieran?--is
to be preserved in space against a chance of future revival."

Hausman nearly blotted his copybook by exclaiming, "For God's sake--" He
choked that down in time and said, "But it could be centuries before a
revival process is perfected, if it ever is."

Garces nodded. "I know. But you're missing a psychological point that
could be valuable to UNRC. This Kieran has relatives, doesn't he?"

Hausman nodded. "A widowed mother and a sister. His father's been dead a
long time. No wife or children."

Garces said, "If we tell them he's dead, frozen in space and then
buried, it's all over with. Won't those people feel a lot better if we
tell them that he's apparently dead, but might be brought back when a
revival-technique is perfected in the future?"

"I suppose they'd feel better about it," Hausman conceded. "But I don't
see--"

Garces shrugged. "Simple. We're only really beginning in space, you
know. As we go on, UNRC is going to lose a number of men, space-struck
just like Kieran. A howl will go up about our casualty lists, it always
does. But if we can say that they're only frozen until such time as
revival technique is achieved, everyone will feel better about it."

"I suppose public relations are important--" Hausman began to say, and
Garces nodded quickly.

"They are. See that this is done, when you go up to confer with Meloni.
Make sure that it gets onto the video networks, I want everyone to see
it."

Later, with many cameras and millions of people watching, Kieran's body,
in a pressure-suit, was ceremoniously taken to a selected position where
it would orbit the Moon. All suggestions of the funerary were carefully
avoided. The space-struck man--nobody at all referred to him as
"dead"--would remain in this position until a revival process was
perfected.

"Until forever," thought Hausman, watching sourly. "I suppose Garces is
right. But they'll have a whole graveyard here, as time goes on."

As time went on, they did.


2.

In his dreams, a soft voice whispered.

He did not know what it was telling him, except that it was important.
He was hardly aware of its coming, the times it came. There would be the
quiet murmuring, and something in him seemed to hear and understand, and
then the murmur faded away and there was nothing but the dreams again.

But were they dreams? Nothing had form or meaning. Light, darkness,
sound, pain and not-pain, flowed over him. Flowed over--who? Who was he?
He did not even know that. He did not care.

But he came to care, the question vaguely nagged him. He should try to
remember. There was more than dreams and the whispering voice. There
was--what? If he had one real thing to cling to, to put his feet on and
climb back from-- One thing like his name.

He had no name. He was no one. Sleep and forget it. Sleep and dream and
listen--

"Kieran."

It went across his brain like a shattering bolt of lightning, that word.
He did not know what the word was or what it meant but it found an echo
somewhere and his brain screamed it.

"Kieran!"

Not his brain alone, his voice was gasping it, harshly and croakingly,
his lungs seeming on fire as they expelled the word.

He was shaking. He had a body that could shake, that could feel pain,
that was feeling pain now. He tried to move, to break the nightmare, to
get back again to the vague dreams, and the soothing whisper.

He moved. His limbs thrashed leadenly, his chest heaved and panted, his
eyes opened.

He lay in a narrow bunk in a very small metal room.

He looked slowly around. He did not know this place. The gleaming white
metal of walls and ceiling was unfamiliar. There was a slight,
persistent tingling vibration in everything that was unfamiliar, too.

He was not in Wheel Five. He had seen every cell in it and none of them
were like this. Also, there lacked the persistent susurrant sound of the
ventilation pumps. Where--

You're in a ship, Kieran. A starship.

* * * * *

Something back in his mind told him that. But of course it was
ridiculous, a quirk of the imagination. There weren't any starships.

You're all right, Kieran. You're in a starship, and you're all right.

The emphatic assurance came from somewhere back in his brain and it was
comforting. He didn't feel very good, he felt dopey and sore, but there
was no use worrying about it when he knew for sure he was all right--

The hell he was all right! He was in someplace new, someplace strange,
and he felt half sick and he was not all right at all. Instead of lying
here on his back listening to comforting lies from his imagination, he
should get up, find out what was going on, what had happened.

Of a sudden, memory began to clear. What had happened? Something, a
crash, a terrible coldness--

Kieran began to shiver. He had been in Section T2, on his way to the
lock, and suddenly the floor had risen under him and Wheel Five had
seemed to crash into pieces around him. The cold, the pain--

You're in a starship. You're all right.

For God's sake why did his mind keep telling him things like that,
things he believed? For if he did not believe them he would be in a
panic, not knowing where he was, how he had come here. There was panic
in his mind but there was a barrier against it, the barrier of the
soothing reassurances that came from he knew not where.

He tried to sit up. It was useless, he was too weak. He lay, breathing
heavily. He felt that he should be hysterical with fear but somehow he
was not, that barrier in his mind prevented it.

He had decided to try shouting when a door in the side of the little
room slid open and a man came in.

He came over and looked down at Kieran. He was a young man,
sandy-haired, with a compact, chunky figure and a flat, hard face. His
eyes were blue and intense, and they gave Kieran the feeling that this
man was a wound-up spring. He looked down and said,

"How do you feel, Kieran?"

Kieran looked up at him. He asked, "Am I in a starship?"

"Yes."

"But there aren't any starships."

"There are. You're in one." The sandy-haired man added, "My name is
Vaillant."

It's true, what he says, murmured the something in Kieran's mind.

"Where--how--" Kieran began.

Vaillant interrupted his stammering question. "As to where, we're quite
a way from Earth, heading right now in the general direction of Altair.
As to how--" He paused, looking keenly down at Kieran. "Don't you know
how?"

Of course I know. I was frozen, and now I have been awakened and time
has gone by--

Vaillant, looking searchingly down at his face, showed a trace of
relief. "You do know, don't you? For a moment I was afraid it hadn't
worked."

He sat down on the edge of the bunk.

"How long?" asked Kieran.

Vaillant answered as casually as though it was the most ordinary
question in the world. "A bit over a century."

* * * * *

It was wonderful, thought Kieran, how he could take a statement like
that without getting excited. It was almost as though he'd known it all
the time.

"How--" he began, when there was an interruption.

Something buzzed thinly in the pocket of Vaillant's shirt. He took out a
thin three-inch disk of metal and said sharply into it,

"Yes?"

A tiny voice squawked from the disk. It was too far from Kieran for him
to understand what it was saying but it had a note of excitement, almost
of panic, in it.

Something changed, hardened, in Vaillant's flat face. He said, "I
expected it. I'll be right there. You know what to do."

He did something to the disk and spoke into it again. "Paula, take over
here."

He stood up. Kieran looked up at him, feeling numb and stupid. "I'd like
to know some things."

"Later," said Vaillant. "We've got troubles. Stay where you are."

He went rapidly out of the room. Kieran looked after him, wondering.
Troubles--troubles in a starship? And a century had passed--

He suddenly felt an emotion that shook his nerves and tightened his
guts. It was beginning to hit him now. He sat up in the bunk and swung
his legs out of it and tried to stand but could not, he was too weak.
All he could do was to sit there, shaking.

His mind could not take it in. It seemed only minutes ago that he had
been walking along the corridor in Wheel Five. It seemed that Wheel Five
must exist, that the Earth, the people, the time he knew, must still be
somewhere out there. This could be some kind of a joke, or some kind of
psychological experiment. That was it--the space-medicine boys were
always making way-out experiments to find out how men would bear up in
unusual conditions, and this must be one of them--

A woman came into the room. She was a dark woman who might have been
thirty years old, and who wore a white shirt and slacks. She would, he
thought, have been good-looking if she had not looked so tired and so
edgy.

She came over and looked down at him and said to him,

"Don't try to get up yet. You'll feel better very soon."

Her voice was a slightly husky one. It was utterly familiar to Kieran,
and yet he had never seen this woman before. Then it came to him.

"You were the one who talked to me," he said, looking up at her. "In the
dreams, I mean."

She nodded. "I'm Paula Ray and I'm a psychologist. You had to be
psychologically prepared for your awakening."

"Prepared?"

The woman explained patiently. "Hypnopedic technique--establishing facts
in the subconscious of a sleeping patient. Otherwise, it would be too
terrific a shock for you when you awakened. That was proved when they
first tried reviving space-struck men, forty or fifty years ago."

* * * * *

The comfortable conviction that this was all a fake, an experiment of
some kind, began to drain out of Kieran. But if it was true--

He asked, with some difficulty, "You say that they found out how to
revive space-frozen men, that long ago?"

"Yes."

"Yet it took forty or fifty years to get around to reviving me?"

The woman sighed. "You have a misconception. The process of revival was
perfected that long ago. But it has been used only immediately after a
wreck or disaster. Men or women in the old space-cemeteries have not
been revived."

"Why not?" he asked carefully.

"Unsatisfactory results," she said. "They could not adjust
psychologically to changed conditions. They usually became unbalanced.
Some suicides and a number of cases of extreme schizophrenia resulted.
It was decided that it was no kindness to the older space-struck cases
to bring them back."

"But you brought me back?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"There were good reasons." She was, clearly, evading that question. She
went on quickly. "The psychological shock of awakening would have been
devastating, if you were not prepared. So, while you were still under
sedation, I used the hypnopedic method on you. Your unconscious was
aware of the main facts of the situation before you awoke, and that
cushioned the shock."

Kieran thought of himself, lying frozen and dead in a graveyard that was
space, bodies drifting in orbit, circling slowly around each other as
the years passed, in a macabre sarabande-- A deep shiver shook him.

"Because all space-struck victims were in pressure-suits, dehydration
was not the problem it could have been," Paula was saying. "But it's
still a highly delicate process--"

He looked at her and interrupted roughly. "What reasons?" And when she
stared blankly, he added, "You said there were good reasons why you
picked me for revival. What reasons?"

Her face became tight and alert. "You were the oldest victim, in point
of date. That was one of the determining factors--"

"Look," said Kieran. "I'm not a child, nor yet a savage. You can drop
the patronizing professional jargon and answer my question."

Her voice became hard and brittle. "You're new to this environment. You
wouldn't understand if I told you."

"Try me."

"All right," she answered. "We need you, as a symbol, in a political
struggle we're waging against the Sakae."

"The Sakae?"

"I told you that you couldn't understand yet," she answered impatiently,
turning away. "You can't expect me to fill you in on a whole world
that's new to you, in five minutes."

She started toward the door. "Oh, no," said Kieran. "You're not going
yet."

He slid out of the bunk. He felt weak and shaky but resentment energized
his flaccid muscles. He took a step toward her.

The lights suddenly went dim, and a bull-throated roar sounded from
somewhere, an appalling sound of raw power. The slight tingling that
Kieran had felt in the metal fabric around him abruptly became a
vibration so deep and powerful that it dizzied him and he had to grab
the stanchion of the bunk to keep from falling.

Alarm had flashed into the woman's face. Next moment, from some hidden
speaker in the wall, a male voice yelled sharply,

"Overtaken--prepare for extreme evasion--"

"Get back into the bunk," she told Kieran.

"What is it?"

"It may be," she said with a certain faint viciousness, "that you're
about to die a second time."


3.

The lights dimmed to semi-darkness, and the deep vibration grew worse.
Kieran clutched the woman's arm.

"What's happening?"

"Damn it, let me go!" she said.

The exclamation was so wholly familiar in its human angriness that
Kieran almost liked her, for the first time. But he continued to hold
onto her, although he did not feel that with his present weakness he
could hold her long.

"I've a right to know," he said.

"All right, perhaps you have," said Paula. "We--our group--are operating
against authority. We've broken laws, in going to Earth and reviving
you. And now authority is catching up to us."

"Another ship? Is there going to be a fight?"

"A fight?" She stared at him, and shock and then faint repulsion showed
in her face. "But of course, you come from the old time of wars, you
would think that--"

Kieran got the impression that what he had said had made her look at him
with the same feelings he would have had when he looked at a decent,
worthy savage who happened to be a cannibal.

"I always felt that bringing you back was a mistake," she said, with a
sharpness in her voice. "Let me go."

She wrenched away from him and before he could stop her she had got to
the door and slid it open. He woke up in time to lurch after her and he
got his shoulder into the door-opening before she could slide it shut.

"Oh, very well, since you insist I'm not going to worry about you," she
said rapidly, and turned and hurried away.

Kieran wanted to follow her but his knees were buckling under him. He
hung to the side of the door-opening. He felt angry, and anger was all
that kept him from falling over. He would not faint, he told himself. He
was not a child, and would not be treated like one--

He got his head outside the door. There was a long and very narrow
corridor out there, blank metal with a few closed doors along it. One
door, away down toward the end of the corridor, was just sliding shut.

* * * * *

He started down the corridor, steadying himself with his hand against
the smooth wall. Before he had gone more than a few steps, the anger
that pushed him began to ebb away. Of a sudden, the mountainous and
incredible fact of his being here, in this place, this time, this ship,
came down on him like an avalanche from which the hypnopedic
pre-conditioning would no longer protect him.

I am touching a starship, I am in a starship, I, Reed Kieran of Midland
Springs, Ohio. I ought to be back there, teaching my classes, stopping
at Hartnett's Drug Store for a soft drink on the way home, but I am here
in a ship fleeing through the stars ...

His head was spinning and he was afraid that he was going to go out
again. He found himself at the door and slid it open and fell rather
than walked inside. He heard a startled voice.

This was a bigger room. There was a table whose top was translucent and
which showed a bewildering mass of fleeting symbols in bright light,
ever changing. There was a screen on one wall of the room and that
showed nothing, a blank, dark surface.

Vaillant and Paula Ray and a tall, tough-looking man of middle age were
around the table and had looked up, surprised.

Vaillant's face flashed irritation. "Paula, you were supposed to keep
him in his cabin!"

"I didn't think he was strong enough to follow," she said.

"I'm not," said Kieran, and pitched over.

The tall middle-aged man reached and caught him before he hit the floor,
and eased him into a chair.

He heard, as though from a great distance, Vaillant's voice saying
irritatedly, "Let Paula take care of him, Webber. Look at this--we're
going to cross another rift--"

There were a few minutes then when everything was very jumbled up in
Kieran's mind. The woman was talking to him. She was telling him that
they had prepared him physically, as well as psychologically, for the
shock of revival, and that he would be quite all right but had to take
things more slowly.

He heard her voice but paid little attention. He sat in the chair and
blankly watched the two men who hung over the table and its flow of
brilliant symbols. Vaillant seemed to tighten up more and more as the
moments passed, and there was still about him the look of a coiled
spring but now the spring seemed to be wound to the breaking-point.
Webber, the tall man with the tough face, watched the fleeting symbols
and his face was stony.

"Here we go," he muttered, and both he and Vaillant looked up at the
blank black screen on the wall.

Kieran looked too. There was nothing. Then, in an instant, the blackness
vanished from the screen and it framed a vista of such cosmic, stunning
splendor that Kieran could not grasp it.

* * * * *

Stars blazed like high fires across the screen, loops and chains and
shining clots of them. This was not too different from the way they had
looked from Wheel Five. But what was different was that the starry
firmament was partly blotted out by vast rifted ramparts of blackness,
ebon cliffs that went up to infinity. Kieran had seen astronomical
photographs like this and knew what the blackness was.

Dust. A dust so fine that its percentage of particles in space would be
a vacuum, on Earth. But, here where it extended over parsecs of space,
it formed a barrier to light. There was a narrow rift here between the
titan cliffs of darkness and he--the ship he was in--was fleeing across
that rift.

* * * * *

The screen abruptly went black again. Kieran remained sitting and
staring at it. That incredible fleeting vision had finally impressed the
utter reality of all this upon his mind. They, this ship, were far from
Earth--very far, in one of the dust-clouds in which they were trying to
lose pursuers. This was real.

"--will have got another fix on us as we crossed, for sure," Vaillant
was saying, in a bitter voice. "They'll have the net out for us--the
pattern will be shaping now and we can't slip through it."

"We can't," said Webber. "The ship can't. But the flitter can, with
luck."

They both looked at Kieran. "He's the important one," Webber said. "If a
couple of us could get him through--"

"No," said Paula. "We couldn't. As soon as they caught the ship and
found the flitter gone, they'd be after him."

"Not to Sako," said Webber. "They'd never figure that we'd take him to
Sako."

"Do I have a word in this?" asked Kieran, between his teeth.

"What?" asked Vaillant.

"This. The hell with you all. I'll go no place with you or for you."

* * * * *

He got a savage satisfaction from saying it, he was tired of sitting
there like a booby while they discussed him, but he did not get the
reaction from them he had expected. The two men merely continued to look
thoughtfully at him. The woman sighed,

"You see? There wasn't time enough to explain it to him. It's natural
for him to react with hostility."

"Put him out, and take him along," said Webber.

"No," said Paula sharply. "If he goes out right now he's liable to stay
out. I won't answer for it."

"Meanwhile," said Vaillant with an edge to his voice, "the pattern is
forming up. Have you any suggestions, Paula?"

She nodded. "This."

She suddenly squeezed something under Kieran's nose, a small thing that
she had produced from her pocket without his noticing it, in his angry
preoccupation with the two men. He smelled a sweet, refreshing odor and
he struck her arm away.

"Oh, no, you're not giving me any more dopes--" Then he stopped, for
suddenly it all seemed wryly humorous to him. "A bunch of bloody
incompetents," he said, and laughed. "This is the one thing I would
never have dreamed--that a man could sleep, and wake up in a starship,
and find the starship manned by blunderers."

"Euphoric," said Paula, to the two men.

"At that," said Webber sourly, "there may be something in what he says
about us."

Vaillant turned on him and said fiercely, "If that's what you think--"
Then he controlled himself and said tightly, "Quarrelling's no good.
We're in a box but we can maybe still put it over if we get this man to
Sako. Webber, you and Paula take him in the flitter."

Kieran rose to his feet. "Fine," he said gaily. "Let us go in the
flitter, whatever that is. I am already bored with starships."

He felt good, very good. He felt a little drunk, not enough to impede
his mental processes but enough to give him a fine devil-may-care
indifference to what happened next. So it was only the spray Paula had
given him--it still made his body feel better and removed his shock and
worry and made everything seem suddenly rather amusing.

"Let us to Sako in the flitter," he said. "After all, I'm living on
velvet, I might as well see the whole show. I'm sure that Sako, wherever
it is, will be just as full of human folly as Earth was."

"He's euphoric," Paula said again, but her face was stricken.

"Of all the people in that space-cemetery, we had to pick one who
thinks like that," said Vaillant, with a sort of restrained fury.

"You said yourself that the oldest one would be the best," said Webber.
"Sako will change him."

Kieran walked down the corridor with Webber and Paula and he laughed as
he walked. They had brought him back from nothingness without his
consent, violating the privacy of death or near-death, and now something
that he had just said had bitterly disappointed them.

"Come along," he said buoyantly to the two. "Let us not lag. Once aboard
the flitter and the girl is mine."

"Oh for God's sake shut up," said Webber.


4.

It was ridiculous to be flying the stars with a bad hangover, but Kieran
had one. His head ached dully, he had an unpleasant metallic taste in
his mouth, and his former ebullience had given way to a dull depression.
He looked sourly around.

He sat in a confined little metal coop of a cabin, hardly enough in
which to stand erect. Paula Ray, in a chair a few feet away was
sleeping, her head on her breast. Webber sat forward, in what appeared
to be a pilot-chair with a number of crowded control banks in front of
it. He was not doing anything to the controls. He looked as though he
might be sleeping, too.

That was all--a tiny metal room, blank metal walls, silence. They were,
presumably, flying between the stars at incredible speeds but there was
nothing to show it. There were no screens such as the one he had seen in
the ship, to show by artful scanning devices what vista of suns and
darknesses lay outside.

"A flitter," Webber had informed him, "just doesn't have room for the
complicated apparatus that such scanners require. Seeing is a luxury you
dispense with in a flitter. We'll see when we get to Sako."

After a moment he had added, "If we get to Sako."

Kieran had merely laughed then, and had promptly gone to sleep. When he
had awakened, it had been with the euphoria all gone and with his
present hangover.

"At least," he told himself, "I can truthfully say that this one wasn't
my fault. That blasted spray--"

He looked resentfully at the sleeping woman in the chair. Then he
reached and roughly shook her shoulder.

She opened her eyes and looked at him, first sleepily and then with
resentment.

"You had no right to wake me up," she said.

Then, before Kieran could retort, she seemed to realize the monumental
irony of what she had just said, and she burst into laughter.

"I'm sorry," she said. "Go ahead and say it. I had no right to wake
you up."

"Let's come back to that," said Kieran after a moment. "Why did you?"

Paula looked at him ruefully. "What I need now is a ten-volume history
of the last century, and time enough for you to read it. But since we
don't have either--" She broke off, then after a pause asked, "Your date
was 1981, wasn't it? It and your name were on the tag of your
pressure-suit."

"That's right."

"Well, then. Back in 1981, it was expected that men would spread out to
the stars, wasn't it?"

Kieran nodded. "As soon as they had a workable high-speed drive. Several
drives were being experimented with even then."

"One of them--the Flournoy principle--was finally made workable," she
said. She frowned. "I'm trying to give you this briefly and I keep
straying into details."

"Just tell me why you woke me up."

"I'm trying to tell you." She asked candidly, "Were you always so
damned hateful or did the revivification process do this to you?"

Kieran grinned. "All right. Go ahead."

* * * * *

"Things happened pretty much as people foresaw back in 1981," she said.
"The drive was perfected. The ships went out to the nearer stars. They
found worlds. They established colonies from the overflowing population
of Earth. They found human indigenous races on a few worlds, all of them
at a rather low technical level, and they taught them.

"There was a determination from the beginning to make it one universe.
No separate nationalistic groups, no chance of wars. The governing
council was set up at Altair Two. Every world was represented. There are
twenty-nine of them, now. It's expected to go on like that, till there
are twenty-nine hundred starworlds represented there, twenty-nine
thousand--any number. But--"

Kieran had been listening closely. "But what? What upset this particular
utopia?"

"Sako."

"This world we're going to?"

"Yes," she said soberly. "Men found something different about this world
when they reached it. It had people--human people--on it, very low in
the scale of civilization."

"Well, what was the problem? Couldn't you start teaching them as you had
others?"

She shook her head. "It would take a long while. But that wasn't the
real problem. It was-- You see, there's another race on Sako beside the
human ones, and it's a fairly civilized race. The Sakae. The trouble
is--the Sakae aren't human."

Kieran stared at her. "So what? If they're intelligent--"

"You talk as though it was the simplest thing in the world," she
flashed.

"Isn't it? If your Sakae are intelligent and the humans of Sako aren't,
then the Sakae have the rights on that world, don't they?"

She looked at him, not saying anything, and again she had that stricken
look of one who has tried and failed. Then from up forward, without
turning, Webber spoke.

"What do you think now of Vaillant's fine idea, Paula?"

"It can still work," she said, but there was no conviction in her voice.

"If you don't mind," said Kieran, with an edge to his voice, "I'd still
like to know what this Sako business has to do with reviving me."

* * * * *

"The Sakae rule the humans on that world," Paula answered. "There are
some of us who don't believe they should. In the Council, we're known as
the Humanity Party, because we believe that humans should not be ruled
by non-humans."

Again, Kieran was distracted from his immediate question--this time by
the phrase "Non-human".

"These Sakae--what are they like?"

"They're not monsters, if that's what you're thinking of," Paula said.
"They're bipeds--lizardoid rather than humanoid--and are a fairly
intelligent and law-abiding lot."

"If they're all that, and higher in development than the humans, why
shouldn't they rule their own world?" demanded Kieran.

Webber uttered a sardonic laugh. Without turning he asked, "Shall I
change course and go to Altair?"

"No!" she said. Her eyes flashed at Kieran and she spoke almost
breathlessly. "You're very sure about things you just heard about,
aren't you? You know what's right and you know what's wrong, even though
you've only been in this time, this universe, for a few hours!"

Kieran looked at her closely. He thought he was beginning to get a
glimmer of the shape of things now.

"You--all you who woke me up illegally--you belong to this Humanity
Party, don't you? You did it for some reason connected with that?"

"Yes," she answered defiantly. "We need a symbol in this political
struggle. We thought that one of the oldtime space pioneers, one of the
humans who began the conquest of the stars, would be it. We--"

Kieran interrupted. "I think I get it. It was really considerate of you.
You drag a man back from what amounts to death, for a party rally.
'Oldtime space hero condemns non-humans'--it would go something like
that, wouldn't it?"

"Listen--," she began.

"Listen, hell," he said. He was hot with rage, shaking with it. "I am
glad to say that you could not possibly have picked a worse symbol than
me. I have no more use for the idea of the innate sacred superiority of
one species over another than I had for that of one kind of man over
another."

Her face changed. From an angry woman, she suddenly became a
professional psychologist, coolly observing reactions.

"It's not the political question you really resent," she said. "You've
wakened to a strange world and you're afraid of it, in spite of all the
pre-awakening preparation we gave your subconscious. You're afraid, and
so you're angry."

Kieran got a grip on himself. He shrugged. "What you say may be true.
But it doesn't change the way I feel. I will not help you one damned
bit."

Webber got up from his seat and came back toward them, his tall form
stooping. He looked at Kieran and then at the woman.

"We have to settle this right now," he said. "We're getting near enough
to Sako to go out of drive. Are we going to land or aren't we?"

"Yes," said Paula steadily. "We're landing."

Webber glanced again at Kieran's face. "But if that's the way he
feels--"

"Go ahead and land," she said.


5.

It was nothing like landing in a rocket. First there was the business
referred to as "going out of drive". Paula made Kieran strap in and she
said, "You may find this unpleasant, but just sit tight. It doesn't last
long." Kieran sat stiff and glowering, prepared for anything and
determined not to show it no matter how he felt. Then Webber did
something to the control board and the universe fell apart. Kieran's
stomach came up and stuck in his throat. He was falling--up? Down?
Sideways? He didn't know, but whichever it was not all the parts of him
were falling at the same rate, or perhaps it was not all in the same
direction, he didn't know that either, but it was an exceptionally
hideous feeling. He opened his mouth to protest, and all of a sudden he
was sitting normally in the chair in the normal cabin and screaming at
the top of his lungs.

He shut up.

Paula said, "I told you it would be unpleasant."

"So you did," said Kieran. He sat, sweating. His hands and feet were
cold.

Now for the first time he became aware of motion. The flitter seemed to
hurtle forward at comet-like speed. Kieran knew that this was merely an
ironic little joke, because now they were proceeding at something in the
range of normal velocity, whereas before their speed had been quite
beyond his comprehension. But he could comprehend this. He could feel
it. They were going like a bat out of hell, and somewhere ahead of them
was a planet, and he was closed in, blind, a mouse in a nose-cone. His
insides writhed with helplessness and the imminence of a crash. He
wanted very much to start screaming again, but Paula was watching him.

In a few moments that desire became academic. A whistling shriek began
faintly outside the hull and built swiftly to a point where nothing
could have been heard above it. Atmosphere. And somewhere under the
blind wall of the flitter a rock-hard world-face reeling and rushing,
leaping to meet them--

* * * * *

The flitter slowed. It seemed to hang motionless, quivering faintly.
Then it dropped. Express elevator in the world's tallest building, top
to bottom--only the elevator is a bubble and the wind is tossing it from
side to side as it drops and there is no bottom.

They hung again, bounding lightly on the unseen wind.

Then down.

And hang again.

And down.

Paula said suddenly, "Webber. Webber, I think he's dying." She began to
unstrap.

Kieran said faintly, "Am I turning green?"

She looked at him, frowning. "Yes."

"A simple old malady. I'm seasick. Tell Webber to quit playing
humming-bird and put this thing down."

Paula made an impatient gesture and tightened her belt again.

Hang and drop. Once more, twice more. A little rocking bounce, a light
thump, motion ceased. Webber turned a series of switches. Silence.

Kieran said, "Air?"

* * * * *

Webber opened a hatch in the side of the cabin. Light poured in. It had
to be sunlight, Kieran knew, but it was a queer color, a sort of tawny
orange that carried a pleasantly burning heat. He got loose with Paula
helping him and tottered to the hatch. The air smelled of clean
sun-warmed dust and some kind of vegetation. Kieran climbed out of the
flitter, practically throwing himself out in his haste. He wanted solid
ground under him, he didn't care whose or where.

And as his boots thumped onto the red-ochre sand, it occurred to him
that it had been a very long time since he had had solid ground
underfoot. A very long time indeed--

His insides knotted up again, and this time it was not seasickness but
fear, and he was cold all through again in spite of the hot new sun.

He was afraid, not of the present, nor of the future, but of the past.
He was afraid of the thing tagged Reed Kieran, the stiff blind voiceless
thing wheeling its slow orbit around the Moon, companion to dead worlds
and dead space, brother to the cold and the dark.

He began to tremble.

Paula shook him. She was talking but he couldn't hear her. He could only
hear the rush of eternal darkness past his ears, the thin squeak of his
shadow brushing across the stars. Webber's face was somewhere above him,
looking angry and disgusted. He was talking to Paula, shaking his head.
They were far away. Kieran was losing them, drifting away from them on
the black tide. Then suddenly there was something like an explosion, a
crimson flare across the black, a burst of heat against the cold.
Shocked and wild, the physical part of him clawed back to reality.

Something hurt him, something threatened him. He put his hand to his
cheek and it came away red.

Paula and Webber were yanking at him, trying to get him to move.

* * * * *

A stone whizzed past his head. It struck the side of the flitter with a
sharp clack, and fell. Kieran's nervous relays finally connected. He
jumped for the open hatch. Automatically he pushed Paula ahead of him,
trying to shield her, and she gave him an odd startled look. Webber was
already inside. More stones rattled around and one grazed Kieran's
thigh. It hurt. His cheek was bleeding freely. He rolled inside the
flitter and turned to look back out the hatch. He was mad.

"Who's doing it?" he demanded.

Paula pointed. At first Kieran was distracted by the strangeness of the
landscape. The flitter crouched in a vastness of red-ochre sand laced
with some low-growing plant that shone like metallic gold in the
sunlight. The sand receded in tilted planes lifting gradually to a range
of mountains on the right, and dropping gradually to infinity on the
left. Directly in front of the flitter and quite literally a stone's
throw away was the beginning of a thick belt of trees that grew beside a
river, apparently quite a wide one though he could not see much but a
tawny sparkling of water. The course of the river could be traced clear
back to the mountains by the winding line of woods that followed its
bed. The trees themselves were not like any Kieran had seen before.
There seemed to be several varieties, all grotesque in shape and exotic
in color. There were even some green ones, with long sharp leaves that
looked like spearheads.

Exotic or not, they made perfectly adequate cover. Stones came whistling
out of the woods, but Kieran could not see anything where Paula was
pointing but an occasional shaking of foliage.

"Sakae?" he asked.

Webber snorted. "You'll know it when the Sakae find us. They don't throw
stones."

"These are the humans," Paula said. There was an indulgent softness in
her voice that irritated Kieran.

"I thought they were our dear little friends," he said.

"You frightened them."

"I frightened them?"

"They've seen the flitter before. But they're extremely alert to modes
of behavior, and they knew you weren't acting right. They thought you
were sick."

"So they tried to kill me. Nice fellows."

"Self-preservation," Webber said. "They can't afford the luxury of too
much kindness."

"They're very kind among themselves," Paula said defensively. To Kieran
she added, "I doubt if they were trying to kill you. They just wanted to
drive you away."

"Oh, well," said Kieran, "in that case I wouldn't dream of disappointing
them. Let's go."

Paula glared at him and turned to Webber. "Talk to them."

"I hope there's time," Webber grunted, glancing at the sky. "We're
sitting ducks here. Keep your patient quiet--any more of that moaning
and flopping and we're sunk."

* * * * *

He picked up a large plastic container and moved closer to the door.

Paula looked at Kieran's cheek. "Let me fix that."

"Don't bother," he said. At this moment he hoped the Sakae, whoever and
whatever they were, would come along and clap these two into some
suitable place for the rest of their lives.

Webber began to "talk".

Kieran stared at him, fascinated. He had expected words--primitive
words, perhaps resembling the click-speech of Earth's stone-age
survivals, but words of some sort. Webber hooted. It was a soft
reassuring sound, repeated over and over, but it was not a word. The
rattle of stones diminished, then stopped. Webber continued to make his
hooting call. Presently it was answered. Webber turned and nodded at
Paula, smiling. He reached into the plastic container and drew forth a
handful of brownish objects that smelled to Kieran like dried fruit.
Webber tossed these out onto the sand. Now he made a different sound, a
grunting and whuffling. There was a silence. Webber made the sound
again.

On the third try the people came out of the woods.

In all there were perhaps twenty-five of them. They came slowly and
furtively, moving a step or two at a time, then halting and peering,
prepared to run. The able-bodied men came first, with one in the lead, a
fine-looking chap in early middle age who was apparently the chief. The
women, the old men, and the children followed, trickling gradually out
of the shadow of the trees but remaining where they could disappear in a
flash if alarmed. They were all perfectly naked, tall and slender and
large-eyed, their muscles strung for speed and agility rather than
massive strength. Their bodies gleamed a light bronze color in the sun,
and Kieran noticed that the men were beardless and smooth-skinned. Both
men and women had long hair, ranging in color from black to tawny, and
very clean and glistening. They were a beautiful people, as deer are a
beautiful people, graceful, innocent, and wild. The men came to the
dried fruits which had been scattered for them. They picked them up and
sniffed them, bit them, then began to eat, repeating the
grunt-and-whuffle call. The women and children and old men decided
everything was safe and joined them. Webber tossed out more fruit, and
then got out himself, carrying the plastic box.

* * * * *

"What does he do next?" whispered Kieran to Paula. "Scratch their ears?
I used to tame squirrels this way when I was a kid."

"Shut up," she warned him. Webber beckoned and she nudged him to move
out of the flitter. "Slow and careful."

Kieran slid out of the flitter. Big glistening eyes swung to watch him.
The eating stopped. Some of the little ones scuttled for the trees.
Kieran froze. Webber hooted and whuffled some more and the tension
relaxed. Kieran approached the group with Paula. There was suddenly no
truth in what he was doing. He was an actor in a bad scene, mingling
with impossible characters in an improbable setting. Webber making
ridiculous noises and tossing his dried fruit around like a caricature
of somebody sowing, Paula with her brisk professionalism all dissolved
in misty-eyed fondness, himself an alien in this time and place, and
these perfectly normal-appearing people behaving like orang-utans with
their fur shaved off. He started to laugh and then thought better of it.
Once started, he might not be able to stop.

"Let them get used to you," said Webber softly.

Paula obviously had been here before. She had begun to make noises too,
a modified hooting more like a pigeon's call. Kieran just stood still.
The people moved in around them, sniffing, touching. There was no
conversation, no laughing or giggling even among the little girls. A
particularly beautiful young woman stood just behind the chief, watching
the strangers with big yellow cat-eyes. Kieran took her to be the man's
daughter. He smiled at her. She continued to stare, deadpan and
blank-eyed, with no answering flicker of a smile. It was as though she
had never seen one before. Kieran shivered. All this silence and
unresponsiveness became eerie.

"I'm happy to tell you," he murmured to Paula, "that I don't think much
of your little pets?"

She could not allow herself to be sharply angry. She only said, in a
whisper, "They are not pets, they are not animals. They--"

She broke off. Something had come over the naked people. Every head had
lifted, every eye had turned away from the strangers. They were
listening. Even the littlest ones were still.

Kieran could not hear anything except the wind in the trees.

"What--?" he started to ask.

Webber made an imperative gesture for silence. The tableau held for a
brief second longer. Then the brown-haired man who seemed to be the
leader made a short harsh noise. The people turned and vanished into the
trees.

"The Sakae," Webber said. "Get out of sight." He ran toward the flitter.
Paula grabbed Kieran's sleeve and pushed him toward the trees.

"What's going on?" he demanded as he ran.

"Their ears are better than ours. There's a patrol ship coming, I
think."

* * * * *

The shadows took them in, orange-and-gold-splashed shadows under strange
trees. Kieran looked back. Webber had been inside the flitter. Now he
tumbled out of the hatch and ran toward them. Behind him the hatch
closed and the flitter stirred and then took off all by itself, humming.

"They'll follow it for a while," Webber panted. "It may give us a chance
to get away." He and Paula started after the running people.

Kieran balked. "I don't know why I'm running away from anybody."

Webber pulled out a snub-nosed instrument that looked enough like a gun
to be very convincing. He pointed it at Kieran's middle.

"Reason one," he said. "If the Sakae catch Paula and me here we're in
very big trouble. Reason two--this is a closed area, and you're with us,
so you will be in very big trouble." He looked coldly at Kieran. "The
first reason is the one that interests me most."

Kieran shrugged. "Well, now I know." He ran.

Only then did he hear the low heavy thrumming in the sky.


6.

The sound came rumbling very swiftly toward them. It was a completely
different sound from the humming of the flitter, and it seemed to Kieran
to hold a note of menace. He stopped in a small clearing where he might
see up through the trees. He wanted a look at this ship or flier or
whatever it was that had been built and was flown by non-humans.

But Webber shoved him roughly on into a clump of squat trees that were
the color of sherry wine, with flat thick leaves.

"Don't move," he said.

Paula was hugging a tree beside him. She nodded to him to do as Webber
said.

"They have very powerful scanners." She pointed with her chin. "Look.
They've learned."

The harsh warning barks of the men sounded faintly, then were hushed.
Nothing moved, except by the natural motion of the wind. The people
crouched among the trees, so still that Kieran would not have seen them
if he had not known they were there.

The patrol craft roared past, cranking up speed as it went. Webber
grinned. "They'll be a couple of hours at least, overhauling and
examining the flitter. By that time it'll be dark, and by morning we'll
be in the mountains."

The people were already moving. They headed upstream, going at a steady,
shuffling trot. Three of the women, Kieran noticed, had babies in their
arms. The older children ran beside their mothers. Two of the men and
several of the women were white-haired. They ran also.

"Do you like to see them run?" asked Paula, with a sharp note of passion
in her voice. "Does it look good to you?"

"No," said Kieran, frowning. He looked in the direction in which the
sound of the patrol craft was vanishing.

"Move along," Webber said. "They'll leave us far enough behind as it
is."

* * * * *

Kieran followed the naked people through the woods, beside the tawny
river. Paula and Webber jogged beside him. The shadows were long now,
reaching out across the water.

Paula kept glancing at him anxiously, as though to detect any sign of
weakness on his part. "You're doing fine," she said. "You should. Your
body was brought back to normal strength and tone, before you ever were
awakened."

"They'll slow down when it's dark, anyway," said Webber.

The old people and the little children ran strongly.

"Is their village there?" Kieran asked, indicating the distant
mountains.

"They don't live in villages," Paula said. "But the mountains are safer.
More places to hide."

"You said this was a closed area. What is it, a hunting preserve?"

"The Sakae don't hunt them any more."

"But they used to?"

"Well," Webber said, "a long time ago. Not for food, the Sakae are
vegetarians, but--"

"But," said Paula, "they were the dominant race, and the people were
simply beasts of the field. When they competed for land and food the
people were hunted down or driven out." She swung an expressive hand
toward the landscape beyond the trees. "Why do you think they live in
this desert, scraping a miserable existence along the watercourses? It's
land the Sakae didn't want. Now, of course, they have no objection to
setting it aside as a sort of game preserve. The humans are protected,
the Sakae tell us. They're living their natural life in their natural
environment, and when we demand that a program be--"

She was out of breath and had to stop, panting. Webber finished for her.

"We want them taught, lifted out of this naked savagery. The Sakae say
it's impossible."

"Is it true?" asked Kieran.

"No," said Paula fiercely. "It's a matter of pride. They want to keep
their dominance, so they simply won't admit that the people are anything
more than animals, and they won't give them a chance to be anything
more."

There was no more talking after that, but even so the three outlanders
grew more and more winded and the people gained on them. The sun went
down in a blaze of blood-orange light that tinted the trees in even more
impossible colors and set the river briefly on fire. Then night came,
and just after the darkness shut down the patrol craft returned, beating
up along the winding river bed. Kieran froze under the black trees and
the hair lifted on his skin. For the first time he felt like a hunted
thing. For the first time he felt a personal anger.

The patrol craft drummed away and vanished. "They won't come back until
daylight," Webber said.

* * * * *

He handed out little flat packets of concentrated food from his pockets.
They munched as they walked. Nobody said anything. The wind, which had
dropped at sundown, picked up from a different quarter and began to blow
again. It got cold. After a while they caught up with the people, who
had stopped to rest and eat. The babies and old people for whom Kieran
had felt a worried pity were in much better shape than he. He drank from
the river and then sat down. Paula and Webber sat beside him, on the
ground. The wind blew hard from the desert, dry and chill. The trees
thrashed overhead. Against the pale glimmer of the water Kieran could
see naked bodies moving along the river's edge, wading, bending,
grubbing in the mud. Apparently they found things, for he could see that
they were eating. Somewhere close by other people were stripping fruit
or nuts from the trees. A man picked up a stone and pounded something
with a cracking noise, then dropped the stone again. They moved easily
in the dark, as though they were used to it. Kieran recognized the
leader's yellow-eyed daughter, her beautiful slender height outlined
against the pale-gleaming water. She stood up to her ankles in the soft
mud, holding something tight in her two hands, eating.

The sweat dried on Kieran. He began to shiver.

"You're sure that patrol ship won't come back?" he asked.

"Not until they can see what they're looking for."

"Then I guess it's safe." He began to scramble around, feeling for dried
sticks.

"What are you doing?"

"Getting some firewood."

"No." Paula was beside him in an instant, her hand on his arm, "No, you
mustn't do that."

"But Webber said--"

"It isn't the patrol ship, Kieran. It's the people. They--"

"They what?"

"I told you they were low on the social scale. This is one of the basic
things they have to be taught. Right now they still regard fire as a
danger, something to run from."

"I see," Kieran said, and let the kindling fall. "Very well, if I can't
have a fire, I'll have you. Your body will warm me." He pulled her into
his arms.

* * * * *

She gasped, more in astonishment, he thought, than alarm. "What are you
talking about?"

"That's a line from an old movie. From a number of old movies, in fact.
Not bad, eh?"

He held her tight. She was definitely female. After a moment he pushed
her away.

"That was a mistake. I want to be able to go on disliking you without
any qualifying considerations."

She laughed, a curiously flat little sound. "Was everybody crazy in your
day?" she asked. And then, "Reed--"

It was the first time she had used his given name. "What?"

"When they threw the stones, and we got back into the flitter, you
pushed me ahead of you. You were guarding me. Why?"

He stared at her, or rather at the pale blur of her standing close to
him. "Well, it's always been sort of the custom for the men to-- But now
that I think of it, Webber didn't bother."

"No," said Paula. "Back in your day women were still taking advantage of
the dual standard--demanding complete equality with men but clinging to
their special status. We've got beyond that."

"Do you like it? Beyond, I mean."

"Yes," she said. "It was good of you to do that, but--"

Webber said, "They're moving again. Come on."

The people walked this time, strung out in a long line between the trees
and the water, where the light was a little better and the way more
open. The three outlanders tagged behind, clumsy in their boots and
clothing. The long hair of the people blew in the wind and their bare
feet padded softly, light and swift.

Kieran looked up at the sky. The trees obscured much of it so that all
he could see was some scattered stars overhead. But he thought that
somewhere a moon was rising.

He asked Paula and she said, "Wait. You'll see."

Night and the river rolled behind them. The moonlight became brighter,
but it was not at all like the moonlight Kieran remembered from long ago
and far away. That had had a cold tranquility to it, but this light was
neither cold nor tranquil. It seemed somehow to shift color, too, which
made it even less adequate for seeing than the white moonlight he was
used to. Sometimes as it filtered through the trees it seemed,
ice-green, and again it was reddish or amber, or blue.

They came to a place where the river made a wide bend and they cut
across it, clear of the trees. Paula touched Kieran's arm and pointed.
"Look."

Kieran looked, and then he stopped still. The light was not moonlight,
and its source was not a moon. It was a globular cluster of stars, hung
in the sky like a swarm of fiery bees, a burning and pulsing of many
colors, diamond-white and gold, green and crimson, peacock blue and
smoky umber. Kieran stared, and beside him Paula murmured, "I've been on
a lot of planets, but none of them have anything like this."

The people moved swiftly on, paying no attention at all to the sky.

Reluctantly Kieran followed them into the obscuring woods. He kept
looking at the open sky above the river, waiting for the cluster to rise
high so he could see it.

It was some time after this, but before the cluster rose clear of the
trees, that Kieran got the feeling that something, or someone, was
following them.


7.

He had stopped to catch his breath and shake an accumulation of sand out
of his boots. He was leaning against a tree with his back to the wind,
which meant that he was facing their back-trail, and he thought he saw a
shadow move where there was nothing to cast a shadow. He straightened up
with the little trip-hammers of alarm beating all over him, but he could
see nothing more. He thought he might have been mistaken. Just the same,
he ran to catch up with the others.

The people were moving steadily. Kieran knew that their senses were far
keener than his, and they were obviously not aware of any danger other
than the basic one of the Sakae. He decided that he must have been
seeing things.

But an uneasiness persisted. He dropped behind again, this time on
purpose, after they had passed a clearing. He stayed hidden behind a
tree-trunk and watched. The cluster-light was bright now but very
confusing to the eye. He heard a rustling that he did not think was
wind, and he thought that something started to cross the clearing and
then stopped, as though it had caught his scent.

Then he thought that he heard rustlings at both sides of the clearing,
stealthy sounds of stalking that closed in toward him. Only the wind, he
told himself, but agai





Next: The Undersea Tube

Previous: A Scientist Rises



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