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"How long?" Amos ben Sierra Nueva said desperately - səhifə 21

ölçüsü2.81 Mb.
The thought must have been obvious, but Amos

only spread his hands and tossed his head, setting

aswirl the coal-black curls of his shoulder-length mane.

The blue eyes twinkled beneath the broad dear brow.

Oooooo, Channa thought, and fought to bring her

attention back to his words.

"In any large organization xhere will be certain

constants," he said. "The central authority; officers in

charge of various departments; a structure for meetings

to coordinate activities; procedures for routine decision-

making, and so forth. Tips is not too dissimilar to my

family's holdings on Bethel. We, too, were essentially

coordinators of the activities of many independent

entrepreneurs. There are no ranchers or farmers here,

of course, but both communities have mining, manufac-

turing, education, cultural facilities..."

"Culture?" Joat ducked back into the lobby, toweling

her wet hair. For a wonder, she had on something more

formal than the shapeless, patchwork-colorful overalls

that were current fashion among SSS-900-C's youth.

"Like holos and virtie games and stuff?"
"Ahhh ..." Amos hesitated. He had been thinking

more of choral song and traditional dancing. "The

general principle is the same."
The servos had been setting out the evening meal.

Simeon had programmed them to meet the basic

dietary superstitions of the Bethelite religion, although

Amos had turned out to be flexible. Channa shud-

dered mentally at some of the things she'd screened in

that Bethel text. How in God's name, for example,

were they supposed to check that none of the materials

had ever been touched by a menstruating woman?

They sat down, Amos murmured a prayer, and for

another wonder Joat waited a second before grabbing

the nearest bowl. She had turned out to be a

monumentally unfussy eater, but in sheer capacity she

belied the scrawny underdeveloped frame. BetweenN
or sometimes during N mouthfuls, she grilled Amos

about Bethel.

"Sounds dull," she said at last
"I thought so, too," Amos said, pushing a bowl of

steamed millet closer^aher. She shoveled several help-

ings onto her platband heaped them with sour cream

and chives.

"Joat," Channa said gently. "That really doesn't go

with pineapple slices, you know."

"Why not?" Joat asked, turning to her with a milk

mustache on her upper lip. The girl licked it away with

satisfaction as Channa searched for a reply, gave up,

and turned her attention back to Amos.

"Hiding away all that stuff was smart of Channa,"

she said thoughtfully. "Always gotta have supplies in

your bolt-hole unless you're fardlin stupid."
"Sound strategy," Amos said seriously.
He certainly seems to be good with children, Channa

thought, stirring her food around with her fork. Girls

don't bother him. Not pre-pubescent ones, at least.
In her inner ear, Simeon began to croon an ancient

song: 'Across a croooowded room..."

"Shut up," she subvocalized.
"This place has got more back-alleys than you'd

believe," Joat was saying. "Not like a ship at all, really.

You can get anywhere from anywhere and ain't nobody

can stop you, if you know where you're goin'. Some of

the places pinch grudly, but they're in-able if you're


"I would have thought it much like a ship of space,"

Amos replied courteously. Channa could see his lips

move silently for an instant as he puzzled out Joat's

slang. That was no wonder. Half of it was her own

"A whole other order of magnitude," Simeon said.

"No mass limits on a station N the SSS-900-C wasn't

expected to go anywhere. The outer shell was fixed, as
Amu McCaffny 6? SM. Stating
well as some of the major facilities, but the rest was

intended to allow organic growth up to a couple of

hundred thousand people, max. We've found natural

expansion is the best way to stabilize a real community,

as opposed to a transient community, like a passenger

"That is good sense," Amos said meditatively. "On

my family's estate, planning towns was similar. If you

set down every detail, the place has no life. When

Uncle Habib decides to put his tobacco store next to

Aunti Scala's pastry shoppr Brother Falken's saddlery,

and that brings an ice-cream parlor, it then follows that

the town becomes a living and efficient entity."

"Why do you talk so funny?" Joat asked.
"Why doyou talk so funny?" Amos parried, and they

both laughed. "Because Bethel was cut off for so long. We

did not even screen or broadcast data from other worlds,

so our people's way of speech changed litde, and those

changes differed from those in the Central Worlds, which

had dealings with many other worlds and cultures."

"Central Worlds?" Joat asked. "Oh, you're fardlin' N

'cuse me N way off there. This is the hikstik, frontier,

you know."
"To you, not me." He paused. "I think, Joat, that

someone besides yourself should know of these hidden

ways of yours."
"You should see it," she said enthusiastically. "You

wouldn't believe what's back there!"

"I would very much like to see it,1 he told her grave-

ly. "But, I have not much time left for my studies." Her

face fell. "Still," he said," I think that it is important that

trusted people, other than just you and Simeon,

should know these back ways of yours. Would you be

willing to show my friend, Joseph?"

"He's your head honcho, hey?"
"My brother and my right hand," Amos said seriously.
"Okay, if he's nanna grudly."
Amos gave up trying to interpret that remark and

glanced over at Simeon's image in the screen.

"Grudly," the brain said in his most professorial. "An all

purpose negative. In this context N 'not too grudly1 N

stniight-laced, conventional, boring, unimaginative.
"No, no. To tel^the truth and shame the devil,

Joseph was, in feet, a

him, "Amos said
Joat lit up, her urchin smile taking a year or two off

the extra time life had dealt her, so that she looked

twelve. "Sure! I'll be glad to show Joseph around.

Whenever you like."

"Thank you. And now I must return to my studies."

He sighed theatrically and rose.

"I know how you feel," Joat said, shaking her head in


"He's made a conquest there," Channa subvocalized.

"Wonder how he did it?"

"Joat is no longer a feral child," Simeon pointed out

"We broke the ground for him. Being glamorous doesn 't hurt.

And he listens to her. He's naturally interested in people, I

think, under the iveird socvHvUgious stuffthey rammeddown

his throat."
"You're right," Channa said aloud, looking dreamily

at the now dosed door of Amos' quarters.

Well, Simeon-Amos, Simeon thought, you're a hit with

both my girls. A petty observation, but couldn't he

indulge in pettiness in the privacy of his own mind?
'"Course I'm right," Joat said She was having more of

the pineapple slices, fresh from the vats, lavishly doUoped

with ice cream. "You flipping the sheets with him yet?"
Joat!" Channa said warningly, reaching over to flick

her on the ear with thumb and forefinger.

"Watch it!" Joat said, rubbing the offended lobe. "Ill

report you to Gorgan the Organ." She grinned

unrepentandy. "I know all about it, y'know."
"You may have observed N and I wouldn't put that
Arme McCaffrey & SM. Stating
past you for a nanosecond, but you don't understand

what you've seen. You also have no manners."

"Yeah, that's true," Joat said complacently,

"\bu needn'tact so smug about the lack," Simeon cutin.

"Why not?" Joat asked. "Lots d^ way-neat stuff you

can't do if you've got manners."

My God, Channa thought, looking up from her


All of them were looking terrible, but Doctor

Chaundra looked old. Antt haunted as well. Channa

was a little surprised. She would have thought him one

of the ones who could handle the fear.

"Here it is,1 he said bitterly, holding up a small syn-

thetic container.

Channa automatically glanced down at the box, a

capsule dispenser, standard model, but looked more

closely at him.
"Are you all right, Doctor?" she said anxiously.

There were other medicos on the station, but only one

Chaundra. Personal factors aside, he was also the only

specialist with experience in original viral research.

"Tired is all," he said. The non-Standard accent in

his voice was stronger than usual, a trace of liquid sing-

song. He stood for a moment by her desk looking at the

box he carried, then he placed it in front of her.

"They're ready," he said, pointing to it.
Channa touched the dispenser slot and it dropped a

gelatin capsule filled with clear liquid into her palm.

"The virus," she said.
"Yes," he murmured. "1, who am a healer, have

created for you a weapon."

"A nonlethal weapon for self-defense" she said in

gende correction.

"Hopefully nonlethal. How can I be sure, with a

genetically nonstandard target population? I cannot

even be certain nobody on the station will die of it!"
"The probability N" Simeon began in a firm tone.
#_ js vanishingly small, yes, indeed," Chaundra

said. Then he sighed. "There is no sense in complain-

ing after the fact We have made enough so every man

and woman on theCta(&>n gets five. I can't imagine

anyone being unlucty enough to need more than that.

What you do, is bite down on it. Don't swallow and

breathe it all over the Kolnari nearest you. It is con-

tagious even if swallowed, you understand, but more

so with direct contact. If the pirate wishes to kiss you, by

all means let them."

"Ugh!" Channa said, making a face.
"I've alerted the group leaders to call in at the clink

to collect dispensers for distribution to their people,"

Simeon said.
"Remind them, will you," Chaundra said, "that

anyone who uses a capsule should report as soon as

possible to the clinic for the protective shot. They'll get

a light dose then, but their ... um... victim will get

very sick indeed."
"Symptoms?" asked Channa.
"Headache, nausea, diarrhea, fever, possible

delirium." He shivered. "I must get back to my lab. So

much more needs to be done, and there is so little time

to do it all in."

"You need to sleep," Channa said firmly. "Go to bed

for a minimum of six hours."

"That's an order, Chaundra," Simeon told him, "as

of now, you're off duty until tomorrow morning."

"Yes, of course." Chaundra nodded abstractedly.

"And the volunteers," he continued, "have them in the

hospital as soon as the pirates appear. We can accelerate

the onsetN"

"Go to bed!" Channa took him by the arms and gave

him a little shake, finally getting his startled attention.

"Oh..." He smiled. "Good idea. Um..." He paused

at the door and blinked. "Oh, yes. Joat N I have met

Ame McCaffrey & SM Stating
young Joat She is a bit... more mature than I thought

she was." He frowned, looking concerned. "Do you

think it will be all right, their being together so much?

Her and Seld, I mean."

Channa blinked. At least nobodyJias been unkind enough
f^ Q
to mention any grizzly tales of Joat's life story, she thought
"Uh, I don't think it will matte#" Simeon said, slightly

amused. "They'll be kept weil-occupied, you know, and

they are neither of them physically adult."
"You are very off-handed for a proper father of a

daughter," Chaundra saicl owlishly.

"Well, I am her father N or will be when the papers

are completed. Truly, Chaundra, I think we can

depend on Joat to be responsible. I trust her. She may

operate on her own code of ethics, but she is more con-

sistent about it than many adults I have encountered.

I'm not worried."

Chaundra sighed. 'I wish I had a credit for every

time someone has told me that they are not worried.

They're at a volatile age and they can't even trust them-

selves. Hell," he said throwing his arms wide, "under

all this pressure, the adults on this station can't trust

themselves. How can we expect diese kids to?"

Channa felt her color rise. "We can only anticipate

the problem and talk to them and hope for the best If

they're so inclined," to her surprise, she couldn't force

herself to be more specific, "they'll find a time and place

where we can't interfere. So let's not wear ourselves

down worrying about it."

A whole new set of problems, she thought. Correcting

the damage done to Joat's psychosexual development

was probably going to take many years. Right now the

girl needed Seld to be her friend, not her bed partner.

He was definitely her friend but... Channa remem-

bered what boys were like at that age, too. There's more of

a danger that she'd break his arm. But she needs a friend.

Something else to lie sleepless and worry over. Or had

anyone told Joat about Seld's medical problems?

privacy, she thought Seld had the right to deal with that

in his own time.
"Hey!" Simeon said. "Yoohoo! Channa! Chaundra.

You're both tired. Eveiything looks manageable when

you've had some slfep. So go sleep. We'll take care of

the capsules and we'll organize the volunteers. Don't

worry about a thing."
Chaundra sighed again and assumed a wry

expression. "Amateurs," he mumbled. "What you're

experiencing, Simeon, is denial. You can't avoid such

problems by pretending they don't exist." His

shoulders fell "I'll have Seld bring her home with him

after they're through working today." He waved good-

bye and left.
"Denial," Simeon said musingly. Strange, knowing

what he did of her past, he knew that sex was the last

thing Joat would think of as a recreational activity. That

was the commonest symptom of the particular form of

abuse she had suffered N and still the idea made him

uneasy, fatherhood.

"I don't want to talk about it," Channa told him, and

marched briskly back to her desk. She sat down and

spun the box of capsules around with one finger. "I was

thinking," she said, "wouldn't it be great if we could up

the ante on these?" She looked at Simeon's column.
"Yeah, it would. But we're already putting our

people at risk. I'm not willing to do the enemy's work

for them. Y'know?"
"Mmm. True. What if we could make them believe

it's worse than it really is?"

"Hard to say without knowing their physiology, tis-

sue samples ... Oh. You're talking about a con game,

aren't you, Happy?"
"It all depends on their psychology, of course. And

I'm not happy."

"Well," Simeon said dubiously, "the Navy psych
Amu McCaffrey &? SM. Stirling
reports aren't too detailed. These splinter groups are

usually aberrant Generally speaking, the reports say the

Kolnari are extremely aggressive towards those they

perceive as weak, treacherous but willing to bargain with

their equals in power, and have a tight/submission reflex

towards superiors N until the superiors let down their

guard, which is a sign of weakness/
"Oh, what a love-feast their culture must be!" Chan-

na said. "Hmmm. They'd be vulnerable to status and

power anxieties, then. And lots of internal rivalries."
"You betcha. Accordingtb the reports, they're also as

superstitious as horses. They know some science, but

they're not scientific, if you know what I mean."
"I think I get the picture. So?"
"We could modify some of the holo-projectors beside

the security cameras and flash 'hallucinations' for the

benefit of those who've had the virus. Auditory hal-

lucinations are no problem. I could project them and

no one would be the wiser."
"Oh, really?"
"Yeah," he seemed to be whispering directly into her

ear, "and without using your implant."

"Wow," she said, touching her ear, "that's spooky.

How did you do that?"

Just threw my voice N heterodyning waves from

multiple sources. It takes practice, but as you saw, the

effect is worth it"
She shook her head, wide-eyed. "If you can come up

with something visual to go with that, they'll be run-

ning for their ships the first day."
"Can't overdo it. It'll be easiest if they're alone when

they see these things, otherwise it could be considered

suspicious. I'll sound Joat out. That girl's a fountain of

Channa winced and forbore to ask what kind.

Chaundra's comments almost visibly flooded back into

her conscious mind.

"Don't let it worry you, she's a good kid," Simeon

said emphatically.

"I don't want to think about it"
"You really are concerned about Rachel's sanity,

aren't you?" (

Amos and Channa were settled comfortably on the

settee. Simeon had tactfully withdrawn his image from

the pillar screen, leaving a strikingly realistic crackling

fire in its place. Somehow he had even manage to repli-

cate the scent of burning cedarwood. Amos had had to

tactilely reassure himself that the fire was an image.

"Yes, she is definitely unstable," he said, his

shoulders sagging hopelessly. "Among all the other

problems, I must worry about this! It is so... sopetty."
"Humans can be a remarkably petty species," Chan-

na said philosophically. Partiddarly that hysterical bitch

Rachel. "When you get down to cases, lots of'big issues'

have been decided on personal matters. From Har-

modias and Aristogetion on down." Amos looked

blank. "Two ancient Greeks. Never mind. Briefly, a

government was overthrown because of a love-


Amos sighed again and reached for his snifter of

brandy. "I care nothing about her and my best friend

would give his life for her," he said, shaking his head.


"I know hereN" he touched his head "Nthat this...

delusion of hers, has nothing to do with me. But here N"

he touched his heart "N I cannot help but feel that I must

somehow be to blame. I was a... caller-of-spirit: you

would say a preacher. Oh, yes, I knew that half the

women in those crowds were in love with me. What of it?

I would never touch any of them, for that would be

dishonorable and destroy my cause more surely than

any other oflense. The folk of Bethel are... inflexible
Anne McCaffrcy &7 SM. Stir&ng
about such matters. Yet if I knew and accepted love, if it

flattered my vanity, am I not in some manner respon-

sible? How desperate she must be, and how lonely. It is
Channa patted his arm anjl smiled soothingly.

"From your description, it was never this bad before. If

you're to blame, then so is everyjcharismatic politician

and holo star since time began. Her ... delusion ..,

may have been aggravated by those drugs, although

she's not responding to medication. Simeon, has

anyone talked to Chaund^a about this?"
"Not yet," he said, after a tactful pause to suggest he

hadn't been listening.

"I have decided to keep her under my eye," Amos

said, adding reluctandy, "Mental care, the cure of souls.

It is part of our religion that only those consecrated can

perform cures of the human soul."

"Mmm." Your religion sucks wind, she thought silently,

No sense in offending Amos, of course. Humans

shouldn't be forced to take religion. That should be free

choice. "Maybe we'd better let Chaundra know that

Rachel isn't responding to treatment. She may need

stronger calmers. Let's face it, when the pirates arrive,

you're going to have a surfeit of problems to keep

under your eyes."

"I can keep my eye on more than one thing at a time,

Channa," Simeon cut in abruptly. "Simeon-Amos?"

He nodded. I agree with Channa. I will speak with

the doctor of this. This is my burden, my obligation. I

will do it." He rose and disappeared into his room,

shoulders bowed.

Channa shook her head, "You'd think he was send-

ing her off to be executed."

"Who knows how his people view psych treatment?

Confession seems to be a major element in their

religion. To him, treating this as a medical problem

could be equivalent to blasphemy."

"Hmph." She turned to squint at his column. "By

the way, don't try to tell me that you didn't enjoy that lit-

tle interruption, Simeon. I know you too well by now."
"Okay." His voice was downright cheery.
She smiled rueful jy. "Just don't make a habit of it,
okay?" i
"There are no guarantees in life, Channa."
"Oh, no? If I ever get the idea that you're engineer-

ing any more little disruptions of my love life, /

guarantee that you'll regret it."
"Hey, be reasonable, Channa! What could I possibly

have to do with Rachel going bonkers? I didn't even let

her into the lounge. I could have, y'know."
Channa shrugged and grunted.
"I thought about not telling you she was trying to

beat the door down, I really did. But then I figured

she'd go grab a laser and cut her way in. And, of course,

if she had caught you two in flagrante delicto, she

wouldn't have stopped at cutting up doors."
"Oh, thank you, Simeon, you are such a hero, saving

me from a fete worse than death and death itself. Con-

sider yourself hugged and slobbered over in an ecstasy

of gratitude."

"That's short for 'my attitude's back,' isn't it?"
She got up and started for her room. "Yes, Simeon,

my attitude's back."

"Well, why? What did I do?"
She spun on her heel and threw up her hands. "I'm

horny, all right? I'm horny and I'm frustrated!" The

door snapped shut behind her.
Simeon shut down his pickups in the lounge, escap-

ing the charged atmosphere in the only way he could.

Sheesh, he thought. Softshells -were strange.
"Nothing, Great Lord. Nothing but rebroadcasts of

the same warning message."

Tsssk. You have had no success in monitoring inter-

nal communications?"

"No, Great Lord."
This time Baila's voice held a slight touch of resent-

ment This was no backwater, no half-barbarian slum

that used electro-magnetic signals for internal com-

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