CRANE, JOVANNES ALISANDER
Born at Cappella, Dome l4, Mars, 2760.
Family transferred to Batu Pahat, Eastern Hegemony, Earth, 2764.
Ultrament potential extrapolated by Cappella Oracle from Tiosan
bloodlines, confirmed at First Examination, 2766.
Parents and sister died in boating accident 2767; he was the only
Submitted for Dedication by grandmother 2768, rejected 2770.
(Submission carried to full Council 2768, 2769, 2770 without agreement
and resolved by appeal to the Goddess.)
Ultrament capability measured at Second Examination, 2772, as 7.3 on
Aberth scale, but reading distorted by adverse psychological
Pahang Reservation 2775 to 2777. No strong ties formed.
Refused Temple Fellowship 2778. University of Kuala Lumpur 2778
Doctorates - Electryonics and Ancient Literature. Combined thesis, 'The
development of the Oracle, Freud to Orlov.'
Communications Service, 2786 to 2791. Transfer to Out-Fleet requested
2788, refused; 2789 (twice), refused; 2790, accepted.
Link network implanted 2790 From that time, on Link-ship William Goat,
eight out-system missions.
That's the bare bones of Crane, but I had to scratch through a cube
meter of Oracle store to get it. He's a queer bird but no queerer than
the rest of that crew (so I got interested and looked them up too, no
extra charge). If his Oracle couldn't get through to him how do
you expect me to help? This is certain, he's balanced on a fine edge.
Right now he's as secure as he ever will be; the crew all form one
unit, they've been able to cushion his stresses. If he lost them, only
the Goddess knows which way that coin would tumble. One thing though,
no psychoshit, straight from the record. Look at it. He's managed to
find himself the only niche in this system where he could survive and
stay his own mixed-up self, and don't tell me the Temple didn't bend
all the rules to keep that potential from being wasted on the
Out-Fleet, we both know better. So look out, you may be hitching a ride
with a tiger. Pull the Emperor's beard for me.
Harris opened her eyes and blinked. Bending over her was a young man
with a shock of white hair cut in a most peculiar fashion, with what
appeared to be a jeweled ornament set in his forehead. What was more,
she noticed as her eyes fell from his face that not only was he quite
naked, so was she. She let her eyelids droop again and thought with
composure, What an odd dream! I wonder how the Oracle will
interpret this one.
"Good morning -- I think. Does my nose deceive me or do I really
The words barely
penetrated Linda's drowsiness, but the hint of a fragrance made her
nostrils twitch, and suddenly she was wide awake. She sat upright with
a jerk, instinctively pulling up her legs, pressing her knees together,
and folding her arms over her small pointed breasts, but the man now
had his back to her with his head thrown up like a dog sniffing the air
greedily. As she sat up, he turned and smiled at her.
"It is coffee," he said with satisfaction.
He appeared so
completely unconscious of their nakedness that she lost some of her
embarrassment. The last few hours before she got to the ship had been
passed in a daze. Everything happened so quickly. The Gans, for once,
had themselves been excited; the screen they normally kept up to
protect her had slipped and her own emotions had been confused enough
without having to fight off the backlash from theirs. As a result, she
remembered passing from the Tender through the Staging Post to the
decontamination chambers only in brief flashes, and nothing at all
after they entered the final chamber, except a sudden turmoil of
emotion from the Gans.
The man was one of
the Sealed, she remembered that, and the awe she had felt when she
learned of it. The Dedicated servants of the Goddess were admired and
respected but they were not set apart. Most of them lived among the
people and frequently one met them socially, though naturally there was
always a little constraint in their presence. Those who had taken the
Seal were met and even seen rarely, except perhaps at the great Spring
Festivals, when it was a subject of conversation among the girls for
He was rummaging in a
locker on the opposite wall and she studied him covertly. He was only
of medium height, and slim, though his shoulders were broad enough, and
as he stooped she could see long muscles flex on his back and thighs.
She was conscious of a slight feeling of disillusionment. She was not
quite certain what she had expected of one of the Sealed, but surely
more than a pleasant, ordinary young man. He might have been a boy on a
Reservation, as she watched on the view-screen at home, thinking that
this might be the one she would meet, and perhaps love, and even,
maybe, stay together with afterwards. But she had lost that chance. She
would never know the feeling of complete, uncontrolled freedom to do as
she wished and she did not even know why. As he turned towards her, she
saw that he had a length of dull blue fabric in either hand, and he
reached one over to her.
"Our Out-Fleet friends seem to dress simply,"
he said, "But it's better than nothing. I intend to get that coffee,
and somehow I find I would prefer not to roam around a strange ship
wearing only my skin."
She accepted the kilt
with gratitude, and copied him, as he wrapped it around his waist,
slipping off the couch as she did so. Nakedness was not taboo now as
once it had been. Certainly clothing was not a necessity under the
domes of Mars. A minimum was usually worn in public if only for
protection against accidental embarrassment, and usually a great deal
more for decoration. However different standards applied in a few homes
in Mars, and Linda's was one of them.
Unlike Earth, Mars
had been divided at the time of the revolt. Although the Tiosan
faction was crushed despite the help of an expeditionary force
infiltrated from Tios, the descendants of the Tiosans were still, even
after so many years, not completely assimilated. They used the Oracles,
of course. Their children went to the Reservations like other
girls and boys, though usually in groups. However they adhered to
an older code of morality, and even though they followed the Goddess
now, remembered another tradition.
Linda blinked back a
tear as she thought of her mother and father, whom she had not seen
since she was taken from Mars over a year ago, just before her
fifteenth birthday. She would have had to leave then anyway, but it
would have been to go to a Reservation with her friends, after talking
and planning and dreaming about it since she was a child, not into the
unknown with three - monsters, she thought, and felt immediately
guilty, for she of all people knew well that they were not.
She looked up to find
him watching her quizzically, and flushed. "I'm sorry, I was
daydreaming." He smiled at her but she felt he understood, and she
began to like him.
"Unless I'm daydreaming too, someone's making coffee and I want it,"
he said. "Shall we dare the unknown together?"
chimed in with hers so neatly that she laughed as she took the hand he
held out, and went through the door with him quite cheerfully. He
seemed to be following his nose as he turned left, then right, along
bare corridors which had the sheen of metal, though the floors were
warm under Linda's feet. Then they heard the sound of low voiceless
singing to a little trilling tune that only pretended to be sad, and
came to an open door. Sik'r went in, joining in the song. As he
did, a man emerged from another opening in the same corridor, and they
stared at each other. The other's hair was also that strange blue
white, though it was not cut to bare his scalp, and he too wore the
ruby ornament. Linda thought he was the ugliest man she had ever
seen. Then he smiled at her and his face was transformed.
"You passed out in the deep-deek, so I don't
suppose you remember me. I'm second-in-command here, Jo Crane."
She saw now that he
was not really ugly. Her first impression was completely wrong
but his face was curiously asymmetrical, as if the two halves of his
head belonged to twins almost, but not quite identical; joined almost,
but not quite, in the right places. It explained the blinding
brilliance of his smile which (did he practice it, she wondered?) was
just twisted enough to push one half exactly into balance with the
other. She discovered to her embarrassment that she had been staring
and hurriedly said, "I don't know why I fainted. I hope you didn't
have any trouble with the Gans without me."
"I didn't have any. You see the deep-deek hits me as badly as it did
you, so the Sealed had to help us all." His tone was light. "I've
just pulled them out of the Tank but they won't regain consciousness
for twenty minutes or so. Come up to the Control Room and we'll have
coffee while you meet the others."
"As you see, I have anticipated your invitation." Sik'r spoke
cheerfully as he appeared at the galley door, dragged down on one side
by the weight of a large urn.
Linda was relieved of
a problem as a small, exotically pretty girl came to the door behind
him. She had been afraid the crew might all be male. Having had
to leave all her belongings with her clothes behind at the Staging Post
and with no idea of the length of the voyage, she had been wondering
how she would manage. There was also a more pressing urgency, which she
had been too shy to mention to Sik'r. The girl grinned at her, and
quite casually came over and kissed her, then put her arm around her
waist, and still without speaking led her along the corridor.
Sik'r looked after
them consideringly. "Yes," he said, "That certainly needs
attention, but I think, yes, I think I can maintain my equilibrium
until after at least one cup of coffee. If you will lead the way I
shall follow." Crane moved to take the urn. "No, allow me, I
intend to work my passage I assure you."
Crane, though he
did not copy the fashions of the Out-Fleet, was still jealous of its
peculiar status. Despite himself, he was disarmed. He did not
himself follow the Goddess for much the same reason as he did not have
his hair removed - plain stubbornness. But he was a voracious if
undiscriminating reader, and he knew that life under the Goddess on
Earth and Mars was immeasurably better than it had ever been before. It
was not the life he wanted, but he was intelligent enough to know the
fault lay in himself. He envied and respected and disliked the Servants
of the Goddess whom he had helped seed in the Second Empire, for the
calm certainty that was characteristic of them and especially for their
cheerfulness as they traveled to appalling risks.
Crane was quite
prepared to die if he had to. He risked his life - all the crew did -
on every mission, but he resented the necessity. He was terrified
of the preliminaries and he would continue to complain bitterly about
the details while he still had breath, even if neither gods nor men
were listening. Now that the strains of lift-off had been relieved, he
was able to think clearly, but he had come to the same conclusion as
before; this was their last mission, whether they were able to make the
drop on Gathol or not. He was sorry for the little Martian, she was an
attractive child, but even if they got her to Gathol he did not think
she would have much chance of survival on that savage world, though she
would have the protection of the Gans, he supposed.
He spoke over his
shoulder to Sik'r. "What's that youngster's name? What possessed the
Temple to send her, she can't be more than fifteen?"
"Linda Harris." Sik'r was breathing hard, Crane had not
accommodated his pace to the load the Sealed was carrying. "She's
sixteen, and the Temple had no choice. She and Orsini were the only two
people in the system with minds completely open to the Gans, and Orsini
killed himself yesterday."
That startled Crane;
suicide had become extremely rare since the widespread use of the
Oracles. He pushed open the door of the Control Room and stood aside
while Sik'r went through.
"Put the coffee over there." He indicated a table in a corner.
"Ma'am, Sik'r born Smallhorn, Sealed to the Goddess."
himself from the urn and turned to face the others. The Captain was not
such an overwhelming spectacle in the loose blue robe which was her
usual shipboard garment. She looked at him closely and then snapped her
"I thought I remembered the name, you were
wreathed at last year's Festival." She spoke to the others, "He's
a poet." Her voice was accusing.
"The greatest living." agreed Sik'r, "And only modesty makes
me add the qualification. I am about to write an ode to coffee, Ma'am,
but I find I have forgotten how it tastes."
Crane laughed, this
single-mindedness amused him, and went over to the table. O'Hara, who
was still on Link watch, spoke in a voice which though normally pitched
gave an odd impression of distance.
"He wrote that little song Emilie was so taken with when I showed it
to her." He was speaking to Julie, who nodded. Her eyes had been
fixed with unblinking hostility on the Sealed since he entered the
room, but now doubt showed in them. "She's been trying to make music
for it ever since."
Sik'r took the
cup Crane handed to him and drank deeply before he said, "She was
singing it when I met her," and drank greedily again. He found that
they were all looking at him and laughed. "Oh, no magic of mine, it
was all hers. I take it she doesn't use words much; she doesn't need
to. Give me leave to know my own song when I hear the only music that
could match it."
Just then Emilie and
Linda came into the room, and as Emilie passed Sik'r on her way to the
coffee table she casually took the cup from him to refill it. Julie
relaxed and turned her attention to the girl. She trusted her sister's
judgment and Emilie had accepted him. The Captain, who trusted no one's
judgment but her own, and had a poor opinion of both poetry and poets,
was not at all satisfied, but postponed her questions while she greeted
"I'm Captain Bentine, my dear." She went over to Linda who was
still flustered by the informal dress of herself and the crew.
She did not know whether to salute or to curtsey and compromised by
taking the hands the Captain held out and bowing slightly.
"Lieutenant Linda Harris, Madam, Communications Service."
"What in the Name are you doing in Com. Es.? At your age you should
be kicking up your heels on a Reservation." She turned to Sik'r, "Do
you know anything about this?"
for him. "Orsini killed himself, and apparently Lieutenant Harris is
the only other sensitive available who can handle the Gans." He was
frowning. "Though I still don't understand why they took her before
she went to the Reservations. I thought only the Dedicated missed the
Free Years." He looked at Linda but she shook her head.
"I don't know, I wish I did. I asked Major Orsini but he wouldn't
talk about it, and this is the first time I've been outside his
laboratory since I left Mars." They were all looking at her with
sympathy, and for the first time in a year she felt that she was among
friends, people who cared for her as an individual, and not as a piece
of laboratory equipment, to be adjusted, kept clean and sterile, and
switched off when not in use. Her eyes filled with tears.
Julie had been
listening attentively and looked puzzled. "Couldn't you ask your
Oracle, honey? It would have known, wouldn't it?"
Linda shook her head
again. "I suppose so, but I couldn't ask one. There wasn't one
anywhere in the whole building, at least not one that worked properly."
Well, that explains
Orsini, thought Crane, now why did the Temple let it get to that stage
before intervening? The Captain, who was glaring at Sik'r voiced the
same thought more forcibly, and in language which startled Linda.
The Sealed sighed and
put down his cup. "We knew, of course, that he was not using the
Oracles, but he rarely did. We were beginning to suspect that he might
be unbalanced, but we had no reason to believe how seriously. And if we
had, it would not have made much difference." He nodded to Crane. "As
I told you, he and Linda were the only two with minds open to the Gans."
He shrugged. "We are only Her Servants, human and fallible."
"As you know well, it is difficult enough to run the gauntlet of the
Fleet and get out people to the Empire's planets, impossible to get
them back. You pick up messages when you can, that is difficult too,
but it is the only way that we can get news from the Empire. One reason
for bringing the Gans to Earth was in the hope that we might find some
means of direct communication, training others to be as sensitive as
Linda. That was not possible. But they learned much from us, as we did
from them and we think that when they return to Gathol many things may
come of it."
"Well, that is for the future. At present, we are all in the same
boat." He paused to smile at his use of the phrase in the
circumstances. "Not just us here, but the millions on Earth and
Mars. At any moment the Empire may decide to lift the Interdiction by
eliminating us, which it can do. The decision may already have been
made; we do not know, but we think not yet. If not, there is the chance
that we can delay it, and even, though a small chance indeed, that we
can influence it. That is why -"
interrupted by a moan from Linda. As they turned to stare at her she
pressed her hands to her eyes and cried out again.
"What is it, child?" asked the Captain, putting her arm around
the girl's rigid body.
"The Gans, they feel something, some danger, they're afraid."
There was a note of wonder along with the terror in her voice.
The Captain turned
quickly to O'Hara who shook his head. "Nothing showing, but there
never is in the bubble."
"Just in case, we'll Link," decided the Captain. "Here, you,
get her into a chair," she told Sik'r, and when he came over to
Linda, she moved to her own place. Before she reached it, Linda
screamed shrilly and collapsed on the floor, and Crane and Julie who
were already in the Link both shouted incoherently.
the ship was lifted and shaken in the hand of a giant, the lights went
out, and the Captain found herself falling through the air in the
darkness. Her last thoughts were oddly disconnected: the Sealed was
hiding something; and with some amusement, I hope I don't land on Jo.
Then an even deeper darkness closed around her.
"My father was manager of a
number of factories which assembled component systems for the Oracles.
He was not of the managerial elite. He had raised himself to the
position and to leadership of the local bourgeois, by unremitting
attention to ambition in every detail of his life. He was an admirable
man, but I could not love him. He, and my mother, dedicated me to the
Temple when my elder brother was badly hurt in a gang fight on his
Reservation. This was common enough, and as I now know they had been
told by our family Oracle that my destiny, whatever it might be, was
not to become a manager. But I was only ten years old and I did not
understand. As well as being hurt I was frightened , for I had heard
the usual children's gossip about the Dedicated, but before long I was
relishing my new status and imposing on it. I once met a man who had
made a rare adult dedication, and he told me the hardest thing to bear
was the change in the face of a friend, afterwards. I must have been an
unpleasant child. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Luckily the Temple sent for
me soon. It is not good for a child to be set apart from family and
friends, not for him or for them."
From the Testament of Sik'r born Smallhorn
Crane had just
made the Link connection, and the feel of the ship sensors had barely
had time to permeate his own nervous system when he felt, or rather the
ship felt, the nape of the neck bristling, spine tingling alertness
that meant the concentration of all its faculties on something
unprogrammed and therefore potentially hazardous. He felt O'Hara's
shock; it was impossible. The cubic kilometer of normal space inside
the bubble that carried the ship with it was a closed universe, in
miniature certainly, but in theory as unbounded as the one they had
left. It was impossible to go outside it, but equally nothing could
enter it once it was fully formed.
The only danger was
during the transition period. In an area of high field stress the
partly formed bubble might burst, and anything then inside it vanished.
Possibly it went into Shift-Space, whatever that was, but since
communication was impossible from within the bubble, no-one knew. If
the Fleet had a tracer, the thought drifted from someone, that was a
beginning that might change the pattern of space travel.
realization of what had alerted the Link became clear. The navigation
sensors fixed permanently on the Shift beacons were disturbed; another
signal still comparatively weak but increasing very rapidly was
interfering. The other minds in the Link were quiescent. This was for
the ship and Crane, the brain and that specialized part of it which
took the brain's collected information and assessed it, and made the
huge and purely human leap from fact to fancy, from the fixed past
moment to the probable or possible or almost unimaginable future one.
Time in the bubble
had a constant relation to normal time; time in the Link had not. Less
than a second had passed since Crane and Julie had Linked. If the
Captain and Emilie had joined too, he might have found an answer, but
it was already too late. Whatever the Beacons were, one was being born
near the path of the ship; as the realization came, the bubble was in a
maelstrom of energy and the overloaded beacon sensors sent messages of
stress screaming through all the nervous systems of the Link while the
overload relays took their interminable millisecond to close.
Neither Crane nor
Julie ever remembered clearly how they felt at that moment. Much later,
though, Crane had a nightmare in which he became a worm-like many
headed creature, floating alone in space among the billions of stars;
looking at them with unbearable hunger and beginning to eat and grow
and eat again, until his writhing coils turned back on themselves as
they filled the Universe, and only one dim star still held back the
eternal dark. As his mouth closed greedily on that, he saw that it was
not a star but a ship, and woke with his heart pounding and his mind
starting away from a horror he dared not remember, just as it did now.
remembered the lights having gone out, but they were on again now and
the Sealed was slapping him lightly. Crane did not recognize him at
first - blood was welling over his face from a deep gash above his
"The Captain, is she all right?" It was the first thought that
came to his mind, the last thing he had seen with his own eyes just
before the lights went out; the Captain rising grotesquely from the
floor, her robe billowing.
straightened unsteadily with a sigh of relief and wiped the blood out
of his eyes with his forearm. "Not dead. I think she may be badly
hurt." He anticipated the next question, "No one else, as far as
I can see. What happened?"
"It looks like we went through a new beacon, one just being created."
Crane knew he should return to the Link and check on damage to the
ship, but he was afraid of what he might find, of where they might be.
He saw that Sik'r was waiting, his face calm and grave under a mask of
blood, and swallowed with difficulty.
"I must get back into the Link. Try to bring Julie and O'Hara around."
He pulled the
Link contact back onto his forehead and saw with relief that they were
still in the familiar bubble. Alone in the Link, although he could
sense directly the ship functions, there was no illusion of being part
of them, and for the moment he was glad of that. The ship was
damaged. He could not tell how badly since many of the sensors
were either blown or tripped out of the circuits. The control room was
undamaged though coffee was splattered over one wall and still dripping
down it. Emilie was propped against a wall in one corner with the
little Martian girl lying across her legs. As Crane looked he saw them
both move. O'Hara was still unconscious, but Sik'r had Julie out of her
chair, and was supporting her as she took a wavering step.
"Julie!" Her eyes were dull, but she looked up. "Madame is
hurt." It took a moment to penetrate, but then she saw the bulk of
the Captain where she had fallen, sprawled obscenely over one of the
chairs. With a little cry she pushed Sik'r away and staggered to her.
"You, Sik'r!" Crane forced himself to keep his eyes and mind
from the Captain. "Try to get that girl, Linda, try to get her up
and check on the Gans." The Sealed nodded obediently and again
wiped his arm over his eyes.
"No, wait, there's a medi-kit store in the wall, to the right of the
door. Fix that cut first."
He let himself look
over quickly, and saw that Emilie had joined Julie. Responding to some
deeply buried instinct they had rearranged the Captain's dress to cover
her legs. They should not have wasted the time but Crane was glad they
had. The crew knew each other's bodies as they knew each other's minds,
with an accustomed intimacy like that of an old married couple.
Whatever their needs or desires, they were satisfied with as little
thought and with the same casual affection with which Emilie had made
them coffee. Conscious, the Captain's gross body was seen by Crane
through the filter of her personality, her amused resentment of her
grotesqueness, and his own respect. Unconscious and helpless, her
sprawling naked legs were a pathetic indignity which made him feel a
He felt O'Hara join
him in the Link and ignored his dazed questionings. He was using his
responsibilities, the necessity of organizing and ordering, to help him
forget what had happened. He passed the Link watch to O'Hara, and went
over to where the Sealed was standing with his arm around Linda.
"We're going to be busy with the ship and the
Captain." He was nerving himself to find out how she was and
putting it off. "How's the girl, do you think she could check on the
Gans, if any of them are hurt?"
He had been speaking
to Sik'r, but Linda answered him shakily, "It's all right. The Gans
aren't hurt either, or at least not seriously. They're in contact with
"Well," Crane was afraid there might have been damage to the
pods, "Better get them up here. Sik'r, you go with her. Seal the pod
compartment off behind you, do you know how?" Sik'r nodded and
turned. Crane could put it off no longer. Julie was putting a hypo gun
back in the medi-kit. "Well?" He waited tensely. He knew that he
depended on the Captain. He was beginning to realize how much and it
Emilie looked up and
her face twisted as she tried to speak, then she shook her head quickly
and looked down again.
"Is she dead? Julie, is she dead?" He went over and caught her
roughly by the shoulders turning her to face him, and he saw that her
eyes were wet.
"Not yet. Maybe not for hours. Oh, Jo, she's so hurt." For the
first time since he had known her she was weeping and as her sister
came to put her arms around her, Crane realized that they were turning
to him for help. Even through his own grief it appalled him. His
knuckles were white as his fingers dug into Julie's arm, though she did
not wince, and he caught both girls against him - as much, he thought
wryly for his own comfort as for theirs.
Over their heads he
could see the Captain. They had managed to ease her bulk into the chair
and there were no visible signs of her in juries. He clung to the two
girls a moment longer, feeling Julie's tears wet on his chest. Then he
let them go and stepped back. There were many things to do, and they
would all be better off kept busy doing them. He had to find out one
thing first, and it was difficult to ask.
"Will she be conscious before she dies? Julie!" he spoke
sharply. "It's important, Julie." Julie wiped her hands over her
face and held them there for a moment as she visibly braced herself. "All
right, Jo. I don't know, she's so broken up, I think inside too."
Her voice quavered but she went on. "I can try to make her
conscious, but-I don't know, Jo, she's so badly hurt. I've given her a
shot, just in case, but - Jo, it might be better if she didn't waken."
He shook his
head. "I can't believe it, I can't -" he took a deep breath. "Well,
we'll wait and see. First, we have to look after the ship. If there's
nothing more you can do for her -?" It was a last appeal but
neither of them looked them in the eyes.
"All right. Join O'Hara in the Link, do as much as you can linked,
and then you go with O'Hara, Julie, and check damage on the spot. Get
the beacon sensors in operation again as soon as you can, the Goddess
knows where we are now. Then check the Tank pods, they may be damaged."
He saw they were staring at the door, and turned.
Linda had come into
the room and behind her were the three aliens from Gathol. They stood
upright and were four limbed, but there all human resemblance ended. At
first glance they might have been of two different species. One was
covered in fine, sleek black fur, through which muscles could be seen
to move in unexpected places. The other two were taller and seemed to
be more powerfully built, though it was difficult to visualize their
true outlines, which were masked by loose hanging folds. At first Crane
thought they might be clothing, but then he realized they were covered
with the same fur as the other, but in colors which ranged from dark
green to a very dark brown. As he watched the colors changed
gradually in patterns moving symmetrically around their bodies.
The heads were
totally inhuman, indeed unearthly. There was no neck, the head was
extended back in a hump above the shoulders, and a great fanged mouth
split it. There were no apparent nostrils or ears, and huge eyes were
set on each side of the head, bulging out and covered with a thick
transparent membrane. Now that they were in the control room, Crane
found that he did not know what to do with them, and looked for advice
to Linda. "Can they hear us? Do they understand?"
Linda shook her head.
"Maybe not directly, but as long as I hear you they can pick it up
from my mind. They want to know if you will permit them to try to help
Sik'r broke in
quickly before Crane had a chance to refuse. "They may be able to
help, Crane. They can find out where she is hurt, and some hurts they
can coax her own mind to heal. I have seen it done."
was illogical but no easier to overcome for that. "How can they do
that if they can only communicate with Linda?" He raised the
objection to give himself time to think, but his original mistrust
returned when the Sealed was slow to answer.
"Linda does not know, but in fact all of you on this ship are
sensitive to some degree. All the Link ship crews are. Full
communication needs a high degree of sensitivity and training, but even
so the Gans should be able to help the Captain. She may be too badly
hurt for her mind to heal even with their help, but you must let them
try. At the very least, they can give her ease during her passing."
His voice deepened. "I am Sealed to Her, I know what a trivial
matter is death. But I know too what a great and solemn thing is the
end of a life here. If She wills that the Captain passes unknowingly,
we must accept in sorrow, but it is our duty, mine and yours, to do all
we can to help her know how the Ritual of her life is ending, that she
may complete it with dignity."
"Crane," O'Hara's voice was weak, "Crane, you must let them
try, you must. If they could only keep her alive and conscious so that
she could join the Link once more, just once more. You know that she
would want that, never mind the Sealed, the Link is all we need."
As he hesitated,
Julie said dully, "You may as well, Jo, it can't do any harm."
He did not
realize he had made up his mind until he saw the Gans move to group
themselves around the Captain, very close, but not touching her. The
interplay of color through the folds of fur cloaking the two - males? -
had steadied to a slow pulsation. As the female bent over the Captain,
each lifted an arm above the great hump behind her head, and the folds
erected and extended until, merging, they enshrouded her.
As if drawn, Linda
moved to the foot of the Captain's chair and knelt down, her hands
folded before and her head drooping on her breast. Her eyes were half
closed and she remained unnaturally still.
"Now!" Crane turned to the Sealed. He was angry but it seemed
necessary to keep his voice hushed. "I want to know what's
happening, exactly what's happening. Why you are here, why you have a
Link network, what you hope to achieve by all this, apart from getting
us all killed. The Temple must know how little chance there is of our
being able to make the drop on Gathol. We've no chance at all of
getting away afterwards. You say it's important to get the Gans back.
What good will it do to get them back dead?" He found his voice was
trembling and stopped abruptly.
Sik'r shrugged with
the conscious exaggeration which showed in many of his gestures and
threw out his hands. "No reason why you should not know. First, we
have an obligation to take the Gans home at whatever the cost. They
will die if we do not. They knew when they came to Earth to help us
that they could not survive long off Gathol, yet they came without
exacting any promise that we should return them. So we have an
obligation to try. I told you, we are not omniscient, we only learned
definitely of the fleet's tracer very recently." He ran his fingers
over his scalp, "As for this, we have found that it improves
communication somewhat for those of us who are not as talented as young
Linda. Yes, I am a sensitive too, it seems to be a part of our Tiosan
He smiled as Crane's
eyes widened. "Your parents were born on Mars, is that not so? Yes,
where we have been able to trace it, there has always been a link back
to Mars and the Tiosans who were abandoned there after the revolt. We
have never found a sensitive to any useful degree who did not have that
blood. We have learned a great deal in the past year. If I could only
have got to Tios - they know nothing of the power of the mind, yet they
must have it, if Linda still has it after so many generations on Mars.
If only she were older. But we had to act, we have run out of time, we
had to act and hope." He smiled again. "There is always hope.
How can we tell what the Goddess intends or has planned for us? It may
be part of Her plan that the Fleet turn Earth and Mars into blackened
cinders around a swollen sun, but I don't think so, nor do the Gans and
they are very wise."
Crane shook his
head. "I still don't understand. What could you hope to do on Tios?
If the Empire decides to wipe out Earth, how could you stop it? But we
can go to Tios as easily as to Gathol and with as much chance of making
a drop. What difference does it make whether we die on Gathol or on
Sik'r took his
bitterness seriously. "We have an obligation. It is very important
to the Gans to reach their home before they die. You know the Goddess
has only one commandment - the end does not justify the means. She
offers only one miracle - life itself. She makes only one promise, that
life can be more than a green scum creeping over a few backwaters of
the universal sea, to be swept away by the next storm. Not is - can be,
if we ourselves make it so."
He nodded over at the
Gans "Look at them. Those fangs are not for decoration. They are for
killing and eating, in the mindless lust for blood of any predator. Yet
they are more intelligent than we are, much more. They are trapped in
their animal bodies and they know they can never escape; they no longer
even wish to try. Yet these three sacrificed everything, all they had,
all they could hope for, to help us along a road they cannot take
themselves. I tell you, if I knew certainly that it meant the end of
the human race, on Earth and in the Empire, I think I would still take
He was breathing
hard, but he ended in a completely matter of fact voice. "Anyway, I
don't know, and neither does anyone else. We may do as much good or as
little on Gathol as on Tios. In such matters we have learned to trust
the Goddess and toss a coin - for one thing it saves argument."