Художественная литература

Roger Zelazny. The Keys to December

BORN OF MAN and woman, in accordance with Catform Y7 requirements, Coldworld Class (modified per Alyonal), 3.2-E, G.M.I. option, Jarry Dark was not suited for existence anywhere in the universe which had guaranteed him a niche. This was either a blessing or a curse, depending on how you looked at it. So look at it however you would, here is the story: It is likely that his parents could have afforded the temperature control unit, but not much more than that. (Jarry required a temperature of at least -50 C. to be comfortable.) It is unlikely that his parents could have provided for the air pressure control and gas mixture equipment required to maintain his life. Nothing could be done in the way of 3.2-E grav-simulation, so daily medication and physiotherapy were required. It is unlikely that his parents could have provided for this. The much-maligned option took care of him, however. It safe-guarded his health. It provided for his education. It assured his economic welfare and physical well-being. It might be argued that Jarry Dark would not have been a homeless Coldworld Catform (modified per Alyonal) had it not been for General Mining, Incorporated, which had held the option. But then it must be borne in mind that no one could have foreseen the nova which destroyed Alyonal. When his parents had presented themselves at the Public Health Planned Parenthood Center and requested advice and medication pending offspring, they had been informed as to the available worlds and the bodyform requirements for them. They had selected Alyonal, which had recently been purchased by General Mining for purposes of mineral exploitation. Wisely, they had elected the option; that is to say, they had signed a contract on behalf of their anticipated offspring, who would be eminently qualified to inhabit that world, agreeing that he would work as an employee of General Mining until he achieved his majority, at which time he would be free to depart and seek employment wherever he might choose (though his choices would admittedly be limited). In return for this guarantee, General Mining agreed to assure his health, education and continuing welfare for so long as he remained in their employ. When Alyonal caught fire and went away, those Coldworld Catforms covered by the option who were scattered about the crowded galaxy were, by virtue of the agreement, wards of General Mining. This is why Jarry grew up in a hermetically sealed room containing temperature and atmosphere controls, and why he received a first-class closed circuit education, along with his physiotherapy and medicine. This is also why Jarry bore some resemblance to a large gray ocelot without a tail, had webbing between his fingers and could not go outside to watch the traffic unless he wore a pressurized refrigeration suit and took extra medication. All over the swarming galaxy, people took the advice of Public Health Planned Parenthood Centers, and many others had chosen as had Jarry's parents. Twenty-eight thousand, five hundred sixty-six of them, to be exact. In any group of over twenty-eight thousand five hundred sixty, there are bound to be a few talented individuals. Jarry was one of them. He had a knack for making money. Most of his General Mining pension check was invested in well-chosen stocks of a speculative nature. (In fact, after a time he came to own considerable stock in General Mining.) When the man from the Galactic Civil Liberties Union had come around, expressing concern over the pre-birth contracts involved in the option and explaining that the Alyonal Catforms would make a good test case (especially since Jarry's parents lived within jurisdiction of the 877th Circuit, where they would be assured favorable courtroom atmosphere), Jarry's parents had demurred, for fear of jeopardizing the General Mining pension. Later on, Jarry himself dismissed the notion also. A favorable decision could not make him an E-world Normform, and what else mattered? He was not vindictive. Also, he owned considerable stock in G.M. by then. He loafed in his methane tank and purred, which meant that he was thinking. He operated his cryo-computer as he purred and thought. He was computing the total net worth of all the Catforms in the recently organized December Club. He stopped purring and considered a sub-total, stretched, shook his head slowly. Then he returned to his calculations. When he had finished, he dictated a message into his speech-tube, to Sanza Barati, President of December and his betrothed: "Dearest Sanza--the funds available, as I have suspected, leave much to be desired. All the more reason to begin immediately. Kindly submit the proposal to the business committee, outline my qualifications and seek immediate endorsement. I've finished drafting the general statement to the membership. (Copy attached.) From these figures, it will take me between five and ten years, if at least eighty percent of the membership backs me. So push hard, beloved. I'd like to meet you someday, in a place where the sky is purple. Yours, always, Jarry Dark, Treasurer. P.S. I'm pleased you were pleased with the ring." Two years later, Jarry had doubled the net worth of December, Incorporated. A year and a half after that, he had doubled it again. When he received the following letter from Sanza, he leapt onto his trampoline, bounded into the air, landed upon his feet at the opposite end of his quarters, returned to his viewer and replayed it: Dear Jarry, Attached are specifications and prices for five more worlds. The research staff likes the last one. So do I. What do you think? Alyonal II? If so, how about the price? When could we afford that much? The staff also says that an hundred Worldchange units could alter it to what we want in 5-6 centuries. Will forward costs of this machinery shortly. Come live with me and be my love, in a place where there are no walls.... Sanza "One year," he replied, "and I'll buy you a world! Hurry up with the costs of the machinery and transport...." When the figures arrived Jarry wept icy tears. One hundred machines, capable of altering the environment of a world, plus twenty-eight thousand coldsleep bunkers, plus transportation costs for the machinery and his people, plus...Too high! He did a rapid calculation. He spoke into the speech-tube: "...Fifteen additional years is too long to wait, Pussycat. Have them figure the time-span if we were to purchase only twenty Worldchange units. Love and kisses, Jarry." During the days which followed, he stalked above his chamber, erect at first, then on all fours as his mood deepened. "Approximately three thousand years," came the reply. "May your coat be ever shiny--Sanza." "Let's put it to a vote, Greeneyes," he said. Quick, a world in 300 words or less! Picture this... One land mass, really, containing three black and brackish looking seas; gray plains and yellow plains and skies the color of dry sand; shallow forests with trees like mushrooms which have been swabbed with iodine; no mountains, just hills brown, yellow, white, lavender; green birds with wings like parachutes, bills like sickles, feathers like oak leaves, an inside-out umbrella behind; six very distant moons, like spots before the eyes in daytime; grass like mustard in the moister valleys; mists like white fire on windless mornings, albino serpents when the air's astir; radiating chasms, like fractures in frosted windowpanes; hidden caverns, like chains of dark bubbles; seventeen known dangerous predators, ranging from one to six meters in length, excessively furred and fanged; sudden hailstorms, like hurled hammerheads from a clear sky; an icecap like a blue beret at either flattened pole; nervous bipeds a meter and a half in height, short on cerebrum, which wander the shallow forests and prey upon the giant caterpillar's larva, as well as the giant caterpillar, the green bird, the blind burrower, and the offal-eating murkbeast; seventeen mighty rivers; clouds like pregnant purple cows, which quickly cross the land to lie-in beyond the visible east; stands of windblasted stones like frozen music; nights like soot, to obscure the lesser stars; valleys which flow like the torsos of women or instruments of music; perpetual frost in places of shadow; sounds in the morning like the cracking of ice, the trembling of tin, the snapping of steel strands... They knew they would turn it to heaven. The vanguard arrived, decked out in refrigeration suits, installed ten Worldchange units in either hemisphere, began setting up cold-sleep bunkers in several of the larger caverns. Then came the members of December down from the sand-colored sky. They came and they saw, decided it was almost heaven, then entered their caverns and slept. Over twenty-eight thousand Coldworld Catforms (modified per Alyonal) came into their own world to sleep for a season in silence the sleep of ice and of stone, to inherit the new Alyonal. There is no dreaming in that sleep. But had there been, their dreams might have been as the thoughts of those yet awake. "It is bitter, Sanza." "Yes, but only for a time--" "...To have each other and our own world, and still to go forth like divers at the bottom of the sea. To have to crawl when you want to leap..." "It is only for a short time, Jarry, as the sense will reckon it." "But it is really three thousand years! An ice age will come to pass as we doze. Our former worlds will change so that we would not know them were we to go back for a visit--and none will remember us." "Visit what? Our former cells? Let the rest of the worlds go by! Let us be forgotten in the lands of our birth! We are a people apart and we have found our home. What else matters?" "True...It will be but a few years, and we shall stand our tours of wakefulness and watching together." "When is the first?" "Two and a half centuries from now--three months of wakefulness." "What will it be like then?" "I don't know. Less warm..." "Then let us return and sleep. Tomorrow will be a better day." "Yes." "Oh! See the green bird! It drifts like a dream..." When they awakened that first time, they stayed within the Worldchange installation at the place called Deadland. The world was already colder and the edges of the sky were tinted with pink. The metal walls of the great installation were black and rimed with frost. The atmosphere was still lethal and the temperature far too high. They remained within their special chambers for most of the time, venturing outside mainly to make necessary tests and to inspect the structure of their home. Deadland...Rocks and sand. No trees, no marks of life at all. The time of terrible winds was still upon the land, as the world fought back against the fields of the machines. At night, great clouds of real estate smoothed and sculpted the stands of stone, and when the winds departed the desert would shimmer as if fresh-painted and the stones would stand like flames within the morning and its singing. After the sun came up into the sky and hung there for a time, the winds would begin again and a dun-colored fog would curtain the day. When the morning winds departed, Jarry and Sanza would stare out across the Deadland through the east window of the installation, for that was their favorite--the one on the third floor--where the stone that looked like a gnarly Normform waved to them, and they would lie upon the green couch they had moved up from the first floor, and would sometimes make love as they listened for the winds to rise again, or Sanza would sing and Jarry would write in the log or read back through it, the scribblings of friends and unknowns through the centuries, and they would purr often but never laugh, because they did not know how. One morning, as they watched, they saw one of the biped creatures of the iodine forests moving across the land. It fell several times, picked itself up, fell once more, lay still. "What is it doing this far from its home?" asked Sanza. "Dying," said Jarry. "Let's go outside." They crossed a catwalk, descended to the first floor, donned their protective suits and departed the installation. The creature had risen to its feet and was staggering once again. It was covered with a reddish down, had dark eyes and a long, wide nose, lacked a true forehead. It had four brief digits, clawed, upon each hand and foot. When it saw them emerge from the Worldchange unit, it stopped and stared at them. Then it fell. They moved to its side and studied it where it lay. It continued to stare at them, its dark eyes wide, as it lay there shivering. "It will die if we leave it here," said Sanza. "...And it will die if we take it inside," said Jarry. It raised a forelimb toward them, let it fall again. Its eyes narrowed, then closed. Jarry reached out and touched it with the toe of his boot. There was no response. "It's dead," he said. "What will we do?" "Leave it here. The sands will cover it." They returned to the installation, and Jarry entered the event in the log. During their last month of duty, Sanza asked him, "Will everything die here but us? The green birds and the big eaters of flesh? The funny little trees and the hairy caterpillar?" "I hope not," said Jarry. "I've been reading back through the biologists' notes. I think life might adapt. Once it gets a start anywhere, it'll do anything it can to keep going. It's probably better for the creatures of this planet we could afford only twenty Worldchangers That way they have three millennia to grow more hair and learn to breathe our air and drink our water. With a hundred units we might have wiped them out and had to import coldworld creatures or breed them. This way, the ones who live here might be able to make it." "It's funny," she said, "but the thought just occurred to me that we're doing here what was done to us. They made us for Alyonal, and a nova took it away. These creatures came to life in this place, and we're taking it away. We're turning all of life on this planet into what we were on our former worlds--misfits." "The difference, however, is that we are taking our time," said Jarry, "and giving them a chance to get used to the new conditions." "Still, I feel that all that--outside there"--she gestured toward the window--"is what this world is becoming: one big Deadland." "Deadland was here before we came. We haven't created any new deserts." "All the animals are moving south. The trees are dying. When they get as far south as they can go and still the temperature drops, and the air continues to harm their lungs--then it will be all over for them." "By then they might have adapted. The trees are spreading, are developing thicker barks. Life will make it." "I wonder...." "Would you prefer to sleep until it's all over?" "No; I want to be by your side, always." "Then you must reconcile yourself to the fact that something is always hurt by any change. If you do this, you will not be hurt yourself." Then they listened for the winds to rise. Three days later, in the still of sundown, between the winds of day and the winds of night, she called him to the window. He climbed to the third floor and moved to her side. Her breasts were rose in the sundown light and the places beneath them silver and dark. The fur of her shoulders and haunches was like an aura of smoke. Her face was expressionless and her wide, green eyes were not turned toward him. He looked out. The first big flakes were falling, blue, through the pink light. They drifted past the stone and gnarly Normform; some stuck in the thick quartz windowpane; they fell upon the desert and lay there like blossoms of cyanide; they swirled as more of them came down and were caught by the first faint puffs of the terrible winds. Dark clouds had mustered overhead and from them, now, great cables and nets of blue descended. Now the flakes flashed past the window like butterflies, and the outline of Deadland flickered on and off. The pink vanished and there was only blue, blue and darkening blue, as the first great sigh of evening came into their ears and the billows suddenly moved sidewise rather than downwards, becoming indigo as they raced by. "The machine is never silent," Jarry wrote. "Sometimes I fancy I can hear voices in its constant humming, its occasional growling, its crackles of power. I am alone here at the Deadland station. Five centuries have passed since our arrival. I thought it better to let Sanza sleep out this tour of duty, lest the prospect be too bleak. (It is.) She will doubtless be angry. As I lay half-awake this morning, I thought I heard my parents' voices in the next room. No words. Just the sounds of their voices as I used to hear them over my old intercom. They must be dead by now, despite all geriatrics. I wonder if they thought of me much after I left? I couldn't even shake my father's hand without the gauntlet, or kiss my mother goodbye. It is strange, the feeling, to be this alone, with only the throb of the machinery about me as it rearranges the molecules of the atmosphere, refrigerates the world, here in the middle of the blue place. Deadland. This, despite the fact that I grew up in a steel cave. I call the other nineteen stations every afternoon. I am afraid I am becoming something of a nuisance. I won't call them tomorrow, or perhaps the next day. "I went outside without my refrig-pack this morning, for a few moments. It is still deadly hot. I gulped a mouthful of air and choked. Our day is still far off. But I can notice the difference from the last time I tried it, two and a half hundred years ago. I wonder what it will be like when we have finished? --And I, an economist! What will my function be in our new Alyonal? Whatever, so long as Sanza is happy.... "The Worldchanger stutters and groans. All the land is blue for so far as I can see. The stones still stand, but their shapes are changed from what they were. The sky is entirely pink now, and it becomes almost maroon in the morning and the evening. I guess it's really a wine-color, but I've never seen wine, so I can't say for certain. The trees have not died. They've grown hardier. Their barks are thicker, their leaves darker and larger. They grow much taller now, I've been told. There are no trees in Deadland. "The caterpillars still live. They seem much larger, I understand, but it is actually because they have become woollier than they used to be. It seems that most of the animals have heavier pelts these days. Some apparently have taken to hibernating. A strange thing: Station Seven reported that they had thought the bipeds were growing heavier coats. There seem to be quite a few of them in that area, and they often see them off in the distance. They looked to be shaggier. Closer observation, however, revealed that some of them were either carrying or were wrapped in the skins of dead animals! Could it be that they are more intelligent than we have given them credit for? This hardly seems possible, since they were tested quite thoroughly by the Bio Team before we set the machines in operation. Yes, it is very strange. "The winds are still severe. Occasionally, they darken the sky with ash. There has been considerable vulcanism southwest of here. Station Four was relocated because of this. I hear Sanza singing now, within the sounds of the machine. I will let her be awakened the next time. Things should be more settled by then. No, that is not true. It is selfishness. I want her here beside me. I feel as if I were the only living thing in the whole world. The voices on the radio are ghosts. The clock ticks loudly and the silences between the ticks are filled with the humming of the machine, which is a kind of silence, too, because it is constant. Sometimes I think it is not there; I listen for it, I strain my ears, and I do not know whether there is a humming or not. I check the indicators then, and they assure me that the machine is functioning. Or perhaps there is something wrong with the indicators. But they seem to be all right. No. It is me. And the blue of Deadland is a kind of visual silence. In the morning even the rocks are covered with blue frost. Is it beautiful or ugly? There is no response within me. It is a part of the great silence, that's all. Perhaps I shall become a mystic. Perhaps I shall develop occult powers or achieve something bright and liberating as I sit here at the center of the great silence. Perhaps I shall see visions. Already I hear voices. Are there ghosts in Deadland? No, there was never anything here to be ghosted. Except perhaps for the little biped. Why did it cross Deadland, I wonder? Why did it head for the center of destruction rather than away, as its fellows did? I shall never know. Unless perhaps I have a vision. I think it is time to suit up and take a walk. The polar icecaps are heavier. The glaciation has begun. Soon, soon things will be better. Soon the silence will end, I hope. I wonder, though, whether silence is not the true state of affairs in the universe, our little noises serving only to accentuate it, like a speck of black on a field of blue. Everything was once silence and will be so again--is now, perhaps. Will I ever hear real sounds, or only sounds out of the silence? Sanza is singing again. I wish I could wake her up now, to walk with me, out there. It is beginning to snow." Jarry awakened again on the eve of the millennium. Sanza smiled and took his hand in hers and stoked it, as he explained why he had let her sleep, as he apologized. "Of course I'm not angry," she said, "considering I did the same thing to you last cycle." Jarry stared up at her and felt the understanding begin. "I'll not do it again," she said, "and I know you couldn't. The aloneness is almost unbearable." "Yes," he replied. "They warmed us both alive last time. I came around first and told them to put you back to sleep. I was angry then, when I found out what you had done. But I got over it quickly, so often did I wish you were there." "We will stay together," said Jarry. "Yes, always." They took a flier from the cavern of sleep to the Worldchange installation at Deadland, where they relieved the other attendants and moved the new couch up to the third floor. The air of Deadland, while sultry, could now be breathed for short periods of time, though a headache invariably followed such experiments. The heat was still oppressive. The rock, once like an old Normform waving, had lost its distinctive outline. The winds were no longer so severe. On the fourth day, they found some animal tracks which seemed to belong to one of the larger predators. This cheered Sanza, but another, later occurrence produced only puzzlement. One morning they went forth to walk in Deadland. Less than a hundred paces from the installation, they came upon three of the giant caterpillars, dead. They were stiff, as though dried out rather than frozen, and they were surrounded by rows of markings within the snow. The footprints which led to the scene and away from it were rough of outline, obscure. "What does it mean?" she asked. "I don't know, but I think we had better photograph this," said Jarry. They did. When Jarry spoke to Station Eleven that afternoon, he learned that similar occurrences had occasionally been noted by attendants of other installations. These were not too frequent, however. "I don't understand," said Sanza. "I don't want to," said Jarry. It did not happen again during their tour of duty. Jarry entered it into the log and wrote a report. Then they abandoned themselves to lovemaking, monitoring, and occasionally nights of drunkenness. Two hundred years previously, a biochemist had devoted his tour of duty to experimenting with compounds which would produce the same reactions in Catforms as the legendary whiskey did in Normforms. He had been successful, had spent four weeks on a colossal binge, neglected his duty and been relieved of it, was then retired to his coldbunk for the balance of the Wait. His basically simple formula had circulated, however, and Jarry and Sanza found a well-stocked bar in the storeroom and a hand-written manual explaining its use and a variety of drinks which might be compounded. The author of the document had expressed the hope that each tour of attendance might result in the discovery of a new mixture, so that when he returned for his next cycle the manual would have grown to a size proportionate to his desire. Jarry and Sanza worked at it conscientiously, and satisfied the request with a Snowflower Punch which warmed their bellies and made their purring turn into giggles, so that they discovered laughter also. They celebrated the millennium with an entire bowl of it, and Sanza insisted on calling all the other installations and giving them the formula, right then, on the graveyard watch, so that everyone could share in their joy. It is quite possible that everyone did, for the recipe was well-received. And always, even after that bowl was but a memory, they kept the laughter. Thus are the first simple lines of tradition sometimes sketched. "The green birds are dying," said Sanza, putting aside a report she had been reading. "Oh?" said Jarry. "Apparently they've done all the adapting they're able to," she told him. "Pity," said Jarry. "It seems less than a year since we came here. Actually, it's a thousand." "Time flies," said Jarry. "I'm afraid," she said. "Of what?" "I don't know. Just afraid." "Why?" "Living the way we've been living, I guess. Leaving little pieces of ourselves in different centuries. Just a few months ago, as my memory works, this place was a desert. Now it's an ice field. Chasms open and close. Canyons appear and disappear. Rivers dry up and new ones spring forth. Everything seems so very transitory. Things look solid, but I'm getting afraid to touch things now. They might go away. They might turn into smoke, and my hand will keep on reaching through the smoke and touch--something...God, maybe. Or worse yet, maybe not. No one really knows what it will be like here when we've finished. We're traveling toward an unknown land and it's too late to go back. We're moving through a dream, heading toward an idea...Sometimes I miss my cell...and all the little machines that took care of me there. Maybe _I_ can't adapt. Maybe I'm like the green bird..." "No, Sanza. You're not. We're real. No matter what happens out there, _we_ will last. Everything is changing because we want it to change. We're stronger than the world, and we'll squeeze it and paint it and poke holes in it until we've made it exactly the way we want it. Then we'll take it and cover it with cities and children. You want to see God? Go look in the mirror. God has pointed ears and green eyes. He is covered with soft gray fur. When He raises His hand there is webbing between His fingers." "It is good that you are strong, Jarry." "Let's get out the power sled and go for a ride." "All right." Up and down, that day, they drove through Deadland, where the dark stones stood like clouds in another sky. It was twelve and a half hundred years. Now they could breathe without respirators, for a short time. Now they could bear the temperature, for a short time. Now all the green birds were dead. Now a strange and troubling thing began. The bipeds came by night, made markings on the snow, left dead animals in the midst of them. This happened now with much more frequency than it had in the past. They came long distances to do it, many of them with fur which was not their own upon their shoulders. Jarry searched through the history files for all the reports on the creatures. "This one speaks of lights in the forest," he said. "Station Seven." "What...?" "Fire," he said. "What if they've discovered fire?" "Then they're not really beasts!" "But they were!" "They wear clothing now. They make some sort of sacrifice to our machines. They're not beasts any longer." "How could it have happened?" "How do you think? _We_ did it. Perhaps they would have remained stupid--animals--if we had not come along and forced them to get smart in order to go on living. We've accelerated their evolution. They had to adapt or die, and they adapted." "D'you think it would have happened if we hadn't come along?" he asked. "Maybe--some day. Maybe not, too." Jarry moved to the window, stared out across Deadland. "I have to find out," he said. "If they are intelligent, if they are--human, like us," he said, then laughed, "then we must consider their ways." "What do you propose?" "Locate some of the creatures. See whether we can communicate with them." "Hasn't it been tried?" "Yes." "What were the results?" "Mixed. Some claim they have considerable understanding. Others place them far below the threshold where humanity begins." "We may be doing a terrible thing," she said. "Creating men, then destroying them. Once, when I was feeling low, you told me that we were the gods of this world, that ours was the power to shape and to break. Ours _is_ the power to shape and break, but I don't feel especially divine. What can we do? They have come this far, but do you think they can bear the change that will take us the rest of the way? What if they are like the green birds? What if they've adapted as fast and as far as they can and it is not sufficient? What would a god do?" "Whatever he wished," said Jarry. That day, they cruised over Deadland in the flier, but the only signs of life they saw were each other. They continued to search in the days that followed, but they did not meet with success. Under the purple of morning, however, two weeks later, it happened. "They've been here," said Sanza. Jarry moved to the front of the installation and stared out. The snow was broken in several places, inscribed with the lines he had seen before, about the form of a small, dead beast. "They can't have gone very far," he said. "No." "We'll search in the sled." Now over the snow and out, across the land called Dead they went, Sanza driving and Jarry peering at the lines of footmarks in the blue. They cruised through the occurring morning, hinting of fire and violet, and the wind went past them like a river, and all about them there came sounds like the cracking of ice, the trembling of tin, the snapping of steel strands. The bluefrosted stones stood like frozen music, and the long shadow of their sled, black as ink, raced on ahead of them. A shower of hailstones drumming upon the roof of their vehicle like a sudden visitation of demon dancers, as suddenly was gone. Deadland sloped downward, slanted up again. Jarry placed his hand upon Sanza's shoulder. "Ahead!" She nodded, began to brake the sled. They had it at bay. They were using clubs and long poles which looked to have fire-hardened points. They threw stones. They threw pieces of ice. Then they backed away and it killed them as they went. The Catforms had called it a bear because it was big and shaggy and could rise up onto its hind legs... This one was about three and a half meters in length, was covered with bluish fur and had a thin, hairless snout like the business end of a pair of pliers. Five of the little creatures lay still in the snow. Each time that it swung a paw and connected, another one fell. Jarry removed the pistol from its compartment and checked the charge. "Cruise by slowly," he told her. "I'm going to try to burn it about the head." His first shot missed, scoring the boulder at its back. His second singed the fur of its neck. He leapt down from the sled then, as they came abreast of the beast, thumbed the power control up to maximum, and fired the entire charge into its breast, point-blank. The bear stiffened, swayed, fell, a gaping wound upon it, front to back. Jarry turned and regarded the little creatures. They stared up at him. "Hello," he said. "My name is Jarry. I dub thee Redforms--" He was knocked from his feet by a blow from behind. He rolled across the snow, lights dancing before his eyes, his left arm and shoulder afire with pain. A second bear had emerged from the forest of stone. He drew his long hunting knife with his right hand and climbed back to his feet. As the creature lunged, he moved with the catspeed of his kind, thrusting upward, burying his knife to the hilt in its throat. A shudder ran through it, but if cuffed him and he fell once again, the blade torn from his grasp. The Redforms threw more stones, rushed toward it with their pointed sticks. Then there was a thud and a crunching sound, and it rose up into the air and came down on top of him. He awakened. He lay on his back, hurting, and everything he looked at seemed to be pulsing, as if about to explode. How much time had passed, he did not know. Either he or the bear had been moved. The little creatures crouched, waiting. Some watched the bear. Some watched him. Some watched the broken sled... The broken sled... He struggled to his feet. The Redforms drew back. He crossed to the sled and looked inside. He knew she was dead when he saw the angle of her neck. But he did all the things a person does to be sure, anyway, before he would let himself believe it. She had delivered the deathblow, crashing the sled into the creature, breaking its back. It had broken the sled. Herself, also. He leaned against the wreckage, composed his first prayer, then removed her body. The Redforms watched. He lifted her in his arms and began walking, back toward the installation, across Deadland. The Redforms continued to watch as he went, except for the one with the strangely high brow-ridge, who studied instead the knife that protruded from the shaggy and steaming throat of the beast. Jarry asked the awakened executives of December: "What should we do?" "She is the first of our race to die on this world," said Yan Turl, Vice President. "There is no tradition," said Selda Kein, Secretary. "Shall we establish one?" "I don't know," said Jarry. "I don't know what is right to do." "Burial or cremation seem to be the main choices. Which would you prefer?" "I don't--No, not the ground. Give her back to me. Give me a large flier...I'll burn her." "Then let us construct a chapel." "No. It is a thing I must do in my own way. I'd rather do it alone." "As you wish. Draw what equipment you will need, and be about it." "Please send someone else to keep the Deadland installation. I wish to sleep again when I have finished this thing--until the next cycle." "Very well, Jarry. We are sorry." "Yes--we are." Jarry nodded, gestured, turned, departed. Thus are the heavier lines of life sometimes drawn. At the southeastern edge of Deadland there was a blue mountain. It stood to slightly over three thousand meters in height. When approached from the northwest, it gave the appearance of being a frozen wave in a sea too vast to imagine. Purple clouds rent themselves upon its peak. No living thing was to be found on its slopes. It had no name, save that which Jarry Dark gave it. He anchored the flier. He carried her body to the highest point to which a body might be carried. He placed her there, dressed in her finest garments, a wide scarf concealing the angle of her neck, a dark veil covering her emptied features. He was about to try a prayer when the hail began to fall. Like thrown rocks, the chunks of blue ice came down upon him, upon her. "God damn you!" he cried and he raced back to the flier. He climbed into the air, circled. Her garments were flapping in the wind. The hail was a blue, beaded curtain that separated them from all but these final caresses: fire aflow from ice to ice, from clay aflow immortally through guns. He squeezed the trigger and a doorway into the sun opened in the side of the mountain that had been nameless. She vanished within it, and he widened the doorway until he had lowered the mountain. Then he climbed upward into the cloud, attacking the storm until his guns were empty. He circled then above the molten mesa, there at the southeastern edge of Deadland. He circled above the first pyre this world had seen. Then he departed, to sleep for a season in silence the sleep of ice and stone, to inherit the Alyonal. There is no dreaming in that sleep. Fifteen centuries. Almost half the Wait. Two hundred words or less....Picture-- ...Nineteen mighty rivers flowing, but the black seas rippling violet now. ...No shallow iodine-colored forests. Mighty shag-barked barrel trees instead, orange and lime and black and tall across the land. ...Great ranges of mountains in the place of hills brown, yellow, white, lavender. Black corkscrews of smoke unwinding from smoldering cones. ...Flowers, whose roots explore the soil twenty meters beneath their mustard petals, unfolded amidst the blue frost and the stones. ...Blind burrowers burrowing deeper; offal-eating murk-beasts now showing formidable incisors and great rows of ridged molars; giant caterpillars growing smaller but looking larger because of increasing coats. ...The contours of valleys still like the torsos of women, flowing and rolling, or perhaps like instruments of music. ...Gone much windblasted stone, but ever the frost. ...Sounds in the morning as always, harsh, brittle, metallic. They were sure that they were halfway to heaven. Picture that. The Deadland log told him as much as he really needed to know. But he read back through the old reports, too. Then he mixed himself a drink and stared out the third floor window. "...Will die," he said, then finished his drink, outfitted himself, and abandoned his post. It was three days before he found a camp. He landed the flier at a distance and approached on foot. He was far to the south of Deadland, where the air was warmer and caused him to feel constantly short of breath. They were wearing animal skins--skins which had been cut for a better fit and greater protection, skins which were tied about them. He counted sixteen lean-to arrangements and three campfires. He flinched as he regarded the fires, but he continued to advance. When they saw him, all their little noises stopped, a brief cry went up, and there was silence. He entered the camp. The creatures stood unmoving about him. He heard some bustling within the large lean-to at the end of the clearing. He walked about the camp. A slab of dried meat hung from the center of a tripod of poles. Several long spears stood before each dwelling place. He advanced and studied one. A stone which had been flaked into a leaf-shaped spearhead was affixed to its end. There was the outline of a cat carved upon a block of wood... He heard a footfall and turned. One of the Redforms moved slowly toward him. It appeared older than the others. Its shoulders sloped; as it opened its mouth to make a series of popping noises, he saw that some of its teeth were missing; its hair was grizzled and thin. It bore something in its hands, but Jarry's attention was drawn to the hands themselves. Each hand bore an opposing digit. He looked about him quickly, studying the hands of the others. All of them seemed to have thumbs. He studied their appearance more closely. They now had foreheads. He returned his attention to the old Redform. It placed something at his feet, and then it backed away from him. He looked down. A chunk of dried meat and a piece of fruit lay upon a broad leaf. He picked up the meat, closed his eyes, bit off a piece, chewed and swallowed. He wrapped the rest in the leaf and placed it in the side pocket of his pack. He extended his hand and the Redform drew back. He lowered his hand, unrolled the blanket he had carried with him and spread it upon the ground. He seated himself, pointed to the Redform, then indicated a position across from him at the other end of the blanket. The creature hesitated, then advanced and seated itself. "We are going to learn to talk with one another," he said slowly. Then he placed his hand upon his breast and said, "Jarry." Jarry stood before the reawakened executives of December. "They are intelligent," he told them. "It's all in my report." "So?" asked Yan Turl. "I don't think they will be able to adapt. They have come very far, very rapidly. But I don't think they can go much further. I don't think they can make it all the way." "Are you a biologist, an ecologist, a chemist?" "No." "Then on what do you base your opinion?" "I observed them at close range for six weeks." "Then it's only a feeling you have...?" "You know there are no experts on a thing like this. It's never happened before." "Granting their intelligence--granting even that what you have said concerning their adaptability is correct--what do you suggest we do about it?" "Slow down the change. Give them a better chance. If they can't make it the rest of the way, then stop short of our goal. It's already livable here. We can adapt the rest of the way." "Slow it down? How much?" "Supposing we took another seven or eight thousand years?" "Impossible!" "Entirely!" "Too much!" "Why?" "Because everyone stands a three-month watch every two hundred fifty years. That's one year of personal time for every thousand. You're asking for too much of everyone's time." "But the life of an entire race may be at stake!" "You do not know that for certain." "No, I don't. But do you feel it is something to take a chance with?" "Do you want to put it to an executive vote?" "No--I can see that I'll lose. I want to put it before the entire membership." "Impossible. They're all asleep." "Then wake them up." "That would be quite a project." "Don't you think the fate of a race is worth the effort? Especially since we're the ones who forced intelligence upon them? We're the ones who made them evolve, cursed them with intellect." "Enough! They were right at the threshold. They might have become intelligent had we _not_ come along" "But you can't say for certain! You don't really know! And it doesn't really matter how it happened. They're here and we're here, and they think we're gods--maybe because we do nothing for them but make them miserable. We have some responsibility to an intelligent race, though. At least to the extent of not murdering it." "Perhaps we could do a long-range study..." "They could be dead by then. I formally move, in my capacity as Treasurer, that we awaken the full membership and put the matter to a vote." "I don't hear any second to your motion." "Selda?" he said. She looked away. "Tarebell? Clond? Bondici?" There was silence in the cavern that was high and wide about him. "All right. I can see when I'm beaten. We will be our own serpents when we come into our Eden. I'm going now, back to Deadland, to finish my tour of duty." "You don't have to. In fact, it might be better if you sleep the whole thing out..." "No. If it's going to be this way, the guilt will be mine also. I want to watch, to share it fully." "So be it," said Turl. Two weeks later, when Installation Nineteen tried to raise the Deadland Station on the radio, there was no response. After a time, a flier was dispatched. The Deadland Station was a shapeless lump of melted metal. Jarry Dark was nowhere to be found. Later than afternoon, Installation Eight went dead. A flier was immediately dispatched. Installation Eight no longer existed. Its attendants were found several miles away, walking. They told how Jarry Dark had forced them from the station at gunpoint. Then he had burnt it to the ground, with the fire-cannons mounted upon his flier. At about the time they were telling this story, Installation Six became silent. The order went out: MAINTAIN CONTINUOUS RADIO CONTACT WITH TWO OTHER STATIOINS AT ALL TIMES. The other order went out: GO ARMED AT ALL TIMES. TAKE ANY VISITOR PRISONER. Jarry waited. At the bottom of a chasm, parked beneath a shelf of rock, Jarry waited. An opened bottle stood upon the control board of his flier. Next to it was a small case of white metal. Jarry took a long, last drink from the bottle as he waited for the broadcast he knew would come. When it did, he stretched out on the seat and took a nap. When he awakened, the light of day was waning. The broadcast was still going on... "...Jarry. They will be awakened and a referendum will be held. Come back to the main cavern. This is Yan Turl. Please do not destroy any more installations. This action is not necessary. We agree with your proposal that a vote be held. Please contact us immediately. We are waiting for your reply, Jarry..." He tossed the empty bottle through the window and raised the flier out of the purple shadow into the air and up. When he descended upon the landing stage within the main cavern, of course they were waiting for him. A dozen rifles were trained upon him as he stepped down from the flier. "Remove your weapons, Jarry," came the voice of Yan Turl. "I'm not wearing any weapons," said Jarry. "Neither is my flier," he added; and this was true, for the fire-cannons no longer rested within their mountings. Yan Turl approached, looked up at him. "Then you may step down." "Thank you, but I like it right where I am." "You are a prisoner." "What do you intend to do with me?" "Put you back to sleep until the end of the Wait. Come down here!" "No. And don't try shooting--or using a stun charge or gas, either. If you do, we're all of us dead the second it hits." "What do you mean?" asked Turl, gesturing gently to the riflemen. "My flier," said Jarry, "is a bomb, and I'm holding the fuse in my right hand." He raised the white metal box. "So long as I keep the lever on the side of this box depressed, we live. If my grip relaxes, even for an instant, the explosion which ensues will doubtless destroy this entire cavern." "I think you're bluffing." "You know how you can find out for certain." "You'll die too, Jarry." "At the moment, I don't really care. Don't try burning my hand off, either, to destroy the fuse," he cautioned, "because it doesn't really matter. Even if you should succeed, it will cost you at least two installations." "Why is that?" "What do you think I did with the fire-cannons? I taught the Redforms how to use them. At the moment, these weapons are manned by Redforms and aimed at two installations. If I do not personally visit my gunners by dawn, they will open fire. After destroying their objectives, they will move on and try for two more." "You trusted those beasts with laser projectors?" "That is correct. Now, will you begin awakening the others for the voting?" Turl crouched, as if to spring at him, appeared to think better of it, relaxed. "Why did you do it, Jarry?" he asked. "What are they to you that you would make your own people suffer for them?" "Since you do not feel as I feel," said Jarry, "my reasons would mean nothing to you. After all, they are only based upon my feelings, which are different than your own--for mine are based upon sorrow and loneliness. Try this one, though: I am their god. My form is to be found in their every camp. I am the Slayer of Bears from the Desert of the Dead. They have told my story for two and a half centuries, and I have been changed by it. I am powerful and wise and good, so far as they are concerned. In this capacity, I owe them some consideration. If I do not give them their lives, who will there be to honor me in snow and chant my story around the fires and cut for me the best portions of the woolly caterpillar? None, Turl. And these things are all that my life is worth now. Awaken the others. You have no choice." "Very well," said Turl. "And if their decision should go against you?" "Then I'll retire, and you can be god," said Jarry. Now every day when the sun goes down out of the purple sky, Jarry Dark watches it in its passing, for he shall sleep no more the sleep of ice and of stone, wherein there is no dreaming. He has elected to live out the span of his days in a tiny instant of the Wait, never to look upon the New Alyonal of his people. Every morning, at the new Deadland Installation, he is awakened by sounds like the cracking of ice, the trembling of tin, the snapping of steel strands, before they come to him with their offerings, singing and making marks upon the snow. They praise him and he smiles upon them. Sometimes he coughs. Born of man and woman, in accordance with Catform Y7 requirements, Coldworld Class, Jarry Dark was not suited for existence anywhere in the universe which had guaranteed him a niche. This was either a blessing or a curse, depending on how you looked at it. So look at it however you would, that was the story. Thus does life repay those who would serve her fully.

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