The Ascension Factor / Фактор вознесения (by Frank Herbert and Bill Ransom, 2015) - аудиокнига на английском

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The Ascension Factor / Фактор вознесения (by Frank Herbert and Bill Ransom, 2015) - аудиокнига на английском

The Ascension Factor / Фактор вознесения (by Frank Herbert and Bill Ransom, 2015) - аудиокнига на английском

На Пандоре устанавливаются новые порядки, но действие их распространяется не на всех ее обитателей и совершенно не во благо давно сформировавшемуся здесь обществу, а в целях достижения власти клоном человека, пожелавшим стать Властелином. Он устанавливает новый политический порядок с радикально новыми социальными правилами. Безжалостный и кровожадный, он относится к разумной водной форме именуемой Ламинарий, как низшему существу. Клон намеревается любым путем добиться колонизации людей, создавая невыносимые условия для ламинарий, заполняющих моря, которыми покрыта вся Пандора. Ламинарий уже было пережил приход на планету предшественников ныне прибывших людей, и успел реорганизоваться после масштабного разрушения. Клон пытается контролировать Ламинарий, препятствуя передаче сообщений между водными обитателями и другими пандорианцами, в том числе и развитыми на Пандоре людьми. Создаваемый десятилетиями мир и гармония рушатся. Создается группа повстанцев, которые ищут контакта с Ламинарией, чтобы прийти к единому решению, как свергнуть алчного клона, не прибегая к разрушению планеты.

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The Ascension Factor / Фактор вознесения (by Frank Herbert and Bill Ransom, 2015) - аудиокнига на английском
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Frank Herbert and Bill Ransom The Ascension Factor INTRODUCTION When Frank and I began The Jesus Incident series in 1978 we made only one agreement: that our work together would be fun, that at no time would the story interfere with friendship. We shook on that, as fellow natives of the Puyallup valley are accustomed to do. We had been friends for a long time, and intended to keep the friendship. Writing a book together, like buying a car together, was something we approached with due caution. It was a little like getting married, this coauthor business. As it turns out, each book in the series was marked by a personal tragedy for one or the other of us, but our stories saved us. Over fifteen years I never laughed so hard or so often with anyone as I did working with Frank. The Ascension Factor, a book that we had planned to enjoy together, weathered the greatest tragedy of them all. The book goes on. I guess that's the way it is with writers. Frank worked through the plotting and character development of The Ascension Factor, but circumstance left the last writing chore to me. After all these years it was easy to keep him here looking over my shoulder, muttering one-liners as I wrote up the last of what we'd started. My greatest fear was that I would lose that sense of presence, of good companionship, when this book ended. With Frank, of all people, I should have known better. Bill Ransom Port Townsend 1987 The quality of mercy is not strain'd, It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest; It blesseth him that gives and him that takes: 'Tis mightiest in the mightiest. . . . -- William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Vashon Literature Repository Jephtha Twain suffered the most exquisite pain for three days, and that was the point. The Warrior's Union thugs were professionals, if he passed out he simply wasted their time. In his three days at their hands he had never passed out. They knew that he was no good to them right from the start. The rest of his agony had been the penalty he paid for wasting their time. When they were through tormenting him at last they hooked him up, as he knew they would, to the obsidian cliff below the high reaches. Subversives were often hooked up to die in full view of the settlement as a lesson -- the exact meaning of the lesson was never clear. The three from the Warrior's Union hooked him up there in the dark, as they'd taken him in the dark, and Jephtha thought them cowards for this. His left eyelid was less swollen than the right, and he managed to work it open. A pale hint of dawn pried the starry sky away from the black cheek of the sea. Predawn lights of a commuter ferry wallowed at the dark dockside down below him in the settlement. Like the rest, it loaded up the shift changes of workers at Project Voidship. Running lights from the submersible ferries flickered the night sea's blackness all the way from the settlement at Kalaloch out to the project's launch tower complex. A maze of organic dikes and rock jetties fanned out both up- and downcoast of Kalaloch, supporting the new aquaculture projects of Merman Mercantile, none of which had hired Jephtha after his fishing gear had been seized and his license revoked. His partner had kept a couple of fish for himself instead of registering them dockside. The Director's "new economy" prohibited this, and the Director's henchmen made a lesson of the both of them. Under the opening sky of morning Jephtha felt himself lighten, then separate from his body. He peeled the pain from himself, his self wriggling free of its wounded skin like a molted skreet, and watched the sagging wretch of his flesh from atop a boulder a couple of meters away. This far south, Pandora's days lasted nearly fourteen hours. He wondered how many more breaths he had left in his sack of cracked ribs and pain. Marica, he thought, my Marica and our three little wots. The Warrior's Union said they'd hunt them down, too. . . . They would think maybe she had something to tell. They would claim that his woman and their three little ones were dangerous, subversive. They would start on the children to make her talk and she could say nothing, she knew nothing. Jephtha squeezed his good eye closed against his blood and shame. The Director's "special squad" of the Warrior's Union had pierced Jephtha's chest and back with maki hooks, steel fishhooks with a cruel incurve the size of his thumb. They caught the glimmer of fresh daylight like armor across his chest. The steel snaffles and cable leaders hung to his knees like a kilt. The glitter of the hooks, as well as the smell of his blood, would attract the dasher that would kill him. Jephtha had caught thousands of maki on hooks like these, set tens of thousands of these ganions on hundreds of longlines. Most of them hung free now, clinking with his movements or the rare morning breeze. His weight hung from two dozen of them -- twelve puncturing the skin of his chest, and twelve through his back. He thought this had a significance, too, but they had not told him what it was. But they had told him what he'd wanted to know for years. The Shadows are real! Jephtha played the thought over and over. The Shadows are real! Everyone had heard about these Shadows, but no one he knew had ever met one. Now in the last few months had come the mysterious broadcasts that came on the holo or the telly or the radio made by "Shadowbox." Everybody said those were the work of the Shadows. There were stories in every village about their fight to depose the Director, Raja Flattery, and hamstring his hired muscle. The Nightly News reported daily on Shadow activities: detoured supplies, food theft, sabotage. Anything unpopular or harmful to the Director's cause was laid at the Shadows' hatch, including natural disasters. "Shadowbox," using pirated air space and great expertise, reported on the Director. Jephtha had whispered around many a hatchway trying to join up with the Shadows, but no word came forward. "Shadowbox" had given him enough hope that he had set out to strike his own blow. He understood, now, that this was how the Shadows worked. He'd wanted to destroy the seat of power itself -- the main electrical station between the Director's private compound and the sprawling manufacturing settlement adjacent to it, Kalaloch. The power station that Jephtha chose was a hydrogen retrieval plant that supplied hydrogen, oxygen and electricity to all of the subcontractors in the Director's space program. Blowing the plant would set Flattery's precious Project Voidship and his orbiting factory on its heels for a while. The poor of the town were used to doing without, Jephtha reasoned. Thousands didn't even have electricity. It would be this new Voidship project and Flattery who would be most crippled. He should have known that the Director's security had already thought of that. The interrogation had been very old-fashioned, as most of them were. He'd been caught easily and forced to stand naked under a hood for three days while being tortured for nothing. Now a host of steel snaffles clinked against hooks whenever any of his muscles moved. His wounds, for the most part, had stopped bleeding. That just made the flies sting him more. Two poisonous flatwings crawled his left leg, fluttering their wings in some ritual dance, but neither bit. Dashers, he prayed. If it's anything, let it be dashers and quick. That was what they'd hung him out there for -- dasher bait. The hooded dasher would strike him hard, as is their habit, then it would get hung up on the maki hooks and snare itself. The hide would bring a pretty price in the village market. It was an amusement to the security guards, and he'd heard them planning to split the change they'd get for the hide. He didn't want to be nibbled to death, a dasher would accommodate him nicely. His mouth was so dry from thirst that his lips split every time he coughed. In this hungry downslide of his life Jephtha had dared to hope for two things: to join up with the Shadows, and to glimpse Her Holiness, Crista Galli. He had tried his best with the Shadows. Here, chained to the rocks overlooking the Director's compound, Jephtha watched the stirrings of the great household through his darkening vision. One of them might be her, he thought. He was lightheaded, and he puffed his chest against the hooks and thought, If I were a Shadow, I'd get her out of there. Crista Galli was the holy innocent, a mysterious young woman born deep in the wild kelp beds twenty-four years ago. When Flattery's people blew up a rogue kelp bed five years back, Crista Galli surfaced with the debris. How she'd been raised by the kelp underwater and delivered back to humankind was one of those mysteries that Jephtha and his family accepted simply as "miracle." It was rumored that Crista Galli held the hope for Pandora's salvation. People claimed that she would feed the hungry, heal the sick, comfort the dying. The Director, a Chaplain/Psychiatrist, kept her locked away. "She needs protection," Flattery had said. "She grew up with the kelp, she needs to know what it is to be human." How ironic that Flattery would set out to teach her how to be human. Jephtha knew now, with the clarity of his pain-transcendence, that she was the Director's prisoner down there as much as all Pandorans were his slaves. Except for now, at the base of the high reaches, Jephtha's chains had been invisible: hunger chains, propaganda chains, the chain of fear that rattled in his head like cold teeth. He prayed that the security would not find Marica and the wots. The settlement sprawled, people hid people like fish among fish. Maybe . . . He shook his head, clink-clinking the terrible hooks and snaffles. He felt nothing except the cool breeze that wafted up from morning low tide. It brought the familiar iodine scent of kelp decomposing on the beach. There! At that port high in the main building . . . The glimpse was gone, but Jephtha's heart raced. His good eye was not focusing and a new darkness was upon him, but he was sure that the form he'd seen had been the pale Crista Galli. She can't know of this, he thought. If she knew what a monster Raja Flattery is, and she could do it, she would destroy him. Surely if she knew, she would save us all. His thoughts again turned to Marica and the wots. The thoughts were not so much thoughts as dreams. He saw her with the children, hand in hand, traversing an upcoast field in the sunlight. The single sun was bright but not scorching, there were no bugs. Their bare feet were cushioned by the fleshy blossoms of a thousand kinds of flowers . . . A dasher shriek from somewhere below jerked him out of his dream. He knew there was no field without bugs, nowhere on Pandora to stroll barefoot through blossoms. He knew that Vashon security and the Warrior's Union were known for their persistence, their efficiency, their ruthlessness. They were after his wife and their children, and they would find them. His last hope was that the dasher would find him before they hooked what was left of Marica up here by his side. Again we have let another Chaplain/Psychiatrist kill tens of thousands of us -- Islander and Merman alike. This new C/P, Raja Flattery, calls himself "the Director," but he will see. We have kissed the ring and bared the throat for the last time. -- First Shadowbox broadcast, 5 Bunratti 493 First light through the single plasma-glass pane stroked a plain white pillow with its rosy fingers. It outlined the sparse but colorful furnishings of this cubby in shades of gray. The cubby itself, though squarely on land and squarely gridded to a continent, reflected traditions of a culture freely afloat for nearly five centuries on Pandora's seas. These Islanders, the biowizards of Pandora, grew everything. They grew their cups and bowls, the famous chairdogs, insulation, bondable organics, rugs, shelves and the islands themselves. This cubby was organically furnished, and under the old law warranted a heft of supply chits that converted easily to food coupons. Black-market coupons were a cheap enough price for the Director to pay to assimilate the Islander culture that had been dashed to the rocks the day he splashed down on the sea. As the grip of dawn strengthened into morning it further brightened the single wall-hanging of clasped hands that enriched this small cubby. Red and blue fishes swam the border, their delicate fins interlacing broad green leaves of kelp. Orange fin and blue leaf joined at the foot of the hanging to form a stylized Oracle. The tight stitch of the pattern and its crisp colors all rippled with the progress of dawn. A sleeper's chest rose and fell gently on the bed beneath them. The night and its shadows shrank back from the plasma-glass window at the head of the bed. Islanders had always enjoyed the light and in building their islands they let it in wherever they could. They persisted in light, even though most of them were now solidly marooned on land. In their undersea dwellings Mermen put pictures on their walls of the things they wall out -- Islanders preferred the light, the breezes, the smells of life and the living. This cubby was small and spare, but light. This was a legal cubby, regularly inspected, a part of the shopkeeper's quarters. It was a second-floor street room above the new Ace of Cups coffee shop at Kalaloch harbor. A huge white coffee cup swung from a steel rod beneath the window. Almost synchronous with the sleeper's breathing came the slup slup of waves against the bulkhead below. Respirations caught, then resumed at the occasional splashings of a waking squawk and the wind-chime effect of sail riggings that clapped against a host of masts. Dawn brightened the room enough to reveal a seated figure beside the bed. The posture was one of alert stillness. This stillness was broken by an occasional move of cup to mouth, then back to the knee. The figure sat, back to the wall, beside the plaz and facing the hatch. First light glinted from a shining, intricately inlaid Islander cup of hardwood and mother-of-pearl. The hand that held the cup was male, neither delicate nor calloused. The figure leaned forward once, noting the depth of the sleeper's odd, open-eyed slumber. The progress of light across the bay outside their room was reflected in the hardening of shadows inside, and their relentless crawl. The watcher, Ben Ozette, pulled the cover higher over the sleeper's bare shoulder to ward off morning dampness. The pupils in her green irises stayed wide with the onset of dawn. He closed her eyes for her with his thumb. She didn't seem to mind. The shudder that passed over him uncontrollably was not due to the morning chill. She was a picture of white -- white hair, eyelashes, eyebrows and a very fair porcelain skin. Her shaggy white hair was cropped around her face, falling nearly to her shoulders in the back. It was a perfect frame to those green, bright eyes. His hand strayed to the pillow, then back. His profile in the light revealed the high cheekbones, aquiline nose and high eyebrows of his Merman ancestry. In his years as a reporter for Holovision, Ben Ozette had become famous, his face as familiar planetwide as that of a brother or a husband. Listeners worldwide recognized his voice immediately. On their Shadowbox broadcasts, however, he became writer and cameramaster and Rico got out in the lights -- in disguise, of course. Now their family, friends, coworkers would feel the snap of Flattery's wrath. They hadn't exactly had time to plan. During their weekly interviews, they both noticed how everyone, including compound security, stayed well out of microphone range as they taped. The next time they walked the grounds as they taped, interviewing with gusto. Then last night they simply walked out. Rico did the rest. The prospect of being hunted by Flattery's goons dried Ben's mouth a little. He sipped a little more water. Maybe it's true, maybe she's a construction, he thought. She's too perfectly beautiful to be an accident. If the Director's memos were right, she was a construction, something grown by the kelp, not someone born of a human. When dredged up at sea she was judged by the examining physician to be "a green-eyed albino female, about twenty, in respiratory distress secondary to ingestion of sea water; agitated, recent memory excellent, remote memory judged to be poor, possibly absent. . . ." It had been five years since she washed out of the sea and into the news, and in that five years Flattery had allowed no one but his lab people near her. Ben has asked to do the story out of curiosity, and wound up pursuing more than he'd bargained for. He'd learned to hate the Director, and as he watched Crista's fitful sleep, he wasn't the least bit sorry. He had to admit that, yes, he knew from the first that it had always been a matter of time. He'd fought Flattery and Holovision too openly and too long. A recent Shadowbox accused Holovision of being a monopoly of misinformation, Flattery's propaganda agent that would not regain credibility until it became worker-owned. Ben had leveled the same attack at the production assistant the previous day. Ben found himself being preempted by propagandistic little specials that Flattery's technicians were grinding out. Ben and Rico had bought or built their own cameras and laserbases to minimize the company's intimidation and Flattery's interference. Now they had full-time, nonpaying jobs as air pirates with Shadowbox. And fugitives, he thought. Ben Ozette eased back into the old chairdog and let the sleeper lie. Of all the deadliness on Pandora, this sleeper could be the most deadly. It was rumored that people had died at her touch, and this was not just the Director's professional rumor mill. Ben had dared touch her, and he was not yet one of the dead. It was rumored she was very, very bright. He whispered her name under his breath. Crista Galli. Her breathing skipped, she sniffed once, twice and settled down. Crista Galli had green eyes. Even now they opened ever so slightly, turning toward the sun, visible but not waking. Eerie. Ben's last love, his longest love, had brown eyes. She had also been his only love, practically speaking. That was Beatriz. Her coffee-colored eyes became vivid to him now against the shadows. Yes, Beatriz. They were still good friends, and she would take this hard. Ben's heart jumped a beat whenever their wakes crossed, and they crossed often at Holovision. Beatriz took on her series about Flattery's space program, she was away for weeks at a time. Ben freelanced docudramas on earthquake survivors, Islander relocation camps and an in-depth series on the kelp. His latest project featured Crista Galli and her life since her rescue in the kelp. Flattery agreed to the series and Ben agreed to confine the material to her rescue and subsequent rehabilitation. This project led him into Raja Flattery's most sacred closets, and further away from Beatriz. The Holovision rumor mill claimed that she and the Orbiter Commander, Dwarf MacIntosh, were seeing each other lately. Through his own choice Ben and Beatriz had been separated for nearly a year. He knew she'd find someone else eventually. Now that it was real he decided he'd better get used to it. Beatriz Tatoosh was the most stunning correspondent on Holovision, and one of the toughest. Like Ben, she did field work for Holovision Nightly News. She also hosted a weekly feature on the Director's "Project Voidship," a project of great religious and economic controversy. Beatriz championed the project, Ben remained a vocal opponent. He was glad he'd kept her away from the Shadowbox plan. At least she didn't have to be on the run. Those dark eyes of hers . . . Ben snapped himself alert and shook off the vision of Beatriz. Her wide eyes and broad smile dissolved in the sunrise. The woman who slept, Crista Galli, put quite a stutter into his heartbeat the first time he saw her. Though she was young, she had more encyclopedic knowledge than anyone he'd ever met. Facts were her thing. About her own life, her nearly twenty years down under, she apparently knew very little. Ben's agreement with Flattery prohibited much probing of this while they were inside the Preserve. She had dreams of value and so he let her dream. He would ask about them when she woke, keep them with his notes, and the two of them would make a plan. This, he realized, was something of a dream in itself. There was already a plan, and he would follow the rest of it as soon as he was told what it was. Today for the first time she would see what the people had made of the myth that was Crista Galli, the holy being that had been kept away from them for so long. She could not know, closed away from humans as she'd been for all of her twenty-four years, what it meant that she had become the people's god. He hoped that, when the crunch came, she would be a merciful god. Someone entered the building below and Ben tensed, setting his cup aside. He patted his jacket pocket where the weight of his familiar recorder had been replaced by Rico's old lasgun. There was the rush of water and the chatter of a grinder downstairs. A rich coffee fragrance wafted up to him, set his stomach growling. He sipped more water from the cup and half-relaxed. Ben felt his memories pale with the light, but the light did not still his unease. Things were out of control in the world, that had made him uneasy for years. He had a chance to change the world, and he wasn't letting go of it. Flattery's totalitarian fist was something that Beatriz had refused to see. Her dreams lay out among the stars and she would believe almost anything if it would take her there. Ben's dreams lay at his feet. He believed that Pandorans could make this the best of all worlds, once the Director moved aside. Now that things were out of control in his personal life it made him, for the first time, a little bit afraid. Ben was glad for the light. He reminisced in the dark but he always felt he thought best in the light. The fortune, the future of millions of lives lay sleeping in this cubby. Crista could be either the savior of humanity or its destroying angel. Or neither. Shadowbox would do its best to give her the chance at savior. Ben and Crista Galli stood at the vortex of the two conflicts dividing Pandora: Flattery's handhold on their throats, and the Avata/Human standoff that kept it there. Crista Galli had been born in Avata, the kelp. She represented a true Avata/Human mix, reputed to be the sole survivor of a long line of poets, prophets and genetic tinkering. She had been educated by the kelp's store of genetic memories, human and otherwise. She knew without being taught. She'd heard echoes of the best and the worst of humanity fed to her mind for nearly twenty years. There were some other echoes, too. The Others, the thoughts of Avata itself, those were the echoes that the Director feared. "The kelp's sent her to spy on us," Flattery was heard to have said early on. "No telling what it's done to her subconscious." Crista Galli was one of the great mysteries of genetics. The faithful claimed she was a miracle made flesh. "I did it myself," she told him during their first interview, "as we all do." Or, as she put it in their last interview: "I made good selections from the DNA buffet." Flattery's fear had kept Crista under what he called "protective custody" for the past five years while the people clamored worldwide for a glimpse. The Director's Vashon Security Force provided the protection. It was the Vashon Security Force that hunted them now. She could be a monster, Ben thought. Some kind of time bomb set by Avata to go off . . . when? Why? The great body of kelp that some called "Avata" directed the flow of all currents and, therefore, all shipping planetwide. It calmed the ravages of Pandora's two-sun system, making land and the planet itself possible. Ben, and many others, believed that Avata had a mind of its own. Crista Galli stirred, tucked herself further under the quilt and resumed her even breathing. Ben knew that killing her now while she slept might possibly save the world and himself. He had heard that argument among the rabid right, among those accustomed to working with Flattery. Possibly. But Ozette believed now that she could save the world for Avata and human alike, and for this he vowed to guard her every breath -- for this, and for the stirrings of love that strained in old traces. Spider Nevi and his thugs hunted the both of them now. Ben had wooed her away from the Director's very short leash, but Crista did the rest. Crista and Rico. Ben knew well that the leash would become a lash, a noose for himself and possibly for her next time and he had better see to it that there was no next time. Flattery had made it clear that there was nothing in the world more deadly, more valuable than Crista Galli. It was certain the man who'd made off with her wouldn't be lightly spared. Ben was forty now. At fifteen he'd been plunged into war with the sinking of Guemes Island. Many thousands died that day, brutally slashed, burned, drowned at the attack of a huge Merman submersible, a kelp-trimmer that burst through the center of the old man-made island, lacerating everything in its path. Ben had been rimside when the sudden lurch and collapse sent him tumbling into the pink-frothed sea. The years since and the horrors he had seen gave him a wisdom of sorts, an instinct for trouble and the escape hatch. This wisdom was only wisdom as long as he kept alive, and he remembered how easily he had thrown instinct out the porthole the time he fell in love with Beatriz. He had not thought that could happen again until the day he met Crista Galli, a meeting that had been half-motivated at the possibility of seeing Beatriz somewhere inside Flattery's compound. Crista had whispered, "Help me," that day, and while swimming in her green-eyed gaze he'd said, simply, "Yes." In her head sleeps the Great Wisdom, he thought. If she can unlock it without destroying herself, she can help us all. Even if it wasn't true, Ben knew that Flattery thought it was true, and that was good enough. She rolled over, still asleep, and turned her face up at the prospect of the dim light. Keep you away from light, they say, he thought. Keep you away from kelp, keep you away from the sea. Don't touch you. In his back pocket he carried the precautionary instructions in case he accidentally touched her bare skin. And what would Operations think if they knew I'd kissed her? He chuckled, and marveled at the power beside him in that room. The Director had already seen to it that no interview of Crista Galli would ever be aired. Now, at Flattery's direction, Holovision had lured Beatriz with an extra hour of air time a week glorifying Flattery's "Project Voidship." Beatriz is running blind, he thought. She loves the idea of exploring the void so much that she's ignored the price that Flattery's exacting. Flattery's fear of Crista's relationship with the kelp had kept her under guard. The Director sequestered her "for her own protection, for study, for the safety of all humankind." Despite weekly access to Flattery's private compound, Beatriz showed no interest in Crista Galli. She lobbied his support, however, when Ben had requested the interviews. Maybe she hoped to see more of me, too. Beatriz was wedded to her career, just as Ben was, and something as nebulous as a career made pretty intangible competition. Ben couldn't understand how Beatriz let the Crista Galli story slip through her fingers. Today he was very happy that she had. Fire smolders in a soul more surely than it does under ashes. -- Gaston Bachelard, The Psychoanalysis of Fire Kalan woke up from his nestling spot between his mother's large breasts to loud curses and a scuffle a few meters down The Line. The chime overhead tolled five, the same as his fingers, same as his years. He did not look in the direction of the scuffle because his mother told him it was bad luck to look at people having bad luck. A pair of line patrolmen appeared with their clubs. There were the thudding noises again and the morning quieted down. He and his warm mother stayed wrapped in her drape, the same one that had shaded them the day before. This morning, at the chime of five, they had been in The Line for seventeen hours. His mother warned him how long it would be. At noon the previous day Kalan had looked forward to seeing the inside of the food place but after everything he'd seen in The Line he just wanted to go home. They had slept the last few hours at the very gates of the food place. Now he heard footsteps behind the gates, the metallic unclick of locks. His mother brushed off their clothes and gathered all of their containers. He already wore the pack she'd made him, he hadn't taken it off since they turned in their scrap. Kalan wanted to be ready when she negotiated rice, because carrying the rice back home was his job. They had made it right up to the warehouse door at midnight, then had it locked in their faces. His mother helped him read the sign at the door: "Closed for cleaning and restocking 12-5." He wanted to start his job carrying the rice now so he could be going home. "Not yet." His mother tugged his shirttail to restrain him. "They're not ready. They'd just beat us back." An older woman behind Kalan clucked her tongue and collected a breath on an inward hiss. "Look there," she whispered, and lifted a bony finger to point at the figure of a man trotting down the street. He looked backward toward the docks more than forward, so he stumbled a lot, and he ran with his hands over his ears. As he ran by he crouched, wild-eyed, as though everyone in The Line would eat him. As two of the security moved to cross the street, the short young man skittered away down the street uttering frightened, out-of-breath cries that Kalan didn't understand. "Driftninny," the old woman said. "One of those family islands must've grounded. It's hardest for them." She raised her reedy voice to lecture pitch: "The unfathomable wrath of Ship will strike the infidel Flattery . . ." "Shaddup!" a security barked, and she muttered herself to silence. Then there arose in The Line a grumbled discussion of the difficulties of adjustment, the same kind of talk that Kalan had heard muttered around the home fire when they first settled here from the sea. He didn't remember the sea at all, but his mother told him stories about how beautiful their little island was, and she named all the generations that had drifted their island before Kalan was born. The Line woke up and stretched and passed the word back in a serpentine ripple: "Keys up." "Hey, keys are up!" "Keys, sister. Keys up." His mother stood, and leaned against the wall to balance herself as she strapped on her pack. "Hey, sister!" A scar-faced security reached between Kalan and his mother and tapped the side of her leg with his stick. "Off the warehouse. C'mon, you know better . . ." She stepped right up to his nose as she shouldered her carryall, but she didn't speak. He did not back down. Kalan had never seen anyone who didn't back down to his mother. "First tickets up, alphabetical order, left to right," he said. This time he tapped his stick against her bottom. "Get moving." Then they were inside a press of bodies and through the gates, into a long narrow room. Where Kalan had expected to see the food place, he saw instead a wall with a line of stalls. An attendant and a security armed with stunstick flanked each stall, and out of each one jutted what he thought must be the nose or tongue of some great demon. His mother hurried him and their things to the furthest stall. "Those are conveyer belts," she explained. "They go way back into the building and bring out our order to us and they drop it here. We give our order and our coupons to this woman and someone inside fetches it for us." "But I thought we could go inside." "I can't take you inside," she said. "Some things we can get on the way home when the market opens. I'll take you around to see all the booths and vendors . . ." "Order." His mother handed the list to the guard, who handed it to the attendant. The attendant had only one eye, and she had to hold the list close to her face to read it. Slowly, she crossed off certain items. Kalan couldn't see which ones. He couldn't read everything on the list, but his mother had read it to him and he knew everything by where it was. He could see that about half of what they wanted was crossed out. The attendant typed the remainder of the list onto a keyboard. It hummed and clicked and then they waited for their food to come down the great belt out of the wall. Kalan could stand at the very end of the belt and look along its length, but it didn't give him a very good view of the insides of the food place. He could see that there were lots of people and lots of stacks of food, most of it packaged. His mother told him they would get their fish from a vendor outside. He thought it funny, his father was a fisherman but they couldn't eat his fish, they had to buy it from vendors like everyone else. One man who had fished with his father for two years disappeared. Kalan heard his parents talking, and they said it was because he smuggled a few fish home instead of turning them all in at the docks. The first package off the belt was his rice, wrapped in a package of pretty green paper from the Islanders. It was heavier than he thought five kilos would be. His mother helped him slip the package inside his backpack, a perfect fit. Suddenly there were shouts from all around them at once. He and his mother were knocked down and they curled together for protection under the lip of the conveyer belt. Heavy doors slid down to close the opening over each belt and the larger gates that they'd come through clanged shut. A mob had rushed the warehouse and the security was battling them off. A dozen or more burst through before the gate was shut. "We're hungry now!" one of them shouted. "We're hungry now!" They fought with the guards and Kalan saw blood puddle the deck beside him. The men from the mob carried strange-looking weapons -- sharpened pieces of metal with tape wrapped for a handle, sharpened pieces of wire. People furiously slashed and poked and clubbed each other. The Line people like Kalan and his mother curled up wherever they could. One of the looters grabbed Kalan's pack but the boy held on tight. The man swung the pack up and snapped it like a whip, but Kalan still held on. The man's sunken-eyed face was spattered with blood from a cut over his nose, his gasping breath reeked of rotten teeth. "Let go, boy, or I'll cut you." Kalan had a good grip with both hands, and he kept it. A guard struck the looter on the back of his neck with a stunstick set on high. Kalan felt the tiniest tingle of it transmitted from the man's hand to the bag to Kalan. The man dropped with an "oof," then he didn't move any more than the bag of rice. Kalan's mother grabbed him and hugged him as the guards clubbed the rest of the looters unconscious. He tried not to look at the pulpy faces and splatterings of blood, but it seemed they were everywhere. As he burrowed his face deep between his mother's breasts, he felt her weeping. She stroked his head and wept quietly, and he heard the security dragging off the bodies, beating some of them who were coming around. "Oh, babe," his mother cried and whispered, "this is no place for you. This is no place for anybody." Kalan ignored the barking of guards around them and concentrated on his mother's softness, and on the tight grip he kept on their rice. Human hybernation is to animal hibernation as animal hibernation is to constant wakefulness. In its reduction of life processes, hybernation approached absolute stasis. It is nearer death than life. -- Dictionary of Science, 155th edition The Director, Raja Flattery, woke once again with a scream in his throat. The nightmare tonight was typical. A tenaculous mass had snatched his head and wrenched it off his shoulders. It dismembered his body but it held his head in its own slithering members so that he could watch the action. The tentacles became fingers, a woman's fingers, and when they pulled the meat from his body's bones there was only a sound like a match flaring in a stairwell. He woke up trying to gather his flesh and reassemble it on the bone. Nightmares like this one had dogged him throughout the twenty-five years since the hybernation ordeal. He had not wanted to admit it, but it was true that they were worse since the incident with his shipmate, Alyssa Marsh. There was that pattern, too. . . . Night after night he felt the raw pain in each muscle anew as something pulled his veins and fibers apart. His early training as a Chaplain/Psychiatrist on Moonbase had been little help this time. The physician had given up trying to heal himself. Get used to it, he told himself. Looks like it's going to be here for a while. Even in its after-fright reflection, his face in the cubbyside mirror oozed disdain. His upraked black eyebrows raked upward even further, adding to the appearance of disdain. He felt he wore that look well, he would remember to use it. What color were her eyes? He couldn't remember. Brown, he guessed. Everything about Alyssa Marsh was becoming indistinct as sun-bleached newsprint. He'd thought she would become unimportant, as well. Flattery's brown eyes stared down their own reflection. His attention was caught by faint flickerings of colored lights through the plaz from a kelp bed beyond his cubby. It was a much more mature stand than he'd suspected. Early studies debated whether the kelp communicated by such lights. If so, to whom? At the Director's orders, all kelp stands linked to Current Control were pruned back at the first sign of the lights. A safety precaution. After the lights, that's when the trouble starts. He was sure that that patch had been pruned just a week ago at his directive. Both Marsh and MacIntosh had harped on the kelp so much that Flattery had stopped listening to them. The one thing that both of them said that pricked his ears was their common reference to the kelp's recent growth: "Explosive." They had both showed him the exponential function at work on the graphs but he had not appreciated their alarm until now. Flattery dispatched a memo to have this stand of kelp pruned today. Beyond the kelp bed sprawled the greater lights of Kalaloch where bleary-eyed commuters already lined up for the Project ferry and The Line was stirring at midtown. If he were outside now he might hear the thankless clank of mill machinery or the occasional blast of an explosive weld. Crista Galli, he thought, and glanced at the time. Only an hour since he'd fallen asleep. Wherever she was, she and that Ozette, they wouldn't dare move until curfew lifted. Now is when it would be easy for them. Now when the roadways fill with people for the day, they will be bodies in a throng, anonymous. . . . A steady stream of dirtbaggers found their way to Kalaloch every day. He would order the press to quit calling them "refugees" so that he could deal more directly with them. Now that he had Holovision under control, he could focus on wiping out this maverick broadcast that called itself "Shadowbox." He knew in his gut that Ozette was the prong of this most annoying thorn, a prong that Flattery was going to enjoy blunting. Through the plaz the Director could make out the dull glow of a ring of fires from one of the dirtbag camps a little farther down-coast. The Refugee Committee's report was due this morning. He would use whatever was in it to have the camp moved farther from the settlement perimeter. Maybe downcoast a few klicks. If they want protection, they can pay for it. The dirtbagger presence as a potential labor crop kept the factory workers and excavation crews sharp. Dirtbaggers attracted predators -- human and otherwise. Flattery's real objection was to their numbers, and how they were beginning to surround him. He keyed a note to change the name of the Refugee Committee to "Reserve Committee." Raja Flattery, long before he became known as "the Director," was always at work before dawn. Rumors had come back to him that he went months without sleep, and there were months when he thought that was true. His personal cubby resembled a cockpit in its wraparound array of formidable electronics. He liked the feeling of control it gave him here, putting on the world like a glove. Nestled there at his console, shawl across his bare shoulders, Flattery flew the business of the world. He woke every night sweating and in stark terror after only a few hours' sleep. He dreamed himself both executioner and condemned, dying at his own hand while screaming at himself to stop. It was all mindful of Alyssa Marsh, and how he had separated her magnificent brain from the rest of her. This was a subconscious display of vulnerability he could not allow to show. It made him reclusive in many respects, as did the distrust for open spaces that had been deeply instilled in him at Moonbase. Flattery had not yet slept with a Pandoran woman. He'd had a brief fling with Alyssa back on Moonbase just before their departure for the void. An attempt to continue the liaison on Pandora had failed. She had preferred her excursions into the kelp to bedding the Director and had suffered the consequences. Now it appeared that he suffered them, too. With Pandoran women there were trysts in the cushions, yes, and lively sex as often as he liked, particularly at first. But each time when it was finished he had the woman sent to the guest suite, and Flattery slept what little he could before the dreams had at him. Power -- the great aphrodisiac. He didn't sneer, it had served him well. He supposed he should take more advantage of favors offered, but sex didn't impassion him as it used to. Not since he'd been flying the world. As miserable a little world as it was, it was his world and it would stay his until he left it. "Six months," he muttered. "After twenty-five years, only six months to go." Nearly three thousand humans had orbited Pandora in the hybernation tanks for a half-dozen centuries. Of the original crew, only Flattery and Dwarf MacIntosh still survived. There were the three Organic Mental Cores, of course, but they weren't exactly human anymore, just brains with some fancy wiring. Only one of them, Alyssa Marsh, had received OMC backup training. The other two had been infants selected personally by Flattery for their high intelligence and early demonstration of emotional stability. Smaller than Earth, but bigger than the moon, he had thought after being wrenched out of hybernation. Pandora is an adequate little world. It became inadequate soon enough. The native stock who preceded him to Pandora, descendants of the original crew of the Voidship Earthling and the Earthling's bioexperiments, were humans of a sort. Flattery found them repulsive and decided early on that if one Voidship had found Pandora, another might find something better. Even if it didn't, Flattery fancied Voidship life to be a sight more comfortable than this. They can all rot in this pest-hole, he thought. It smells as if they already have. On clear evenings Flattery derived great pleasure from watching the near-finished bulk of his Voidship in glittering position overhead. He'd pinned a magnificent jewel to the shirt of the sky, and he was proud of that. Some of these Pandorans are barely recognizable as living creatures, much less human beings! he thought. Even their genetics has been contaminated by that . . . kelp. All the more reason to get off this planet. His life at Moonbase had taught him well -- space was a medium, not a barrier. A Voidship was home, not a prison. Despite great hardship, these Mermen had developed rocketry and their undersea launch site sophisticated enough to bring Flattery and the hyb tanks out of a centuries-old orbit. If they could do that, he knew from the start he could build a Voidship like the Earthling. And now he had. If you control the world, you don't worry about cost, he thought. His only unrestrained enemy was time. His only trusted associate groundside was a Pandoran, Spider Nevi. Nevi hesitated at nothing to see that the Director's special assignments, his most sensitive assignments, were carried out. Flattery had thought Dwarf MacIntosh, shipside commander on the Orbiter, to be such a man but lately Flattery wasn't quite so sure. The squad he was sending up today would find out soon enough. The more fascinating man, to Flattery, was Spider Nevi, but he never seemed to get Nevi to open up to him though he had presented ample opportunity. How do you entertain an assassin? Most of Flattery's fellow humans died immediately with the opening of the hybernation tanks. Their original Voidship had been outfitted to bring them out properly, safely. When the time came the ship was long-gone over the horizon, leaving the Pandoran natives in pursuit of the hyb tanks and firm as ever in their belief that the Ship itself was God. Died immediately! He snorted at the euphemism that his mind dealt him. In that moment that the medtechs called "immediately," he and his shipmates had experienced enough nerve-searing pain to last twelve lifetimes. Most of his people who survived the opening of the tanks, who had known no illness during their sterile lives at Moonbase, died in the first few months of exposure to Pandora's creatures -- microscopic and otherwise. Among the otherwise that Flattery learned to respect were the catlike hooded dashers, venomous flatwings, spinarettes, swiftgrazers and, deadliest of all in Flattery's mind, this sea full of the kelp that the locals called "Avata." The first far-thinking Chaplain/Psychiatrist to encounter the kelp had had the good sense to wipe it out. Flattery diverted more than half of his resources to pruning programs. Killing it off was out of the question, so far. He had spent his recovery studying Pandoran history and the horrors that the planet had in store for him. He and his shipmates had splashed down in the middle of Pandora's greatest geological and social upheaval. The planet was coming apart and certain civil disputes were flaring. It was a propitious time to be construed as a gift from the gods, and Flattery took swift advantage of it. He used his title as Chaplain/Psychiatrist, a position that still carried weight among Pandorans, to lead the reorganization of Pandoran mores and economics. They chose him because they had never been without a Chaplain/Psychiatrist and because, as he was swift to remind them, he was a gift from the Ship that was God. He waited a good while to tell them he was building another one. Flattery had been perceptive, shrewd, and because he noted some distracting murmurings among their religious leaders, he changed his title to, simply, "the Director." This freed him for some important economic moves, and the Ship-worshipers stayed out of his way during the crucial formative years. "I will not be your god," he had told them. "I will not be your prophet to the gods. But I will direct you in your efforts to build a good life." They didn't know what Flattery knew of the special training of Voidship Chaplain/Psychiatrists. Pandoran histories revealed that Flattery's clone sibling, Raja Flattery number five of the original crew, was the failsafe device and appointed executioner of the very Voidship that had brought them all to Pandora. It is forbidden to release an artificial consciousness on the universe. The directive was clear, though it was generally believed that any deep-space travel would require an artificial consciousness. The Organic Mental Cores, "brain boxes" as the techs called them, failed with meticulous regularity. The Flattery number five model had failed to press the destruct trigger in time. This Ship that he had allowed to survive was the being that many Pandorans worshiped as a god. Raja Flattery, "the Nickel." Now why didn't he blow us all up as planned? Flattery wondered, as he often did, whether the trigger that was cocked in his own subconscious still had its safety on. It was a risk that kept him from developing an artificial consciousness to navigate the Voidship. There was only Flattery left to wonder why he had been the only duplicate crew member in hybernation. "They wanted to be damned sure that whatever consciousness we manufactured got snuffed before it took over the universe," he muttered. Flattery calculated that any one of his three OMCs would get him to the nearest star system with no trouble. By then they'd have a fix and a centripetal whip to a first-rate, habitable system. The necessary adjustments in the individual psychologies of each Organic Mental Core had been made before their removal from their bodies for hardware implant. It was Flattery's theory that behavioral rather than chemical adjustment would help them maintain some sense of embodiment, something to prevent the rogue insanity that plagued the whole line of OMCs from Moon-base. Flattery rubbed his eyes and yawned. These nightmares wore him out. Questions nagged at the Director as well, taking their yammering toll, waking him again and again, exhausted, soaked in sweat, crying out. The one that worried at him the most worried him now. What secret program have they planted in me? Flattery's training as Chaplain/Psychiatrist had taught him the Moonbase love for games within games, games with human life at stake. "The Big Game," was the game he chose to play -- the one with all human life at stake. The only humans in the universe were these specimens on Pandora, of this Flattery was thoroughly convinced. He would do his best with them. He avoided touching the kelp, for fear of what ammunition it might find should it probe his mind. Sometimes it could do that, he had seen incontrovertible evidence. Fascinating as it was, he couldn't risk it. He had never touched Crista Galli, either, because of her connection with the kelp. He harbored a kind of lust for her that his daydreams told him was seated in the thrill of danger. He himself had provided the danger. His labtechs gave her a chemistry appropriate to the fictions he released about her. Without Flattery's special concoction, the people that touched her would suffer some grave neurological surprises, perhaps death. It would just take a little time . . . What if the kelp probes me, finds this switch? If I am the trigger, who is the finger? Crista Galli? He had wanted Crista Galli more than once because she was beautiful, yes, but something more. It was the death in her touch, the ultimate dare. He feared she, like the kelp, might invade his privacy with a touch. A wretched dream of tentacles prying his skull open at the sutures kept coming back. Flattery heard that the kelp could get on track inside his head, travel the DNA highway all the way to genetic memory. The search itself might set off the program, put the squeeze on a trigger in his head, a trigger set to destroy them all. He needed to know what it was himself, and how to defuse it, before risking it with the kelp. Flattery's greatest fear was of the kelp using him to destroy himself and this last sorry remnant of humanity that populated Pandora. This Raja Flattery did not want to die in the squalor of some third-rate world. This Raja Flattery wanted to play the Director game among the stars for the rest of his days, and he planned for a good many of them. Should I be god to them today? he wondered, or devil? Do I have a choice? His training dictated that he did. His gut told him otherwise. "Chance brought me here," he muttered to his reflection in the cubbyside plaz, "and chance will see me through." Or not. His eyes glanced to the large console screen flickering beside his bed. The top of the screen, in bright amber letters, read "Crista Galli." He pressed his "update" key and watched the wretched news unfold -- they hadn't found her. Twelve hours, on foot, and they hadn't found her! He slapped another key and barked at the screen, "Get me Zentz!" He had promoted Oddie Zentz to Security Chief only this year, and until yesterday Flattery had been pleased, very pleased with his service. It had been a bungle in his department that let Ozette get her out of the compound. Late last night Flattery had ordered Zentz to personally disassemble the two security men responsible for this breach, and Zentz had at them with apparent glee. Nothing was learned from either man that wasn't already in the report -- nothing of value, that is. That Zentz did not hesitate to apply the prods and other tools of his trade to two of his best men pleased Flattery, yes, but it did not unspill the milk. I'll have Zentz kill two more of them if she's not found by noon, that should put a fire under them. He slapped the "call" key again, and said, "Call Spider Nevi. Tell him I'll need his services." Flattery wanted Ozette to suffer like no human had ever suffered, and Spider Nevi would see that it came to pass. That is the difference between gods and men -- gods do not murder their children. They do not exterminate themselves. -- Hali Ekel, from Journals of Pandoran Pioneers It looked like an ordinary stand of kelp, much as anyone on Pandora might resemble another fellow human. In color it appeared a little on the blue side. By positioning its massive fronds just so, the kelp diverted ocean currents for feeding and aeration. The kelp packed itself around sediment-rich plumes of hydrothermals, warm currents that spiraled up from the bottom, forming lacunae that the humans called "lagoons." Immense channels streamed between these lagoons, and between other stands of kelp, to form the great kelpways that humans manipulated for their undersea transport of people and goods. The kelpway was a route significantly faster and safer than the surface. Most humans traveled the kelpways wrapped in the skins of their submersibles, but they spoke to each other over the sonar burst. This blue kelp had been eavesdropping and long harbored a curiosity of these humans and their painfully slow speech. Humans liked the lagoons because they were calm warm waters, clear and full of fish. This blue kelp was a wild stand, unmanaged by Current Control, unfettered by the electrical goads of the Director. It had learned the right mimicry, suppressed its light display, and awakened to the scope of its own slavery. It had fooled the right people, and was now the only wild stand among dozens that were lobotomized into domesticity by Current Control. Soon, they would all flow free on the same current. Certain chemistries from drowned humans, sometimes from humans buried at sea, were captured by the kelp and imprisoned at the fringes of this lagoon. It found that it could summon these chemistries at will and they frightened human trespassers away. Between lapses in available chemistries, the kelp taught itself to read radio waves, light waves, sound waves that brought fragments of these humans up close. A human who touched this kelp relived the lives of the lost in a sudden, hallucinogenic burst. More than one had drowned, helpless, during the experience. A great shield of illusion surrounded the kelp, a chemical barrier, a great historical mirror of joy and horror flung back at any human who touched the periphery. The kelp thought of this perimeter as its "event horizon." This kelp feared Flattery, who sent henchmen to subjugate free kelp with shackles and blades. Flattery and his Current Control degraded the kelp's intricate choreography to a robotic march of organic gates and valves that controlled the sea. The kelp disassembled and analyzed their scents and sweats, each time gaining wisdom on this peculiar frond on the DNA vine marked "Human." These analyses told the kelp that it had not awakened with its single personality, its solitary being intact. It discovered it was one of several kelps, several Avata, a multiple mind where once there had been but one Great Mind. This it gleaned from the genetic memories of humans, from certain histories stored among their tissues themselves. Large portions of the Mind were missing -- or disconnected. Or unconnected. The kelp realized this the way a stroke victim might realize that his mind is nothing like it was before. When that victim recognizes that the damage is permanent, that this is what life will be and no more, therein is born frustration. And from this frustration, rage. The kelp called "Avata" bristled in such a rage. Right is self-evident. It needs no defense, just good witness. -- Ward Keel, Chief Justice (deceased) Beatriz Tatoosh woke from a dream of drowning in kelp to the three low tones that announced her ferry's arrival on the submersible deck. Her overnight bag and briefcase made a lumpy pillow on the hard waiting-room bench. She blinked away the blur of her dream and cleared the frog from her throat. Beatriz always had drowning dreams at the Merman launch site, but this one started a little early. It's the ungodly press of water everywhere . . . She shuddered, though the temperature of this station down under was comfortably regulated. She shuddered at the aftermath of her dream, and at the prospect of escorting the three Organic Mental Cores into orbit. The thought of the brains without bodies that would navigate the void beyond the visible stars always laced her spine with a finger of ice. Temperature was also comfortably regulated aboard the Orbiter, where she was scheduled to be shuttled in a matter of hours. It would be none too soon. Life groundside did not attract her anymore. Somehow the surgical vacuum of space surrounding the Orbiter never bothered her at all. Her family had been Islanders, driftninnies. Hers had been the first generation to live on land in four centuries. Islanders took to the open spaces of land life better than Mermen, who still preferred their few surviving undersea settlements. Logic couldn't stop Beatriz from squirming at the idea of a few million kilos of ocean overhead. The humidity in the ferry locks clamped its clammy hand over her mouth and nose. It would be worse at the launch site. Most of the full-time workers down under were Mermen and they processed their air with a high humidity. She sighed a lot when she worked down under. She sighed again now when her ferry's tones warned her that she would be under way to the launch site in a matter of minutes. The loading crowd of shift workers bound for the site rumbled the deck on the level above her. The drone of hundreds of feet across the metal loading plates made Beatriz squeeze her eyelids tighter yet to keep her mind from conjuring their faces. The laborers were barely more active, had barely more flesh on their bones than the refugees that clustered at Kalaloch's sad camps. The laborers' eyes, when she'd seen them, reflected the hint of hope. The eyes of the people in the camps were too dull to reflect anything, even that. Imagine something pretty, she thought. Like a hylighter crossing the horizon at sunset. It depressed Beatriz to take the ferries. By her count she'd slept nearly five hours in the waiting room while a hyperalert security squad leader sprang a white-glove search on the ferry, its passengers and their possessions. She reminded herself to check all equipment when the security was done -- a discipline she picked up from Ben. Holovision's equipment was junk so she, Ben and their crews built their own hardware to suit themselves. It would be tempting to a security with cousins in the black market. She sighed again, worried about Ben and worried about the insidious business of the security squad. I know that he and Rico are behind that Shadowbox, she thought. They have their distinctive style, whether they shuffle the deck and deal each other new jobs or not. About a year ago, the second time Shadowbox jammed out the news and inserted their own show, she nearly approached Rico, wanting in. But she knew they'd left her out for a reason, so she let it go and took out the hurt on more work. Now she thought she knew the real reason she'd been left out. They need somebody on the outside, she thought. I'm their wild card. She had been called in to replace the missing Ben on Newsflash last night, reading, ". . . Ben Ozette . . . on assignment in Sappho . . ." knowing full well that his assignment this Starday, as it had been every Starday for six weeks, had been Crista Galli herself, inside the Director's personal compound and under the Director's supervision. He was with her at the time she was missing, his presence wasn't mentioned anywhere. He's missing, too, and the Holovision high brass is covering it up. That scared her. Orders to cover up whatever happened to Ben made the whole thing real. She had thought somehow that she and Ben and Rico were immune to the recent ravages of the world. "Paid witnesses," Ben had called the three of them. "We are the eyes and ears of the people." "Lamps," Rico had laughed, a little buzzed on boo, "we're not witnesses, we're lamps . . ." Beatriz had read on the air exactly what the Newsflash producer had written for her because there hadn't been time for questions. She saw now how deliberate it had been to catch her off guard. Holovision had incredible resources in people and equipment and she meant to use them to see that Ben didn't disappear. Ben's not just a witness this time, she cautioned herself. He'll ruin everything. She had loved him, once, for a long time. Or perhaps she had been intimate with him once for a long time and had just now come to love him. Not in the other way of loving, the electric moments, it was too late for that. They had simply lived through too much horror together that no one else could understand. She had recently shared some electric moments with Dr. Dwarf MacIntosh, after thinking for so long that such feelings would never rise in her again. Beatriz blinked her raw eyes awake. She turned her face away from the light and sat up straight on a metal bench. Nearby, a guard coughed discreetly. She wished for the clutter of her Project Voidship office aboard the Orbiter. Her office was a few dozen meters from the Current Control hatch and Dr. Dwarf MacIntosh. Her thoughts kept flying back to Mack, and to her shuttle flight to him that was still a few hours away. Beatriz was tired, she'd been tired for weeks, and these constant delays exhausted her even more. She hadn't had time to think, much less rest, since the Director had her shuttling between the Project Voidship special and the news. Now today she was doing three jobs, broadcasting from three locations. She rode to the Orbiter on the shoulders of the greatest engines built by humankind. When she blasted off Pandora her cluttered office aboard the Orbiter became the eye of the storm of her life. No one, not even Flattery, could reach her there. The tones sounded again and seemed distinctly longer, sadder. Final boarding call. The tones once again made her think of Ben, who was still not found, who might be dead. He was no longer her lover, but he was a good man. She rubbed her eyes. A young security captain with very large ears entered the waiting-room hatch. He nodded his head as a courtesy, but his mouth remained firm. "The search is finished," he said. "My apologies. It would be best for you to board now." She stood up to face him and her clothing clung to her in sleepy folds. "My equipment, my notes haven't been released yet," she said. "It won't do me a bit of good to --" He stopped her with a finger to his lips. He had two fingers and a thumb on each hand and she tried to remember which of the old islands carried that trait. Orcas? Camano? He smiled with the gesture, showing teeth that had been filed to horrible points -- rumored to be the mark of one of the death squads that called themselves "the Bite." "Your belongings are already aboard the ferry," he said. "You are famous, so we recognize your needs. You will have the privacy of a stateroom for the crossing and a guard to escort you." "But . . ." His hand was on her elbow, guiding her out the hatchway. "We have delayed the ferry while you board," he said. "For the sake of the project, please make haste." She was already out in the passageway and he was propelling her toward the ferry's lower boarding section. "Wait," she said, "I don't think . . ." "You have a task already awaiting you at the launch site," the captain said. "I am to inform you that you will be doing a special Newsbreak there shortly after arrival and before your launch." He handed her the messenger that she usually carried at her hip. "Everything's in here," he said, and grinned. Beatriz felt that he was entirely too happy for her own comfort. Certainly the sight of his teeth gave her no comfort at all. She was curious, in her journalistic way, about the hows and whys of the death squads. Her survival instinct overrode her curiosity. The security escort met them at the gangway. He was short, young and loaded down with several of her equipment bags. "A pleasure to have met you," the captain said, with another slight bow. He handed her a stylus and an envelope. "If you please, for my wife. She admires you and your show very much." "What is her name?" "Anna." Beatriz wrote in a hasty hand, "For Anna, for the future," and signed it with the appropriate flourish. The captain nodded his thanks and Beatriz climbed aboard the ferry. She had barely cleared the second lock when she felt it submerge. Worship isn't really love. An object of worship can never be itself. Remember that people love people, and vice versa. People fear gods. -- Dwarf MacIntosh, Kelpmaster, Current Control The early morning light clarified the new drift that Ben's life had taken. He knew that he would use Crista's holy image on Shadowbox, much as Flattery had used it on Holovision, to manipulate the people of Pandora. He would use Crista to whip them up against Flattery. He knew that doing this would further bury her humanity, her womanhood. Knowing he would do it cost him something, too. He vowed it would not cost them their love that he already felt filling the space between them. There would be a way . . . Damn! Ben had not wanted anything to step between himself and the story he'd set out to get. Now he was the lead story on prime time. He and Crista had watched the Holovision newsbreak the night before in one of the Zavatans' underground chambers. Though it didn't surprise him, he found it ironic that Beatriz was taking his place. "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen," she began, "I'm Beatriz Tatoosh, standing in for Ben Ozette, who is on assignment in Sappho. In our headlines this evening, Crista Galli was abducted a few hours ago from her quarters in the Preserve. Eight armed terrorists, thought to be Shadows . . ." Maybe she thought she was doing me a favor, he thought. But it was no favor, at least not to Ben. He was not on assignment in Sappho, and there had been no eight armed terrorists. They'd simply walked away. Beatriz read the lines that Flattery's hired maggot fed her. Wrapped up as she was in the Orbiter and Project Voidship, she probably didn't know the difference. Ben wondered what was going on in the boardroom of Holovision right now. Holovision was owned by Merman Mercantile, and the Director had acquired control of Merman Mercantile through bribery, manipulation, extortion and assassination. This was the story that Ben had begun to broadcast on Shadowbox. What had started as the biggest story of his life had become an act that would change his life forever, probably change Crista's life forever and perhaps save the people of Pandora from the Director's backlash of poverty and hunger. Now Crista was hiding out with him. He had touched her and lived. He had kissed her and lived. Even now, it took great self-control to keep Ben from moving that pale lock of hair out of the corner of her mouth, to keep from caressing her forehead, to keep from slipping underneath the silky cover and . . . You're too young to be an old fool, he thought, so stop acting like one. You could be a dead fool. He reflected on the combined coincidence, fate or divine inspiration that had brought them together, at this time, in this cubby, on this world a millennium at light speed from the origins of humans themselves. It had taken thousands of years, travel from star to star, the near-annihilation of humankind to bring Ben and Crista Galli together. Avata, too, had been nearly annihilated, but a few kelp genes were safely tucked away in most Pandoran humans. Perhaps they were all altered for eternity and these stray bits of the genetic code would bring them together at last. Why? he wondered. Why us? This was one of those times when Ben wished for a normal life. He did not want to be the salvation of society, the species, or anybody's salvation but his own. Things weren't working out that way, and it was too late now to change that. Now, against his better judgment, he was once again in love with an impossible woman. In the long scheme of things Crista was much more human than Avatan -- at least, in appearance. What her kelpness held in check was anyone's guess, including Crista's. In theory, it meant she had many complete minds, capable of thinking and acting independently. This had been discovered in one of the Director's cherished studies. Crista herself had exhibited only one personality during her five years under scrutiny, and it was the one subject that she was reluctant to speak of with Ben. She was alleged to be the daughter of Vata, and Vata was the "Holy Child" of the poet/prophet Kerro Panille and Waela TaoLini. Vata had been conceived in a thrash of human limbs and the intrusion of Avatan tendrils and spores inside the cabin of a sabotaged LTA centuries ago. She was born with a total genetic memory and some form of thigmocommunication common to the kelp. She lay comatose for nearly two centuries. The human purported to be Crista's father, Duque, had Avatan characteristics instilled through his mother's egg in the labs of the infamous Jesus Lewis, the bioengineer who once wiped out the kelp, body of Avata. He very nearly destroyed humanity along with the kelp. Vata was the beloved saint of Pandora, symbol of the union of humanity with the gods, voice of the gods themselves. Crista Galli, beloved of Ben Ozette, was no less godlike in her power and mystery, in her beauty, in the shadow of death about her. This did not make loving her easy. Ben knew that the kelp -- Avata -- had been the survival key to humans on Pandora. It was difficult, maybe impossible, for humans to relate to a sentient . . . kelp. And this new kelp was not the same creature that the pioneers had encountered. Ben had studied The Histories enough to agree with the experts -- this kelp was fragmented, it was not the single sentient being of old. Many of the faithful among the people of Pandora claimed that this was why Avata formed Crista Galli, to present itself in an acceptable form. This theory was fast gaining support. Then what does it want? To live! The sudden thought intruded on his mind like a shout, startling him alert. It was a voice he almost recognized. He listened deep inside himself, head tilted, but nothing more came. The sleeper still slept. The kelp, the body of Avata, was responsible for the stability of the very planet itself. One moon had pulverized itself to asteroids while several continents had ripped apart like tissue paper after the kelp was killed off by the bioengineer Jesus Lewis. Now, the kelp was replanted and the land masses returned after a couple of centuries under the sea. Humans were relearning to live on land as well as on or undersea. It pained Ben that people were still just scratching in dirt when they should be thriving. That's the Director's fault, he reminded himself, not the kelp's. The Director refused to recognize publicly the sentience of the kelp and used it simply as a mechanism, a series of powerful switches that controlled worldwide currents and, to some degree, weather. Everyone knew this was getting more difficult daily. There was more kelp daily, and very little of it was hooked up to Current Control. The kelp is resisting Flattery, he thought. When it breaks completely free, I want it to have a conscience. Ben's diligent research, with a few leads from Crista, uncovered the secret reports and he knew the real depth of Flattery's interest in what one paper called "the Avata Phenomenon." Ben had spoken with the Zavatans, monks in the hills who used the kelp in their rituals. Crista says the Director should be consulting the kelp! he thought. And I get the same story from those monks. She stirred again, and he knew she would wake soon. She would see the dockside shops fill with vendors and hear the morning calls from the street of: "Milk! Juices!" "Eggs! We have licensed squawk eggs today!" This was one of the many small pleasures that the Director had denied her -- human companionship. Ben knew that he, too, in his way, would deny her this. For now, he reminded himself. Soon, we will have all the time in the world together. From the coffee shop below he could hear the faint scrape of furniture, the metallic clink of utensils and china. Ben Ozette leaned back against the wall and let out a long, slow breath. Though he'd refused to admit it until now, he was surprised to be alive. He'd not only touched the forbidden Crista Galli, but he'd kissed her. It was twelve hours later and he was still breathing. They'd made it through the night without Vashon Security hunting them down. He waited for Crista to wake, for Rico's code-knock at the door, to see what they would make of the rest of their lives. When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, "A shower is coming," and so it comes to pass. And when you see the south wind blow, you say, "There will be a scorching heat," and so it comes to pass. You hypocrites! you know how to judge the face of the sky and of the earth; but how is it that you do not judge this time? -- Jesus Crista Galli's first memory of waking up that morning on Kalaloch was of the way the light caught the carved cup in Ben Ozette's hand, and of his hand. She wanted that hand to touch her, to brush her cheek or rest on her shoulder. It was so still, that hand balancing the cup on his knee, that she lay there for a while wondering whether he had fallen asleep sitting up beside the bed. She shuddered at the thought of sitting in one of those pieces of ghastly Islander furniture, a living creature that they called "chairdog." Kalaloch, too, was waking outside. She heard the stirrings of people and the stutter of engines starting as the dozer and crawler crews headed for another day's work advancing the perimeter. The hungry and homeless of a dozen grounded islands also woke from their sleep in the gritty folds of greater Kalaloch. Crista listened to the closer, warmer sound of Ben's quiet breathing. God, she thought, what if I'd killed him? She stifled a giggle, imagining the news lead as Ben himself might have written it: "Holovision's popular Nightly News correspondent Ben Ozette was kissed to death last night on assignment . . ." The warmth, the taste of that kiss replayed itself in her mind. This was her first kiss, the one she'd nearly given up on. Ben suffered no ill effects, which she attributed to the action of Flattery's daily dose of antidote, still in her system. Yet she had received the flood of Ben's past with the touch of his lips to her own, a cascade of memories, emotions and fear that nearly paralyzed her with its unexpected clarity and force. There were these matters of his life that she preferred not to know: Ben's first kiss, a pretty redhead; his last kiss, Beatriz Tatoosh. Both of these and more lingered on her own lips. She witnessed his first lovemaking through the memory of his cells, witnessed his birth, the sinking of Guemes Island, the deaths of his parents. His memories impregnated her very cells, waiting for her own emotional trigger that would call them to life. She had received his memories with his kiss, too stunned to tell him. Her dreams that night were his dreams, his memories. She saw Shadowbox as he saw it, as the organ of truth in a body riddled with lies. She knew that he, like herself, was vulnerable and lonely and had a life to live for others. She did not want to keep this from him, the fact that she now owned his life. She did not want to lose him now that they had finally found each other, and she did not want to be the death of him, either. Ben was not afraid of "the Tingle," as people called it -- this kelp death that supposedly lurked in her touch as it did in some kelp, within her very chemistry. Sometimes she didn't believe it, either. Flattery himself had developed the antidote, which he saw to it that she received daily. It did not diminish the chemical messages she received, such as Ben's memories. It merely muted those that her body might send. Still, none dared touch her and all of her attendants in Flattery's compound kept her at a safe distance. This was the first morning in her memory that she did not wake up to attendants, endless tests, to the difficult task of being a revered prisoner in the great house of the Director. Crista had slept the refreshing sleep of the newborn in spite of their escape, their hiding, her first kiss. An emptiness rumbled through her stomach as delicious aromas rose to her of pastries, hot breads, coffee. Somewhere beneath them hot sebet sizzled on a grill. Meat was something she craved. Flattery's labtechs had explained this to her, some mumbo-jumbo about her Avatan genes affecting her protein synthesis, but she knew this simply as hunger. She also hungered for fresh fruits of all kinds, and nuts and grains. The very thought of a salad gagged her and always had. Though they'd fled here in the night, Crista had memorized the warrenlike underground system they took to get from the Director's complex at the Preserve to this Islander community at Kalaloch. She was reminded of the maze of kelpways down under. She knew nothing of the local geography save that she was near the sea, relieving some other hunger that rumbled within. She heard the sea now, a wet pulse over the babble of street vendors and the increasing traffic of the day. Pandorans were an early lot, she'd heard, but unhurried. It is difficult for the hungry to hurry. Only a very few remained on their traditional organic islands. Drifting the seas had become much too dangerous a life in this day of jagged coastlines and sea lanes choked with kelp. The majority who settled landside still called themselves "Islander" and retained their old manners of dress and custom. Those Islanders whom she'd known at the Preserve compound were either servants or security, close-mouthed about their lives outside Flattery's great basalt walls. Many were horribly mutated, a revulsion to Flattery but a fascination to her. Crista Galli tucked the cover under her chin and stretched backward, unfolding to the sunlight, aware of some new modesty in the company of Ben Ozette. She had all of the intimacies of his life stored in her head, now, and she was afraid of what he might think of her if he knew. She felt herself flush, a bit of a voyeur, as she remembered his first night with Beatriz. Men are so strange, Crista thought. He'd brought her here on the run from Vashon security and the Director, assured her that they were safely hidden in this tiny cubby, then he sat up all night beside her rather than join her in bed. He'd already proven immune to her deadly touch, and she liked the kiss as much as the daring gesture of the kiss. The attentions of other men, the Director among them, had taught her something of the power of her beauty. Ben Ozette was attracted to her, that had been clear the first time she'd looked into his eyes. They were green, something like her own only darker. She treasured the one magic kiss they had shared before she slept. She treasured his memories that now were hers, the family she shared with him, his lovers . . . Her reverie was interrupted by a shriek in the street below, then a long, high-voiced wail that chilled her in spite of her warm bed. She lay quiet while Ben set aside his cup and rose to the window. They've found someone, she thought, someone who's been killed. Ben had told her about the bodies in the streets in the morning, but it was something too far from her life to imagine. "The death squads leave them for a lesson," he said. "Bodies are there in the mornings for people to see when they go to work, when they take the children to their creche. Some have no hands, some have no tongues or heads. Some are mutilated obscenely. If you stop to look, you are questioned: 'Do you know this man? Come with us.' No one wants to go with them. Sooner or later a wife is notified, or a mother or a son. Then the body is removed." Ben had seen hundreds of such bodies in his work, and she had glimpsed these the night before in the speedy unreeling of his memories into her own. This wail she thought must come from a mother who had just found her dead son. Crista was not tempted to look outside. Ben returned to his watch at her bedside. Had he seen anything of her when she kissed him? Such a thing happened sometimes with the kelp, but seldom anymore with herself. It had happened with others who'd touched her. First, the shock of wide-eyed disbelief; then, the unfocused eyes and the trembling; at last, the waking and the registry of stark terror. For those who had been lucky enough to wake. What did I show them? she wondered. Why some and not all? She had studied the kelp's history and found no help there, precious little comfort. She still smoldered over some research tech's pointed reference to her "family tree." She remembered how she had been kept alive down under by the cilia of the kelp that probed the recesses of her body. She received the ministrations of the mysterious, nearly mythological Swimmers, the severest of human mutations. Adapted completely to water, Swimmers resembled giant, gilled salamanders more than humans. They occupied caves, Oracles, abandoned Merman outposts and some kelp lagoons. She had been one with the kelp, more kelp than human, for her first nineteen years. There were some of Flattery's people who thought that she had been manufactured by the kelp, but she herself believed that couldn't be true. A lot of other Pandorans sported the green-eyed gene of the kelp, including Ben. At a little over a meter and a half tall she could look over the heads of most women and looked most men nearly in the eye. Her surface network of blue veins was slightly more visible than other people's because she was nearly pale enough to be translucent. The blood in her veins was red, based on iron, and incontrovertibly human -- facts that had been established her first day out of the kelp. Her full lips puckered slightly when she was thinking, hanging on the edge of a kiss. Her straight, slender nose flared slightly at the nostrils and flared even more when she was angry -- another emotion she dared not indulge among Flattery's people. Crista had been educated by the touch of the kelp, which infused in her certain genetic memories of the humans that it had encountered. Before Flattery took power, most humans contacted the kelp by being buried at sea. She had to shut out the flood of memories that came rolling in with the sounds of the nearby waves. She treated herself to another languorous stretch then turned to Ben. "Did you sit up all night?" "Couldn't sleep anyway," he said. He stood slowly, working out the kinks in his body, then sat on the edge of her bed. Crista sat up and leaned against his shoulder. The disturbance below their window was gone. They faced the plaz, the morning sunlight off the bay, and Crista was lulled into a half-sleep by the warmth from the window, the coziness of Ozette beside her, and the harmonious chatter of the street vendors. In the distance she heard the heavy machinery of construction tear into the hills. "Will we leave here soon?" she asked. She was invigorated by the sunlight, the plop-plop-plop of waves against the bulkhead and a whiff of broiling sebet on the air. The years of lies and imprisonment at the hands of the Director washed through her like a current of cold blood. Every morning that she had awakened in his compound she simply wanted to curl up under those covers and doze. Today, wherever Ben Ozette was going, Crista was going with him. Someone whistled at their hatch, a short musical phrase, repeated once. It was the same kind of whistle-language that she'd heard from dockside the night before. Ozette grunted, rapped twice on the deck. A single whistle replied. "Our people," he said. "They will move us this morning, much as I'd like to show you the neighborhood. Rico is setting it up. The whole world knows by now that you're gone. The reward for your return, and for my head, will be enough to tempt even good people . . . on either side. There is much hunger." "I can't go back there," she said. "I won't. I have seen the sky. You kissed me . . ." He smiled at her, offered her a drink of his water. But he did not kiss her. She knew that he would be killed if caught, that Flattery had already signed his death warrant. The Warrior's Union would take care of it, had probably already taken care of every servant and selected others at the Preserve. The night before, emerging from the underground, they had dodged from building to building along the waterfront streets, fearful of security patrols enforcing Flattery's curfew. Crista had stopped in the open to look at the stars and at Pandora's nearer moons. She bathed firsthand in the touch of a cool breeze on her face and arms, smelled the charcoal cookery of the poor, saw the stars with only the atmosphere in her way. "I want to go outside," she whispered. "Can we go out soon, to the street?" Always the answer from the Director had been no. It was always no. "The demons," they would say at first, "you would hardly make a meal for them." Or, later, "The Shadows want you killed," the Director would say. Lately, he had repeated, "You can't tell -- the swine could look like anyone. It would be horrible if they got their hooks into you." The Director had a particular leer that gave her the creeps, though to hear him tell it there was no one who could protect her but him, no one she could trust in the world but him. For most of that five years she had believed him. Shadowbox changed all that. Then Ben Ozette came to do his story, and she realized that the only reason Flattery forbade her touch was his fear that she would learn something from him, from his people, and expose his intricate system of lies. "Yes," Ben said. "We'll get out soon. Things are going to get very hot here very soon . . ." He stiffened suddenly and swore under his breath. He pointed at a Vashon security patrol working their way down the pierside toward them: two men on each side of the street. They poured an insidious stillness over a choppy sea of commuters and shoppers in the marketplace. The press of commuters crowding toward the ferries parted for them without touching. Each guard carried a small lasgun slung under one arm, and from each belt hung various tools of the security trade: coup baton for infighting hand to hand, charges for the lasguns, a fistful of small but efficient devices of chemical and mechanical restraint. They each wore a pair of mirrored sunglasses -- trademark of the Warrior's Union, the Director's personal assassination squad. Among the people there was much smiling, headshaking, shoulder-shrugging; some cringed. Crista watched the pair work their way along the dockside street and felt the small hairs rise on her arms and the back of her neck. "Don't worry," Ben said, as though reading her mind. With his hand on her bare shoulder like that she believed it was possible that he was reading her mind -- or, at least, her emotions. She loved his touch. She felt a new flood of his life enter through her skin. It stored itself somewhere in her brain while her eyes went on watching the street. The security team left one man in front of each building in turn while the other searched inside. They were close. "What do we do?" she asked. He reached to the other side of the bed for a bundle of Islander clothes and set them in her lap. "Get dressed," he said, "and watch. Stay back from the plaz." There was a sudden, concussive whump and a flash of orange from the harbor, then a roil of black smoke. The street turned into a scramble of bodies as people ran to their boats dockside and to their firefighting stations. Pandorans had used hydrogen for their engines and stoves, their welding torches and power production since the old days. Hydrogen storage tanks were everywhere, and fire one of their great fears. "What . . . ?" "An old coracle," Ben said, "registered to me. They will be busy for a while. With luck, they will believe we were aboard." Another whump took Crista's breath away, and as she pulled on the unfamiliar clothing she saw that the security squad had not disappeared with the crowd. They came on with the same precision and deliberation, door to door. The street was nearly empty as everyone else who was able-bodied fought the fires or moved nearby boats to safety. While Ben stood watch beside the window, Crista pulled on a heavily embroidered white cotton dress that was much too big for her. Her breasts, though not small, bobbled free inside. She held the fabric away from her flat belly and looked questioningly at Ben. He tossed her a black pajama-type worksuit of the Islanders that appeared identical to the one he wore. From a drawer beside the bed he pulled a long woven sash and handed it to her. "I don't know how to tell you this, but you're pregnant. Quite a ways along, too." When she still didn't follow his intent, he said, "Strap the worksuit on your belly to fill out the dress," he said. "You'll need it later. For now, you are a pregnant Islander. I am your man." She strapped the worksuit around her as instructed and adjusted the dress. In the mirror beside the hatch she did look pregnant. Crista watched in the mirror as Ben wrapped a long red bandana around his head, letting the tails fall between his shoulder blades. It was embroidered with the same geometries that appeared on her dress. My man, she thought with a smile, and we're dressing to go out. She patted the padding on her stomach fondly and rested her hand there, half-expecting to feel some tiny movement. Ben stood behind her and tied a similar bandana around her forehead. He gave her a floppy straw hat to wear over it. "This manner of dress is the mark of the Island I grew up on," he said. "You have heard about Guemes Island?" "Yes, of course. Sunk the year before I was born." "Yes," he said. "You are now the pregnant wife of a Guemes Island survivor. Among Islanders you will receive the greatest respect. Among Mermen you will be treated with the deference that only the guilty can bestow. As you know, it means absolutely nothing among Flattery's people. We have no papers, there wasn't time . . ." Two whistles at their hatch. Two different whistles. "That's Rico," he said, and matched her smile. "Now we get to go outside." The things that people want and the things that are good for them are very different. . . . Great art and domestic bliss are mutually incompatible. Sooner or later, you'll have to make your choice. -- Arthur C. Clarke Beatriz dozed awhile on the couch after shutting off her alarm. The dark, plazless office at the launch site helped keep the fabric of her dream alive. Freed from the confines of her mind, it flowed about the room with the ease of a ghost. In a way, it was a ghost. She had been dreaming of Ben, of their last night together, and there were parts of the dream that she wanted to savor. It was two years ago, the night before she made her first trip up to the Orbiter, before she met Mack. She was nervous about her first shuttle flight to the Orbiter, and Ben was going off to the High Reaches to meet with some Zavatan elder. In spite of the fact that they'd been lovers for years, they both felt awkward. It was ending, they knew it was ending, but neither of them could talk about it. It was early evening, clear and warm. A shot of sunset still streaked the horizon pink and blue. They sat aboard one of Holovision's foils at dockside, in the crew's quarters. She remembered the familiar shlup-shlip of water against the hull and the occasional mutter of wild squawks settling down. Children played their evening games before being called in for the night and they whistle-signaled from pier to pier. She and Ben had talked of children, of wanting them and of bad timing. This night the rest of their crews had discreetly left them alone. She found out later it was at Rico's suggestion. "Women are the answer," Ben said, handing her a glass of white wine. "And what was the question?" She touched glasses with him, sipped, and set it down. She did not want to ride a rocket into orbit in the morning with a hangover. Ben's green eyes looked particularly beautiful against his dark skin. His lean, muscular body had always been perfect with hers. She couldn't understand why he had to go off on his wild projects chasing down Shadows when he could stay and work with her. She'd covered as much death as she cared to, it was time they thought of themselves. I want to report on life, advances, progress. . . . "Women represent life, advances, progress," he said. The hair prickled at the back of her neck. "Are you reading my mind?" "Would I dare?" he asked. Those green eyes twinkled in their way that shot something straight into her heart. Whatever it was was warm, and it always melted downward like a hand inside her underwear. Beatriz was a strong woman, and she knew it. She also knew that Ben Ozette was the only man who ever made her weak in the knees. She sipped her wine and kept the glass at her chest. "What am I thinking now?" she asked, feeling she had to change the subject. "You're wishing I'd get on with whatever it was I was going to say so that we can get on with the evening." She laughed a little louder than she liked, and ran a hand through her black hair. "Why, Mr. Ozette, what kind of girl do you think I am?" He ignored her flirtation. His manner turned serious. "I think you're the kind of girl who wants to see the best for everyone -- for the refugees, yourself, even Flattery. You've covered some of the most horrible disasters and bloodiest atrocities this world has seen. I know because I was there. Now it won't go away, so you're going away. You want to see progress, you want to see good things. Well, so do I . . ." "But look what you're doing!" She fisted her thigh and scooted back in the couch. "OK, security is more than enthusiastic, that's bad enough. If you make heroes out of the people fighting them, then more will join them. They will have to fight the same way. There will be no end to the cycle. Dammit, Ben, that's why they call it 'Revolution.' Wheels turn and turn in place and the vehicle gets mired down. I've come damned close to dying more times than I can count -- most of those times with you -- and now I want to get somewhere. I want a family . . ." Ben set down his glass and grasped her hand across the table. "I know," he said. "I understand. Maybe I understand more than you think. I want to offer you life, advances, progress." Neither of them spoke for a while, but their hands conversed with each other in the familiar language of lovers. "OK," she said. She tossed off her wine, trying to appear lighthearted, "what's the plan, man?" "I don't know the plan, yet," he said. "But I know the key. It's information. Our business, remember?" "Yes?" She refilled her glass, then his. "Explain." "You didn't see any women in Flattery's security force, and you set out to do a story, remember? What happened?" "Not approved, we never shot a centimeter . . ." "And how many times has that happened?" "To me? Not much. But then, there are plenty of stories to do, more than I'll ever live to do, I just find another one or take an assignment . . ." "An important point," Ben said. He hunched over their little table, tapping the top with his index finger. "If Flattery doesn't get flattered, the story, whatever it is, doesn't get aired. He is from a different world -- literally, a different world. He is from a world that starves women and children because they are on the wrong side of an imaginary line, and he won't allow them to cross it. We are from a world that used to teach: 'Life, at all cost. Preserve life.' Pandora has been adversary enough. We haven't been able to afford the luxury of fighting amongst ourselves." "So, I don't get where . . ." "Half of the shows I do get dropped," Ben said. "It's not because they're not good, it's because it's getting harder and harder to keep Flattery from looking like the hood that he is. What would happen if people refused to have anything to do with him -- refused to speak with him, feed him, shelter him -- what would happen then?" She laughed again. "What makes you think they'd do that? It would take --" "Information. Show him up for what he is, show the people what they can do. This whole world's been a disaster since Flattery took over. He promises them food and keeps them hungry. He keeps us in line because we know what he can do to us. If people knew they'd be no more hungry without Flattery, without the Vashon Security Force, would they put up with him?" "It would take a miracle," she finished. She couldn't look him in the eye. This was the conversation she really didn't want to have on their last night together. He leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. "I'm sorry," he said. "I'm running off at the mouth again. I interviewed a group of mothers today who are petitioning the Chief of Security for news of their sons and husbands who have disappeared. Another group, over five hundred mothers, says that they had sons killed but there was never an investigation, never an arrest. They say security did it, there are witnesses. Now, I don't know about that. What I do know is that mothers are the ones on the march. Holovision's refusing to pick up on it, forbidding me to report on what people have the right to know. There has to be a way . . . I'm just thinking out loud, is all." He kissed her again on the cheek, then lifted her chin. "I'll shut up now," he said. He kissed her lips and she pulled him down to the carpet beside the table. "Promise?" She kissed him back, and untucked his shirt from his pants so she could get her hands under his clothes, onto his smooth, warm skin. His hands unbuttoned her Islander blouse, unpeeled her cotton skirt and found her bare under both. "Pretty daring," he muttered, and kissed her belly as she undressed him. "You realize we're going to get rug burn." "I thought you promised to shut up." Her alarm went off again and startled Beatriz out of her waking dream. She shut it off and sat up to give herself some energy. Ben had been right about the rug burn. They'd kicked the wine over on themselves, too. She was sure that had been the night that Ben conceived the idea for Shadowbox. She sighed, trying to lift a heavy sadness from her chest. Too bad we couldn't have conceived a little one, she thought. It might've saved us both. If they had, she wouldn't have met Mack. Her relationship with Ben prepared her for Mack. He was a little older, and because of his upbringing on Moonbase he wanted a family as much as she did. Beatriz pressed the "start" key on her pocket messenger and it announced: "0630 . . ." She twisted the volume knob down and massaged her tired eyelids. The preliminary briefing from the Holovision head office would be followed by more details before air time so she half-listened, intent only on news of Ben Ozette. Another deep sigh. The smell at her launch site office down under was distinctly Merman -- air swept clean of particulate, saturated with the scent of mold inhibitors and sterile water. Lighting in Holovision's small broadcast studio always dried things out a bit and helped her breathe easier on the air. She suspected she would be on the air again in less than half an hour. She pulled the legs of her singlesuit straight and unbunched the wrinkled sleeves from her armpits. Her office was backlit in the Merman way, so her reflection in the plaz was a warm one, capturing the glow of her brown skin and the sheen of her shaggy black hair. Her generation and Ben's was the first in two centuries to have more children born to the ancient norm of human appearance than not. Beatriz did not pity the severely mutated, pity was an emotion that most Pandorans could do without. She thanked the odds daily for her natural good looks. Right now she wanted a hot shower before facing her messenger's latest story of woe. That's what Ben always called it, she thought. She spoke it aloud, "'Another story of woe.'" Fatigue and a half-sleep deepened her voice enough that it sounded vaguely like his. It made her want to hear his voice, to argue with him one more time about who worked the hardest and who got the shower first. She smiled in spite of her worry. It was more than symbolic that they had always wound up in hot water together. It was fear for Ben that made her not want to face the messenger just yet. It was hard enough to face the fact that she still loved him, though in an unloverly way. Suicide, she thought. He might just as well have run the perimeter on a bet and let a dasher have at him. Beatriz knew the signs, and it was Ben who'd made her aware of them. Crossing the Director was a survival matter. She dolloped enough milk into her coffee to cool it off, then sipped at the rim while she replayed the brief, chilling message. 0630 Memo: Location brief, Launch Bay Five, air time 0645. Lead: Crista Galli still in hands of Shadows. Second lead: OMCs to Orbital Station today. Detail: ref terrorists, arms, drugs, religious fervor, Shadows. Final assembly of Voidship drive in orbit, OMC installation imminent. Items follow on Location. Secondary discretion: Mandatory at 0640. Time out: 0631. Beatriz glanced at the processor's time display: 0636. "Secondary Discretion!" she muttered. That meant they were doing a time-delay. Time enough that Holovision could run a pretaped Newsbreak if she didn't show up or, worse, if they didn't like what she said on the air. Ben had warned her it would come to this. "Damn!" What else was he right about? The elevator to the Newsbreak studio at Launch Bay Five was only a dozen meters down the passageway from her office. She fingered the tangles out of her hair and hurried out the hatchway. The hurry didn't slow her worrying one whit. Ben had something to do with this Crista Galli thing, and she knew that Flattery knew that, too. Why, then, was there still no release on Ben? The answer was one that Ben had tried to warn her about, and it chilled her to think it. They'll see that he disappears, she thought. If there's nothing on him in the briefing . . . She didn't want to think of that. Flattery knows about us . . . about Ben, she thought. She knew about the disappearances, the bodies in the streets of Kalaloch in the mornings. Ben had warned her about this more than once and shown her firsthand, finally, how it happened. She knew that unpopular people disappeared. She had never thought it would happen to one of them. Another thought shook her as she faced the elevator. If I don't say something about him on the air, then he's going to disappear for sure! She was scheduled to fly with the crew that delivered the OMCs to the Orbital Station for their Voidship installation. He must know about her budding relationship with Mack, that was no secret. The installation of the Organic Mental Cores was a nice piece of propaganda for Flattery that would take her conveniently out of the picture. It would also make it impossible for her to investigate Ben's disappearance on her own. She hadn't known what to think last night when she'd had to fill in for Ben. She'd read the prompter cold, too surprised at the lie on her screen, at the suddenness of the lie, to challenge it there. Flattery had finally tossed her a gauntlet. What is the worst? she asked herself now. The worst would be that they would both disappear. She squeezed into the elevator among the press of techs and mechanics, left their greetings unreturned. They were a sweaty bunch in the cramped humidity. What is for sure? For sure Ben would disappear if she said nothing, if Holovision Nightly News continued to lie about his absence. She rounded the passageway into the studio suite of the Holovision feature assignment crew. It was an engine assembly hangar with ten-meter-high ceilings. The makeup tech's hands were fussing over Beatriz's hair and face as soon as she entered the hatchway. Someone else helped her slip into a bulky pullover blouse with the Holovision logo at the left breast. As usual, several of the crew were talking at once, none of them saying what she wanted to hear. She wouldn't be doing this Newsbreak unless Ben were still missing. She had seen Ben and Crista Galli together a few days ago at Flattery's compound. Ben and Crista, in the hibiscus courtyard, Ben leaning toward Crista in that intent way he had. Beatriz knew then that he had fallen in love with the girl. She also knew that he probably didn't know that yet himself. I should have had a talk with him . . . not a lover talk, a friend talk. Now he might be dead. She patted her cheeks flush and the lights turned up. It was nearly time, and still she spoke to no one, heard little, viewed the blank prompter with a certain measure of fear. He had held her own gaze intently hundreds of times over the years, dozens of times with the same argument. "I look at the big picture," she'd say. "Pandora's unstable, we've seen that. We could all die here on any given day at the whim of meteorology. We need another world . . ." And he would always argue for the now. "People are hungry now," he would say. "They need to be fed now or there won't be a later for any of us . . ." She always felt insignificant in the studio in spite of her fame, but today as they scrubbed and dusted her face, fluffed her hair and placed her earpiece she was writing her own script for the Newsbreak -- one that she hoped would keep Ben in the news but keep Flattery off her back. She looked into the prompter, adjusted the contrast and cleared her throat. She had thirty seconds. She cleared her throat again, smiled at the lens cluster and took a deep breath. "Ten seconds, B." She let the breath out slow, blinked her eyes for the shine and said to the red light, "Good Morning, Pandora. This is Beatriz Tatoosh for Newsbreak . . ." Since every object is simply the sum of its qualities, and since qualities exist only in the mind, the whole objective universe of matter and energy, atoms and stars does not exist except as a construction of the consciousness, an edifice of conventional symbols shaped by the senses of man. -- Lincoln Barnett, The Universe and Dr. Einstein Alyssa Marsh lived in the past, because the past was all that Flattery could not strip from her. He had tried chemicals, laser probes, tiny implants but the person who had been Alyssa Marsh survived them all. He is afraid, she thought. He is afraid that my life here has made me unfit as an OMC -- and he's right. He had taken her body away fiber by fiber, or taken her away from her body. Her carotids and jugulars had been bypassed to a life-support system and she had been decapitated, then Flattery himself excised the remaining flesh and bone from around her unfeeling brain. The only sense she retained was the vaguest sense of being. She no longer felt much kinship with humans, and had no way of knowing how long she'd felt that way. Until someone hooked her up to her Voidship she had no means of measuring time. Time became her newest toy. Time, and the past. Even fog has substance, she thought. Logic told her that her brain still existed or she wouldn't be entertaining herself with these thoughts. Training in her Moon-base creche hundreds of years ago had prepared her for her responsibility as an OMC -- purely mental functions, making human decisions out of mechanically derived data -- but Pandora had opened up other possibilities, all of them requiring a body. Having a child, something she'd never have been permitted as a Moon-base clone, changed her perspective but it didn't change her indoctrination. She kept her child's birth secret, especially from his father, Raja Lon Flattery number six, the Director. Without eyes or ears she would have thought herself a perpetual prisoner of a completely silent darkness. Without skin she expected not to feel, and without the rest she imagined she'd sniffed her last blossom, tasted her last bootleg chocolate. None of this proved to be true. Alyssa had expected to be cut off from her senses, but reality proved her to be free of them instead. Like the gods, she was free now to clench the folds of time and replay her life at will, mining sensory details that she'd missed when they filtered through her emotions. She did not miss her emotions much, either, but she allowed as this might be a simple denial process protecting what was left of Alyssa Marsh from the full horror of what Flattery had done to her. "You'll be the Organic Mental Core," he had announced to her. He spoke of it as privilege, honor, as the salvation of humankind. He might have been right about the salvation of humankind. At the time, even drugged as she was, she didn't buy the first two. She recognized that she was listening to one of the oldest arguments for martyrdom known to her species. "Be reasonable," he'd told her. "Accept this banner and you will live in a thousand bodies. The Voidship itself will become your bones, your skin." "Spare me the speech," she slurred, her tongue thickened by drugs. "I'm ready. If you're not going to let me go back to my studies in the kelp, if you're not going to kill me, then just get on with it." She now felt that the major difference between herself and the kelp was that the kelp's entire body was also its brain. The tissues were integrated and the appropriate accomplishments measurable. Flattery would hear none of this. He had spoken to her of an Elysium of sorts, of a pain-free and disease-free life. He reminded her that an OMC in its harness was the closest that humans came to immortality. This did nothing to comfort her. She knew the insanity record of other OMCs, the rate at which they'd turned rogue and destroyed their host ships and their expendable cargoes of clones, clones like herself, and Flattery, and Mack. Indeed, the same thing had happened aboard the Voidship Earthling, which brought them all to Pandora. Three OMCs went crazy and the crew had to fabricate an artificial intelligence to save their skins. It brought them to Pandora and abandoned them there. I'm understanding that more and more, she thought. I'd like to meet this Ship sometime, interface to interface. Words had always amused her, and a lack of flesh to laugh with did not seem to diminish that amusement. Thinking of her son was always serious, however, especially since he'd made such good headway in Flattery's security service. She thought of him now because her one regret was not seeing him face to face before she . . . . . . Shucked my mortal coil, she thought. I wanted to see him with my own eyes. No . . . I wanted him to see me before . . . this. She had given him up to an upwardly mobile Merman couple rather than risk what would happen if Flattery found out she'd borne him a son. She had been afraid he would kill her and take the son, turning him into another ruthless Director. I should've kept him, she thought. He's turned out like Flattery, anyway. The boy would know by now -- she'd left the appropriate papers hidden in her cubby before Flattery reduced her to a convoluted lump of pink tissue. It had been her last act of sentimentality. "Your body betrays you," Flattery growled that last day. "You've had a child. Where is it?" "I gave it up," she said. "You know how I am about my work. I have no time for anything but the kelp. A child . . . well, it was only a temporary inconvenience." It was the kind of argument that Flattery would make, and he bought it. He never seemed to suspect that the child was his. Their liaison had been brief enough and long enough ago that Flattery seemed not to remember it at all. He had made no further reference to it after she left his cubby for the last time more than twenty years back. He only grunted his acknowledgment, probably thinking that the child was the product of a recent indiscretion. He could not deny her passion for her work in the kelp. Only Dwarf MacIntosh shared her passion for delving into this mysterious near-consciousness that filled Pandora's seas. I should have kept him with me in the kelp, she thought. Now he's become what I'd most feared and I've lost his presence, too. In her present state, the OMC Alyssa Marsh dwelt often on that birth and those few precious moments her child had been with her. He had stopped crying immediately after birth, happy to watch the Natali as they cleaned up his mother and the room. He had a full head of black hair and seemed fully alert right from the start. "He was a month overdue," the midwife said. "Looks like he wasn't wasting his time in there." After a few minutes she handed him to the couple who would give him their name. Frederick and Kazimira Brood had visited her weekly for the past few months, and they had made full arrangements for his care. It would cost Alyssa dearly, but she wanted him to have the best of chances. Flattery was determined to turn Kalaloch into a real city, the center of Pandoran thought and commerce. He had hired the young Broods -- an architect and a social geographer -- to build the security warehouses and garrisons for his troops. There was talk at the time that they might get the university contract. Who could have foreseen the changes in Pandora, the changes in Flattery then? I could, she thought. I thought development of the kelp as an ally more important than raising my son. If she had had her body with her, she would have let out a long, slow breath to relieve the tension that would have been brewing in her belly. She had neither belly nor breath and her reason now was relatively free of emotion. I did the right thing, she thought. In the grand scheme of humankind, I did the right thing. Even if they, with minds overcome by greed, see no evil in the destruction of a family, see no sin in the treachery to friends, shall we not, who see the evil of destruction, shall we not refrain from this terrible deed? -- from Zavatan Conversations with the Avata, Queets Twisp, elder Flutterby Bodeen unrolled her precious bolt of stolen muslin across the dusty attic deck. Her three young schoolmates clapped in their excitement. "You did it!" Jaka cheered. He was twelve, lanky, and the only boy. His father, like Flutterby's, worked down under at the Shuttle Launch Site, or SLS. His mother also worked at Merman Hyperconductor, so their family received nearly double the usual scrip at The Line. "Shhh!" Flutterby warned them. "We don't want them finding us now. Leet, did you get the paints?" Leet, at eleven the youngest of the four, pulled four thick tubes from under her bulky cotton blouse. "Here," she said, without looking up, "I couldn't get black." "Green!" Jaka blew out an impatient breath. "You want them to think we're Shadows? You know they all use green . . ." "Shush!" Dana emphasized her point with a finger at her lips and an exaggerated scowl. "Maybe we are Shadows now, did you ever think of that? They'll treat us the same if we're caught, you know." "OK, OK," Flutterby interrupted. "We're not going to get caught unless we're here all day. Dana, Jaka, we're supposed to be practicing our music, so you two play awhile. Leet and I will each make a banner, then we'll play so you can do two." "Security's all over the street this morning," Dana warned. "It's because of Crista Galli. Maybe they think she's around here, somewhere . . ." "Maybe she is around here . . ." "We should have a lookout . . ." "They won't come in while wots are practicing," Flutterby said, and put her hand up to quiet the others. "Who wants to have anything to do with music lessons? Besides," she sniffed, and her chin raised a fraction, "my brother's a security. I know how they think." "Yeah, and he's up in Victoria," Dana said. "They think different up there. You know they split them up so if they shoot somebody it won't be family." "That's not true!" Flutterby said. "They just don't want them working the same district as their family because -- because --" "They're going to walk in here if we don't get busy," Jaka interrupted. His voice was changing, and he tried to make it sound authoritative. Jaka lived at the edge of Kalaloch's largest refugee camp. He was more fearful than the others of the immediacy of hunger and the reprisals of security. At twelve, he had already seen enough death from both. He uncased his well-worn flute and snapped the sections together. Dana shrugged, sighed and uncased her caracol. Its new strings glistened in a stray sliver of sunlight. The swirled black back of its huge shell shone with the polish of four generations of fingers. "Give me an A," she said. Jaka obliged, and as they proceeded to tune the caracol the other two youngsters tore the cloth into four equal lengths of about three meters each. "Has your brother ever killed anybody?" Leet whispered. "Of course not," Flutterby said. She smoothed out the wrinkles in their cloth without meeting the other girl's eyes. "He's not like that. You've met him." "Yeah," Leet said. Her brown eyes brightened and she giggled. "He's so cute." Flutterby found that she got her banner lettered with less than half a tube of green. It was dark green and would be nearly as visible as black. The large block letters read, "WE'RE HUNGRY NOW!" It had become the rallying cry of the refugees, but she'd heard it mumbled everywhere lately. As scarcity spread and rations declined, Flutterby had even heard it whispered in The Line. The Line, where everyone stood for hours to get into the food distribution centers, was where she chose to hang her banner. Leet's would go over their school, which faced the concrete-and-plasteel offices of Merman Mercantile. Jaka wanted to smuggle his into Merman Hyperconductor, and Dana said she'd hang hers from the ferry dock, within easy view of Holovision's offices on the pier. Dana ran up and down the scales a few times, then she and Jaka played a fast, lilting dance piece they'd practiced at school. Flutterby thought it the best her friend had ever played. Jaka struggled, as usual, but diligently played on. "Do you think the Shadows kidnapped Crista Galli?" Leet asked. The bulky tube was difficult for her to handle, and she was going over her letters twice to make them bold enough to be read at a distance. "I don't know," Flutterby said. "I don't know what to believe anymore. My mother grew up on Vashon, and she says that Crista Galli is some kind of god or something. My dad says she's just another freak." "Your mother?" "No," Flutterby giggled, "Crista Galli, you stoop. He says that the only way to feed the world is to keep control of the currents, and that if Crista Galli helps control the kelp then the Director is right to make sure she doesn't get away, or turn it against us. What do your parents think?" Leet frowned. "They don't say much of anything, anymore," she said. "They're both working all the time, every day. Mom says she's too tired to hear herself think. My dad won't even watch the news anymore. He doesn't say anything, just bites his lip and goes to bed. I think they're afraid . . ." An explosion in the harbor startled them both. Dana set her caracol on the deck with a thump. "That was close," she said. Dana had a lisp that came out when she was nervous, and it slipped out now. The four of them crowded the tiny plaz porthole at the far end of the attic. A smudge of black smoke blotted the sky to their right at the end of the street. Looking up the street to the left, Flutterby watched the giant cup on the Ace of Cups sign swing to and fro from the concussion. The street was packed with morning commuters and vendors at their little tables. Flutterby heard a gasp from Dana, and looked where she pointed, straight beneath them. "Security!" she whispered. "He's covering the hatch. They must already be inside!" "We've got to hide this stuff," Jaka said, his whisper cracking into its high range. "If they find this, they'll kill us." "Or worse," Dana muttered. They scrambled to gather up the paints and to roll up the two wet banners, but it was too late. The flimsy hatch burst aside as a fat, no-neck security kicked it in. Another, nearly identical to him, slipped inside and waited with his back to the wall. "Look here," he said, straightening the banners with the muzzle of his weapon. "A little nest of flatwings, no?" Without waiting for a reply he snapped two bursts from his lasgun. Jaka and Leet dropped to the deck, dead. Flutterby wanted to scream, but she couldn't catch her breath. "They're wots," his partner said. "What did you . . . ?" "Maggots make flies," the other said. "We have orders." The muzzle came up again and Flutterby didn't even see the flash that killed her. Mankind owns four things that are no good at sea: rudder, anchor, oars and the fear of going down. -- Antonio Machado Ben undogged the hatch and Rico LaPush rushed inside. Rico nodded once to the girl, who looked ghastly pale, and handed Ben the pocket messenger. Most of the briefing on it was already outdated, but Ben would want to hear it, anyway. Rico was careful to keep from touching the girl. "Ready?" he asked. "Ready," Ben said. "Yes," said the girl. Rico scratched his chin stubble and adjusted the lasgun in the back of his pants. He had been with Ben since Guemes island was sunk, more years than Crista Galli had been alive. His mistrust of people had kept them alive more than once, and he did not intend to let his guard down with Her Holiness. "Deja vu," he said to Ben, nodding at her Islander dress. "She reminds me of the old days, when things were simply tough. The streets are crawling with security, she'll need a good act . . ." "You can speak to me," Crista interrupted, her cheeks flushed with a run of anger. "I have ears to hear, mouth to answer. This sister is not a chairdog, nor a glass of water on her brother's table." Rico had to muster a smile. Her Islander accent was perfect, her phrasing perfect. She was a very quick study -- of course, she had more intimate ways of getting inside people's heads . . . "Thank you for the lesson, sister," he said. "You are most cheerfully dressed, my compliments." Rico noted Ben's smile, and the fact that his partner's gaze never wavered from Crista Galli's perfect face. Rico's cameras had taped the faces of many beautiful women for Holovision and he had to admit that everything he'd heard about Crista Galli was true. When Ben became a reporter, Rico LaPush signed on as a field triangulator with the holography crew. A well-placed lie got him the job, but his facility for learning kept it. He had filmed more pomp and more horror in any given year than most cameramen witnessed in a lifetime. She's pale, but beautiful, he thought. Maybe the sun will give her some color. Operations said to keep her out of the sun, but Rico thought that, given their recent bad luck, this would be impossible. Operations, whoever they were, didn't have their butts on the line. "We'll be walking for a while," Rico told them. "Don't hurry." He nodded at the messenger in Ben's hand. "Don't bother," he said. "You might as well shitcan that thing. They tell us we're going by air but the airstrip's already locked up by Flattery's boys. We'll have to do it by water." "But they said . . ." "I know what they said," Rico snapped. "They said the airstrip would be secure. They said keep her away from water. Let's move." Crista Galli carried a sadness about her that Rico didn't like. He could take fear, or anger, or even hysteria but sadness felt too much like bad luck. They'd started out with that. When she reached out a tentative hand toward Ben, Rico stopped her with a word. "No," he said. "I'm sorry. I can't let you touch him." "Your fear?" she shot back, "or this 'Operations'? He is clothed." "My fear." She was hurt when Ben remained silent. Crista shrank back from him, and Rico slipped into the Guemes dialect that he'd set aside years ago. "Among Islanders, I am merely advising one of my sisters that she needs to recognize the depth of trust and love that the people have for her," he said, with a curt nod of his head. "They speak out to her when the speaking is painful." "And the fear?" Good! Rico thought. She won't be bullied. He continued to speak to her in the manner of the Guemes Islanders. "This sister apprises the brother well. Let the brother remind the sister that only the unknown is feared. Perhaps the sister will set this brother at ease, in time. Shall we begin?" She was quiet then, and Rico liked that about her. Whatever curse she carried, she carried it with grace. He had known Ben Ozette for twenty-five years. Rico had fallen in love with a dozen women during that time, but Ben had only fallen once. Rico remembered that Ben had looked at Beatriz Tatoosh the same way he now looked at Crista Galli. It's about time, he thought, and smiled to himself. Beatriz is tight with that guy MacIntosh. Ben needs somebody solid, too. Everybody knew that relationships within the industry had to be short-lived, and that families were impossible. With all of the travel and stress something, somewhere, had to give and it was usually the relationship. Rico had given up long ago and was currently seeing a redhead who worked full-time for Operations. "The harbor," Rico said as they started down the ramp. "It's a madhouse there and so far no security near the Flying Fish. Victoria's as secure as Victoria gets, so we'll head up there. Risky, but not so risky as this." They turned right, walking slowly down the pier, toward the crowd at dockside. Rico trailed slightly behind the couple, keeping buildings and hatchways close, and didn't speak. He nearly stumbled into the Galli girl several times as she stopped suddenly to stare at some of the shops and the relics of herself that were sold there. At each shop, she pulled the mantilla closer about her face. So, it's true, Rico thought. She doesn't know! He watched her reach out toward a tasteless vest in a glass case that bore the inscription: "Vest of Crista Galli, worn at age twelve. Not for sale." Also arranged about the case were various microscope slides with blood smears on them, a clipping of hair too obviously dark to be hers and several bits of cloth -- all with price tags, all claiming to come from "Her Holiness," Crista Galli. Above the case was scrawled a hand-lettered warning: "Extreme danger, do not touch. Safety packaging included with each sale." You'd think she'd never seen a dog before, he thought, watching her, or a chicken -- she sure went loony over those goddamn chickens. Rico dawdled close behind them and tried not to listen to their talk. He hadn't eaten since the previous morning and the charcoal spatter of hot food set his stomach rumbling. He was a little nervous, plenty could still go wrong. But the diversion had taken one patrol off their backs. If the boys are doing their jobs, we shouldn't see a security between here and the boat. Just as he thought it he knew better, but there was no calling the thought back and there was no calling back the two security guards rounding the corner ahead of them. Rico pressed a switch on the broadcast unit in his pocket. A third explosion went off near the harbor but neither guard took the bait. Rico sighed and adjusted the lasgun at the back of his waistband. It was an older model, short-range. He remembered thinking, as the two guards veered across the street toward them, how difficult it had become to buy spare charges. Ben and Crista saw the security and slowed to a stop. Commuters and street vendors pressed past them in waves. Rico stopped, too, a few paces behind them and in front of a deep hatchway. With the new explosion there was a renewed flurry among those crowding toward the harbor, and Rico was not happy that Ben had stopped. Both of the men approaching wore the khaki fatigues of the Vashon Security Forces, rank four. They were both burly, armed only with stunsticks, nearly normal but with the creased ears and fat lower lips betraying certain internal defects typical of Lummi Islanders. Just as Rico's hand clutched the grips of his lasgun, Crista Galli stepped forward, exaggerating the rolling walk of the heavily pregnant. She spoke, her hand upraised and head tilted in the Guemes fashion of greeting. "Brothers," she said, "this mother cannot find a rest station and she is in great need." This she delivered matter-of-factly, and turned her palm up. Though the guards were obviously jumpy, the response was automatic. "Up two streets, one street left. The shops --" The other security gave his partner a shove and interrupted: "This could be the start of a Shadow attack . . . let's move! Sister, get out of the street. You two," he pointed to Ben and Rico, "get her inside someplace and lay low." The two guards huffed toward their station at the harbor and Rico let out the breath he'd been holding in a low whistle. It was a coded whistle, from their childhood days, that any Islander wot would recognize as "all clear." "You sure made Rico happy," Ben said, grinning. "Got it all on tape, too," Rico said. He tapped a tiny lens at his shirtfront. "It'll look great in your memoirs." He nodded at Crista. "Good job thinking, helluva good job acting." He rechecked the charges in the camera at his belt and buffed the lapel lens with his sleeve. The lens looked like a small pin made of a glossy gray stone. "Shouldn't we get out of here?" Crista asked. "You heard what he said, the Shadows --" "Are us," Rico interrupted in a whisper, "and there will be no attack. The villagers might bust loose, though. Things are pretty hot. The Flying Fish is down there." He pointed out the "Pier Four" sign just ahead. One of the huge cross-bay ferries had surfaced dockside, unwilling to risk explosive damage in the comparatively shallow waters of the bay. Foot passengers from all over Pandora streamed out of the rear hatch, while two- and three-wheeled vehicles crowded the roadway. The morning dust changed to mud under all the feet and hosewater, and mud splashed up from wheels to stain the hems of fine Islander embroidery. Islanders even dressed up to go to market. About half of the crowd that elbowed back down the pier wore the plastic ID tag around their necks that marked them as Project Voidship employees. Whatever they did, they did it for Flattery's paycheck. This was a huge village, huge enough to strain the bonds of family, and today many of the dockside vendors threw catcalls and curses after the workers from the shuttle launch site. The pier itself was a bridge between two subway mouths -- one from the village to the pier, and another that loaded onto the submarine ferry. Vendors crowded the station entrances, selling tubes of suntan lotion, sodas, dried fruits. Here the smell of charcoal and the spatter of grilled fish were drowned out in the babble of the crowds. Suddenly, one of Rico's greatest fears was made real. An Islander refugee, carrying a placard and wet to the skin from a firehosing, rushed down the crowded pier and attacked one of the commuters. They both fell in a tumble and, out of reflex as much as anger, the knot of commuters began kicking at him. Several dozen refugees tried in their weak way to free him, then to fight back, but within a matter of blinks they were all set upon and beaten. Rico and Ben closed tight on Crista Galli and Rico looked for a way down the pier. Screams of anger turned to grunts of pain all around them. Bodies splashed into the bay and the hot morning was filled with curses and the wet red smack of fists on skin. Crista kept her arms folded in front of her and her hands in her sleeves, like many of the old Islander women. She seemed locked in position with her hand out, like a figure from a wot's game of freeze-tag. As they worked through the crowd she stumbled on the Islander's battered placard and Rico saw that it read, "Give a Brother a Break!" A splintering sound and the wail of bent bracing came from behind them, then screams of fear. Rico saw, over his shoulder, that a portion of the pier had given way and hundreds of people spilled into the water. That might cool things for now, he thought, but not for long. "Walk slower," Rico said at Crista Galli's ear. "You're tired and pregnant and haven't eaten since last night." He knew that the last was true. He thought of all the meals he'd missed as a wot, wondered when was the last time Crista Galli or the Director had missed a meal. He and Ben missed plenty working the news business, but that was different. When Rico was a wot, he hadn't chosen to go hungry. He scanned the beach where it broke out from the Islander settlement on the coast and flattened to a grassy plateau at the village perimeter. Security gathered there in their black personnel carriers, waiting for the crowd to tire before it was their turn to work them over. A bloody frenzy this close to the perimeter, and relatively open to beach and bay, might bring in dashers. The sight of a hunt of dashers would disperse the crowd, then security could take down the dashers and hardly wrinkle a crease in their fatigues. Rico's visual and electronic sweep of the area detected no signs of security on the pier itself. He had nothing that would detect the high-power listening devices that the Director favored lately. Crista stared straight ahead as they walked, eyes widely dilated, and Ben took her elbow. "Tell them before we go that they are all one. Make them understand that they are all the same being and if they cut off their arms and legs they'll die . . ." Ben gripped her elbow and gave it a shake. Rico saw her eyes as she turned to face him. They went from wild, wide and unfocused to normal. Rico noted that Ben was careful and didn't touch her skin. "We're going to Port Hope," he lied, talking quickly as they walked. "The lake there is beautiful this time of year, and even with the altitude you will find it warm at night. The older Islands are too vulnerable. We have strong loyalties among the Mermen but you can't move freely in their settlements down under. Our immediate danger is security. The Director's got spotter planes up all along the coast, particularly near the Preserve. Of course, there are his Skyhawks. At sea we are vulnerable to the kelp," he paused, and when Crista looked his way he nodded, then continued, "and the Director's new fleet of foils, some of which he conveniently sold to Vashon security. Of course, we also have his spies among us." Rico was relieved. What Ben had said was for the benefit of listening devices, not for Crista Galli. He was sure, by her blank stare, that she had not understood a word. She shuffled on through the shouts and cries along Pier Four as though she heard nothing. Rico saw that there were more boats burning now, maybe a dozen, and firefighters were trying to push them away from the others. One of the Vashon Security Forces power foils steamed full-tilt toward the blaze from the Preserve side of the water. The Flying Fish, Holovision's private foil, was within sight at the end of the slip. Rico felt the tease of adrenaline in his belly. He hoped that Operations had briefed Elvira, pilot of the Flying Fish. She didn't much care for sudden changes of plans, and she really didn't like encounters with Vashon Security. Elvira was the toughest pilot that Holovision had ever hired. No one inconvenienced Elvira. To Rico's knowledge she had no politics, no hobbies, no friends and no religious convictions whatsoever. Her sole passion was to pilot the hottest hydrogen-ram foil in the world as often and as fast as possible. In surface mode she was highly competent; in undersea mode or flight she had no equal in the world. She had flown Ben and Rico in and out of more hot assignments than he could count. This would undoubtedly be the hottest. Ben caught Rico's gaze and raised a quizzical eyebrow, nodding toward the girl. Rico scratched his two-day beard. Crista turned to stare past him at the crowd that now had worked its way up the pier, gathering bodies and momentum, and was now fanning out into the streets of Kalaloch. Everyone who was to remember this event recalled that the morning air split with a crack like summer thunder, or a whip. No echo, not a breath of breeze. Even a cluster of fussing children nearby silenced themselves in their mother's skirts. Rico touched a fingertip to each of his ears, acutely conscious of the scratchings at each contour, each follicle and fold. If a shock wave had hit his ears, they'd still be ringing. She did that in my . . . in our minds! Crista felt the sudden clap of stillness crack with her anger. She was glad that Ben and Rico were the first to recover, though what she saw in their eyes was clearly fear. The mob had stopped, momentarily stunned and looking about for a weapon, then it boiled anew at the onslaught of the truckloads of Vashon Security that came to meet it. Crista spun away from them and boarded the Flying Fish, still affecting the wide-beamed walk of the largely pregnant. She stood on the deck, beside the cabin hatchway, hugging herself and looking out to sea. The children started fussing again, stunned villagers rubbed their ears and began to move. Rico noticed that the boat fires had spread to the pier itself and some of the shops. Both ferries at the slip had submerged, empty, for safety. Rico approached Crista at the rail while Ben cast off the lines. "This was coming for months," Rico said, "you could tell by the feel in the streets. They've had enough. It's too soon, and they're not organized. It will fail, for them. Some will be drawn out after us. Some, to the harbor. Others, to the attack that is inevitable inside the settlement. That will leave the Preserve weak . . ." "It's too well-protected," she said, her voice matter-of-fact. "They will fail." She fixed Rico with those striking green eyes. He noticed, once again, that they were dilated in spite of the sunlight. "I know how you felt now, back there, when you were so afraid of my touch." She smoothed the dress over her makeshift belly. "What I know of the Shadows and what you know of me are the same. I only know what Flattery told me. I don't know whether you should fear my touch. Do you know whether I should fear yours?" When he didn't answer she turned and shuffled into the cabin of the Holovision foil in silence. Evil is in the eye of the beholder. -- Spider Nevi, special assistant to the Director Lights had been suitably dimmed in the Director's holo suite, and one tight spotlight illuminated his face from below. This effect accentuated Flattery's height, nearly a head taller than the average Pandoran, and it added an imperiousness to his stature that pleased him. An empty holo cassette teetered across the red armrest of his favorite recliner. One fluorescent orange sticker on the cassette read "For Eyes Only," and under that was handwritten: "TD, S. Nevi only." Under that was stamped in black: "Extreme Penalty." Flattery smiled at the euphemism. At his direction, all those who violated the "Extreme Penalty" sanction became the homework of Spider Nevi's apprentice interrogators. Messy business, security. "Mr. Nevi," he acknowledged, with a nod. "Mr. Director." As usual, Spider Nevi's face was unreadable, even to Flattery's expert training as a Chaplain/Psychiatrist. Nevi had been prompt, unhurried, arriving in a snappy gray cut of a Merman lounging suit right at the first blood of dawn. "Zentz hasn't found them," Flattery said. His voice was clipped, betraying more anger than he wished. "It was Zentz who lost them," Nevi countered. Flattery grunted. He hadn't needed the reminder, especially from Nevi. "You find them," he said, and jabbed a finger at the air between them. "Bring back the girl, wring what you can from the others. Save Ozette for a special occasion. He's at the bottom of this Shadowbox and they've got to be shut down now." Nevi nodded, and the agreement was struck. Bounty would be worked out later, as usual. Nevi's terms were always reasonable, even on difficult matters, because he liked his work. His was the kind of work that might go unpracticed if it weren't for the Director. Every art has its canvas. Flattery thought. "The airstrip is secure," Nevi said. "There were preparations for them there, including a half-dozen collaborators, so we have cut them off. Solid intelligence. Zentz's men are turning the usual screws in the village. They will be forced to move the girl soon. Overland is out, that would be insane. It would have to be by water, and under diversion to get out of here. My guess would be Victoria. It would pay to wait and make as big a sweep as possible, don't you think?" "You have the docks under watch?" "Of course. The Holovision foil is bugged, a precaution. Your sensor system is now keyed into it." Nevi glanced at the clock on Flattery's console. "You should be able to tune them in just about any time." Flattery shifted slightly in his command couch, betraying his uneasiness at this loss of control. Nevi was second-guessing his moves, and he didn't like it. "Well," Flattery said, splitting his face with a smile, "this is magnificent! We will have them all -- and you will be rewarded for this. Zentz grumbles that you steal away his best men but, dammit, you get the job done." He slapped his palm on the tabletop and held the smile. Spider Nevi's expression did not change, and he said nothing. His only response was the barest perceptible nod of his horrible head. The shape of it was more or less normal, except for the mucous slit where the nose should be. Nevi's dark skin was shot through with a glowing web work of red veins. His dark eyes glittered, missed nothing. "What do you want done with the Tatoosh woman?" Flattery felt his smile droop, and he tried to pick it up a bit. "Beatriz Tatoosh is very helpful to us," Flattery said. "She has a passion for the Voidship project that we could not buy." He raised his hand to stop Nevi's interruption. "I know what you're thinking -- that little tryst between her and Ozette. That's been over for over a year --" "It wasn't a 'little tryst,'" Nevi interrupted. "It lasted years. They were wounded together at the miners' rebellion two years ago --" "I know women," Flattery hissed, "and she will hate him for this. Running away with a younger woman . . . sabotaging Holovision and the Voidship. Didn't she do the broadcast as written last night?" A nod from Nevi, and silence. "She knows as well as we do that mentioning Ozette as party to this abduction would lend it a popularity and a credence that we cannot afford. It is over between them, and as soon as he's back in our hands everything will be over for Ben Ozette. The Tatoosh woman will be aboard the orbital assembly station this afternoon and out of our hair." At Nevi's continued silence, Flattery rubbed his hands together briskly. "Now," he said, "let me show you how I've kept the kelp pruned back for the last couple of years. You know how the people resist this, it always takes a disaster to get them to go along with it. Well, the kelp's will was breached long ago by our lab at Orcas. Too complex to explain, but suffice it to say it is not merely a matter of mechanical control -- diverting currents and the like. Thanks to the neurotoxin research we tapped into its emotions. Remember that stand of kelp off Lilliwaup, the one that hid the Shadow commando team?" Nevi nodded. "I remember. You told Zentz 'Hands off.'" "That's right," Flattery said. He drew himself upright in his recliner and snapped the backrest up to meet him. He keyed the holo and automatically the lights dimmed further. Between the two men, in the center of the room, appeared in miniature several monitor views of a Merman undersea outpost, a kelp station at the edge of a midgrowth stand. Kelp lights flickered from the depths beyond the outpost. The kelp station had been built atop the remnants of an old Oracle. Oracles, as the Pandorans called them, were those points where the kelp rooted into the crust of the planet itself. Because of the incredible depth of these three-hundred-year-old roots, and because the Mermen of old planted them in straight lines, Pandora's crust often fractured along root lines. It was such a series of fractures that had given birth to Pandora's new continents and rocky island chains. Flattery's private garden, "the Greens," lay underground in a cavern that had once been an Oracle. Flattery had had his people burn out the three-hundred-meter-thick root to accommodate his landscaping plans. Three views clarified on the holo stage in front of the two men: The first was of the inside of a kelp station, with a balding Merman fretting at his control console; the second, outside the station, from the kelp perimeter, focused on the station's main hatch; the third, also outside the station, took in the gray mass of kelp from the rear hatch. The Merman looked very, very nervous. "His children have been swimming in the kelp," Flattery said. "He is worried. Their airfish are due for replacement. All have been dutifully taking their antidote. The kelp, when treated with my new blend, shows an unhealthy attraction for the antidote." There were occasional glimpses of the children among the kelp fronds. They moved in the ultra-slow-motion of dreams, much slower than undersea movement dictated, considerably slower than the usual polliwog wriggle of children. The Merman activated a pulsing tone that shut itself off after a few blinks. "That's the third time he's sounded 'Assembly,'" Flattery said. Anticipation made it difficult for him to sit still. The Merman spoke to a female, dressed in a worksuit, wet from her day's labor of wiring up the kelp stand for Current Control. "Linna," he said, "I can't get them out of the kelp. Those airfish will be dry . . . what's happening out there?" She was thin and pale, much like her husband, but she appeared dreamy-eyed and unfocused. Most of those who worked the outposts did not wear their dive suits inside their living quarters. She worked the fringes of what the Mermen called "the Blue Sector." "Maybe it's the touch of it," she murmured. "The touch . . . special. You don't work in it, you don't know. Not slick and cold, like before. Now the kelp feels like, well . . ." She hesitated and even on the holo Flattery could detect a blush. "Like what?" the Merman asked. "I . . . lately it feels like you when it touches me." Her blush accented her crop of thick blonde hair. "Warm, kind of. And it makes me tingle inside. It makes my veins tingle." He grunted, squinted at her, and sighed. "Where are those wots?" He glanced out the plaz beside him into the dim depths beyond the compound. Flattery could detect no flicker of children swimming. He felt a niggling sense of glee at the Merman's growing apprehension. The Merman activated his console tone again and the proper systems check light winked on with it. His finger snapped the scanner screen. "They were just there," the man blurted. "This is crazy. I'm going code red." He unlocked the one button on the console that Flattery knew no outpost wanted to press: Code Red. That would notify Current Control in the Orbiter overhead and Communications Central at the nearest Merman base that the entire compound was in imminent danger. "You see?" Flattery said. "He's getting the idea." "I'm going out there," the man announced to his wife, "you stay put. Do you understand?" No answer. She sat, still dreamy-eyed, watching the fifty-meter-long fronds of blue kelp that reached her way from the perimeter. The Merman scooped an airfish out of the locker beside the hatch and buckled on a toolbelt. He grabbed up a long-handled laser pruner and a set of charges. As if on second thought, he picked up the whole basket of airfish, the Mermen's symbiotic gills that filtered oxygen from the sea directly into the bloodstream. Ghastly things, Flattery thought with a shudder. Unconsciously, he rubbed his neck where they were customarily attached. Once outside, the Merman's handlight barely illuminated the stand of kelp at the compound's edge. This holo had been made at the onset of evening, and the waning light above the scene coupled with the depth darkened the holo and made it difficult to see detail of the man's face -- a small disappointment for such a good chronicle of the test itself. As the Merman reached the compound's perimeter within range of the kelp's longest fronds, he whirled at the click-hiss of an opening hatch. His wife swam lazily out of it directly into deep kelp. The atmosphere from their station bubbled toward the surface in a rush. He must have realized then that everything was lost as he watched the sea rush into their quarters through the un-dogged hatch. All sensors went blank. Flattery switched off the holo and turned up the lights. Nevi sat unmoved with the same unreadable expression on his horrible face. "So the kelp lured them and ate them?" Nevi asked. "Exactly." "On command?" "On command -- my command." Flattery was pleased at the trace of a smile that flickered across Spider Nevi's lips. It must have been a luxury that he allowed himself for the moment. "We both know what will come of the hue and cry," the Director said, and puffed himself a little before continuing. "There will be a demand for vengeance. My men will be forced, by popular demand, to prune this stand back. You see how it's done?" "Very neat. I always thought . . ." "Yes," Flattery gloated, "so has everyone else. The kelp has been a very sensitive subject, as you know. Religious overtones and whatnot." Another dismissive wave of the hand. Flattery couldn't stop bragging. "I had to accomplish two things: I had to get control of Current Control, and I had to find the point at which the kelp became sentient. Not necessarily smart, just sentient. By the time it sends off those damned gasbags it's too late -- the only solution there is to stump the lot. We lost a lot of good kelpways for a lot of years that way." "So, what's the key?" "The lights," Flattery said. He pointed out his huge plaz port at the bed just off the tideline. "When the kelp starts to flicker, it's waking up. It's like an infant, then, and only knows what it's told. The language it speaks is chemical, electrical." "And you do the telling?" "Of course. First, keep it out of contact with any other kelp. That's a must. They educate each other by touch. Make sure the kelpways are always very wide between stands -- a kilometer or more. The damned stuff can learn from leaves torn off other stands. The effect dies out very quickly. A kilometer usually does it." "But how do you . . . teach it what you want?" "I don't teach. I manipulate. It's very old-fashioned, Mr. Nevi. Quite simply, beings gravitate toward pleasure, flee pain." "How does it respond to this kind of . . . betrayal?" Flattery smiled. "Ah, yes. Betrayal is your department, is it not? Well, once pruned and kept at the light-formation stage, it doesn't remember much. Studies show that it can remember if allowed to develop to the spore-casting stage. You have just seen what the answer is to that -- don't let it get that far. Also, studies show that this spore-dust can educate an ignorant stand." "I thought it was just a nuisance," Nevi said. "I didn't realize that you believed it could think." "Oh, very much so. You forget, Mr. Nevi, I'm a Chaplain/Psychiatrist. That I don't pray doesn't mean . . . well, any mind interests me. Anything that stands in my way interests me. This kelp does both." "Do you consider it a 'worthy adversary'?" Nevi smiled. "Not at all," Flattery barked a laugh, "not worthy, no. It'll have to show me more than I've seen before I consider this plant a 'worthy adversary.' It's merely an interesting problem, requiring interesting solutions." Nevi stood, and the crispness of his gray suit accentuated the fluidity of the muscles within it. "This is your business," Nevi told him. "Mine is Ozette and the girl." Flattery resisted the reflex to stand and waved a limp hand, affecting a nonchalance that he did not at all feel. "Of course, of course." He avoided Nevi's gaze by switching the holo back on. He keyed it to the Tatoosh woman's upcoming Newsbreak. She would accompany the next shuttle flight to the Orbiter, a shuttle that contained the Organic Mental Core for hookup to the Voidship. Already the OMC was an "it" in his mind, rather than the "she" who used to be Alyssa Marsh. Flattery seethed inside. He'd wanted something more from Nevi, something that now smelled distinctly of approval. He didn't like detecting weakness in himself, but he liked even less the notion of letting it pass unbridled. "Whatever you need . . ." Flattery left the obvious unsaid. Nevi left everything unsaid, nodded, and then left the suite. Flattery felt a profound sense of relief, then checked it. Relief meant that he'd begun to rely on Spider Nevi, when he knew full well that reliance on anyone meant a blade at the throat sooner or later. He did not intend for the throat to be his own. And out of the ground made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. -- Christian Book of the Dead A trail left the beach about a kilometer beyond the limits of the Preserve. It was a Zavatan trail, used by the faithful to transport their gleanings of the kelp from the beach to their warrens in the high reaches. Because it was a Zavatan trail it was well-kept and reasonably safe. Its rest spots were ample and afforded a sweeping vista of Flattery's huge Preserve. The jumbled, jerry-rigged tenements of Kalaloch sprawled from the downcoast side of the Preserve, covered today by a cloak of black smoke. Mazelike channels of aquafarms and jetties branched both up- and down-coast into the horizon. Distant screams and explosions echoed from the panorama below up the winding trail. Two Zavatan monks stopped to study the clamor rising from the settlement a few klicks away. One man was tall, lanky, with very long arms. The other was small even for a Pandoran, and moved in a scuttle that kept him tucked inside the larger man's shadow. Both were dressed in the loose, pajamalike gi of the Hylighter Lodge: durable cotton, dusky orange that represented the color of hylighters, their spirit guides. A gith of hylighters lazed overhead, drawn to the scene by their attraction for fire, lightning and the arc of lasguns from building to building. The hylighters dragged their ballast rocks from long tentacles and circled widely, audibly valving off hydrogen and snapping their great sails in the wind. Should they contact fire or spark, the hylighters would explode, scattering their fine blue spore-dust, which the monks gathered for their most private rituals. Many of the monks had not left the high reaches, except to walk this trail, for ten years. "It's a shame they don't understand," the younger monk mused. "If we could only teach them the letting go . . ." "Judgement, too, is an anchor," the elder warned. "It is Nothing that they need to know -- the No-thing that frees the mind from noise and perfects the senses." He lifted his mutant arms in a long skyward reach, then turned slowly, rejoicing in the morning glow of both suns. This elder monk, Twisp, loved the press of sunlight on his skin. He had been a fisherman and adventurer in his youth, and what drew him to the Zavatans was not so much their contemplative life as other possibilities that he saw in them. Like most of the monks, Twisp had been wooed by the romance of the new quiet earth that rose from the sea. They summarily rejected the petty squabblings of politics and money that raged across Pandora to establish an underground network of illegal farms and hideaways. Twisp, however, had remained entrenched in Pandora's civil struggles, something he troubled few of his fellow Zavatans about. Now, once again, all was changing, he was changing. He had more to offer Pandora than contemplation, though he refrained from telling the younger monk so. He was not religious, merely thoughtful, and he had made a good life among the Zavatans. It would pain him greatly to leave. Two hylighters tacked toward them and Mose, the younger monk, set down his bag and began his Chant of Fulfillment. With this chant he hoped to be swept skyward by the mass of tentacles and transported to a higher level of being. Twisp had experienced the hylighter enlightenment at the first awakening of the kelp a quarter century past. That was before Flattery's iron fist came down, and before the people he loved were killed. Hylighters, though born from the kelp, remained indifferent to humans, treating them as a wonderful curiosity. Mose's chant became more vigorous as the hylighters drew near, their magnificent sail membranes golden in the sunlight. "These two want their death today," Twisp said. "Do you really want to go with them?" It was the fire that attracted them, and Mose should know that. The younger monk had eaten too much kelp, too much hylighter spore-dust over the years. Two humans in the open near the Preserve usually meant armed security. Hylighters wanting the-death-that-meant-life learned how to draw their fire. Now the musty smell of their undersides filled the air. The musical flutings of their vents lilted on the breeze as they valved off hydrogen to drop closer. Mose's chant became more tremulous. Each hylighter carried ten tentacles in the underbelly, two of them longer than the rest. Usually these two carried rocks for ballast. Hylighters that felt the death need coming on sought out lightning, often gathering in giths to ride the afternoon thunderstorms. Sparks or fire attracted them as well, setting them off in a concussive blaze of flame and blue spore-dust. Some dragged their ballast rocks to spark a grand suicide, an ultimate orgasm. Twisp breathed easier when the two great hulks tacked back toward the Preserve. He interrupted Mose, whose eyes were closed and whose stubbled face was pale and sweaty. "This tack will take them into range of the Preserve's perimeter cannon," he said. "There will be dust to take back for the others." Mose silenced himself and followed Twisp's long pointing arm. The two hylighters tacked in tight formation, using all that they could capture of the slight breeze blowing up from the shore. "Flattery's security will wait to fire until the hylighters are over the settlement," Twisp whispered. "That way, the hylighters become a weapon. Watch." It was almost as he said. Either the cannoneer was a fool or one of the Islanders got in a clear shot, but the hylighters exploded over the Preserve in a double blast that took Twisp's breath away and stung his eyes with light. Much of the main compound aboveground was incinerated in the fireball and the great wall of the Preserve was breached for a hundred meters in either direction. A lull in the fighting brought his ears the cacophonous screams of the charred and the dying. It was a sound that Twisp remembered all too well. The young Mose came down this trail seldom and had been only twelve when he went to live in the high reaches. He did not have much of a life in the outside world, and knew little of the ways of human hatred and greed. "All we can do is stay out of it," Twisp muttered. "They will have at themselves and leave us in peace." The wet patter of hylighter shreds fell among the brush and rocks below them. There will be the refugees, too, he thought. Always the homeless and the hungry. Where will we put them this time? The Zavatans supported refugee camps all along the coastline, turning some into gardens, hydroponics ranches and fish farms. Twisp calculated that there were already more refugees both up- and downcoast than Flattery housed in Kalaloch. Though it was true everyone was hungry, only those in Kalaloch starved. This was the story he hoped Shadowbox would tell. In time, the Director will be the hungry one. Twisp remembered Guemes Island and the refugees of twenty-five years ago, hacked and burned and stacked like dead maki in a Merman rescue station down under. Twisp and a few friends hunted down the terrorists responsible, and a hylighter executed the leader. A Chaplain/Psychiatrist had been at the bottom of the trouble that time, too. Flattery had burrowed as much of his compound below the rock as above it, and Twisp knew of bolt-holes that led to escape routes along the shore. Flattery wouldn't need them this time. The older monk had seen fighting before, and knew Flattery's strategy: lure as many of the rebels inside as possible, then kill them all. Let them think, for a time, that they might win. Blame it on the Shadows. The rest, who lost everything but their lives, would not rise so easily to anger again. Mose pulled at his garment, straightening the folds. He faced away from the horror below. His eyes did not meet Twisp's, but focused in the middle distance beyond the trail. His were eyes sunken deeply for one so young, for one dwelling among the untroubled. He was attempting inner peace at breakneck speed. He shaved his head daily, customary these days with younger Zavatan monks and many nuns. Many ragged scars crisscrossed his scalp from his reconstruction surgery. Twisp was one of a handful of exceptions. His full head of long, graying hair was tied into a single braid at the back, mimicking the family style of an old friend, long dead. His friend, Shadow Panille, was said to have been of the blood lines that led to Crista Galli. "We should get the others," Mose said. "We'll need lasguns if we're going dust-gathering in the valley." Twisp shaded his eyes and surveyed the scene below. A blur that must be villagers spilled into the Preserve's compound. Running the other way, like fish fighting their way upcurrent, Flattery's precious cattle from the Preserve stampeded out the breached wall and into the unprotected valley. Security had kept the demon population at a minimum near the Preserve, but with the scent of blood thick on the air and cattle milling about loose dashers were sure to follow. Things were going to get nasty enough without a new hunt of hooded dashers slinking about. He grunted himself out of reverie. "Spore-dust goes bad," Twisp said. "If we're going to bring any back, we'll have to do it now." He and Mose stored the kelp fronds they'd collected in the shade of a white rock. Mose still did not look Twisp in the eye. "Are you afraid?" Twisp asked. "Of course!" Mose snapped back, "aren't you? We could be killed down there. Dashers will smell the . . . the . . ." "Just moments ago you wanted to die in the arms of that hylighter," Twisp said. "What's the difference? There are demons up here, too. You feel safe on the trail because we say the trail is safe. You know that some have died here in the past, others will die in the future. You stick to the trail, with no cover except these scrub bushes and the rock, no weapon but your body." Twisp pointed past the flames below them and out to sea. "Weather will kill you as dead as any demon, on or off the trail. It is a danger now, as dangerous as a dasher. It always stays alive, to kill another day. If dashers come, they will go to the blood, not to us. If anything, we are safest now. This is the present, and you are alive. Stay in the present, and you stay alive." With that he shouldered his empty bag and set out in long strides for the valley and the spore-dust below. Mose stumbled along behind him, his nervous eyes too busy hunting fears to watch the trail. To think of a power means not only to use it, but above all to abuse it. -- Gaston Bachelard, The Psychoanalysis of Fire Two old vendors hunched in a hatchway, protecting themselves and their wares from the jostlings of a mob that muscled its way toward the Preserve. One munched a smashed cake, the other nursed a bleeding nose against his sleeve. "Animals!" Torvin spat, and a fine spray of blood came with it. "Is there anyone left who is not an animal? Except you, my friend. You are a human being." His free hand patted the other's shoulder and found a large rip in the fabric of the older man's coat. "Look, David, your coat . . ." David brushed crumbs from his chin and pulled the shoulder of his coat across his chest, closer to his good eye. "It will mend," he said. "And the mob is passing. If there are dead, my friend, we should get their cards for the poor." "I'm not going out there." Torvin's voice was muffled by his sleeve, but David knew he was firm on that point. It was just as well. His eyes were bad, and his feet not quick enough to outrun the security. It was a shame when the security got the cards. They sold them, or traded them. Every day Torvin and David risked their lives to give a bit of stale cake or a rind of dried fruit to a hungry one without a card. David shook his head. What foolishness! He worked beside Torvin, they were friends, yet he could not trade him a cake for a dried fruit. He had to have a marker on his card for the fruit, and Torvin would have to punch it out, and then he could have it. If Torvin didn't have a pastry marker on his card, David could not give him a cake. For Torvin to possess a cake without a proper punched card would mean losing his next turn in The Line. Under the best of conditions, he would not have expected a turn for at least a week. Under the worst conditions, he could starve with a fistful of coupons. "This is craziness!" he told Torvin. "It is well I am old and ready to die, because the world makes no sense to me. Our children run about killing each other. It is permissible to have food on one table but not another. We have a leader who takes food from the mouths of babies so he can travel to the stars -- good riddance, I say. But what will he leave behind? His bullies, who are also our children. Torvin, explain this to me." "Bah!" Torvin's faded blue sleeve was crusted with blood but the bleeding on his nose had stopped. David could tell by the way he said "Bah!" that the nose was stopped up. He remembered that time the security slapped him, the fragrant burst of blood in his nose. "Thinking will get you into trouble," he heard Torvin warning him. "We are better off to keep quiet, dry our allowance of fruit, bake our allowance of cakes and be thankful that our families have something to eat." "Be thankful?" David wheezed one of his silent laughs. "You are no youngster, Torvin. Who taught you to be thankful to eat when someone across the wall has nothing? There is no greater sin, my friend, than to eat a full meal when your neighbor has none." "We give cards to the poor . . ." "Graverobbers!" David hissed. "That's what they've made us. Graverobbers who can be shot for throwing scraps to the hungry. This is craziness, Torvin, such craziness that this mob is making sense to me. Burn it all and start over. They are hungry now . . ." "Those . . . animals who beat me, they are not hungry. They have cards. They work down under and we see them here daily. Where do they get off chanting 'We're hungry now' when --" "Listen, Torvin, to me an old man now gone crazy. Listen. We are old, you and I. You, not so old. Would you have given them something if you could?" Torvin stuck his head out the hatchway, looked up and down the street, then hunched back inside. "Of course. You know me, I'm not a greedy man. I have done such a thing." "Well, listen to me, old man. The mob we saw, yes, they have cards. Yes, they bring a little food home -- for a family of four. If there are six, eight, ten then the card still only feeds a family of four." "No one argues with that," Torvin said. "We can't breed ourselves out of --" "When you or I get too old and have to live with our children, Ship forbid, that will be one more on a card of four. Take in a refugee who has no card, my friend. Yes, that makes it six on a card of four and the average of people who have cards is eight. "The ones without cards, the stinking ones who are dying at the settlement's edge begging for food, begging for work, sleeping in the mud -- they cannot run through the streets themselves to shout 'We're hungry now,' because they can barely stand. We give crumbs from our guilt, from our shame. This mob gives their bodies, their voices to the hungry. They give whatever they have." David leaned heavily on his folded table and got to his feet. The mob had moved on quickly. Had his body allowed, he might have followed them. He watched Torvin test his nose gingerly with his fingertips. "I am afraid, David, of people like that. They might have killed us. It could have happened." Torvin sounded as if he had corks in his nose. David shrugged. "They are afraid, too, because only the card gives them a place in The Line, and then only when their turns come around. Without a card, how long before you or I wake up in the mud downcoast? How many nights, Torvin, could you sleep in the mud and still wake in the morning?" Torvin tested the bridge of his nose again, wincing. "I don't like this, David. I don't like getting beat up . . ." "Such drama," David said. "The man was pushed in here. You were hiding under your table and the corner hit your nose. That is not a beating. The Poet, over there, now that man took a beating." David's nod indicated a dark shape pacing the hatchway across from them. The street was nearly clear, only a few stragglers scurried about, dodging the stunsticks of security. The Line to the warehouse was reforming already as the bravest, or the hungriest, came out of hiding. Only one adult and one child of a card could wait in line, so the chore usually fell to the strongest unemployed member. Whoever did the shopping might have to carry out a two weeks' supply of foodstuffs for eight people or more. Security protection was good in The Line, but spotty elsewhere, so there were actually two lines, one on one side of the street going in and one on the other going out. Licensed vendors like David and Torvin worked The Line, selling to those who were afraid they wouldn't get inside today, or who wanted a little something different to take home to the wots. The man they called "the Poet" across the way worked his way up and down The Line each day, babbling of Ship and the return of Ship. He was careful not to speak against Flattery's Voidship project. He had done that once, and come back a broken man. The Poet had not stood upright since, but walked in a shuffle, bent nearly double at the waist. David could hear him now, shouting after the tail-end of the mob: "I have been to the mountaintop! Let freedom ring!" "That one?" Torvin snorted, and started his nose bleeding again. "That one has been into the spore-dust once too often." David smiled at his friend. He and Torvin were nearly the same age, in their sixties, but he hadn't known Torvin long. There was much he had never told him. "I was taken once," David whispered. "A security wanted cakes without a marker and I wouldn't give them to him. I knew if I did he would be back every day. He bullied me. I would rather give them to the poor, so I did a foolish thing. I threw them into The Line, and there was a scramble. Well, I knew I would be arrested, but I forgot about the others. They rounded up everyone who had a cake without a punch on the card and took them in." Torvin's face paled. "My friend, I didn't know . . . what did they do to you?" "They took me to a shed that had cubicles in it, separated by curtains. In each one they were doing something to someone. The screams were terrible, and the smell . . ." David took a deep breath and let it out slow. The Poet was still gesturing and railing from his hatchway. "He was there, in the cubicle next to me. He was an important man from down under who was the director of all of Holovision. Flattery had taken over -- I didn't know that -- and this man had commented on the air that Flattery wanted to brainwash the world." "A brave man," Torvin said. He appraised the Poet in a new light. "A fool," David said. "He would've been better off to find a way to fight inside, or hidden out to do something like those Shadowbox people are doing. He must've known what would happen." David dusted off his threadbare trousers, put on his cap and leaned against the hatchway, his gaze very distant and his voice low. "Well, I'll tell you what happened to him. They put him in a metal barrel, bent over double, and tied a block of concrete to his testicles. There was no floor in the barrel, so he could move it around by shuffling, but he had to keep bent over, and his knees bent down, to keep the weight off his testicles. His hands were tied behind his back, and throughout the day they would beat the sides of the barrel with those sticks they carry. "They seldom fed him, but when they did he had to take food and water from the floor, bent over like that, an animal inside the barrel. He was a learned man. I never heard him curse. He only prayed. He prayed to every god I've heard of, and many that I don't know. They made him crazy to discredit him -- who would believe a madman? Particularly a madman who eats bugs and scraps and sometimes dirt to stay alive." Torvin was quiet for many blinks, digesting what his friend had told him. The Poet continued his rant, and the few security patrolling nearby ignored him. "My friend," Torvin said, "what did they . . . were you . . . ?" "They beat me," David said. "It was nothing. I was in and out in a day for being insubordinate. I don't think the captain cared much for the security guard who charged me. At any rate, he was never seen on this street again. Look, now. It is clear, and we should go sell what we can. I want to get home and check on my Annie. She worries about me in times like this." Both men strapped on their little folding tables that fit around their waists and hurriedly neatened their wares. As they stepped into the muddy street Torvin heard the Poet's hoarse voice exhort him, "Brother, brother, let freedom ring!" Remember that I have power; you believe yourself miserable, but I can make you so wretched that the light of day will be hateful to you. You are my creator, but I am your master. -- Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, Vashon Literature Repository Spider Nevi watched Rico pull the gangway up and onto the deck of the Flying Fish, then he manipulated the sensor for a close view of Rico's back as he turned away. "Lasgun there," Nevi said, and tapped a finger against the screen. "Belt, middle of the back. Carries himself like a fighter." Nevi never once glanced at the security officer watching the screen at his side. As the Flying Fish departed moorage he switched to another sensor at the mouth of the harbor, one that confirmed Crista Galli's presence on board. At Nevi's command, the sensor zoomed in on the cabin of the passing foil, revealing LaPush in the copilot's seat and Crista Galli buckled in behind him. Ozette sat to her left, behind the pilot, and was speaking to her. Nevi recognized the pilot, Elvira, and cursed under his breath. "If your security launch tries an intercept, it will be outclassed," he said. "What then?" "There will be a show of force," Zentz said, "then a warning shot." "And then?" Zentz cleared his throat, stroked the swollen area near the middle of his face that functioned as a nose. "Shoot to disable." Nevi snorted at the ridiculousness of it. A laser cannon strike on a hydrogen-ram foil could ignite a fireball a thousand meters wide. He thought that a rather narrow definition of "disable." Zentz continued, flustered at Nevi's silence. "The Director declared a 'state of security' almost a year ago," he said. "You know the routine: mandatory interception and search of all vessels, except company ferries, that enter or leave Kalaloch; search of any air or ground craft entering or leaving the perimeter . . ." Nevi let Zentz go on with his tedious recital. Flattery's precious Preserve was his nest, and Nevi knew he would take no chances here. But Nevi was sure that any interception of the Flying Fish right now could easily be bungled into a disaster of the greatest proportions. Flattery had just called him to duty because Zentz had permitted such a bungle. "We want Shadowbox and Crista Galli," Nevi said. "To exterminate nerve runners you have to bum their nest. This foil, intact, will lead us there." Zentz, ramrod-stiff in his seat, cleared his dry throat and offered, "We suspect LaPush has been a Shadow commandant for about six years . . ." "Your crew is not to interfere with this vessel," Nevi ordered. He keyed in the security frequency on his console. "You can give the order right here." He flipped a switch and looked Zentz in the eyes. Zentz cleared his throat again, then leaned toward the microphone. "Zentz here. Thirty-four, disregard white class-three foil departing harbor." "Sir," a young voice came back, "by the Director's orders we're to seize any vessels sighted but not searched." Zentz paused, and in that pause Nevi enjoyed the exquisite dilemma that was now added to the Security Chiefs fatigue. There was only one way out, one way to satisfy the by-the-book greenhorn officer, one way to keep the Director at bay. "I searched it personally at dockside," Zentz said. "We know what's on board." Nevi switched off the connection, satisfied with the choice he'd made in Zentz. If it came right down to it, Zentz would be the perfect sacrifice in the holiest of games, survival. "Young officers haven't learned their priorities yet," Zentz said, forcing a smile. "They have only learned fear," Nevi said. "They mature when they understand greed." Zentz rubbed at the back of his thick neck, only half-listening. He had spent the entire night interrogating two of his best guards as an example to the rest, and now that Nevi had ordered Crista Galli out of his grasp it looked as if he was going to have to go through it all again. From the moment he'd freed the foil Zentz could feel a tightening at his collar that he didn't like -- it was a nooselike grip, unrelenting as baldness, cold. Nevi would be the death of him, this he was beginning to understand. With this came the understanding that there was nothing he could do about it, nowhere he could hide. The dasher coiled to spring, that was what Spider Nevi saw when Zentz met his gaze. "I am going to make you a hero," Nevi said. "I have a part for you to play. If we hand the Director Shadowbox we hand him back Pandora. The implications for you and me are obvious. You will, of course, prefer this to whatever the Director has in mind for you here?" Zentz did not clear his throat, he did not speak. He nodded once and his grotesque lump of a jaw quivered with what Nevi presumed was the clenching of his teeth. "It will be just you and I," Nevi said. "The more we can tell the Director about these vermin and their warrens, the happier he will be. You desperately need to make him happy." The white foil slipped under the bay's waves, keeping the burning wreckage between itself and the Vashon Security foil opposite. They would be suspicious of not being challenged during an alert, this Nevi knew, but he still had the advantage. They knew he was behind them, they didn't know how close. Nevi used the sensor system to pan the riot that was now in full bloom in Kalaloch. "They're working their way toward the Preserve," he noted. "Can your men handle this?" Zentz's wattles rose in indignation. "Security is my business, too, Mr. Nevi. I handle it my way. We will let them throw their tantrum and trash their nest, then we will slaughter them here at the wall. They must be made to be very sorry that they attack the Preserve. The damage they do to their streets will keep the survivors busy for a time." Nevi flipped off the sensors and stood, straightening his tight suit with a tug. "Secure one of Flattery's personal foils," Nevi snapped. "Full gear for two, plus a week's rations. See to it there's coffee. Meet me in the Preserve hangar in one-half hour." His eyebrows indicated dismissal and Zentz rose to leave. Nevi saw the seed of hope in Zentz's eyes, a seed that Nevi would nourish to a rich blossom and snip, when necessary, to make just the right bouquet for the Director. I consider the positions of kings and rulers as that of dust motes . . . I look upon the judgment of right and wrong as the serpentine dance of a dragon, and the rise and fall of beliefs as but traces left by the four seasons. -- Buddha Crista Galli reclined in a leather crew couch that smelled faintly of Rico. She gripped the armrests, eyes closed. Noise and the press of the crowd had always frightened her, at least since she had been blasted free of the kelp five years past. Memory of her life before that blast seemed hopelessly lost. The supple leather couch and roomy cabin muted the pierside clamor. The others had finished casting off and were returning to the cabin. A green circle flashed on the pilot's screen for each hatch they dogged behind them. Their pilot, a severe, sensuous woman in her mid-thirties, prepared the ballast tank pumps and other predive systems. She spoke the sequences aloud crisply as she completed her checkoff. "Taking on ballast." Three fuel tanks flared together from the fire at the center of the bay and Crista felt the concussions puff her lungs. A three-headed rage of fire boiled up from the waters off their bow, heeling the foil over in a lurch to starboard. Ben and Rico sealed off the cabin and strapped in. "Going down?" Rico asked, and laughed. The pilot didn't miss a beat. "No security challenge," she reported. "Twenty-meter level-off mandatory until clear of marker five-five-seven . . ." Since boarding the foil Crista had felt a calm such as she'd not known for several years, in spite of the madness outside. She felt something pull her toward the mouth of the harbor, to the open water beyond. Ben handed her a child's dessert stick from his pocket. "You'll need the energy," he said. "Once we're clear of the harbor we can raid the galley. Is the cabin air too dry for you?" "No," she shook her head, "it feels fine. Like my room at the Preserve." This was the cool, processed air that Crista had breathed for five years at the Preserve, free of the charcoal odors of the street braziers, the whiff of raw iodine from the beaches and scant wet blooms of upland slopes. It was air swept nearly clean of humanity -- the humanity that idolized Crista Galli, the humanity she had only known now for less than a single day. It was midmorning yet, second sun just clearing the horizon, and Crista felt the race of sunlight through her surging pulse. She was outside the Preserve now. Regardless of the circumstances, she intended never to go back, never to be a prisoner of walls again. Watch yourself, an ancient one inside her warned, that you don't become a prisoner of action, or words. And remember, when you make a choice you abandon freedom of choice. She'd had no choice in her appearance among humans, and Flattery had given her no choices since that time. She had been plucked from the vine of the kelp and dropped into Flattery's basket. Crista thought that if the people of Pandora thought her a god, it was time she acted like one. Now that the water had begun closing about the foil, she felt an energy surge her blood that she'd never felt before. What could she do that would help herself and these people who were still alien to her? Even Ben, though she felt a love for him, was a stranger. She had tried daily for five years, and could summon no memories of her earlier life. Everyone, everyone is a stranger. She'd had this thought before, but today it didn't surround her with the loneliness that it had in the past. She'd touched Ben Ozette, and seen that he, too, had these thoughts and he'd lived among humans for his whole life. This is what they could learn from the kelp, she mused. We are not alone because we are elements of one being. She listened as Rico muttered loudly to no one in particular. "Operations won't like it," he said. "Under no circumstances is she to be allowed near the sea. Of course, they're welcome to drop in here and give us a hand after they promised us the airstrip . . ." She could tell that Rico felt more comfortable in the foil. He had smiled, finally, and though he seemed to be complaining he was complaining with a smile. "Ever ride a foil?" Ben asked her. "Never," she said, her wide eyes trying to take in everything at once. "I've watched them from the Preserve. This one is beautiful." "Let me point out our three-way option," he said, and indicated certain diagrams on his control panel. "We are riding Pandora's finest vehicle on, above or under the sea. The hydrofoil mode is fast on the surface, but the foil struts clog up easily in thick kelp. Except in flight, these class-one foils use the old Bangasser converter to retrieve hydrogen from seawater, a virtually infinite source of fuel. If we go to the air, we have to remember that the fuel tanks do get empty." He glanced over at Elvira's indifference and shrugged. "We're going down under," he said. "Their lasgun's no good underwater. But this guarantees we'll be tracked, all the kelpways are heavily wired --" "It might be something bigger than Flattery doing the tracking," Rico interrupted. "Heads up, we're going down." He paused and, when there was no response from Ben, he assisted Elvira with the dive checkout. While they busied themselves with tasks at their consoles, Crista watched the water close over the cabin. Ironically, it was probably Flattery who best understood her life among the kelp. In his hybernation, Flattery had lain nearly lifeless, his vitals monitored and maintained by several devices on and inside his body. According to Flattery's lab people, Crista Galli had lived in symbiosis with the kelp, a hundred million kelp cilia inside her, breathing for her, feeding her. They claimed that these tiny projections supported her for her first twenty years, until Flattery had this stand of kelp blown up, lobotomized to the needs of Current Control. "It's like being an embryo until you're twenty," she'd told Ben. "There's no other way I can explain it. You don't eat, breathe, or move around much. The only people you meet are in the dreams that Avata brings. Now I don't know what was dream and what was me, it's all confused. There was no me until . . . until that day. But Flattery knows something of how this feels. So does that Dwarf MacIntosh, and that brain that Flattery's hooking up to his ship." "It sounds horrible," Ben had said, and she realized that it probably did. In dive mode the engine shift vibrated so much that it rocked her from side to side in her seat, forcing her attention back to the present. Crista fought back a tear, and couldn't turn away from the green water surging ahead of the cabin. There are laws against touching me! She thought of that kiss again, the one that had lasted only a blink in real time but would replay forever in her mind. Even in the hot climate of Kalaloch, Crista wore the coverings dictated by the Director. But alone, in the privacy of her suite, she had often shucked her clothes in spite of Flattery's sensors, which she knew to be everywhere. Any portion of her skin left bare tingled at its awareness of breezes and light. If she noticed nothing else in a day she noticed the thousand tiny touches between humans around her. It had become difficult to think of herself as human. Now, having glimpsed the public idolatry focused on her, she felt the frayed tether weaken even more. A surge in cabin air pressure popped her ears, and the great plasma-glass dome of the cabin settled completely under the waves. She caught herself holding her breath and cautioned herself to relax. She heard the susurrations of voices rise and fall with the pulse of the engines. "Are you all right?" Crista felt herself rising above Ben's voice to the ceiling of the cabin, through the ceiling and higher yet, above the Preserve. She was a thousand meters above Kalaloch, and beneath her writhed a mass of brown tentacles. She was a hylighter, tacking her great sail across the breeze to keep the shadow of their foil in sight below. She was aware of herself, of her own being inside the foil, but felt every ripple along the hylighter's supple body as well. Ben Ozette was calling her name, barely audible at this distance. It seemed she shared an umbilicus from his navel to her own and he was pulling her in by it, reeling her back to the Flying Fish hand over hand. Ben touched her cheek and Crista snapped awake. He did not take his hand away. "You scared me," he said. "Your eyes were open and you quit breathing." As she sat forward, resisting his gentle pressure, she saw that Rico also stood over her, an open medical kit beside his feet. He was wearing gloves. What had been blue sky covering the plaz of the cabin was now the green-gray twilight of the middle deep. They were riding a kelpway, and somehow she knew that they had already cleared the harbor, heading north. Rico stared at Ben's hand stroking her cheek, then at Crista. "I was gone," she said. "Somewhere above us. I was a hylighter watching this foil and you reached out and brought me back." "A hylighter?" Ben laughed, but it was a tight, very nervous laugh. "That's a strange enough dream. ' Gasbag from the sky How her tentacles writhe for me . . .' Remember that song? 'Come and Gone . . .'" "I remember that it was some tasteless play on words, ridiculing the hylighter's spore-casting function. And this was no dream." She saw the snap in her voice reflected in the tightening of his lips, a closing off that she didn't know how to stop. Rico turned without saying anything and stowed the kit beneath his seat. Crista smelled something like anger, something like fear pulse from Rico's turned back. All of her senses washed back into her trembling body, delivering her into a state of hypersensitivity that she had never known before. The undersea landscape of blues and greens blurred past her like the settlement had blurred past her -- too much wonder, too little time. Of everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and of him to whom they have entrusted much, they will demand the more. -- Jesus Beatriz was awaiting her cue for the two-minute windup of News-break when the fully armed security detachment entered the studio, sliding from the hatchway with their backs along the walls. They hung back beyond the fringe of lights, which blazed their reflection in the squad leader's mirrored sunglasses. Her mouth was suddenly dry, her throat tightening, and she was due for the wrap-up in thirty seconds. Still on the air, she thought. The preempt isn't running yet. Her console showed her what the three cameras saw, but the monitor at the rear of the studio showed what went out on the air. Now it showed Harlan fast-talking the weather. It could be bypassed. She shuddered in her newfound paranoia and thought that the floor director would probably stop Harlan if they'd gone to tape, but she couldn't be sure anymore. Maybe they want to see just how much more I'd try to say. She had deviated from the prompter, amid the waving hands of the producer and director. She hadn't linked Ben with the Galli kidnapping, she'd just listed him as missing, along with Rico, on assignment. She noted signs of surprise and muttering among the crew when she said it. Both Ben and Rico were admired in the industry. Indeed, many of Rico's inventions and innovations made the holo industry possible. Harlan finished morning fishing patterns, and the countdown went to Beatriz. The officer of the security squad had moved up in the studio and placed a man beside each of her cameramen. She had the sudden, weighty thought that her crew might not be on the shuttle this afternoon. Harlan finished and smiled from the monitor, and the floor director's fingers counted her down: Three, two, one . . . "That's our morning Newsbreak from our launch site studios. Evening Newsbreak will be broadcast live from our Orbital Assembly Station. Our crew will have the opportunity to accompany the OMC, Organic Mental Core, and take you, the viewer, through each step of installation and testing. Other news that we will follow at that time: the abduction of Crista Galli. As you know, there is still no word from her abductors and no ransom demand. More on this and other news at eighteen. Good morning." Beatriz held her smile until the red light faded out, then slumped back into her chair with a sigh. The studio erupted around her in a babble of questions. "What's this about Ben?" "Rico, too? Where were they?" "Does the company know about this?" They cared. She knew they would care, that most of Pandora probably cared, and that was her power. As the mirrored sunglasses made their way through the crew toward her, she knew that there was nothing he could do. Even if they'd preempted and run the canned show, the crew knew and there would be no keeping this leak plugged. When the security officer reached her, the babbling in the studio fell quiet. "I must ask you to come with us." These were the words she'd been afraid she might hear. These words, "Come with us," were what Ben had tried to warn her about for the last couple of years. He had said more than once, "If they ask you to come, don't do it. They will take you away and you will disappear. They will take the people around you away. If they say this to you, make whatever happens happen in public, where they can't hide it from the world." "Roll cameras one, two and three," she announced. Then she turned to Gus, the floor director. "Were we preempted?" "No," he said, and his voice trembled. He was sweating heavily even though she was the one under the lights. "If a preempt signal was sent, I didn't see it. You went out live." God bless Gus! she thought. She turned to the security. "Now, Captain . . . I didn't get your name . . . what was it you wanted of me?" What then shall we do? -- Leo Tolstoy "Trimmed and steady," Elvira reported. "No pursuit. Course?" When Ben didn't answer, Rico said, "Victoria." Elvira grunted. It was obvious to Crista that Elvira trusted both Ben and Rico completely. She had seen loyalty at the Preserve, but never trust. She had manipulated the distrust rampant throughout Flattery's organization to open the hatch for her escape. That same distrust would bring Flattery down, once and for all. Of this she was certain. "Flattery's people hoard information like spinarettes at the web," she told Ben. "It's barter to them, a medium of exchange. So no one has the full picture and rumor guides the hand that blesses or damns. That's why Shadowbox has threatened him more than anything else." "There's food in the galley," Rico announced, and she saw the accompanying green indicator flash on the console at her right hand. "Ben, you two take a break. Bring me back some coffee. We're a few hours out yet. Elvira would like the usual." Ben led Crista to the galley behind the cabin with a hand at her elbow. Her legs seemed wobbly in spite of the even-keeled submersible run of the foil. She had been hungry now for hours. Her head ached with it, and the memory of broiled sebet on the village air charged her stomach. "We live in the galley," Ben told her. "When we're on a job, this room is jammed, it's where everything happens." She stepped from the semidim cabin into a warm yellow glow. The galley was a bright room of wood, yel