Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Issue 1
Stories
Respite
by Rachel Ann Dryden
A Rarefied View at Dawn
by Dave Wolverton
Loose in the Wires
by John Brown
Trill and the Beanstalk
by Edmund R. Schubert
Night Walks
by Robert Stoddard
Taint of Treason
by Eric James Stone
Eviction Notice
by Scott M. Roberts
From the Ender Saga
Mazer in Prison
by Orson Scott Card
Mazer na Prisão   (Portugues)
by Orson Scott Card
Audio Bonus
Mazer in Prison
Read by Audie-winner Stefan Rudnicki
Serialized Novel
Hot Sleep
by Orson Scott Card
Comics
Fat Farm
by Orson Scott Card
Column: I Screen the Body Eclectic
Special Software Bonus
I-Wei's Amazing Clocks
by I-Wei Huang

Hot Sleep
Artwork by Sam Ellis

What's this icon for?

Hot Sleep
by Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card's first novel - back in print for the first time in 25 years!

Orson Scott Card's first science fiction novel, Hot Sleep, was published in April 1979 by Baronet Books in trade paperback format. It is permanently out of print and was replaced by The Worthing Chronicle, published by Ace Books in July 1983.

This is the first of five parts of Hot Sleep to be serialized completely within this issue over the next few weeks at the rate of one part every other week. The entire novel will remain online.

Part I

Chapter One

Jas Worthing was being kept alive by State Paper FN3xxR-5a, and he knew it. He didn't need an assistant professor of education to tell him that. But once Hartman Tork had begun a lecture, he was unstoppable.

"There's no way, Jas Worthing, that you could have made a perfect score on that test. The information is classified, it was only bumped onto the computers by a mistake in the program --"

"Your mistake," Jas pointed out.

"Maybe not a mistake at all," Tork said, his face turning red with anger. "Maybe we've found out something about you that we desperately wanted to know. You couldn't possibly have copied off anyone else's paper --"

"Are you accusing me of cheating? Because the juvenile code requires a proper hearing and substantiating evidence --"

Tork whirled around on his swivel stool and stood up. He walked around the glowing teacherboard until he stood only a meter or less away from Jas. Again, as a hundred times before, Jas felt the vertigo of childhood, realizing that everything is up, that only when he tumbled into the future would he be as large as those who manipulated him today -- or tried to, anyway.

"I've had enough," Tork said, softly, trying to be menacing; and though Jas knew that the menace was a facade worn to intimidate the small and weak, he also knew that behind the facade the threat was very, very real. "I've had enough of your cocky smartass self-assurance. Now you're going to take the test over again."

And in spite of himself Jas was trembling, though he kept the quaver out of his voice. "Unless you can prove malfeasance --"

"I know the juvenile code, Jas. And I don't have to prove malfeasance if I can prove something else."

His look of triumph was disconcerting. Jas gripped the sides of the nearest console. "I didn't cheat, Mr. Tork, and unless you have a witness --"

"The law, boy, is a lot more open when it comes to the question of the Swipe." Tork pounded his finger on the teacherboard for emphasis.

"Are you calling me a Swipe, Mr. Tork?" Jas asked. This time the quaver came into his voice. "That's slander, Mr. Tork, unless you can prove --"

"I'm working on that, boy. Now get out."

Jas got out. But at the door he heard Tork call after him, "You got those answers out of my head and I'm going to prove it! You passed that test by picking my brains!"

Jas turned around and said, "Assistant professor Tork, no one in his right mind, given a choice, would pick your brains." Tork didn't answer, just smiled savagely. But Jas felt a little better for having said it.

He was shaking and weak all the way home.

His mother met him at the door of their flat. "What happened?" she asked, trying to keep the fear out of her voice, as if it couldn't be read on her face.

"Tork yelled a lot."

"What about the proof? Did you have the proof?"

"Your blood test came out okay, mom." Jas sat down on the bed that doubled as a sofa in the living room. "Sorry you had to get jabbed."

His mother sat next to him and took his hand. Her palms were clammy. "I was so afraid. They were so sure."

"I guess they can't cope with somebody outsmarting their stupid tests." Jas lay back on the bed and breathed deeply. "I need to rest, mom," he said. His mother nodded and got up and went to the kitchen-dining-bathroom to ring up dinner.

Jas lay on the bed, his heart still pounding. He had been stupid, not to realize that they'd know. But it had been so easy -- the test in front of him, and then just by looking at Tork the answers so clear, sitting right behind Tork's eyes. It was as if for a moment Jas had forgotten that telepathy was a capital crime. In fact, of course, he hadn't really realized, not for sure, that what was happening was telepathy. It had grown so gradually, his gift -- beginning when he turned twelve -- fleeting glimpses at random of what people thought, what they felt. And then in the room last week, just as a child might discover a new muscle that let him wiggle his ears or twitch his scalp, Jas had realized he could control it. Not just random glimpses, but a deep, hard, long look into their minds.

The Swipe? Swipes were monsters, Swipes were planet-wreckers, Swipes weren't kids in schoolrooms taking calculus tests.

He stared at the picture of his father on the ceiling. The tiling had been there since their last authorized remodeling, when Jas was seven, and he had instantly seen the picture. That squiggle was the nose; the dark space was his eye; the lips the gentle curves just below. It was a benign face, kind if monstrous, trustworthy if incredible. How had he decided that it was his father? Jas knew. After all, he had seen no other picture.

He wanted the face to smile, but it always just smirked, as if just about to laugh, or as if it had just tired of laughter. Or as if it knew that a meal was coming. Jas shuddered.

And as he did his mind gave his body a reason for the fear. How was I to know, he asked himself. How was I to know that the last three questions were cross-programmed from another classroom, a classified, advanced, damn-it-but-it-all-made-so-much-sense classroom, and Jason rolled over and dug his hand into his mattress, partly because it felt good, and party because his mother had told him, "When you muck up the mattress it has to replaced early, and if it has to be replaced early, the government gets angry."

Advanced astrodynamics. Well, it just felt like more math, how was I to know I was playing little games with stars and planets? And I understood it, once I got the answer. Jas rumpled the bed again. Once he got the answer: that was the problem. He couldn't show them any figuring. He couldn't show them how he arrived at the correct answer. "I figure in my head," he said, and they showed him the paper where he had done some other figuring, and Jas had smiled and said, "Sometimes, anyway."

If only Tork had been a moron and had remembered astrodynamics wrong.

If only God were still alive and not just a face on the ceiling.

"I'm a Swipe," Jas said under his breath, trying out the words.

Suddenly a hand was fiercely clamped over his mouth. Startled, he opened his eyes to see his mother glaring down at him.

"Fool!" his mother hissed. "An intelligence that can't be measured and you talk as if the walls weren't listening!"

"I was joking," Jas stammered. "I didn't think --"

"In this world, boy, don't ever not think. Why do you suppose your father died?" She wheeled and left the room.

Jas looked after her. "Father didn't have a chance!" he shouted.

"Shut up and eat your dinner," his mother snapped, surly again. Again? Still.

The answers had just been sitting there, like a disc ready to be played, a book ready to be read, waiting for him behind Tork's eyes. Jas looked up and saw his mother watching him. He looked at her tightly-set lips, glanced at her wrinkled forehead, and saw (just behind the eyes) that she would suffer any torture if it would bring Homer Worthing back to her for one bright day, for one penetrating touch, for one last kind, delicate, ravishing night.

"I wish I looked more like him, mother," Jas said, wanting the wrinkles on the forehead to go away.

She just narrowed her eyes at him. "Don't," she whispered, and then pushed a plate of the stiff gel that was called soup in the catalog across the table toward him. Jas sat for a moment, then leaned across the table, took his mother by the shoulders, and pulled her close. His mouth by her ear, he spoke so softly that he could barely hear his own voice, and said, "It's true."

She tried to pull away, shaking her head.

"Mother," Jas insisted, pulling her closer still, "I'm a Swipe. I got the answers from the teacher's mind."

She shuddered. "Impossible," she said softly.

"I know."

She got up from the table and took him by the hand. Together they left the flat and walked down corridors and ramps to the tube. At that hour it wasn't crowded. She dragged him along until they got to a women's lavatory. She started to pull him in.

"I can't go in there," Jas whispered.

"You're sure as hell going to," she hissed back, her face ugly with fear.

He went in. It was empty. His mother leaned against the door, facing him.

"Maybe," she said, "this place isn't bugged. But if it is, we won't be known."

"Voiceprints."

"Whisper, then," she whispered. "I said it's impossible. I've had two blood tests. Once before your father's trial, and this time for you. I do not have the Swipe on any of my lousy DNA. My X chromosomes are clean. Do you understand that?"

"I know what I did."

"You couldn't have gotten the trait from your father," she said, holding tightly to the boy's arm, "because it's carried on the X and he only gave you a Y."

"I've taken genetics."

"Then why did you say what you did?"

"Separate mutation," Jas said, and she clenched her grip on his arm. It hurt, but he was afraid to try to pull away. He had never seen her this angry and afraid at the same time.

"Do you think they didn't check that? It's the first thing they check. Your cells don't show any mutation."

"Then it's magic," Jas said, and she relaxed just enough that he felt safe in trying to pull his arm free. She let him.

"Magic," she said, and then she covered her face with her hands, digging her fingers into her eye sockets so fiercely that Jas worried, fleetingly, that she might be trying to blind herself, even though the cost of a transplant would wipe out her earnings and her pension for years. He gingerly reached for her arms, to pull her hands down, but when he touched her she erupted, shouted at him, forgetting the danger that one of Mother's Little Boys might be listening. "Listen to me! It's impossible! You're just hallucinating because of your father. They warned me it might happen, that children of Swipes sometimes react this way, pretending to be Swipes because of guilt feelings about the way their parent died. But whether it's real or not, it can get you killed if you go around claiming to be a --"

"I don't feel guilty about my father's death!" Jas said angrily. "I wasn't even born when he died. I wasn't even conceived. If you didn't want a crazy child, why did you got to the sperm bank --"

"I want him to have a son --"

"Well, he's got one! But don't try to transfer your psychoses onto me!"

She fell silent, her jaw slack. And as Jas leaned against the washbasin he again had a flash; but this time not a thought, this time a picture:

A man smiling -- not a handsome man, but a man used to power, a man sure of himself, a man with huge, powerful, sweet hands that reached out and touched --

"No!" his mother shouted at him, and she pushed his hand away, and he realized that he had touched her just as she was remembering his father's touch, that he had been acting out her memory.

"Don't touch me!" she said. "Not like that."

"I'm sorry. I just -- I couldn't help it -- mother, why do you remember him laughing, when he --"

His mother shook her head violently. "You didn't see," she hissed, more to herself than to him. "You didn't know, you didn't see." She was not looking at him. Is she even sane, Jas wondered for a moment. And then realized the answer to his question was no, had always been no.

Suddenly his mother relaxed and smiled. "Of course," she said. "You're just insightful. It's a family trait. Your grandfather was just like that. As if he could see into your soul." She laughed. "Little Jason Worthing, just like your father's father."

"And my father."

"No!" she said fiercely. "He was a Swipe. But your grandfather. He just looked at me the first time Homer brought me home, just looked at my eyes and smiled and he said to me, 'Nita, you're a good woman, you're right for my son.' And from then on it was like he'd known me all my life. He knew he could trust me. And he could, he could."

Somebody pushed on the door, trying to get in.

"We've got to leave, mother," Jas said.

"Not until you promise me," she said.

"What."

"That you'll never say that again. To anyone. About being a --"

"I promise. Do you think I want to get killed?" Jas lunged for the doorknob. His mother backed away, and the door slid open as Jason twisted the knob.

A woman with a little girl who was dancing up and down shot them a dirty look as they came out. Then she did a double take when she realized that Jas was a boy.

"Perverts!" the woman spat as they hurried through the cars to the exit.

The next day at school they tried to trap him. Tork wasn't in the test room. Jas went in for his regular weekend quiz, and an empty-headed woman with a thoroughly observable decolletage greeted him in a whispery voice and told him his test was ready. Jas guessed what they were going to do. To make sure, he looked into her head. Behind her eyes? A love life. No answers to tests.

And sure enough, the test was not on the topology of speed-of-light motion, the study topic for the week. It was, once again, astrodynamics. All new questions, of course. But the same topic.

Jas had to work on this one. Of course, his mind being what it was, he remembered perfectly everything he had taken from Tork's mind the week before. Now he had to apply the principles, think them through. But his logic kept up with the questions on the test.

He did miss one question. But ninety-nine was close enough to a hundred to be statistically insignificant.

When the computer printed out his score, Jas stood up and announced to the woman, "All right, lady. When you see Tork again, tell him for me I'm going to press charges. This test was illegal."

The woman was genuinely surprised. "What could be illegal? I just pressed the button and --"

"I know, I know. Just tell Tork for me. Can you remember that long?"

She sniffed her disdain. "You boy geniuses all seem to think you're the only ones with minds."

When Jas left the school he had every intention of going straight to the CRL for a lawyer to press his case -- it was airtight, there'd be no way to hide their tampering with the computer program to put the wrong test on it. And without a writ they had no right to double-check his score.

But then he realized that he didn't want to attract too much attention with this. Because if rumor got around that he was suspected to be a Swipe, the doors would start to close on him. His unmeasurable intelligence would be worth as much as a moron rating.

No, let them sweat, but don't make too many waves.

Somehow the tests had all come out negative. But Jas knew he had the Swipe. And they might have other tests that would discover it.

"Insightful," his mother had said, "just like your father's father."

Father. And me. And grandfather?

But grandfather was dead.

Jas went to a directory and found the listing: Genealogical programs, G55Nxy3. He put his credit card (nearly worthless for purchasing, but good enough for this) into the computer outlet and punched in the program.

"Genealogy: Name research, 4n; inheritance tie-ins, 4i; name similarities . . ." Finally Jas found what he wanted, punched in his own name and birthdate, and waited for the reading.

"Male relatives of common descent by male lines only:" and then came a list of names that threatened to go on all day. Jas interrupted the readout and punched in a new instruction. Now the screen flashed, "Five nearest male relatives by common descent by males lines only."

First on the list was Talbot Worthing. He lived on a planet only forty-two light-years away.

Next on the list was Radamand Worthing. GE-44h rating -- government employee on the district management level.

Again he put his credit card into the slot, and this time asked only for an address. His fifth cousin Radamand was supervisor of District Napa-3. A good position not more than an hour by tube from Jas's home district.

Nice to know that a relative had done well with himself.

It was 1600, and Jas figured he'd have time to get there before the man left work -- and get back before his mother had Mother's Little Boys out looking for him. So he got on the tube, wondering all the time if this wasn't a wild goose chase. And then in the part of his mind that always took over when he was worried, he free associated, and tried to calculate what in the world the phrase wild goose chase meant.

Radamand Worthing had his name on the outer door of the office complex, and no name at all on his private door. Jas was aware enough of status symbols to be impressed.

The secretary was also impressed -- by Radamand, not by Jas.

"Do you have an appointment, little boy?"

"I don't need one," Jas said, putting on his most irritating voice.

"Everyone needs one," she said, getting just as irritated as he wanted her to get.

"Tell him his blue-eyed cousin Jason is here to see him," Jas said, sneering -- a facial expression he had long since learned infuriated adults.

"I have instructions not to bother him."

"Tell him or you'll have new instructions to be out of here with your desk left empty behind you."

"Listen, little boy, if you've disturbed me unnecessarily --"

The noise of the disturbance opened Radamand Worthing's door. "What's going on out here?" the portly, middle-aged man with bright blue eyes demanded. Bright blue eyes, Jas noted. His grandfather's holo had blue eyes. His mother's memory of his father had those same bright blue eyes. "Uncle Radamand," Jas said affectionately. At the same moment he focused on the spot just behind Radamand's eyes.

What he read there was Radamand's immediate fear -- and the fact that Radamand was also seeing Jas's fear. Their bright blue eyes locked.

"You're impossible," the older man said. "You can't be."

"Apparently you're hallucinating," Jas said.

"He just broke in here and demanded --" the secretary said, righteously indignant.

"Shut up." Radamand was sweating.

So was Jas. Because he could hear in the man's mind the decision that Jas had to die.

"Is that the way to greet a long-lost relative?" Jas asked.

"Get out of my --" Radamand stopped, but Jas knew he had been about to say --

"Mind?" Jas asked.

"Office." Radamand bit the word, and then Jas heard/saw/felt Radamand's panic, his rage--

"Why are you afraid, Uncle Radamand?" Jas asked in his sweetest voice.

In the older man's mind he found the answer: Because you have it too, and if they catch you, they might catch on, they might realize it's hereditary on the male line, and they'll trace the genealogies and find me --

And as Jas heard Radamand's thoughts, he realized that Radamand had heard what leaped into Jas's thoughts: that assistant professor Hartman Tork already suspected he was a Swipe, was laying traps for him.

"I'm afraid for you," Radamand said sweetly, through gritted teeth. "I'm afraid you might fall into a trap somewhere."

"I'm smarter than they are," Jas said.

But not smarter than me, Radamand thought loudly, fearfully, angrily.

Jas saw the laser in Radamand's mind before Radamand could find it in his pocket. Jas dropped to the floor, rolled. The laser seared the floor behind him. A moment while the weapon recharged, and in that moment Jas was out the door, running down the corridor.

An alarm sounded somewhere in the complex.

The door ahead of him slammed shut. A guard stood in front of it. Jas stopped and frantically searched the man's thoughts for another way out, another exit. Where were the doors? He found them just behind the guard's eyes, even as the guard noticed Jas's fugitive appearance. The gun raised -- Jas was already gone.

Through this? No, this door. Out and down the stairs. And through this last door and into corridors branching off into the endless underground city of Capitol, which stretched in an unplanned and unplannable labyrinth from pole to pole to --

Home? Not home, Jas thought, because the plan already forming in Radamand's mind was to arrest Jas on some charge or other -- breaking and entering? Resisting inquiry? For someone at Radamand's level, and with his obvious influence and prestige, it shouldn't be hard to get Jas put away forever behind bars.

Or in a little plastic box in the cemetery.

Jas's mind kept wandering as he loped down corridors, losing himself in the turns and the rises, putting as much as possible of three dimensions between him and his cousin. He smiled to think of how Radamand had probably acquired his influence and prestige: for he could easily spot a superior's guilty secrets and then drop subtle hints -- not enough to let the superior know that Radamand shared his secret. And understood. Would never tell; could be trusted; was a friend who knew all and loved anyway.

And so promotion. And so power. And so all of the wealth and position that Radamand was afraid he would lose because now someone shared his guilty secret.

Jas came to the tube and got on going away from his home.

Then he got off at the second stop and changed to the first tube leaving for anywhere.

Then got off and caught another.

And another.

And then left the tubestop and went to a computer terminal and pushed in his card. Dangerous? Perhaps -- but access to the master files of the computer was closely guarded by Mother's Little Boys, and Jas doubted that Radamand's considerable influence was quite that considerable. No, it would be the constables that Radamand had on his trail, not the computer police, not the listeners in the walls.

So probably the computers were safe.

Jas punched for a readout on criminal law. He specified. And specified again. "Exemptions from all class 2-8b felonies and all misdemeanors."

Then Jas specified for exemptions accessible to juveniles. There were only two:the Service and the Colonies.

Never the Colonies. Not the one shot of somec, and then waking up fifty light-years away on an empty planet, doomed to live out the normal hundred or so yearsof life and then die, with neither fame nor power nor hope of the somec doses of immortality. Colonies were for the despairing, not for the merely desperate. Jas still had hope.

Had to be the Service. There at the end of the somec sleep through space the captains awoke, fought a battle or did a short term of duty and then went back under the somec to return to Capitol, where they were heroes -- at least the successful ones -- and wealthy, whether spectacularly successful or not; and, most important, the captains were on somec, waking only one year out of every thirty or forty or fifty, watching the centuries slip by and laughing at time --

The Service then. And it would be ironic, too; for his father had been a ship captain, before the Swipe crisis that killed him. It would be somehow appropriate to follow in his father's footsteps.

And then Jas remembered his mother's warning that sons of Swipes tried to expiate guilt. Maybe, he thought. Maybe after all I'm just trying to relive my father's --

A hand gripped his shoulder.

"Jason Worthing, age, thirteen, number RR3njw-4, status juvenile, state your business in this district."

Jason leaned limply against the wall, and the man made sure he wouldn't leave the wall abruptly. The man's voice sounded official, but he wasn't in uniform. A constable not in uniform? Behind the man's eyes Jas learned that he was one of Mother's Little Boys. Then he must have guessed wrong, and Radamand did have that much influence.

"Well, little boy, your mother's worried about you. Seems you didn't come home after school."

"I just went -- I went exploring," Jas said, using his young voice, his unintelligent voice. "I was trying to find my way home."

"Your mother asked us to run a missing persons check. You shouldn't stick your credit card into computer outlets if you want to run away," the man said.

"I don't want to run away," Jas said, longing to run away.

"Good thing," the man answered with a smile, "because you can't."

They rode in the closed compartment of the tube back to the station only a few corridors away from Jas's flat. The man didn't let go of his iron grip until Jas's mother opened the door.

"Jas, you're all right." She hugged him, acting for all the world like a parent who had been worried that her little boy might be hurt. But Jas knew what the real fear had been. Though he was already a little tired of looking into people's thoughts, it was almost reflex already, and he saw his mother's flashing memory of a visit from Hartman Tork.

"Thank you, officer," she said, tears of joy in her eyes.

"Any time, ma'am." The man left. Jas's mother closed the door. She looked at Jas in fear.

"Hartman Tork came," she said. "He has proof. He said you had passed the second test, that it was proof positive --"

"Proof when I passed it?" Jas asked, surprised.

"He said it contained information that had only been fed into the computers this week, completely and totally restricted, there was no way you could have studied the information, so obviously you got the answers by --"

"But I didn't look into anyone's mind, mother. I just used logic, I just figured it out --"

"Apparently," she said bitterly, "your logic has just caught up with the latest advances in astrodynamic theory."

Jas leaned against the wall. "I thought the test went the other way. I thought that if I failed it they' think it was proof that I'd cheated, or something else. I thought I had to get a good score."

"Smart smart smart, but so stupid, stupid, how can you be so wrong." She fiddled nervously with the fabric of her dress. "I've figured it out, Jas. What they did was illegal. Your intellect -- surely we can get a court to believe that you simply discovered it independently -- it's not impossible --"

"It's not impossible because it happened that way. But I can't go to court."

"You have to. We'll just call the constables, get a holding order --"

"Mother, listen." Jas touched his mother's cheek and she fell silent, watching him. Behind her eyes she was still tense, ready to jump in any direction, ready to scream. "Mother, listen. We can't call the constables because they're already looking for me. If they find me I'm dead."

"Why?"

"I -- did something. And now they're after me."

"What did you do!"

"I can't tell you."

"Tell me." She gripped his shoulders, as if squeezing them would force the answer out of Jas's mouth.

"Let go," Jas said.

Her hands began to shake him violently, and she let go.

"I can't tell you what I did because if you know then your life's in danger. Your life's probably in danger anyway. We have to get out of here, now."

"They can't get in here without a warrant," she said tentatively.

"They'll have a warrant, mother. That's probably the only reason they aren't here now -- they're getting a warrant. Now let's move."

His mother's fear made her meek in the face of authority, and she let him pull her out the door. She made a momentary, half-hearted resistance, saying, "I have to get some things, my bag, I have to --" but he kept pulling her and in a few moments they were down the ramps and on the tube. Her hands now danced and fluttered constantly. She hummed. Her eyes kept moving constantly, and she kept looking over her shoulder. Great, Jas thought. Great. This is all she needed.

He went down the list of wonderful events of the last few days, and tried to think of something he might have done differently. But every path he could think of led him here: Hartman Tork after him with the threat of death as a Swipe; dear long-lost cousin Radamand after him to put him away before he was exposed as a Swipe; and mother.

Mother knew. Mother was pretending she didn't, but she knew. And knowing, she could be made to tell. What was Jas to her? A son, of course, but more: her only link to the man who had dominated her life. More in death than in life, it seemed. Hadn't she named him Jason Harper Worthing? Harper, because it was in the Harper system that Homer Worthing had been trapped, had been killed.

And now was about to die again, and she couldn't handle it. She smiled at him and squeezed his hand. "And where shall we go today?" she asked him, cheerfully, as she had done years ago, seven-year-old Jason leading her from the park to the zoo to the dome to the cave, all the sights; and she proud, happy, following where he led, devoted to him.

But he was no longer seven years old. He was thirteen. He was frightened. He was leading his mother on an excursion that had no destination, whose only goal was escape. Where to, on a planet where there was no outside except the thin sky, no away except on starships --

Colonies.

The sign blinked. Colonies were one of the few projects the government considered important enough that they could be allowed a lighted sign.

Colonies put people on starships and sent them far beyond the reach of Mother's Little Boys. Colonies asked few questions, and answered none. To go with the Colonies was the next thing to dying.

But it was the only next thing. And when dying was the alternative . . . Jas stood for a moment, looking at the sign. He had the option of joining the Service. His mother didn't.

So Jas led his meekly following mother through the impressive archway leading into the plush Colonies reception room. Lighted panels on the walls depicted huge fields of a golden plant, extending to the horizon, with blue sky and a yellow sun. "Earth Colony," the panel said, in a muted, feminine whisper. "Return home again." Another panel was in motion -- hundreds of tiny human beings scrambling over red rocks and black cliffs, raising a mesh of fine metal strands. The mesh began to glow. "Catch stars on Manookin," the virile masculine panel-voice said, "and bring them home as frozen light."

Bring them home -- Jas laughed silently, bitterly. No one came home from a colony. A hundred years just to get established with any degree of security. Another two hundred or so before anything worth exporting could be developed in exportable quantities. And without the somec sleep, who would still be alive? None of the original colonists. None of their great-great-grandchildren, either.

"A new home," sang a chorus of children's voices, "where children have room to run and play under the sun. Carter. The children's dream planet."

And they were at the desk. "Both of you?" the woman asked.

"Just her," Jas answered. "A place where you can walk around in the open."

The woman pretended to think hard. "Capricorn? It's a yellow sun planet, just like Capitol."

Jas wasn't taken in. Obviously Capricorn was what they were pushing today. "What do they export?"

"Oh, exciting things."

"Excite me," Jas said.

"Aluminum," she said. "And platinum. And chrome."

Jas smiled wanly. "You don't do much walking in the open when you're down a mine shaft, ma'am. A planet that exports food."

"Duncan, then. Sol-type planet, they didn't even have to terraform it. She'll love it."

"Papers?"

And the papers appeared on the desk. Jas insisted that the receptionist write in Duncan as the legal contract destination, and in the preferred work space Jas wrote, "Clerical." The chances of anyone getting a clerical assignment on a colony world were very slim, but there was no harm in asking. And then the papers were in front of his mother, and she meekly picked up the pen and signed, writing the name very, very carefully, as if for the first time, though she was a legal scribe, both longhand and punching.

"You have a few minutes for good-byes," the receptionist thoughtfully said. "And then these nice men will take you with them." These nice men were two blond, blue-eyed gorillas with cheerful smiles on the front of their microcephali. Jas felt a strange lightness in his stomach, a gentle twisting that he recognized as guilt, though he had never felt much guilt before.

He turned to face his mother. She was looking at the two guards.

"You selfish bastard," she whispered gently, "I'm not crazy enough not to know what you just did."

"I had to," Jas said, not believing himself.

"I would have done it gladly if you had asked."

Jas took her hand. It was lifeless as it lay in his. "I'm sorry," he said. "I love you."

And in his mother's mind he saw his father, heard him say, "I'm sorry. I love you."

His mother's face contorted. "Selfish," she said loudly. Then she screamed: "Selfish bloody flaming Swipe bastard, you're your father's son, you're no son of mine!"

Jas had made a gesture as if to stop her when she said the word Swipe, and she noticed it. "That's right, Jas, boy, look out for number one, the old lady's going crazy, but all you care about is who can overhear us, well I can shout it out, you know --" and her voice rose to a high-pitched scream -- "I can yell to the whole world that you're a stinking --"

"Sedation?" asked the receptionist. Jas didn't answer, but one of the gorillas came over with a needle anyway. Jas's mother tried to back away, but there was no retreat. The needle dug into her back, and in less than a minute she was smiling sweetly. "Hi," she said to the gorilla. "I'm Nita Worthing. Are you coming to Duncan, too?"

The gorilla smiled and patted her shoulder.

Nita turned to her son and smiled again. "Thank you, son. Good-bye. Wish me a happy voyage."

"Have a happy voyage, mother."

"It'll be happy because at the end of it, I'll have memories of you."

The gorillas led her away. She was telling them a joke as they went through the doors to the inner complex.

The receptionist leaned forward over the counter. "Your mother signed on as a volunteer, didn't she? No legal problems, right?"

Jas nodded, shook his head. "Volunteer. She's not wanted for anything."

"Don't worry about her," the receptionist said kindly. "They often react that way. The minute the papers are signed they're frantic to change their minds. Silly, isn't it? You'd think they'd just signed their own death warrant or something. Why, they're absolutely lucky to get away from this tin can of a world."

Jas smiled. "You're right. No doubt you've already signed onto a colony ship."

The woman's smile disappeared. "Get out of here, smartmouth," she said. As Jas left he heard her muttering, "Some people, you try to get friendly and they get so . . ."

Jas took another tube and ended up in one of the huge parks that were placed in every borough by some politicians who had visited Earth and had thought it would be wonderful to spend tax money duplicating it on Capitol. Live trees growing out of real lawns. The residents were unimpressed, by and large -- most of them had never seen a tree, and chlorophyll smelled dirty, somehow. Green growing things were just large forms of mold, and mold meant you had to have your humidifier adjusted.

But Jas had been drawn to the parks since childhood, and as he stepped onto the lawn he remembered coming to this very park with his mother, several times. She had sat on the grass, spooning beef out of a dish, as Jas had climbed that rock, and jumped onto the lawn, laughing and laughing.

Well, I don't feel like laughing now, Jas reminded himself. And then wondered what it would be like on a colony world -- green, like this? Only without the ceiling. Without the walls. Without the crowded corridors leading off in six directions.

The park was nearly empty, as always, and Jas hoped that though cameras monitored the comings and goings here as everywhere else, such an unfrequented place might not be too well monitored. He crept into the middle of a large clump of bushes and curled up around the base of the tree that grew out of the middle. It was shady, and so darker than everywhere else in the open corridors. In the darkness of the shade he tried to think. Had to decide what to do.

He daren't be caught by the constables because of Radamand. And only the constables could offer him any protection from Hartman Tork and the mobs that would form if word got out that a Swipe had been found. Mother's Little Boys? Jas shuddered. You just don't go to Mother's Little Boys. For finding missing persons, yes. For protection? Who would protect you from the Little Boys?

If he used the computers he could be found, and yet the computers were the only way he could get into the Service. And the other escape route -- the Colonies, he wouldn't do that. Jas had dreams of an impressive and important future for himself. People on Colony ships didn't have impressive and important futures.

He thought of his mother, and the future she had, and again felt the twist of guilt; maybe she wouldn't have been caught, maybe they wouldn't have tortured her and got the answer, maybe --

There were no maybes. And when they had proved that Jas was a Swipe and killed him, they would have executed her, too, because the trait is passed from mother to son. That's all they know, Jas thought. Mother to son indeed. I'm like my father. He thought the words again and again. I'm like my father.

He woke up about six hours after he had crept into the bushes. And when he woke he knew what to do. How long had it taken Mother's Little Boys to find him when he had used the computer terminal the last time? Not long -- three minutes, perhaps. But that would be long enough, if he hurried.

For a moment he wondered what he was so worried about. For all he knew, Mother's Little Boys weren't even looking for him -- just the constables and the school.

But it was too easy to file a missing persons query, and the constables and the school would have little trouble proving right-to-know. Mother's Little Boys would be looking for him, all right.

He walked to the nearest public terminal. Five specifications got him an application form for entry into the Service. Then he punched memory and coded it to his private number, snapped a cover code, and then retrieved his card and hurried away from the terminal. Mother's Little Boys wouldn't find him there -- it had taken only one minute.

Jas took the tube (did they monitor the credit cards at the tube stations? Probably -- but not even the Little Boys could board a moving tube), and switched at the first station. Then he got off again, went to another terminal, punched in the memory cord and the cover code, and started filling out the application.

After a minute, the same thing -- a dash through the tubes, a new terminal, and a few more items on the application. And since the application wasn't long, that finished it; Jas punched the send button, and left.

Another tube, another terminal, and he requested an answer.

Fifteen seconds, and the screen said, "Reject."

He queried.

"Personal."

He queried again. Specify.

"Personal. Father killed in Swipe Wars."

He quickly punched in, desperately punched in a rebuttal, a request for voice contact. It was an agonizingly long wait. Then a face came on the screen, and immediately Jas said, "Can you hold? For just a minute?"

"I'm busy," the woman said, irritated.

"Please," Jas said, acutely aware that he had been at the terminal for nearly three minutes.

"All right, hurry," she said.

Jas ran from the terminal, bumping into a man, and behind the man's eyes Jas discovered in a moment that the man was one of Mother's Little Boys, coming to fetch him from the terminal. No doubt now - they were after him.

This time Jas didn't bother with the tube. He ran to the nearest terminal, only a few ramps away, and punched in. The woman's face reappeared.

"What was all that about?" she asked.

"I'm sorry." Jas didn't have time to explain. "I need to know" breath "why my application" breath "was rejected."

"Your father was killed in the Swipe Wars," she said, as if that explained everything.

"But I don't have the Swipe. Telepathy isn't passed from father to son!" he insisted, wondering if she could possibly guess that it was a lie, that she was talking to a member of the one family in which the Swipe was, in fact, inherited on the male line.

"Of course the Swipe isn't hereditary," she said. "We aren't the least bit worried about that. In fact," she said, as Jas inwardly urged her to hurry, "in fact, you're a remarkably bright young man, widely educated, ridiculously high test scores on your record, and ordinarily we'd accept you in a moment."

"Thanks. Then accept me."

"The Swipe isn't hereditary. But revenge is. Sorry."

"I don't want revenge!" Jas shouted.

"If you're going to shout, please turn your volume control down. I'm not deaf."

"I won't try to get revenge --"

"Of course you'd say that, but our statistics make it almost a probability that --"

"Dammit, my father burned three planets and killed eight billion people, do you think I'm going to try to avenge his death?"

She shrugged. "We have the psychological profiles, and I'm afraid the policy can't be reversed without a lengthy process of appeal. Go ahead and try. It'll take only two weeks, and maybe you can change somebody's mind, though I doubt it. I wish you luck, young --"

An iron hand gripped Jas's shoulder. Involuntarily he cried out. The woman smiled. "Do you have him, officer? Very well then. Out."

The screen went blank.

The iron hand turned Jas around to face the man. Jas looked behind the eyes.

Amusement. That warm feeling of success. "You've been leading us a merry chase, boy," the man said.

Jas smiled weakly. "Tag I'm it?"

It worked. The man smiled back. "You're a Rockwit?"

"I'm from Capitol. But I know the game. I studied it."

"Then I'll feel a little worse turning you in. How did you guess I was from Rockwit?"

I saw it in your mind, of course, Jas thought. But he said, "Your accent."

"That bad, huh?"

"I study accents. It's a hobby."

"Accents and archaic games," the man said. "Come along now, boy. I don't know why, but somebody important wants you real bad."

Radamand, then. No one could call Hartman Tork important. But Jas went along peacefully enough. No sense struggling and increasing the man's vigilance. Just wait for an opportunity.

The opportunity was the commuter traffic in the tubes. The rush hour was starting, and as with commuters in all times and places, the signs saying enter and exit were regarded as mere decoration. Those getting off the tube rushed out, making rivulets around those struggling forward to get on. Of course there were dozens of people who stopped, greeted each other, blocked traffic -- others, caught in the rush, desperately trying to reach a destination different from that of the crowd that swept them along. Three times a day the shifts changed, as the night boroughs, morning boroughs, and afternoon boroughs in each district lived their separate and rarely interconnected days.

In the shoving and elbowing at the door, Jas lurched into the secret policeman who was holding him, then tripped and fell, ripping his shoulder painfully away from the man's hand. Someone tripped over him; someone else stepped on his leg; the crowd pulled Mother's Little Boy away from Jason. In a moment friendly hands helped Jas to his feet, and he began moving away in the crowd.

"He's cut!" shouted the security policeman. "Get him!"

He's cut? Jas realized as he threaded through the crowd that the security policeman wasn't alone. There had been more of Mother's Little Boys close enough to call to. Who?

For a moment Jas tried identifying people as they passed, before they came near him, but he couldn't -- it was too dizzying, darting from mind to mind. And moving that quickly, impressions became vague, too fleeting to catch.

A hand grabbed at his hip. Jas lurched away. Again the hand was stronger than he expected, and pulling away took so much force that Jas fell to the ground. Someone stepped on his hand hard, and Jas cried out in pain, but pulled his hand out from under the heavy boot. Blood leaped from torn-open veins, but Jas ignored it, scrambling to his feet. Hands reached for him. He swerved away, ducked, and then spotted a break in the crowd, ran through, and shoved his way into the mass of people piling up around the station doors.

Now the crowd that had helped him escape helped Mother's Little Boys to catch. Where the people had been moving fast, his small size let him dodge through much faster than the police could. But with the crowd moving slowly, shoulder to shoulder, his small size was a disadvantage. He couldn't shove people out of the way, and Mother's Little Boys could. In a moment rough hands gripped him everywhere, and he was lifted off the ground and tossed into the air. When he came down there were six men around him.

He panted for breath. So did they. They looked angry. Wary, too, waiting for Jas to try something, to move. Jas didn't move. Blood dripped from his hand.

"What do you guys think I am?" he finally said. "Six of you to take a thirteen-year-old kid?"

The one who had first caught him smiled. "For a minute there, we were wishing for an even dozen."

"Well, you've got me," Jas said, still panting from the chase. "What now?"

But they just watched him, and the exhilaration of flight and pursuit gave way to the despairing knowledge that he was, indeed, caught, and there was no way he could stop them from doing whatever they wanted. Would it be the school, and facing charges as a Swipe? Or Radamand, and death to protect a rising politician?

Jas waited several minutes before it occurred to him that he didn't have to wait for answers to questions. He looked behind their eyes, and . . .

Just then a short stout man dressed in thirty-year-old styles that looked brand new came up to their group.

"I'm amazed that you haven't hog-tied him," the man said.

Jas tried to find the meaning of the archaism, but hog-tied wasn't catalogued in his memory.

"Let him go," the man said. "And fix his hand, he's bleeding."

"If we let him go," the man said, "we might never catch him again."

The stout man pushed his way into the circle and looked at Jas with soft, kind eyes. He was so short that Jas looked down at him a little. Someone wrapped the injured hand. "Dale Carnegie cringes at their methods," the man said. This time the allusion rang a bell, and Jas smiled, reciting back: "You can catch more flies with a drop of honey than with a gallon of gall."

"Actually," the stout man interrupted, "Carnegie was only quoting someone else. Odd that you should know Carnegie and not Aesop." The man turned back to Mother's Little Boys. "He's in my custody now."

The policemen looked at each other uneasily. The man pulled out a little card and showed it to them. They nodded obsequiously and moved away.

The man turned back to Jas. "You have a name," he said.

"Jas Worthing."

"Jason Harper Worthing, a most remarkable young man. Jason Harper Worthing, don't get any clever ideas about escaping from me. Because when Mother's Little Boys trust to brute strength, I rely on technology." The cockle flashed momentarily in his hand, safety off.

"Who are you?" Jas asked.

"A question I've been trying to answer ever since adolescence. Shall we walk?" They walked. "I finally decided I was neither God nor Napoleon. I was so disappointed I didn't try to narrow it down any further."

The stout man escorted Jas to the officials-only door in the station and they went down the lift to the private cars. They got into one that looked rather old and shabby. And ridiculously out of date.

"I'm an archaist," the man said. "Like you, I collect old things. The difference is that you, being poor, can only collect ideas. I, being rich, can collect things. Things are worth much more money than ideas."

The man chuckled gently, and as the car took off, skimming the tube on its delicate magnetic balance, he laid a kind hand on Jas's knee. A good, strong hand, though small, and the gesture of affection was all it took to push Jas over the edge. The tension before had been too great -- the relief now too sudden. Jas began to tremble and his breath came in short gasps like sobs.

"Please try to avoid hysteria," the man said, and then continued his pleasant conversation. "I also collect new things. But new things are hard to judge. One never knows if they'll last. One never knows if they'll appreciate or depreciate. Quite a risky investment, new things. Here we are."

The car stopped. It hadn't traveled far. The man led Jas to a door and they stepped into a lift and rose for a long time. When the ceiling was right above their heads they stepped onto a bare wooden floor.

Wood. Jas realized that it didn't feel like wood. He said so.

"Ah, your curiosity is beginning to function again. Good. It doesn't feel like wood because in your life, you've touched plastic. This, Jason Worthing, is wood. From trees. I needn't tell you that you can't buy any of it on your credit allowance."

And then they were through a door and Jas gasped.

At first, for a moment, he had thought it was a park. But it was too large, andthere was no ceiling. Instead the walls just ended, and a dazzling bright blue arch crested over him, just like the picture of sky. The trees seemed to go on forever. The grass underfoot was real. Something living moved in the branches of a tree.

"I collect old things and new things," the man said. "But mostly I collect living things. Like you."

Jas turned to look at him and suddenly realized that the eyes were no longer soft and kind -- had they really been before? And the man seemed to be staring past Jas's clothing and his skin and into his soul. Jas realized he had trusted this man without reason, and he looked behind his eyes.

The man's name was Abner Doon. (Silly name -- never heard of him.)

His job was assistant minister of colonization. (Colonies again. Mother.)

He honestly believed he ruled the world. (Crazy? Or am I?)

And he knew Jas was a Swipe.

"I'm dead," Jas said, suddenly feeling despair. Why had he thought he was no longer in danger with this man?

"Very nearly," Doon said. "It depends on some decisions you make in the next few hours. You know my name, of course."

Jas shook his head to say no.

"You know my name, you know my title, you know my real function, and you know that I know who you are."

Jas took a step back. Abner Doon only smiled. "Surely you don't fear any kind of physical attack?"

"You're insane," Jas said.

"That's been said before," Abner answered mildly, "by men and women with better credentials than yours."

"I often wondered who really ruled Capitol and the Empire, but I really never supposed it was the assistant minister of colonization," Jas said, wondering how quickly he could get the door open again. He decided that he couldn't possibly do it faster than Doon could get the cockle into action.

"Well, it all depends on what you mean by rule. Mother rules us, officially. But everyone knows that the Cabinet rules Mother, and they're right. She's just a figurehead. But who rules the Cabinet?" Doon took off his jacket and tossed it to the ground. "And even more important, who owns the people who carry out the Cabinet's orders?"

Abner Doon took off his shoes.

"Walking in grass with shoes on is a waste of an opportunity," he told Jas. "Take your shoes off. Join me in a swim. Hmmm?"

Jas took his shoes off, and they walked deeper into the park. A large white bird flew nearby, then skimmed the surface of a lake, stopped, dipped its head, and flew off with something silver dangling from its mouth.

"A fish!" Jas shouted, and he hurried past Doon to the edge of the water.

"Clever deduction. What else did you learn from the bird?'

Jas turned around. The assistant minister of colonization was taking off his clothing.

"Is this a test?"

"Oh, no, not at all," Abner Doon answered. "I just thought you might have guessed from the species of the bird what planet this park is modeled after." Jas watched him undress to the skin, and was mildly surprised to discover that the man wasn't stout after all -- just wore layers of protective clothing.

"The water's relatively warm," Doon said. "Swim with me."

"I don't know how to swim."

"Of course not. I'm going to teach you."

Jas undressed and followed the man uncertainly into the water. They stopped when it was up to Jas's neck.

"Water is actually a very safe medium of locomotion," Doon said. Jas only noticed that it was cold. Numbing. If this was what Doon called relatively warm, Jas wondered what in the world he called cold.

"Now here, my hand is against your back. Lean back against my hand. Now let your legs just come loose from the ground, just relax, I can hold you up."

Suddenly Jas felt very light, and as he relaxed he felt his body bobbing lightly on the surface, only the gentle pressure of Doon's hand under him to remind him of gravity.

Then the world turned upside-down, Abner Doon had a back-breaking hold on him, and Jas's face suddenly plunged underwater. He gulped, swallowed water. His eyes, when he opened them, stung in the water. He hadn't taken a breath, needed one desperately. He struggled to come up, but couldn't break the hold. He struggled, he twisted, and tried to strike with his hands and feet, but he couldn't get free, and not breathing became agony.

Then he felt himself pulled to the surface. He gasped for air. Coughed.

"Don't cough, it splashes water everywhere."

"Let go!" Jas cried out, still gasping. "Let me go -- "

"Never," said the man. "I'll never let you go, Jason Harper Worthing. I have collected you. I never break up my collection."

Jas looked behind his eyes, struggling to find a motive, but found only an emotion of -- love? Kindness? The man was threatening his life, and yet all Jas could find in his mind was kindness.

"This," Doon said, "was an object lesson. May I assure you that you are in over your head? A figure of speech that you may not have known."

"I knew it," Jas said. "Me Gook system."

"Much older than that," Doon said, "but of course that's where it's still current. Very good. You get the point, I'm sure, even if you haven't read Aesop. Even when we step out of my lake, you'll still be deep in water, and believe me, in that water you don't know how to swim. I have only to flick a wrist --" suddenly Jas found himself dipping into the water again, and Doon's sentence was muffled and yet strangely clarified by the water "-- and you will certainly drown."

This time Abner Doon let him up almost immediately, and Jas coughed and spluttered only because he knew it annoyed the man. "What are you arresting me for?"

"I'm not arresting you. Whatever gave you that idea? I said I have collected you. Like the Cabinet. Like Hartman Tork. Like Radamand Worthing. The only difference is that I'm telling you. You should be flattered -- very few people know."

"I would have known anyway, Mr. Doon," Jas said, and that was his surrender, admitting that he had the Swipe, that Doon therefore had control over him. "What are you going to do with me?"

"Why, teach you how to swim, of course," Doon answered. "May I suggest you start by swimming on your back? Much easier, and you don't have to fuss with learning how to breathe. Just kick lightly with your legs -- that's right, shallower kicks and more rapidly, very good. Arch your back. The other way. Yes, yes, very good. I'm going to let go."

Jas felt the hand go out from under him, and for a moment he felt himself sinking. But he kicked harder, and arched his back more, and floated.

"Now, one at a time, raise your arms in front of your head and draw them back down to your side, through the water. That's right, Jas. Very good. Not a champion, but you'll float." And then there was a splash, and Jas felt the water shift violently as Abner Doon swam past him, not on his back, but on his stomach in the water, breathing under his arm. Jas turned his head to watch, and was rewarded with an eyeful of water and a dunking as he lost floatation. Sputtering, he tried to find bottom with his feet, and couldn't -- his swimming had carried him out where the water was deeper than his head. But his instincts were right -- he splashed his way to the surface, and kicked violently, bringing himself back up into a backfloat.

A bright, golden sun passed slowly overhead. Jas saw to his surprise that it moved detectably. All the books said you couldn't see the motion of the sun. And besides -- he could look right at the sun. And suddenly his vision shifted, and he realized that the sky was just what it seemed to be -- a dome of blue -- and the sun followed a track across it -- a dazzling disc, not a sphere millions of kilometers away.

When the swim ended, the sun was nearly set, though it had barely been an hour. The man and the boy lay on the grass, drying. The sky grew dark, and reddened in the "west." The sun set.

"I've never seen a sunset before," Jas said. "Is this anything close to what a real one looks like?"

"At least on the world this park imitates. My home world, in fact," Doon answered. "It certainly isn't this way on the surface of this planet. The sky of Capitol is absolutely greasy with the filth of our planet. Just looking at it makes me want a bath. Sunset topside is downright purple. Pink is noon. Blue sky is impossible."

"Garden," Jas said.

"That's right," Doon answered softly. "The most perfect place in the universe. So far, anyway. I was a fool to leave Garden. But I had visions of being great. One does not pursue greatness in a beautiful setting. Only peace is possible where things are invariably beautiful. Greatness only comes in ugly settings. And that made Capitol seem the best place to go."

"Is it ugly here?"

Doon laughed. "Oh, my. My, oh, my. To think a human being should even have to ask that question. But you aren't exactly a normal human being, are you?"

"Count the arms and legs," Jas said. "Even the right number of heads."

"The only difference is that you can leave your head and walk around for a while in mine. The Swipe," Doon said, "is such a strange thing. Such a great power that for a time most ships captains in the Empire fleet and among our illustrious Enemy were Swipes. Instantaneous communication. No need for spies. Too bad that Swipes couldn't teach the gift to others, you know? But that little X chromosome modification just can't be transferred. Only passed from mother to children, and the gift only crops up in boys, whose pathetic little Y doesn't have the dominant to block out the telepathy link. How we do dance with the helixes, yes?"

Jas pulled a tuft of grass and sprinkled it on his naked chest and abdomen. It prickled. He brushed it off.

"But I don't have that chromosome. Neither did my mother."

"Irrefutable. You are correct. You are clinically not a Swipe. Bravo. Too bad the mob takes blood tests after they tear reputed Swipes to little pieces."

"Can't the law protect me?"

"If the law knew about you, my small, brilliant, naive friend, the law would certainly be stretched to include you. No, Jas. Your only safety lies in being part of my collection. If you should leave -- well, I simply couldn't stop them, could I?"

A breeze passed over them in the starlit darkness. Jas shuddered.

"Cold? Or merely afraid?"

"Cold," Jas said.

"Actually, the temperature is quite comfortable. Don't be afraid, Jason."

"I can't help it," Jas said, his teeth chattering a little.

"All your life you've been completely under other people's control. Your mother, the school, the constables. Now, suddenly, it isn't they who rule you anymore, it's one man, it's I, and that makes you afraid."

"I don't know what you're going to do with me."

"Why don't you look in my mind and see?"

Jas wondered why he didn't. But he didn't. "No."

"Do it. Test me. See what you find out."

Jas shook his head. "I don't want to."

"Why not? I'm asking you to. Or do you only like to peer in people's minds when they don't know you're looking?"

Jas shivered now with the cold he felt. "I don't want to look."

Abner Doon sighed. "I suppose my mind isn't all that lovely a place to visit, anyway. Never mind."

He got up and dressed. Jas still lay on the ground, except that he curled up on his side. His back was cold as the air touched it. Why don't I look in his mind? I'm afraid, Jas decided. I'm afraid I'll find my own death there.

"Tired?" Doon asked.

"Yes."

"Does your hand hurt?"

Jas nodded.

"Do you feel weak?"

Jas smiled. "No. I fell like ripping a tree into toothpicks."

Doon, dressed again in the steel and asbestos protective clothing, the stuffy, out-of-date suit, knelt beside Jas in the grass. "Jas, you've done a lot of studying over the years. Your teachers seem to feel that you never forget what you've read. Ever heard of the Estorian twick?"

Jas's mind reflexively found the reference. "Yeah. Deadly little animal. Wiped out the first colony on Estoria."

"What else do you know about it?"

"Marsupial mammal. Teeth like razors. Small, but it hangs on with its claws while it bores with its teeth. Once it gets on a person he has maybe thirty seconds to get it off. If it lands near something vital, you've got only five seconds or so. Could cause nightmares."

"Very good, Jas. How do you kill it?"

Jas laughed. "A laser. A cockle. I remember reading a story where somebody tried beating it with a rock and it just jumped on and started eating his hand."

Jas watched uncomprehendingly as Doon gathered all of Jason's clothing from the ground and held it in a bundle under his arms. "You don't happen to have a laser or a cockle, do you?" Doon asked.

"Yeah," Jas said. "I hid 'em both in my mouth. I was only waiting for an opportunity to get you."

"In other words, no."

"I don't even have a toothpick," Jas said. "What are you doing with my clothes?"

"Getting them out of the way," Doon said. "Good luck."

"Good luck of what?"

"Good luck in the upcoming battle. In a few seconds an Estorian twick will be turned loose at the other end of my little garden here. He'll be headed your way."

And then Doon took off at a run.

Jas jumped to his feet, started after Doon, but only got a few feet when he realized that Doon was too far, already at the door, already closing it behind him. Jas turned back and looked into the darkness around the lake. The moon was rising, but there wasn't enough light. And if there was, Jas wasn't sure if he could tell what a twick was. Had he ever seen a picture? Yes -- and as he remembered what it looked like, he saw a living one crouched on a tree branch about thirty feet away.

Weapon? Unlikely. Doon wasn't the kind to leave spare lasers lying around.

The twick darted forward on the branch. So quickly that Jas could hardly see the movement -- it was simply a few meters nearer. The twick didn't take its eyes off Jas.

The words of the book flashed back. "Toys with its victims. Tries to seem harmless. Many fatalities among children who try to pet it." Useless information. What Jas needed to know was how to kill one without a laser.

I should have looked in Doon's mind, Jas told himself. At least I would have known the method he planned to use to kill me. Some kind of pervert, Jas decided. Likes to watch bloody death. Have fun, Doon. This one's on me.

Jas's injured hand throbbed.

The twick wasn't on the branch. One minute it was on the branch and the next minute it wasn't.

Jas looked down at the ground. Two meters away the twick crouched in the grass. It was absolutely motionless. Jas couldn't remember seeing any movement. Was the animal smiling? Jas wondered if an animal was capable of gloating over a victim. Its fur glistened. Apparently Abner Doon groomed his assassins well.

And suddenly Jas felt an excruciating pain in his right calf. He reached down to pry the animal off. For a moment the twick clung, still boring into Jas's leg. Then it wriggled out and in less than a second was burrowing into Jas's upper arm. The leg gushed blood.

With the twick tearing at his right arm, Jas could only strike at the animal with his left hand. It did no good.

I'm going to die, Jas shouted in his mind.

But his survival instinct was still strong, despite the terrible pain and the worse fear. Like a reflex he realized that the twick would simply jump from target to target on Jas's body. It was only a matter of time until it hit a vital artery, or until it found the boneless cavity of his abdomen and devoured his bowels. But Jas could delay. Jas could force it to move.

He threw himself to the ground, trying (hopelessly) to crush the animal under the weight of his body. Of course the twick was uninjured. But the maneuver had won Jas a moment's respite -- the animal wriggled out and away, and it crouched two feet from where Jas lay on the ground.

Jas leaped to his feet and started to run. Of course the twick struck, but Jas's back was turned, and the animal only dug into the muscles under the shoulder blade.

Jas threw himself violently to the ground, backward. This time the twick made a sharp sound (pain?) and scurried a little farther away. Jas tried to run again. He knew he couldn't outrun the twick, especially now with his back ripped open and his calf torn up so that every step was agony. But at least he was doing something.

The twick landed on his buttocks and tore at him. Jas broke stride, fell to one knee. Then he noticed that the lake was only twenty feet away, parallel to his line of flight. He had instinctively been avoiding the water. But maybe --

He got up again and staggered toward the water. The twick kept boring into him, tearing at the great muscles that controlled Jas's left thigh. The animal struck bone just as Jas hit the water.

I can't swim, Jas thought.

Oh well, the coldly intellectual part of his mind answered. Maybe the twick can't either.

It was impossible for Jas to relax enough to float. He just crouched under the water, holding his breath forever, trying to ignore the agony pulsing upward from his buttocks, from his leg, from his arm, from his back. He could feel the twick burrowing along the edge of his pelvic bone. His analytic mind noted the fact that this was taking the animal away from the vulnerable anal area. Muscles can heal. Muscles can heal. The repetition kept him underwater despite the agony, despite his lungs bursting for air. He concentrated on the rhythm of the words muscles can heal muscles can heal muscles can heal.

And then the twick stopped burrowing. A moment later it dropped off Jason's body.

Jas lunged for the surface. He gasped air. He gasped again. A few inches away from his face floated the twick. It was moving feebly, also gasping. Jas grabbed it and forced it underwater again. It wriggled, but it didn't get free, and after forever it stopped moving at all. Jas threw it (with his left arm) out into the deeper part of the lake, breathed again, then felt irresistibly weak and sunk back into the water. The water closed over his eyes.

*

He woke in a gel bath. Only his head and his knees broke the surface of the green slime. He was vaguely aware of throbbing in his leg and arm and buttocks, a tightness in his back. But the gel kept the pain away, kept pressure off the wounds. Jas closed his eyes and went back to sleep.

When he woke the next time he was in a conventional bed, and his wounds hurt more. He groaned with pain.

"Ouch," agreed a pleasant voice. "Well, that's it. Conscious and almost no chance of coma now."

"Very good." Jas recognized the second voice. Doon.

Someone got up and walked away. Someone else didn't. Jas was aware of breathing near him. He opened his eyes. The light was dazzling. He closed them again.

"Abner Doon," Jas said.

"Feeling better?" the man asked cheerfully.

"Than what?" Jas asked. Abner laughed. It was as if he hadn't tried to have Jason killed in the garden. As if they had last met at a cocktail party. As if they both shared a very good joke. "Why?" Jas feebly asked, because he was too tired and enervated to say what was really on his mind.

"You're a survivor, all right," Abner Doon said, patting Jason's hand. "So many people never use their heads. Even people with fine minds. You'll do. You'll do very well."

Jas didn't ask what he'd do very well for. He knew that in the opinion of an Estorian twick, he'd do very nicely for supper. Jas disregarded the vague fear and anger he felt in his stomach and turned his head away.

"I'll come visit you later," Doon said, still cheerful.

"Don't bother," Jas mumbled. Then he slept again. He dreamed of tearing Doon with his teeth, burrowing into his throat and ripping out his voice and then opening the jugular vein. The hot blood leaped from the throat. Then, suddenly, the blood was coming from the picture of his father on the ceiling in his mother's flat, and Jas felt the blood warm on his face. He woke up, grief-stricken and guilt-ridden.

Doon was washing his face with a warm cloth. "Quite a dream," the man said. "You were sweating quite a bit."

Jas pulled his head away from the cloth. His wounds didn't feel as painful as they had before. Tight, though, and Jas still felt weak and sleepy.

"Don't pull away, Jas," Doon said. "I'm only trying to wash your face."

Jas turned his back, holding on to the opposite side of the bed.

"Don't be absurd," Doon said. "You're acting like an adolescent."

Jas turned back over, and the quick motion made him grimace with a sharp pain from his hip. He looked at Doon, who again seemed to be kindness personified.

"Sorry that I didn't die on schedule," Jas said.

"Schedule? I have you scheduled for several centuries from now."

"You tried to kill me, you bastard!"

"Oh, that," Doon said, dismissing it with a wave of his hand. "That's not worth arguing over. Come along."

Doon beckoned to an orderly, who brought over a wheelchair. The orderly helped Doon lower Jas into the chair. Then Doon himself pushed Jas out of the room.

The went down corridors whose doors didn't open, until the corridor itself opened into a large room. Prominent at one end of the room was a desk. Behind it the wall was an elaborate computer terminal.

Doon wheeled Jas over to the computer terminal.

"Here's where I found you, Jas."

But Jas studiously did not look at the terminal. Instead he gazed at his injured upper arm. Of course the bandages had long since been removed, while he was under the healers' sleep, and the connective tissue now looked purple and disgusting. Doon didn't seem to mind that Jas wasn't paying attention, though, and soon the boy gave up and looked where he was supposed to.

"I have two basic files here -- they hold everything I need to know. One is the nonsense file. The other is the contradiction file. I found you in nonsense, of course."

A code. Jas noticed, too, that Doon had a double cover code on the program, besides the basic search and specify. The screen flashed: "All left-handed blue-eyed women with an IQ of 97 who eat more than two pounds of meat a week and who have more than three lovers." The list took three flashes to read out fully on the screen. "You'll be amused to know, Jas, that the list you just saw includes not just one, but two mistresses or former mistresses of Cabinet members. Incredible, isn't it, that they could both meet that description. Amazing things in this computer."

"And you found me under the program for all blue-eyed thirteen-year-old orphans with telepathic gifts," Jas said.

"No. You were part of a much more random search. Everyone knows the computer knows everything -- the trouble is that you have to have the keys to find what you want. I have the keys. And here's the program that found you."

The screen flashed: "All children IQ greater than measurable, PQ above 3.8, health excellent, with unfavorable reports from at least two teachers."

Jas's curiosity was stirred. "Why the unfavorable reports?"

"It's possible to be brilliant and utterly uncreative," Doon said. "But brilliant and creative people always antagonize the merely bright, who lack, shall we say, originality. Your odds of running into such unoriginal persons in the school system of Capitol are about 8,000 to one -- a reasonably good guide, then, to creativity. Better than any test I've seen."

"And you had unfavorable reports from two of my teachers?"

"Actually, Jas, you stuck out on this list because you've never had a teacher who didn't file an unfavorable report on you, despite the fact that your PQ shows you adjusted at the 3.9 level, which is neurotic but certainly not antisocial. Why the reports? I could only conclude that you were exceptionally creative. So I had the computer file you and gather all data. Merely routine, of course, but I was aware of you. That was five years ago. Between then and now I've been asleep on somec. Normally I take twenty years --" which, Jas realized, meant that Doon was getting more somec sleep than was legally permitted outside the service " -- but because of you I came out only three weeks ago."

"I didn't mean to wake you. I'll be quieter next time."

"I had the computer set to wake me when a certain kind of contradiction came up. The contradiction that triggered it was, of course, your score on the astrodynamics test."

"I wish I'd flunked it."

"No you don't. I don't mean the first astrodynamics test. That was routine. It merely identified you as a Swipe, and the computer would have been content to let you die. Luckily for me and the Empire -- and you, of course -- you're a survivor. You lived long enough to take the second test."

Jas remembered how he had labored over the answers to that one. "I didn't pass that one by checking in on anybody's mind, Doon."

"I know. After all, whose mind would you check in on, as you so colorfully put it? There isn't a single mind -- or computer, for that matter -- in the Empire or out of it that could have given you all the answers. You missed one test question, of course. But there were three questions on that test for which we didn't have an answer."

Doon paused. Jas slowly realized the implications of that.

"You mean I moved beyond --"

"I mean," Doon said, "that you are a reasonably bright young fellow with prospects for a satisfactory career in astrodynamics. My engineers assure me that they can now construct a ship that moves not the piddling triple-light-speed that our scouts now muster, but rather a dazzling eleven lights. Nothing, my young friend, goes eleven lights. And you twisted up the physicists' understanding of mass somehow, though they despaired of trying to explain the difference to me. I'm not mathematical. I hardly need tell you what this does for the Empire."

"I suppose it will speed up the mail."

"You have a very flippant attitude today," Doon said.

"I always antagonize the merely bright," Jas retorted.

"You might recall that I can have you killed if I like."

"You might recall that I have already faced the worse you can do to me. Kill me if you like. I hardly give a damn."

Doon punched something into the computer, and in the space over a large table in the middle of the room, a star map formed. The stars were fairly dense. Another code, and most of them disappeared. Now all that were left were pale blue stars and bright red stars. "Us," said Doon, "and Them."

"They surround us," Jas said, surprised.

"Colonies all around, yes indeed. We're hemmed in. And much as we hate to admit it publicly, this war is all about colonies. Whoever has room to expand will eventually win. Whoever is hemmed in will eventually lose."

"Too bad for Mother, then, I suppose," Jas said, though such an unpatriotic attitude jarred even him -- one didn't forget one's entire upbringing in a single fitof pique over a mere attempted murder.

"Too bad until now, anyway. With the new eleven-light drive, my young friend, we shall soon be colonized far beyond them -- and before they can steal the driveand duplicate it, we'll be firmly entrenched. It will remove the whole question of encirclement forever, I am quite confident."

"So play the national anthem and give me a medal, Mr. Doon. Don't have me eaten alive by little animals. It doesn't feel like a suitable reward."

"Does that still bother you? Surely you understand that it was a test."

"What were you testing for, how good I taste? Or how long I can hold my breath underwater?"

"Actually, I was testing to see if your clever and creative mind would keep you alive in a situation of high pressure. You're a survivor."

"And what if I had failed the test?"

"You'd be dead. I was willing to risk my whole waking on that one test."

"A whole waking. While I merely risked the rest of my life."

"You are annoying egocentric, Jas. What difference would it make to the world if you dropped dead right now? An infinitesimally smaller daily food demand for Capitol. In this universe you don't amount to horse manure -- you recall what horses are? No matter how bright you are, my boy, you are worthless and trivial to the universe until and unless you get into a position where you can make a difference."

Doon walked behind Jas and abruptly began pushing the chair toward the door.

"I spent the first thirty years of my life, Jason, just getting where I am. For thirty years I manipulated and connived and sacrificed -- I passed up five chances to go on somec before I was finally satisfied that I had the organization that I needed. I let myself reach thirty physical years of ago, in order to get the position I have."

"Assistant minister of colonization."

"I had that at twenty-two. The rest of the time was spent getting control of the computers, winning Mother's Little Boys to my group, getting men and women who ultimately reported to me in every level of the bureaucracy. And I had to keep it all secret so that someone didn't pull the plug while I was under somec."

Jas involuntarily started to laugh at the juxtaposition of the archaic phrase "pull the plug," but caught himself, and merely smiled. "The ultimately efficient megalomaniac," he said.

"Of course. Megalomaniacs are simply people who know damn well they can run the universe better than God or the present governors."

"You've been doing a super job," Jas said. "Everybody's happy."

"What the hell do I care if anybody's happy?" Doon asked. "Least of all you. Heredity has dealt with a full deck, my boy. So you're going to play cards until you win or go broke. You're in my collection, and if you do as you're told, you'll eventually reach a position where you can make a difference to humanity. But if you decide to do things on your own, you'll step outside my protection. Do that, and if Radamand Worthing doesn't get you, Hartman Tork will."

Doon pushed the chair quickly down the corridor. And as Doon's last statement hung in the air, Jas felt a tremendous vertigo. The chair was not moving forward, it was falling down the corridor, and he was powerless to stop it. He wasn't afraid of hitting the end -- it was the falling itself, the powerlessness itself that made him throw his hands out in front of him and shout, "Stop me! Let me stop!"

And Doon stopped pushing the chair. A sudden silence fell in the corridor. The rhythm of Doon's running steps made the stillness shout deafeningly. Jas covered his face with his hands.

"What's wrong, Jas?" Doon whispered. "Why are you afraid?"

Jas just shook his head.

"Brilliant or not, Jason, you are still a child, I suppose. If you would only talk like a child, people would remember to treat you like one."

"I don't want to be treated like a child."

"Well, you sure as hell don't want to be treated like an adult. Remember that you applied for the Service?"

"They turned me down."

"They've already reconsidered. You'll begin pilot school as soon as your skin is healed."

"Pilot school?" Jas was surprised. "That was just my escape, to save my life -- I never really wanted to be a pilot."

"Too intellectual for the Space Service, is that it? Well, consider it a lifesaver anyway, boy. Pilots live longer than anybody. If they don't get killed, of course -- but you're a survivor, right? On all their twenty- and thirty-year flights, they're only awake for a few months at the most. The rest of the time, somec. Pilots are on a somec level that will keep you young and alive for five hundred years."

"And after that?" Jas asked, trying to be sarcastic.

"Why, further instructions, of course," Doon answered with a bland smile. "There are only a few people in the Empire who are on the somec level that pilots take for granted. The whole Cabinet will die before you. Only I will stay alive. And the head of the Little Boys. And a few of my most needed assistants."

Jas stared. "The somec usage is determined strictly by law."

"And once upon a time there was a little girl with long blond hair that got involved with three talking bears. I control the people who control the somec, and that means I have control over life and death everywhere in the Empire. Rather a secure position to be in."

"I don't want to be a pilot.'

"Then you want to be a corpse. That's the choice."

"I thought you said you didn't think you were God!" Jas shouted.

"I don't."

"Then get out of my life!"

"Why? Just because I want to make you great, whether you like it or not?"

"If I'm going to be great, I'm going to do it on my own. And I don't know if I even care about 'greatness'. Not everybody's a would-be worldmaker, Doon."

"You have no vision, Jas."

"I see better than anybody I know."

"Better, but not very far. Your father's dead."

"You think I didn't know that?"

"He died because he and some other Swipe ship captains weren't content to serve. They went into business for themselves, and so they lost the protection of the Empire. They thought they didn't need it. So they took a dozen ships and made war with the universe. They were heroes for a while, of course. Everybody loves a rebel -- from a distance, and as long as the rebel loses gracefully. But when they were about to lose, they burned over some planets as a last-ditch effort. Then suddenly the Swipe heroes became Swipe bastards, and Swipes were hunted down and killed all over the Empire. And do you know why your father burned those planets?"

"No." Jas was grinding his teeth and couldn't stop.

"Because they wouldn't let him land. He requested permission to land and refuel, and they turned him down. He had to teach them a lesson."

"That's not true. They fired on him."

"You know that there's no weapon that can be fired in an atmosphere that can possibly do damage to a ship, Jas."

"My father burned them in self-defense."

"He was angry, and he had to teach them a lesson."

"No!"

"Like father, like son," Doon said.

Jason half-rose from the wheelchair, until the pain stopped him. "That's not true, you bastard! I'd never burn a planet, I never would --"

"You would, Jason. Right now you would, if they got you angry enough. Because you have no vision. You have nothing important to accomplish, no magnificent goal that keeps you from destroying yourself to achieve pretty, transitory objectives. You don't even have a right to be free until you have vision and purpose. And so I'll rule you, Jason, and keep you safe until you're able to rule yourself."

They moved again down the corridor. Jas tried to look into Doon's mind, to see, if he could, what Doon eventually planned to do with him -- having been betrayed once in the garden, he didn't plan to be betrayed again. But he couldn't twistaround to see Doon's eyes, and whether he simply couldn't control the gift well enough to see a person's thoughts without looking at him, Jas found nothing, could tell nothing.

They got back to the hospital room, which was still empty. Without a word Jas gingerly lifted himself out of the chair, and though he wanted to refuse Doon's help, he had to lean on the man as he made his way to the bed.

"Thirteen years old," Doon whispered. "Well, heaven knows you're ready for pilot school, anyway. They'll undoubtedly bend the rules and make you a pilot before you turn twenty-one -- why they chose that age anyway is beyond me to fathom. You should go on two or three voyages, and then sometime, say a century or a hundred and twenty years from now, when you return to Capitol from a voyage, come to the Ministry of Colonization and ask for an appointment with me. They'll know that they should wake me then. I'll look forward to seeing you again, my boy."

"Going back to sleep now, Mr. Doon?" Jas asked.

"In a few days. I've spent far too much time with you as it is, and I'm behind schedule on all my other work. You'd better be worth it."

"I hope I'm not."

"You like being excellent too well, Jas. You won't be able to stop yourself."

"I will not be part of your bloody vision!"

"How do you know that your resistance to me isn't exactly what I want from you?" Doon asked, amused.

In despair Jas threw himself back on the pillow, staring at the ceiling. There was no picture there. Through gritted teeth he said, "There isn't a damn thing I can do."

"You can trust me," Doon suggested. Jas laughed bitterly. Doon sighed. "Why don't you just look, and see who I am?"

"Look inside you?" Jas asked.

"Or are you afraid that if you knew me, you couldn't hate me anymore?"

And so Jas leaned up on his left elbow and looked behind Abner Doon's mind. It wasn't just a glance this time, as it had always been before. This time he looked deep, looked far, found the hidden places, found the lies and the lies behind them and finally came down to the truth. He held it in his mind -- the basis on which Abner Doon thought, decided, acted -- and was amazed. And then he stopped being amazed, and only withdrew from Doon's mind. Painfully, reluctantly removed himself, and then, because he had left, he wept. Doon went away. Finally Jas slept.

When he woke, he remembered vague words that Doon had said, but whether Doon had actually said them or Jas had only dreamed them, he didn't know. He remembered them, though, and over the next few weeks, as bureaucrats processed him into the Service, tested him, trained him, as he consented to everything done to him, he stopped despising himself for the memory of Doon's words, and began, instead, to call them back, to listen to them again in his dreams, and in his daydreaming.

One day they came to him and told him he was ready for his first Service assignment. It was on the other side of Capitol, a long journey, and at the end of it he was assigned a tiny cubicle in a far corner of the officers' section of the command center. It was the lowest in the hierarchy of privilege and perks, but it was a private room all the same, and in officers' quarters, too. And there was a full-length mirror on the wall.

"Ha," Jas said when he saw himself in it.

He was surprised to see that he was still only thirteen years old, still only a little over 165 centimeters in height, his main growth still ahead of him. Somehow during the last week he had stopped thinking of himself as a child. He was surprised at how young the face was. How slight the body.

He grinned, and the boy in the mirror smiled slightly back at him.

Then Jas turned and unpacked his few belongings, then began memorizing the list of command center rules and regulations that had been given him upon arrival. He was going to be the best damned officer they'd ever had. Because the sooner everyone was happy with him, the sooner he'd become a pilot. And the sooner he became a pilot, the sooner he'd be on somec, and then he could sleep through most of the years until he could wake up at the end of a century and come back to see Doon.

He knew it was ironic that he should look forward to seeing the man who had tried to kill him, but Jas understood that a little better, now. For he had seen Abner Doon as no other living person had seen him. From the inside. And inside Abner Doon, behind the memories and pain, he had found what no other man could show him.

Peace. Utter discontent, but peace with his vision of the possibility, peace with his commitment to fulfilling that vision.

And Jas remembered the words he had heard Doon say. "I love you, son."

He set the list aside, closed his eyes, and recalled, or tried to recall, the face on the ceiling in his mother's flat. He couldn't. It was gone from his memory. When he tried to remember his father's face, all he could see was Doon, smiling.

Chapter Two

The amusements in the Empire depended more on social class than on location. Though some games and sports were restricted to certain planets, they were few and fading -- those that had universal appeal, like the mismating simulacrum game of Exeter, ceased to be provincial, while those that didn't catch on off-planet, like cockball on Campbell, eventually died away.

The truly popular games, however, spread throughout the Empire rapidly -- only the limitation of space travel kept their acceptance from being immediate. Spectator sports were immensely popular, and the outcome of football, basketball, and undercut games were rushed by courier ships to every planet in the Empire. It was here that the first division between classes occurred: somec users began to time their wakings to fit the expected arrivals of courier ships, in order to watch the game and learn the outcome. Those not on somec, of course, could rarely see the same off-planet team perform twice in their lifetime, and so only live, on-planet games were readily available. Thus the somec users watched games on vast screens in huge banquet halls, where only the elite could come, and whereprices were prohibitive, while non-somec users crowded into vast arenas, watching live athletes of the second rank slug it out on the local playing field.

Participant sports also faced the same division. Team sports gradually became the prerogative of lower class enthusiasts, who could get together at frequent intervals, and who didn't have to worry about timing their wakings. Somec users, however, found it difficult to time their wakings just to get a team together. A seven-year sleeper would not be too terribly tempted to waken two years earlier in order to play on the same team with a superb rugby player who happened to be a fiver. Instead, individual players would "pair up" in "duels," and these would be taped and replayed for other somec users later. A great deal of gambling focused on these duels: Sleepers, upon waking, would consult lists of upcoming duels, study past tapes of the players, and place bets. On their next waking, they would learn the outcome of the duel and watch the tape, learning why and how they guessed right or wrong. The most common games were fencing, rapiers, tennis, wrestling, boxing, and knife-throwing, the last being an illegal game, with tapes secretly taken and preserved, since many deaths and injuries ended particular contests prematurely.

Aside from sports, amusement centered around computers. "Arcades" catered to the lower classes, offering many couples computer contests called "pinballs." Similarly, the wealthy also played with computers, but instead of simple one-person games, played vast multiplayer games such as "Soap Opera," "Monopoly," and "Empire," in which individual players, upon waking, could purchase an already existing persona from a player ready to go under, and play against other players already in the game. It became a point of pride to manipulate one's persona to the strongest possible position, and many players became so involved that they adopted the persona name as their own, purchasing the right to play in the same game at exorbitant prices at every waking for centuries. The same game, with different players manipulating the personae, could continue for centuries, and the Monopoly players of Sonora even today take great pride in the fact that throughout the Somec Revolution and the Dark Ages, their game missed only one year, and that because of a power failure.

But the most all-pervading amusements were the theatrical media: loops and plays. Plays, of course, were for the lowest classes, those who couldn't afford to see reality in the loops, which commanded high prices. But for once the division wasn't along somec lines. A majority of non-somec users were able to pay to see loops, and this one amusement brought them in contact with the lives of the somec society.

Loops were made of practically everything. Notably beautiful women were paid astronomical fees for allowing their private lives to be looped -- audiences would sit for hours watching the unedited holo broadcast, enduring (or enjoying?) the endless trivia, all for the sake of the dramatic moment, the argument, the intercourse. Naturally, budding actresses and actors would pay dearly for the privilege of taking part in that "totally true" looped life, and these women were the top money-makers in the Empire, rising to somec levels unreachable except to the highest government officials.

Next to the actresses in the lifeloops were the starship captains, pilots with such legendary names as Carter Poor, Jazz Worthing, and Ngao-ngao Bumubi. These pilots paid a small percentage of their earnings to the Service, and then allowed broadcasts of their victorious battles to be made throughout the Empire. They, too, received phenomenal wealth, and since they were already at the highest possible somec level, all their income could be -- and usually was -- invested in business. Some pilots ended up owning entire planets; others magnanimously sponsored universities; still others kept the uses of their money entirely secret.

And others brought their own downfall by getting embroiled in government. Perhaps the most famous case was the phenomenally successful pilot and loopstar Jazz Worthing, whose manager, Willard "Hop" Noyock, apparently involved him in the famous Shimon Rapth Coup.

Excerpt from The Complete

Public Pleasure Book, Onger

and Haight, 6645, p. 12.

Chapter Three

Hop Noyock woke up feeling hot and flabby. Hot because the reviver always left him sweating. Flabby because somehow, over the last three hundred years, he had gotten a little out of shape.

He rolled onto his side, and his stomach followed a moment later, hitting the metal of the bed with a disgusting slap. He belched.

"How," he asked the nurse who stood by with a sponge and a towel, "can I possibly belch after five years of sleep?"

The nurse shrugged and began to wipe him down. The sponge was ice cold and the water trickled freezingly along his back. Hop was vaguely ashamed that the nurse had to lift his stomach out of the way to wipe down the sweating crease. (I have got to exercise. I have got to diet.) But he knew that he wouldn't have time for exercise, that food would taste too good to worry about dieting, that in only five weeks he'd be eligible to return to the Sleeproom and go under for another five years until his client came back (aye, there's the rub).

Hop got up and walked stiffly to the hooks where his new clothes hung waiting for him. As he took his first steps he felt a sharp pain, a stiff uncomfortableness in a region of his body that should not be causing him any pain. Could he possibly have developed hemorrhoids while under somec?

"Excuse me," he said to the nurse, who immediately turned away. Nurses had to be very deferential to the sleepers -- but obsequiousness was a small price to pay for the privilege of somec, even at the nurses' rather trivial rate of two years up for one year under.

Hop Noyock reached behind himself and found the source of his discomfort. It was a small piece of paper, soaked in the sweat of his revival. On it was written, in Hop's own handwriting, a short message:

"Someone trying to kill Jazz. Must warn."

What in hell did that mean? He looked at the paper for some possible hidden clue. There was none. It was just the ordinary paper they kept by the sleepbeds to satisfy the paranoia of those who were convinced they would think of something absolutely vital between the time when their brains were taped and the time when the somec flowed into their veins, emptying all memories from their minds. Memory slips, they called the papers, and Hop had never used one before.

Now he had used one (or is it my handwriting?) And not only that, he had gone to the bother of putting it in a rather effective, if undignified, hiding place.

Apparently, when he had written it, he had thought it was vital.

But if (if) there was a plot to kill Jazz Worthing (alias Meal Ticket) how in hell had he found out about it between the taping and the somec? It was strictly illegal for anyone but the nurses to come into the tape-and-tap; that was in the contract -- it was imperial law, for heaven's sake, forget the contract.

And who would try to kill Jazz Worthing, the Empire's most successful starship pilot, not to mention the star of the five best-selling loops in trade history (I made the boy a star, he'd be nothing without his agent); killing him would not only hurt the Empire's war effort and tear down morale, it would also leave the fans disconsolate --

And thinking of the war effort, what about it? Hop went to the history sheets that hung from the wall. He was proud of the fact that he had a five-year summary, a reminder of his high somec rating.

The news was basically good. The Empire was still intact, more or less, win a little, lose a little but the war is far from home.

Then, practical as always, Hop checked the gossip sheets and spent an amusing five minutes as he dressed, reading over what happened while he was under. Of course, most of the people he had never met -- their somec schedules never coincided and so he knew of their escapades only from the sheets --

The flight schedules showed that Jazz was coming in only three days. Hop glanced up at the calendar on the wall (they never bother with clocks in the Sleeproom) and realized that he had been wakened almost three months early.

Damn.

Oh well, it could have been three years, that had happened before, and it was a small enough price to pay for his twenty percent of all Jazz Worthing's revenues. Without Jazz, Hop Noyock wouldn't be on somec at all.

Somebody trying to kill Jazz? Asinine.

(If I find them, I'll tear them apart, the bastards.)

*

Hop met Jazz the minute the smoke had been pumped out of the landing hall. The two-kilometer-long ship always took Hop's breath away (either that or the long climb up the ramp), just as the ridiculous narrow tube that held all the payload made him laugh. It looked like it was tacked onto the huge stardrive as an afterthought. The tail wagging the dog. A hammer to drive a needle through nothing.

Over the ship stretched the huge girders that supported the roof, now looking like fine lace in the distance. Only here, in the shipcradles, were there large doors in the metal roof that sheathed the entire planet of Capitol.

Hop watched as, far below the audience, gates were opened and the crowds flooded in. Jazz's arrival was big news on Capitol. Hop felt the old resentment as he watched the crowd fill all the available space around the base of the cradle. He had made a fortune by charging admission to Jazz's arrivals -- but some of his competitors, sponsoring less popular pilots, had managed to convince the government that it was illegal to charge admission for entry to public government facilities -- and they had even made Hop give back the money he had already made on it. Damn poor losers, that's all they were.

And then the door of the ship fell open and out stepped Jazz Worthing. Two hundred meters below, the fans started screaming so loudly that the sound could be heard even above the roar of the machinery that was testing the stardrive. Hop Noyock threw out his arms and made the theatrical gesture that had been seen by billions at the end of every Jazz Worthing loop. He strode to the tired-looking pilot and embraced him.

"Jazz Worthing, Capitol is grateful that you're home safe and victorious again."

"Nice to be back," Jazz said, smiling slightly, his bright blue eyes flashing in the dazzling lights. He was several centuries old, and looked younger than twenty. One last pat on the back, and then Hop reached down and flipped off the loop recorder. Jazz relaxed as soon as the taping was finished. He tensed again, though, when Hop whispered in his ear, "Somebody may be trying to kill you. Don't leave the crowds."

"Hop, I don't even want to see the damned crowds."

"No one'd dare try anything in the crowds. We'll talk in a minute."

Hop led Jazz to the railing and showed him off to the cheering fans. Their roar of approval was quite stirring. Hop felt quite stirred.

"Hop, what the hell is going on?" Jazz asked.

"I don't know," Hop said. "Bow for the bastards, Jason, give them their money's worth."

Jazz looked at Hop in surprise. "You don't mean the government's letting you charge admission again?"

"No, no, figure of speech, little figure of speech, you know."

"I just want to go home and go to bed, Hop. Don't give me any trouble about it or I'll fire you."

Hop shrugged. "If you get killed, I'll be out of a job anyway."

Jazz sighed and listened as Hop told him about the note.

"I especially like your hiding place," Jazz commented as they walked down the winding ramp.

"It's my body's only built-in pocket."

"How are we doing?"

"Financially? Latest audit was five years ago, and it said about seventeen billion."

"I left about forty years ago. What would it have been worth then?"

"Eleven billion. Inflation's getting worse."

"That note. Are you sure you weren't just playing a joke?"

"On myself? Ha ha, what a riot."

Jazz set his lips tightly. "Why would anyone want to kill me?"

"One of the other captains?" Hop suggested, lightly.

"We're all friends. We all like each other."

"Are you sure?"

"I'm sure."

Hop shrugged. "One of their managers then. Out to wipe out the competition."

"Do you believe that?"

"Hell no. It sounds more like treason. Must be something involved with the government, or how could the information have reached me in the Sleeproom? Somebody thinks your death would help or hurt some faction in the government. I wish you'd stay out of politics."

The ramp seemed to go on forever. The roar of the stardrive test grew softer; the roar of the crowd grew louder. "Are you sure," Jazz asked, "that you didn't already know the information, and put it together after you were taped?"

"I've been racking my brains. Nothing. I didn't know anything about any threat on anybody's life. I don't know anybody with a motive. I was told, after the taping."

"Damn."

"How are the loops from this trip?"

"Oh, some good stuff. My fleet got caught in an ambush near Kapittuck and we fought our way out without losses. Very dramatic. Some good close-ups, too, you'll be in gravy for the next five or ten wakings."

"So will you," Hop said.

"Sure," Jazz answered. "And I have so much time on Capitol to enjoy it."

(Don't complain, you bastard. When I started working for you three centuries ago we were both in our teens, subjectively speaking, and now count my gray hairs. I wake up every five years, while you coast through life waking only three or four times a century, staying young forever --)

"You look great, Hop," Jazz said.

"You, too, Jazz old man," Hop said, using the obscenity freely.

They reached the bottom of the ramp, where police were struggling to hold the crowd back from charging up to meet them. "Here are the lions," Jazz said, and then they waded into the crowd of outreaching hands and hungering eyes.

*

They went to a party that night -- after all, wakings were short and all the pleasure had to be crammed into only a few short days and weeks. Besides, eleven actresses doing lifeloops were there, and all of them had paid a tidy sum to get Hop to promise that Jazz Worthing would not only attend, but also spend at least three minutes talking to them. Jazz took care of the duty calls right away, and then proceeded to win a small fortune (a drop in the bucket) at pinochle, losing his preoccupied look for a few hours. The hostess, Arran Handully, a former actress who had now "retired" -- which meant she only made guest appearances in other women's lifeloops -- was forever fluttering around Jazz and Hop, bringing them drinks, making charming conversation: obviously Jazz was her prize for the evening. Hop fleetingly wondered if she had arranged her waking just to coincide with his coming. That would be flattery indeed.

After the party had been going for about four hours or so, Arran Handully called for silence, which after a few minutes was grudgingly granted to her.

"One of the reasons for this party is that Fritz Kapock has designed a new costume that is so compelling, so magnificent, that I had to show it to you the best way I know how -- on me."

Since there was nothing remarkable about the dress she was wearing -- floor-length white with long sleeves that ended in gloves and a high neck -- everyone knew she was going to dance, which would be fine, she had a Capitolwide reputation for interesting effects, and one of the best-selling lifeloops in history had been her "Rehearsal Day" tape in which she had practiced every conceivable dance pose and motion, nude.

The Kapock design was interesting enough -- as she danced her ordinary-looking dress began to glow brightly, dazzlingly, and slowly the guests realized that it was dissolving somehow in the process. The bright aura lingered for several minutes after she was completely naked, and when she ended her dance sparks still seemed to dance around her. The guests applauded wildly -- some with lust, some with real appreciation, and a few with gratitude: with this on their loops, more than one budding young actress would have a good start to her career.

After her bow, she brought out Kapock, the designer, who also bowed stiffly.

"Poor guy," Hop commented to Jazz, "he hates the bitch, but who can turn down a commission these days? Inflation eats it up faster than you can spend it. And the price of lower somec ratings is always going up."

Arran picked up a drink from a passing tray and walked out among her guests. The other women soon realized that she had no intention of dressing again, and so they sighed and undressed, too, wishing they hadn't bothered to spend so much money on costumes for the party.

Arran went to Jason Worthing and handed him the drink. Immediately a group of lifelooping women and interested onlookers gathered to see what would happen, hoping perhaps to interject some witticism that might turn the incident to their favor -- some clever remark that might get them invited to another, grander party on their next waking, or the one after.

"Did you like Fritz's little costume?"

"Very clever," Jazz said, smiling and accepting the drink. "How is it done?"

Fritz Kapock, who had followed Arran, smiled and said, "I'll never tell."

"He told me," Arran said, tossing her head prettily, "that it's oxidation."

Fritz laughed. "Of course. That much is obvious."

"Oh, and now Fritz is telling everyone how stupid I am," Arran pouted.

What a great act, Hop thought. Billions of loopwatchers, seeing this scene, would nudge each other and say, "See, there's Arran Handully, pretending to be dumb. She'll get 'em in a minute."

Fritz Kapock, awkwardly denied her accusation. "Of course I'm not."

"It's still a dazzling effect," Jazz said, and Hop was pleased that Jazz was making an effort to be pleasant company, even without being on contract.

"That calls for a drink," Arran said, taking a glass out of the hand of a servant near her.

Kapock held up his glass and said, "To Arran Handully, who managed to upstage my small effort by wearing a costume far more beautiful -- her lovely self."

"What a poet," Arran whispered, and then she brought a gasp from everyone by stepping toward Jazz Worthing and putting her own glass to his lips. A declaration of intent, and everyone waited for the completion of the ritual, Jazz sipping and then placing his own glass up to Arran's lips.

He didn't do it, though. Instead, he stepped back, rejecting the offer, and raised his glass into the air. "And let me add my own toast to her courage -- who else would dare to try to murder me at her own party?"

It took a moment for the words to sink in. And then the guests murmured as Arran protested, using her body coquettishly in a reflexive attempt to disarm and win over all watchers. "What a thing to say, Captain Worthing. There are politer ways to say no to a girl."

"You mean you deny it? Then take a drink from your own glass, my dear."

"After I've been refused? I could almost wish it were poisoned."

"Really? And so could I," Jazz said. "Shall we see if your wish is fulfilled?" He stepped toward her abruptly, taking the glass from her hand, seizing her by the hair with his other hand, and putting the glass to her lips. No one intervened. Let the action flow, as they all said. However things turned out, this would sell a billion loops.

"Take a drink, sweet Arran Handully, from the glass you offered me," Jazz said, smiling.

"What an actor you are," she said softly, and Hop was sure now that he saw terror in her eyes. For the first time it occurred to him that somehow Jason might well have uncovered the very murder plot he had been warned against. But how? They hadn't left each other since he disembarked from the ship.

Jazz began to tip the glass up to pour over her smiling mouth. Suddenly she writhed away, knocking the glass on the floor. It broke; the liquid splashed.

"Don't touch it," Jazz commanded. "It's now time for at least one of our kind and watchful observers to show himself and take a fragment of glass for analysis."

Suddenly several women moaned in disappointment, punching at the buttons on their loop recorders. A grim-faced man came up, holding a suppressor, and the moans stopped. Mother's Little Boys could do whatever they liked -- including cutting out a choice scene from a lifeloop. The man knelt down by the fragments of glass and in a very businesslike way mopped up a sample of the liquid and took four pieces of glass, dumped them into a small bag he pulled from his pocket, and then, nodding to the company, left.

Arran was sitting down, shaking.

Fritz Kapock looked at Jason Worthing in hatred. "That was incredibly rude, doing a thing like that," he said.

"I know," Jazz agreed, smiling. "A more courteous man would have drunk, and died gracefully." Jazz excused himself from the group in a way that informed everyone that he preferred not to be accompanied. Hop, of course, accompanied him anyway.

"How did you know?" Hop asked.

"I didn't. But it seems like it was a pretty good guess, doesn't it?"

Guess? Hop knew perfectly well that Jazz Worthing wasn't stupid enough to open himself up to libel suits on the basis of mere guesswork. But if he preferred not to tell, why push him? Then again, why not? Managers have some rights.

"Come on, Jazz. How did you know?"

"I'm a Swipe," Jazz answered.

Hop rolled his eyes and laughed. "All right then. Don't tell me. Protect your sources. But at least tell me why she tried!"

Jazz only smiled and looked over at the group gathered to commiserate with their offended hostess. She was looking weak and helpless, and Hop couldn't help but admire her technique. A brilliant actress -- able to utterly hide every natural emotion, play a role every waking moment.

Fritz Kapock separated himself from the group around Arran Handully and began to walk toward where Hop and Jazz were sitting.

"You see," Jazz said, "they're persistent. They won't settle for one attempt."

"What?" Hop asked. "Not Kapock. He's --" but then Hop remembered the gossip sheet. "-- a damned good swordsman and has had more than a few formal duels. None to the death, but Jazz, be careful, you've got to keep yourself safe. The Empire needs you."

"Not as much as you need your twenty percent, my dear friend," Jason answered.

Fritz Kapock stopped about three meters away, and began talking loudly with a group that had gathered there. Jazz didn't take his eyes off Kapock. Hop was worried. "Jazz, you know a hell of a lot more than you've been telling me."

"Of course," Jazz said, patting Hop's wrist. "That's why you're a manager and I'm a starpilot."

Kapock's voice came loudly to them: "Only a bastard and a coward would make an accusation like that -- especially at her own party."

People nearby began to edge closer. Actresses frantically fiddled with their loop recorders, trying to get them to warm up again, though they knew it was hopeless for a few minutes more -- suppressors always ruined recording for exactly ten minutes, no more, no less.

"Jazz, he's trying to provoke you," Hop said.

"Perhaps I shall let him succeed," Jazz answered, and Hop resigned himself to watching his meal ticket get killed on the end of Fritz Kapock's sword. It went like clockwork.

"That boor isn't fit company for civilized persons," said Fritz.

"Hold my hat," said Jazz.

"They should never allow these common soldiers in refined company," said Fritz Kapock.

"Fritz Kapock, I believe?" said Jazz.

"And you're the man who ruined our hostess's evening, aren't you?" Fritz snarled.

"I assume you were hoping I would overhear your insults."

"It's hardly my affair what you do and don't hear."

A woman whooped with glee as her loop recorder came on. Another breathed a sigh of relief.

"I heard, I take due note, and I assume you'll want choice of weapons."

Hop moaned. Jason hadn't even been clever. Hadn't even tried to get Kapock to make the challenge so that the starpilot would get the chance to choose peashooters or tennis or some other harmless duel weapon.

"Foils are effeminate," Kapock said. "And sabers are like meat axes. Rapier? Three edged?"

"Which, just by coincidence, you no doubt have nearby," Jason said. "I'll agree to that."

A servant went for the weapons, and Hop angrily volunteered to be Jason's second. "You irresponsible bastard," Hop muttered as he helped Jazz take off his jacket and shirt.

"True, true. It's been nice knowing you," Jazz said.

"Do you know how to fight with swords?" Hop asked, wondering how Jazz could be so calm about this.

"Sure. You just hold it by the dull end and stick the sharp end in the other fellow."

"Not funny," Hop said. And then the weapons arrived, the crowd cleared a space, and Fritz and Jason, stripped to the waist, took their weapons and went to opposite corners. As a volunteer referee went through the ritual of pleading with both parties to reconcile their differences peaceably, Jazz asked Hop Noyock, "Do you have your loop recorder?"

"Yes."

"Is it off?"

"Of course."

"Then here. Use this." And Jazz handed Hop a small suppressor. Hop looked at him in surprise.

"This is illegal."

"So is dueling. But I want you to have an exclusive. Your last chance to make money off me."

Hop grimaced at the implication of his own venality; at the same time he realized that having an exclusive of this duel would be immeasurably valuable whoever won. So he turned on the suppressor, and the moans and cries of outrage came from women and men all around the dueling square. Then, because his own loop recorder had not been on, Hop started it right up, ready to create another Noyock Productions masterpiece.

"All ready?" Jazz asked. Noyock, holding both suppressor and recorder in his pockets, nodded. "Wish me luck," Jazz said, and then he raised his sword to signal the start of the duel. Kapock raised his, and then leaped forward, swinging the sword in a dazzling display of control, putting the point exactly where he wanted it. Jazz merely held his sword in front of him, almost as if it were a foil, and stood half-crouched. No style at all.

Then Kapock came close enough to strike -- and struck. But his sword met Jason's in mid-thrust. Kapock recovered, struck again and again found his blade parried. He backed off. Jason merely stood, waiting, his sword having varied only twice from its straight forward position. Kapock was embarrassed and angry. He had been made to look like a pompous show-off, who could be stopped with ease by a man not even bothering to observe proper form.

Kapock moved to attack again, this time with such quick movements that parrying seemed impossible. Feints could not be distinguished from attacks; but Jason was not drawn into parrying any of the false moves. Instead he moved only three times, each time throwing aside Kapock's whistling blade, and the third time twisting the blade, breaking it off near the hilt. The broken blade spun out toward the crowd, but hit the floor before it could do any damage.

Kapock stood looking at the broken sword in his hand, as amazed as Hop had ever seen a man. Hop could understand it -- he had tried his hand at swordplay years ago, and he remembered enough to know that it was humiliating to be disarmed on only the fifth parry. He also knew that Jazz had blocked the attacks as perfectly as if he had known exactly where and when they were coming, before Kapock himself even knew. More grist for the Jazz Worthing legend mill.

The next step, of course, was for Jazz to step forward and magnanimously state that he was satisfied, and no further fighting was necessary. But at that moment a woman screamed, and all eyes whirled to Arran, who was standing, still naked, looking with horror at the large doors to her hall. They were open, and a group of laser-armed men in Space Service uniforms were marching in. And all at once everyone seemed to come to the same conclusion. Jazz Worthing, the great starpilot, had been under attack -- poison, and then a duel. These soldiers would not stand for such an insult to the Service and to the Service's most successful fleet commander. And the guests, in the irrational manner of crowds, immediately began to head for the opposite exit. At the moment they started to move, however, those doors opened, too, and more soldiers came in. The crowd panicked, massed in a jumble in the middle of the hall, and began to shout and scream and scurry meaninglessly from place to place so that it was impossible to tell what was going on.

So Hop did what he always did. He stuck with Jason, following him as Jazz coolly walked to Arran Handully, who was looking dazed and vaguely depressed as the crowd whirled around her. Jazz picked her up and lifted her over his shoulder in a manner vaguely reminiscent of the worst excesses of the pornographic brutality plays. Hop had never seen Jazz treat a woman like that -- but then, she had tried to kill him.

Fritz Kapock tried to interfere. Jason hit him, but the blow would only have slowed the artist down, hampered as Jason was by Arran's rather uncooperative bulk. Hop considered it his duty (and a pretty damn good idea for profits) to try to keep Jazz Worthing alive no matter what stupid things he was trying to do. So Hop used a few of the low blows he had learned in his childhood in the lowest corridor of Capitol, and Fritz was out for the duration. Perhaps longer. Hop didn't stop to check.

They headed for a service entrance, and Hop helped muscle a path for Jason to follow through the crowd that was trying to get out that way. Once into the corridor beyond the door (carpeted, Hop noticed -- Arran had spent a lot of money on her flat), Jason looked at the direction the crowd was heading, and went the other way. Hop Noyock tagged along, noting with pleasure that he was young enough to appreciate the way Arran Handully looked as she wriggled and jerked, trying to free herself from Jason's grasp. When she started digging fingernails into Jazz's back, Noyock swatted her sharply. "None of that," he said, and she seemed to realize for the first time that she and Jazz weren't alone. She stopped struggling.

"Why don't they have anybody in here guarding the halls?" Hop asked.

"Because they're Servicemen, not constables, and certainly not Mother's Little Boys," Jason answered. "Besides, we're heading farther in, not out."

"Why the hell are we doing that?" Noyock asked, making it a point to breathe heavily so that Jazz knew how tired he was getting as they wound up a ramp.

"Go the other way, if you want to get picked up by angry soldiers."

Hop doggedly followed as Jason went up the ramp, and saw, to his relief, that the starpilot was capable of getting tired. Jazz slowed at the top of the ramp, then swung Arran off his shoulder and slammed her a little harder than necessary against a wall. He held her right hand in his, with his forearm pressing against her throat, and his legs both to one side of hers -- he wasn't giving her an opportunity for any action. Just to be sure, however, Hop held her left hand, too. She shot him a glare.

"Don't look at me like that, Arran," Hop said, using his wounded dignity voice. "I'm only holding you twenty percent against the wall. He's responsible for eighty percent."

She didn't answer. Jazz ignored Hop, too, and so he stood holding Arran's hand as Jazz asked her, "Which way from here?"

She didn't answer.

"I know you have a hiding place, Arran. The reason those soldiers were there is because the test on the poison came out positive and they got mad. Want me to take you down there to them?"

She shook her head.

"Then where's the hiding place?"

Hop watched as Jazz stared at her eyes, as if hoping to pluck the answers out of them. Apparently Arran saw a different intent, and she let her eyes fill up with tears. A play for sympathy, Hop knew, but it didn't stop him from feeling instant pity. The bitch. Actresses shouldn't be allowed to have private lives. They didn't know how to stop acting.

Abruptly Jazz jerked her away from the wall and slung her over his shoulder again. Sighing wearily, Hop followed him off down a corridor.

The halls were narrower up here, Hop noticed, and the floors and walls were made of wood. He touched one, and was surprised at the roughness. Not just wood, then. Real wood. He whistled.

"Shut up," Jazz said.

"Why so glum?" Hop asked. "A billion men would give their privates to have her over their shoulder wearing that costume. Though that would rather defeat the purpose, wouldn't it?"

Jazz didn't laugh, and so Hop shut up.

They stopped in front of a rather significant-looking door. "What's in here?" Jazz asked.

"A wardrobe," she said immediately.

"Can you break it open, Hop?"

"Me?"

"Forget it," Jazz said. He stepped back and, still burdened with Arran, kicked the door. It budged, but just barely.

"Let me," Hop said, now that he was sure there was no sentry planted in the door. No sense getting blown up unnecessarily. Jazz may be a meal ticket, but keeping him alive would be pointless to Hop if Hop weren't around to get his twenty percent. He stood facing the opposite wall of the narrow corridor, his hand firmly placed on the wall. Then he jumped up and pushed off from the wall, slamming his feet into the door. It didn't quite break free, but all it took was another half-hearted kick from Noyock as he lay on the floor.

"Spectacular," Jazz said as he stepped over Noyock and walked into the room. "You're very agile for a fat man."

"Paunch covers muscle, it doesn't replace it," Hop commented, and got up. The "wardrobe" was a large library, with mirrors wherever there were no shelves, including the floor and ceiling. But the real attraction was the contents of the shelves -- real paper books, not tapes, filling every available space. Noyock wasn't much of a reader, but he appreciated value in whatever form it took, and under his breath he mumbled, "The lady's literate, after all."

Jazz paid no attention. Instead he picked Arran off his shoulders and tossed her to the floor. She landed heavily.

"Where's the door?" he heard Jazz say. Arran shook her head, wincing with some pain she acquired in the fall to the floor. Jazz shook her, and she started to cry. Hop hated himself, but the crying made him want to say, "Hey, Jazz, go easy on the woman, huh?" He resisted the impulse, however.

So did Jazz, if indeed he felt such a charitable feeling. Instead, he doubled up his fist and plunged it sharply into Arran's stomach. Hop was sure he heard a rib break. She screamed in pain, and Hop wondered if it was the first honest emotion he had seen her use.

Jazz leaned down and put his ear by her lips. Hop was surprised she was conscious -- but apparently she had been for at least a moment, for Jason got up and walked straight to a bookshelf and pulled off two books, reaching behind to find something. Immediately a mirror slid into the floor, and a little room was revealed behind. Jazz walked back to Arran, picked her up, and carried her limp unconscious body into the room. Noyock decided to follow.

As soon as they were inside, Jason lay Arran down on the floor. "Find a light switch," Jazz said, but before Noyock could even glance around, the door slid back up, cutting off all light.

"And I suppose you didn't think to bring a candle," Jason said.

"Next time I'll do better," Hop answered.

"A lighter?"

"You know I don't poison myself, Jazz, why would I carry fire with me?" Not that Hop hadn't once junked himself, but he had long since decided long life took precedence over fleeting pleasures, like smoking. That decision had made him feel like a puritan for months. Now he regretted it again.

They stood in the darkness for a while. Then Hop offered to prowl around and see what he could feel.

"Don't even twitch," Jazz said. "There may be some nasty surprises in there."

They waited awhile more. "Has it been three years yet, Jazz, or only two?" Hop asked.

"About four minutes. Give the lady a chance to wake up."

"I think you broke a rib."

"I hope so. The bitch deserved to lose her head."

"But she never did lose it, did she."

"Quiet. She's waking up."

Arran groaned, and Noyock wasn't even surprised that the moan was vaguely seductive. She could hardly be expected to lose lifetime habits all at once.

"Don't move around too much, Arran," Jazz said softly. "Your rib is broken, and you're in the secret room behind the mirror in the library."

"How did you find the door!"

"You told me."

"I never --"

Jazz slapped her, and she cried out. Hop began to feel a little bit disturbed at the way his meal ticket was acting. Cruelty should have some point, Hop firmly believed.

Jazz hissed at her, "You've lied every moment since we first met tonight. You tried to kill me. I want to know why."

Silence. The another slap, another cry of pain.

"Dammit, Jazz, stop it!" Hop said.

"I've got to know what I'm up against, Hop. There's a lot she isn't telling me. Like the fact that she has a friend named Farl Baak, a Cabinet member, who for some absurd reason wants me dead."

She gasped.

"I didn't come to your party ignorantly, Arran. Now you can start telling us things. For instance, you might start by telling me how to turn the lights on in here."

"Right by the door," she said.

Hop stepped in the direction he remembered the door was in, but Jazz's voice cut through the darkness. "Don't touch it! Stop where you are, Hop!" Hop stayed where he was. He heard Arran groan in fear -- whatever Jazz was doing she didn't like. "Clever trap, Arran," Jason said. "But I'll start feeding you your fingers in small sections if you don't start cooperating."

Another groan of fear and pain, and Arran shouted, "Stop it! Stop it -- the light's in the far right corner as you come in, at about knee height --"

The light went on. Jazz was still holding Arran's hand, tightly, while his other hand was extended to touch the spot she had described. Noyock turned from them to examine the door. "Where's the trap?" he asked.

"A metal plate under the wallcoat," Jazz said. "How many volts, Arran?"

"Enough," Arran answered. "I wish it had fried you."

"Hit her once for me," Noyock said. "Suddenly I'm not in love with her anymore."

"I'll be glad to oblige you," Jazz said, "in just about one second if Arran doesn't tell me why Farl Baak wants me dead."

She shook her head. "I never heard of Farl Baak."

"Just because nobody looped it doesn't mean it didn't happen," Jazz said.

"I didn't know the drink was poisoned," she said. Jazz slapped her hard, on the growing bruise at the bottom of her rib cage. She cried out, swung her arm to try to hit him, but was stopped by the pain. He slapped her again. She cried out again in pain, and tears flowed out the corners of her eyes, dribbling down into her ears and hair. These tears, Hop realized in surprise, were involuntary.

"I don't know why you're persecuting me," she said. Jazz only waited. "All right," she said. "I know Farl Baak. But he didn't want you dead. He had nothing to do --"

Another slap, and this time the cry was louder, and she started to sob slightly afterward. Each sob took its toll in pain, and she stopped crying and only moaned. "Because," she grunted in agony, "you're in on the plot, you bastard."

"Plot?" Jazz asked.

"To control the somec. To take control of the Sleeproom."

Jazz chuckled. "And so you had to kill me? How could I be a threat to you, sleeping in a ship off between the stars?"

She shook her head slightly. "Too many of the wrong people were all timed to wake up when you arrived, Starpilot." She spat out his title. "Farl put two and two together."

"Ah."

"And you control the fleets and the armies. That's why we had to get rid of you before we acted against the others --"

"Jazz is just a starpilot," Hop said, wondering how such a sensible woman could believe such drivel.

"Go touch the doorframe," Jazz said. "Or shut up by yourself, Hop."

Hop shut up again.

"It's cold," Arran said, and her teeth were chattering.

Jazz looked at Hop, and Hop sighed. Jason was still stripped down for the duel, and only Hop's expensive topjacket was available. He took it off, emptied the loop recorder and suppressor out of the pockets, and handed it to Jazz, who wrapped it gently around her.

"Remind me never to trust a secret to her," Hop said to Jazz. "She didn't last very long under pressure."

Arran, despite the pain in her ribs, snarled back at him, "No one expected I'd have to deal with an animal."

Jason buttoned the jacket, and Hop noticed appreciatively that he had not bothered to put her arms into the sleeves -- the coat would certainly keep her arms confined, if she should be tempted to try something. "The government," Jazz said, "has tricks that make me look like a lamb." Hop wondered vaguely what a lamb was.

"There are different kinds of pain," Arran said quietly. "Maybe you can take this kind without breaking. I'm sure of it."

"What kind of pain can you take?" Hop asked.

"I can keep smiling when I want to kill. I can seduce a man I loathe. I can spend six months without a single moment of privacy, waking, sleeping, or going to the bathroom. I can endure lovers who feel only contempt for me and pretend that I love every minute of it."

Hop didn't feel like making a clever answer, and Jazz patted her shoulder gently. "All right, and you held up pretty damned well when I was hitting you, too."

"What are you going to do with me now?" Arran asked.

"Sit and watch you, I suppose, until suppertime," Jazz said.

"She needs a doctor," Hop offered.

Jason shook his head. "If we try to take her out of here now, she'll need a mortician. Her whole flat's probably full of troops, searching for her everywhere. If they find her, the law lets them kill her. She did try to poison one of Mother's officers of the fleet."

"Does that mean we can never leave here?"

"It means we'll stay here awhile, Hop. Try to be patient. We'll be through with this before your waking's over. You won't lose any sleep."

"And when we leave, what'll we do? Report on this Farl Baak?"

"Whom do you report a Cabinet minister to? God?"

"What'll we do, then?"

"I want to find out what Baak is really up to. There is no somec plot, and I'm certainly not part of one even if there is. So there must be some reason all those wakings were timed to my arrival. I mean to find out."

"She was probably lying."

"She wasn't."

"You sound pretty sure of that."

"I plan to find out who's behind the plot to kill me. And what his real reasons are. And then I'm going to kill the bastard."

"That's the Jason Worthing I've known and loved," Hop said.

*

Hours later, Jason decided it was safe for him to go look for Arran's private doctor. She told him how to get out, and to Hop's surprise he believed her immediately. Apparently he was a better judge of people than Hop.

The doctor confirmed that the rib was, indeed, broken. The shock was dangerous, the doctor said. They should have got immediate medical attention. Jason didn't bother explaining that it would have been impractical, and so Hop also kept quiet. And not even Arran hinted as to how she had broken the rib, or what she was doing naked in a secret room. Either the doctor was very good at hiding his curiosity, or he had done all this before. He left without asking for a credit card, either. Hop decided he had to look into the idea of getting a private physician.

Jason had picked up a full outfit of clothing for Arran. He had chosen from her wardrobe in the flat an outfit loose enough to fit over the bandages the doctor had told her she would have to wear for at least six hours until the growth hormone wore off. "Otherwise," he had said, "you'll have a very odd-shaped chest, which might hurt business." Jason had also found a shirt and jacket that made his military pants look a little less like a uniform.

And Hop got his topjacket back. "Well, dressed for the evening and nowhere to go," he said.

"Arran will tell us where to go," Jazz said.

"I don't know any hiding places outside my flat."

"I don't want a hiding place. I want you to take us to Farl Baak," Jazz said.

She gasped. "He'll kill you."

"He doesn't really care if I'm dead, Arran. He only wants to make sure I won't interfere with him. But what if I'm on his side in this little rebellion?"

She shook her head. "He won't believe you."

"Maybe not. Let's go see."

"I don't want you dead."

"Why the sudden change of heart?" Jason asked.

Arran suddenly made her face ugly. The woman can look downright natural, Hop realized. "Because even a bitch like me is capable of realizing that you had every right to kill me and instead you saved my life."

"Only in order to get information from you," Jazz said.

"If that were true," Arran answered, "I'd be dead now. You know how to get to Farl's place. You don't need me."

"I don't want to go in the front door."

She sighed. "Now that my ribs are healing, I don't want any interference with them. I'll take you. But it's none of my business what Farl does to you."

"Maybe it would be more to the point," Hop suggested, "if you worried about what we might do to Farl."

She glanced coolly at Hop. "Farl isn't a naked woman with a broken rib."

They walked out of the library and no one saw them. They walked down several ramps and corridors, and finally left Arran's flat through the delivery entrance, and in all that time they didn't see one soldier, one constable, or one human being.

"Why isn't there a guard?" Hop asked.

"Mother's Little Boys are asleep on the job," Jazz answered.

"Jazz, I think this is about the stupidest thing I ever saw you do."

Jason looked at him expressionlessly. "No one's making you come along."

Hop was surprised. "If no one's making me come along, then why the hell am I coming?"'

"To protect your investment."

"Damn right."

Arran led them through a circuitous path of tubes, private cars, and corridors. Finally they found themselves ascending a long emergency stairway. After eight flights Hop suggested that they stop and rest.

As they sat on the steps, Jason looked intently at Arran's eyes. She gazed coldly back. Finally Jazz said, "You have one minute to tell me what's really at the top of these stairs."

Arran pursed her lips, then got up and started back down the steps. Jazz followed, and Hop muttered as he brought up the rear, "How come you only broke one rib, Jazz?"

They followed a different route and this time came to a very ordinary door labeled "Employees Only."

"I'm an employee," Arran said, with a nasty smile. Inside the door was a ladder, which they climbed. They came out in a storage closet with no lights. Arran confidently pushed open a door. From outside the closet they heard a man's voice say, "Who the hell -- Arran, darling, I'll have you roasted if you ever come here again without an appointment --"

And then Farl Baak stopped talking because he saw Jason and Hop behind the woman.

"Take your hand away from the call button," Jazz said.

"Good morning, Starpilot," Baak said. "I must say, Arran, when you mess up an assignment it isn't necessary to bring the target back with you."

"Just a word of warning, Mr. Baak. I'm not very heavily armed --" not armed at all, Hop refrained from saying "-- but the computer on my ship is watching us, and the full record of this conversation will be recorded in four different places. You don't pull the right strings to stop an investigation from finding you."

Baak pulled his hand away from the side of the bed he was lying on.

"The poison was rather direct," Jazz said. "And the duel was stupid."

"What duel?" Baak asked. He looked at Arran for an answer.

"Fritz Kapock," she said.

"That damned hero. And here I thought he was a honk." Baak laughed slightly. "What can I do for you, Mr. Worthing, since you're unfortunately still alive?"

Jason walked over to him, dragged him to an upright position, and slapped him three times. Blood ran from Farl's nose. Then the pilot slammed him against the wall. Farl slid down the wall to the floor.

Hop noticed that Arran seemed distressed by this turn of events, and so he took her hands and held them rather forcefully. "Don't strain any ribs trying to help your friend," Hop said. He didn't mention that he didn't know why the hell Jazz was hitting Baak right now. Was he beginning to believe his own image -- tough guy and brawler? (I've created a monster.)

Arran didn't try to break away from him. She merely spat in his face. Because he was holding her hands, he couldn't wipe it away. "Jazz," he said. "I want a new contract for twenty-five percent. Twenty isn't enough for these special services."

Farl Baak was tipping his head backward to try to stop the nosebleed. "If you've broken my nose, you bastard, I'll see to it you're shredded."

Jazz laughed. "Baak, you've got a reputation as a jackass and a pervert. No need to try to maintain that reputation now. Why did you want me killed, and who are you working for?"

"I'm a Cabinet minister, Worthing, and I don't work for anyone."

Jason took a step toward him. Farl slid away. "I meant it, Worthing. Until my last waking before this I was controlled, but I didn't know it. Now that I know it,I'm not controlled."

"By whom?" Jazz asked.

"I don't know," Farl Baak insisted, and Hop tended to believe him. "That's what I'm trying to find out. But you work for him, I know that. You're part of the plot."

"And how do you know that?"

Baak was silent.

Jason again menaced the man, but this time Baak didn't try to retreat. "If you touch me, Worthing, I'll have a civil suit on you, and criminal complaints for assault and battery, and you know I can make it stick, I'm a Cabinet minister, dammit."

Suddenly Arran spoke up. "Don't be stupid, Farl. Tell him. He doesn't give a damn about your silly office."

Farl looked at her angrily, but it was hard to take him very seriously with his nose bleeding down to his chin. "There are some things I'm willing to endure a lot of pain for, Worthing," Baak said.

Jason studied the man, then nodded. "All right, Baak. You're not what I thought you were. Not a jackass, anyway." Jazz reached for the man, and Baak flinched. But this time Jason only helped him to the bed. Baak sighed in relief, and lay down, tipping his head back to stop the bleeding. "Once my nose starts bleeding it goes off and on for a week," Farl complained.

"Baak, it was stupid to try to kill me. I'm on your side."

"And what side is that, Worthing?"

"Somebody's trying to take over the government, all right. Well, I don't like it any better than you do."

Suddenly Noyock felt lost. What the hell was going on? Jazz hadn't been on Capitol in decades, hadn't talked to anyone out of Hop's earshot since he got back, and suddenly he seemed deeply into plots and counterplots in the top levels of government.

Baak sniffed, then sputtered blood. "Dammit, why did you have to be so rough?"

"Sorry."

"It isn't a plot to take over the government, Jazz, and you know it. Somebody's already taken over. For eight hundred years or so, I'm pretty sure. Some bastard has been giving orders to the Cabinet."

Jason looked at the man intently. "Who?" he asked.

"Like I told you, my friend, I don't know. Until recently I didn't even know I was controlled. But I was. The man works through intermediaries. Blackmail, bribery, playing off old friendships and enmities --"

"You're being blackmailed?" Jazz asked.

"Hardly. Everybody knows every possible scandal about me. Actually I was controlled more subtly. Through an intermediary."

"Who?"

"Arran, of course," Farl answered.

Hop had let go of her when Jazz let Farl lie down. Now she cursed softly and walked toward the bed. "How can you say that, Farl, I've been with you since --"

"I didn't say you knew it, did I?" Baak waved her away. "Somebody keep the woman from interrupting. You know how it is, Jazz. You were born in Capitol. I came here from -- well, it doesn't matter. Nowhere. There are certain social circles. Certain groups that dominate the lifeloops, that go to the same parties, that share all the interesting gossip. When I got to this somec level I began to think I belonged in those groups. But I was provincial, a boor. Utterly without manners. It was quite a coup when Arran let me into her life -- the unlooped life -- and started bringing me to parties, helping me learn what to do, what to say. For fifty wakings, now, I've listened to that group debate the great questions of the day -- which is a laugh, since the great questions rarely come more than once in a century -- and there was definitely an 'in' opinion and an 'out' opinion. I admit to you that I invariably voted with the ins. It got me a reputation for wisdom. Arran, here -- she decides what the in opinion is to be."

"Ridiculous," Arran said. "I just think what I think."

"I traced it. I wish I could trace it further, but you were so obviously innocent of the plot that I didn't want to discover any --"

"Damn right I'm innocent," Arran interrupted.

"Jason, every single Cabinet minster is controlled some way or another. I didn't even discover it on my own. I was told. By a friend who shall remain nameless."

"You mean Shimon Rapth," Jazz said.

Forgetting his nose, Baak sat upright. "If you already know so damn much why did you come in and break my nose!"

"What did Rapth tell you, Farl?"

"Just what I told you. That the Cabinet is being controlled."

"And you nobly decided to try to put a stop to it by killing me."

"No, Worthing, not at all. I don't give a damn who controls the government. What I care about is who controls the somec --"

And then the conversation ended, because a half-dozen guards broke into the room, armed with lasers and ready to kill. Three of them took Jason and held him. Only one of them bothered to restrain Hop. Hop was a little offended at how little they feared him. Oh well.

"If you men worked for me," Jazz said, "I'd fire you all. He pushed the button ten minutes ago, and had to stall me this long."

Farl only set his lips and got up to get something to staunch the nosebleed. Arran also moved. She headed straight for Jason, who knew what was coming but couldn't do anything about it. She brought her knee up sharply into his groin. Jason cried out and went slack for a moment in the guard's arms. Then he pulled himself upright and she did it again, even harder. This time Hop cried out, too, and Farl said from the kitchen, where he was dampening a cloth, "That's enough, Arran." The Cabinet minister came back into the room with the cloth pressed to his nose. "Too bad you came along with Worthing on this one, Hop," he said. "We've had some pleasant dealings in the past, but this time Jazz is going to die, and I'm really not very afraid of the record on your ship, if there is one, Worthing."

Jazz didn't answer. He was still in pain from Arran's blows.

"Jason Worthing isn't a traitor, Baak," Noyock said.

"Oh, heavens, of course not," Baak answered. "How could I think such a thing? Listen, Noyock, how would you feel if you knew that somebody was getting payoffs to promote wealthy people to have high somec levels on merit -- men and women who obviously have no merit?"

"I'd kill the bastard. But Jazz hasn't even been on Capitol in forty years!"

"People are getting those promotions, Hop. Somebody's controlling the somec review board the same way they're controlling the Cabinet. And Jazz Worthing is involved. Do you want to see the proof? I'd love to show you." Farl Baak walked to a looper -- one of the incredibly expensive home models -- and slipped in a loop. Immediately on a small viewing stage a half-size replica of Jason Worthing stood in full starpilot's uniform. Baak punched the start button and adjusted the volume.

"Fellow soldiers of the Empire," the holocene of Jazz began, and the speech went on, an eloquent reminder of all the ways that the troops and the fleets had been trodden on and ignored by those in high places in the government. The speech, if played before soldiers, would have had them ready to tear apart the entire civil service after only ten minutes. And then the holo of Jason Worthing dropped its voice and said, "But, brothers, none of this amounts to anything. It amounts to nothing at all. You haven't suffered a bit, compared to this one outrage:

"You are not on somec, my friends.

"Except when they dump you in the belly of a ship and send you off to die in some forgotten colony, somec never reaches the common soldier. These friends of ours in the civil service scramble in their petty departmental squabbles in order to get five years, ten years, twenty years on somec at a time. What do you get? How long does a soldier live?

"In this Empire there are men and women who live forever! And you -- if you're lucky, you'll see a century. And you'll spend the last fifty years of it on a pension that isn't enough to buy a bottle once a month." And so on. Until any soldier seeing it would be ready to kill anyone who kept him from somec. And the speech ended when Jason Worthing raised both hands above his head and cried out, "But there's one man -- no, not me -- one man who can stop this, one man who can give you eternal life, if you'll only help him, if you'll only reach out with him and strike down the vipers who strangle you! And that man is here with me today!"

The holo of Jason Worthing turned and extended an arm, waiting for someone to appear.

And then the loop ended.

They all sat around the room in silence. Arran looked at Jason Worthing with loathing. Baak glanced at both the starpilot and his agent with an amused half-smile. Jason looked at Hop. Hop looked at Jason. "Jason, you're a bastard," Hop said.

Next


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