Unpublished rough draft from 1960's html by Marilyn Dale Teplitz 2013
Gate pass in hand, Klairon Farris surveyed the Pebble Beach standing straight and proud in the center of her landing grid. Her crew was closer to him than his own family had ever been; she'd become his home and the focus of a great part of his loyalty.
Unconsciously, he hunched his broad shoulders against an eerie feeling, a dark foreboding that whispered deep in his mind, "You shouldn't be here. You shouldn't be doing this ..."
An icy chill gripped him in spite of the warm, if somewhat greenish, light from the sun falling across his straight back. Simes were known to experience disturbingly accurate premonitions, but he'd never had one before.
Countless times, he'd been warned to yield gracefully if one ever came his way. He'd grown up with the certainty that he would yield. What was it that held him here now? Why didn't he fling the pass at the gate guard and go tell Captain Welch to get another astrogator? How dare he take the lives of his friends into his own temporarily incompetent hands?
He squinted against the wind-whipped dust of the grid field and clutched his billowing green cape around him. He was out of uniform, officially on leave, and with every right to be so. How had Welch talked him into this insanity, anyway?
The Cafe Olé;, the only place on Terwhoolie specializing in human food and drink, was a dim, green cavernous room with a bar along one wall, a row of dark booths opposite and, down the center, three rows of the stretched-diamond shaped tables hewn from a moss green wood.
The "human-style decor" consisted of a flawed mirror behind the bar, and a collection of ancient calendar art, meaningless to the cold-blooded, egg-laying Terwhoolins, and practically invisible to human eyes in the gloom. Still, the Olé was frequented by human officers and crew alike because they did have a human chef ... not just a cook.
Klairon faced Captain Welch in the darkness of their booth. They had the place to themselves as there were no other human ships on the planet's single, public grid-field. Curbing his exasperation, Klairon answered his Captain's question, mildly, for the fifteenth time, "Because it's against Regulations, that's why."
Captain Welch put down his coffee cup and leaned forward across the remains of their lunch, "But I have top priority clearance to lift ship for Port In Brim. This is important, more important than any chair warmer's regulation! And you're the only astrogator within five days of Terwhoolie."
"It isn't just any one regulation," Klairon ticked them off on his fingers, "it's against the Sime Board of Standards Regulations; it's against Interstellar Trade Commission Regulations; it's against insurance regulations; it's against United Port's authority regulations; it's against Stellar Trade Winds regulations; it's against the Astrogators' Union contract; and furthermore, it's against my better judgment. In this condition I'm not even allowed to enter a ship, let alone take responsibility for course plotting."
"Look, Klairon, we've been friends for a long time ..."
"That's why I accepted your lunch invitation, for a friendly chat ..." Klairon gestured at their surroundings, "this is certainly no place to discuss security matters, or the breaking of such regulations as pertain to Simes."
"I'm not asking you to break regulations. I'm only pointing out that they don't apply. The risk to the ship, the crew, the cargo, and even to your life is nothing compared to the whole planet full of people who'll die if we ..."
"Shhh ... not so loud. I told you this is no place to discuss security matters!"
Knowing that a Sime's hearing matched the Terwhoolins', Welch leaned farther forward into the gloom to whisper earnestly. "The Pebble Beach has already been modified to spray the neutralizer from orbit, the stuff is already in her tanks, and it's all there is, anywhere. Except for astrogator, we've a full crew and we're cleared to space out on the tick of midnight. If we wait for your TN-1, we'll be too late; the virus will already be killing people, and then the Affiliated Space Navy will have to take the blame for fatally careless experimentation. And then where will the dream of the unification of humanity be?
"The ASN is still an experiment itself. If it fails to keep the confidence of all the colonies, we'll be back to the bickering and 'limited' interstellar wars. And just how long do you expect they can keep In Brim quarantined without giving a reason? Where's your patriotism? Don't you want to see humanity united in peace? You're human, too, or so they say."
"Of course I'm human! The Simes are the oldest mutant strain, right from Mother Earth herself." He couldn't keep a hint of pride out of his voice. "The union I'm concerned with is more basic, the union between Simes and Gens. On every planet humanity has colonized, Simes and Gens live together peacefully. If that peace were disrupted, there would be no question of interstellar peace, there wouldn't even be interstellar commerce because the Gen crew couldn't trust the Sime astrogator. The strength of the Sime-Gen union is the trust that we'll never violate our Principles of Action, never infringe safety factors.
"And the most important of our Principles are those regulating transfer denial. You're asking me to take on an astrogator's responsibility when I'm already four days past the legal limit for selyn transfer denial."
Klairon frowned, suddenly grave. "Let's face it. Simes are still able to kill Gens for their selyn, for all that it hasn't happened in hundreds of years. So I'm a channel; so I'm a very rarely skilled channel rating a QN-1, so what? A channel is only a Sime with tolerances and abilities in dealing with Gens that are orders of magnitude greater than ordinary. But I am subject to mortal limitations. I'm not allowed on a space ship in this condition because something could happen to push me beyond my endurance; I could kill, but I'd suicide first, if possible. Then where would you be without an Astrogator?"
Klairon held up his forearms with the six tentacles -- two dorsal to touch the back of the hand, two ventral to touch the palm, and two lateral, one on each side of the arm -- lying sheathed along each arm. They alone distinguish Sime from Gen. "Take a good look, sir. Do you notice anything unusual?"
"Nooo ..." Welch surveyed the contours, noting for the thousandth time how the pairs of dorsal and ventral handling tentacles, though thinner and longer than a finger, were larger than the delicate laterals, usually unsheathed only in selyn transfer. The laterals were the sensitive nerves which conducted selyn from Gen to Sime as wire conducts electricity from higher to lower potential. For all the grace and dexterity of the tentacles, Welch was still glad his arms were smooth, that he was a Gen, a "Generator" -- a normal human. Then his eyes fell on Klairon's hands ... "but you don't usually wear rings?"
Klairon twisted the plain gold bands about his middle fingers. "These are not just rings, sir. You've never seen me use attenuators before, but now, without the attenuator field around my laterals to cancel part of the selyn gradient, I would find the temptation somewhat irritating.
"It's not my fault the TN-1 who was assigned to wait for me here was accidentally trampled to death while watching the native Qwill harvest parade three days before we arrived. It's not my fault his replacement won't arrive for another week. But I am required to wait for him. He's depending on my being here, ready for him just as much as I'm depending on his coming, ready for me."
Welch leaned back with a sigh and drummed his fingers on the table just once as he thought before asking, "What's so special about a TN-1? You could go to the selyn banks, take what you need, and then the field gradients wouldn't bother you. And your TN-1 could do just as well with a QN-2."
Rolling his eyes to the shadow-vaulted ceiling, Klairon heaved a sigh. That was the trouble with living in this modern age. Gens took Simes so for granted that they faithfully donated selyn every month without ever bothering to learn the most elementary facts. He marshalled his thoughts while he inspected Welch with renewed curiosity.
Known affectionately as The Old Man, he was growing into the role with salt and pepper in his hair and the beginnings of a respectable paunch, and he was definitely a product of his times. He leased his ship from Stellar Trade Winds, Incorporated, and plied the trade routes, pitting his shrewd mind against the vagaries of fortune. For the five years Klairon had been with him, he'd done very well for his crew, who were paid a percentage of the profit.
He'd treated Klairon as a fellow bridge officer, and a kind of easy friendship had developed between them, with chess, Beethoven, and a fondness for exotic cheeses in common. Until this moment, Klairon had not suspected the ignorance that underlay that friendship.
"All right, I'll try to explain it to you." Klairon hated to lecture, but as with most things, he did it thoroughly when he had to.
"Let me draw you an analogy. Say that selyn, the by-product of Gen metabolism which we need but don't produce, is like food for us. It is, in a way, as it is essential for our life.
"Suppose," Klairon spoke slowly, choosing his words with great care, "a man who was accustomed to eating well were suddenly constrained to a totally nourishing and hunger satisfying diet of a substance which had the texture and flavor of the sealant we use to keep the ship air-tight. He's forced to subsist on this diet for, say, a year, all the while he's living with normal people on normal diets, even sitting at their tables, smelling their food. All this time, he's known that in exactly three hundred sixty-five days to the minute, he'll be allowed to eat anything he wants.
"On the tick of that minute, he presents himself at the kitchen, only to find that they've run out of food, and everybody is eating sealant.
"This is something of the position I'm in right now."
Klairon leaned back to observe Welch over steepled fingers, tentacles sheathed, and continued. "For a channel, the difference between selyn collected from the millions of volunteer general class Donors, stored in selyn banks, and then delivered mechanically and the selyn taken directly ... personally ... from a living TN, technical class, Donor, is the difference between such a dietary substance and real food.
"Ordinary Simes can't use selyn directly, so the channels' work is to collect selyn, pack it in selyn banks and, later, channel it to ordinary Simes, creating for them a simulated kill that is so realistic it completely satisfies the ordinary Sime.
"But who can satisfy a channel? We get no satisfaction from the exacting restraint needed when collecting selyn from the passive, general class Donors, the GN-3s, like you. Selyn thus handled is a foretaste of a hard-earned gratification yet to come, and somehow it gives us the patience to wait.
"I haven't been involved in my profession since I came to the Pebble Beach, so even this I have been denied. My routine is devoid of means to alleviate the craving," shifting his gaze to his steepled fingers, Klairon extended all eight handling tentacles and wound them in and out about his fingers in an intricate dance, "and I'm constantly exposed to very tempting selyn fields, the 'aroma' of 'food'."
Welch admired the display of agility even though it was a mannerism of Klairon's that indicated deep concern. For the thousandth time, he wondered why a QN-1 would (and how he could get permission to) abandon the profession he was born to and sign onto a tramp freighter. But Welch was too good a spaceman to ask, and too good a merchant to question his good luck. Still trying earnestly to absorb the other's point of view, he said, "From the selyn banks it doesn't taste good, so the TNs exist to satisfy the channels, but what's so special about a TN-1?"
Studying his twining tentacles, Klairon refused to be hurried. "Take the QN-3, the least skilled channel. He can provide satisfaction for twenty or thirty ordinary Simes a day depending on his Proficiency Rating on the QN-3 scale. Who can satisfy him? A TN-3 class Donor, a Gen with the technical training to be able to simulate a kill for the QN-3 without himself suffering any injury from the swift, deep draw of the unrestrained QN-3. In an emergency, a QN-2 or QN-1, a TN-2 or TN-1 could do the job, but that's a waste of talent.
"Now consider the QN-2. He'll rate at fifty or sixty ordinary Simes a day. But when he needs the real thing, he can only go to a TN-2, a QN-1, or a TN-1. His deeper draw of selyn would kill the TN-3, who doesn't have the training to handle it or the capacity to provide that much selyn.
"The QN-1 can provide for anywhere from sixty to a hundred ordinary Simes a day, depending on his Proficiency Rating. But he's the top. He can only go to a TN-1, and they're very rare people with an extraordinary talent and the will to use it. Furthermore, unlike the TN-3 or TN-2, the TN-1 continues to produce selyn beyond his capacity to retain comfortably. He needs the relief that only the special technique of the QN-1 can provide. We are bound to each other ... interdependent." Klairon spread his hands flat on the polished green table, tentacles sheathed, and eyed Welch levelly as he continued.
"The Sime Board of Standards sets the maximum time a channel is required to function while depending on the selyn banks: QN-3's no more than six weeks; QN-2s no more than seven weeks; and QN-1s no more than eight, regardless of the Proficiency Rating within their group. My eight weeks was up the day before we arrived. Today is the fourth day." His eyes narrowed as he strove to project the intensity of his feeling. "It seems more like a year and four days.
"Even if enough selyn is drawn from the banks so there's no danger of death by attrition, the increasing strain ... and it becomes much more intense than my food analogy indicates ...effects judgment, speed and concentration which are critical to astrogation. Only a TN-1 can relieve that strain for me ... and only if the need is not blunted by use of the banks. Timing is critical.
"As long as I can go to the banks, I won't die by attrition, but I won't be much good for anything ... or safe for anything ... until I've had a satisfactory live transfer."
Welch's face mirrored sympathetic understanding, but his frown bespoke his determination to get his ship off the ground.
Klairon asked, "Does the crew agree to ship out with me under these circumstances?"
"The passengers and crew all agreed to the rule infringement and signed waivers under the 'Dire Necessity' clause, but I doubt if they understand it in the way you've just outlined."
"What passengers? I thought this was an ASN contract."
"They're not exactly passengers, they're more like observers or advisors. Miss Mandy Wyat is from the Xenoviral Unit of ASN that had the accident that caused this situation, and Dr. Breen Thorson is the biochemist who developed the neutralizer in the ASN lab here in Terwhoolie. They're civil service, not ASN."
"I see. So you've got nine people willing to space out with me. In just what way do they understand it?" Klairon's right eyebrow rose inquiringly.
"We all know that it's against regulations for you to astrogate for the very good reason that you're not in top form until you've had your transfer. We realize that a Sime can go berserk under too much stress, but there's a couple of weeks safety factor in the rule, and you're a QN-1. If anybody can take hardship, a QN-1 can do it twice over. And it's only a ten day run to Port In Brim. Duck soup for an ordinary Sime, let alone a channel. And that's civilization. If here they have only one TN-1, there they have a dozen.
"We're only asking you to put it off for ten more days. Once we've sprayed the neutralizer, we'll be allowed to land and you can go right to the Dispensary."
"There's two things wrong with that. One: if anything should go wrong and we're delayed en route, I would be almost helpless. Two: Port In Brim may have a dozen TN-1s, but they need every one of them.
"All right, we can gamble that nothing will go wrong, though with my luck, it's against my better judgment. Everyone involved has agreed to the risk, and clearly, the lives of a whole planetfull of people -- several billion at least -- are more important than the life of one QN-1. However, I'm still bound to wait here for the TN-1 who's on his way. The Sime Controllers distribute our strength so that each planet, each city, just has personnel to meet demand, and an emergency means that someone goes without. The network has a coherent rigidity and I'm caught by it. It would create chaos if I just turned up at In Brim."
"Fine!" Welch exclaimed, suddenly eager. "Now we're getting somewhere. You're willing to go if I can get the Sime Controller to re-route that TN-1 to meet you at In Brim."
Klairon leaned back with a wry smile. "That and one other thing. I'm willing to depend on ASN to get us out of any trouble we invite by ignoring the regulations of ITC, UPS, and the AU, but I won't budge without written instructions from a Sime Board of Standards representative."
Welch slapped the table with both hands and whooped, "It's a deal! We lift ship at midnight. Get over to the field and ready your equipment. Order anything you need on the ASN priority tape for the Pebble Beach," and he started to rise.
"Now wait just a minute! I'm not even allowed on the field without a pass from SBS. And I don't think you or anyone else could get one."
Welch sat down on the side of his bench. "Oh yes I can. You just hie yourself over there. I'll have your SBS man phone your temporary pass to the gate guard. And I'll be there with all the papers by sundown."
Klairon laughed and shook his head. The Old Man's irresistible self-confidence had gotten them into and out of more tight spots than he could remember. "All right, all right. You win. Just one more thing." Klairon fished a stray piece of paper from his hip pocket and scribbled. "When you've convinced Olijon Weems, our SBS man, to give you clearance, give him this note. It's a list of emergency supplies not generally issued. Bring them too, every one, or I don't budge."
"Fair enough," and Welch was gone into the green shadows before Klairon could develop any second thoughts.
Standing on the wind-whipped grid field in the bright green sun, Klairon remembered the whole conversation, word for word, but he still wasn't sure how he'd been convinced to do such an idiotic thing, 'Dire Necessity' clause or no. Well, persuasion was the Captain's profession.
He allowed himself another two minutes to lament the passing of Terwhoolie's TN-1, one of those extremely rare TN-1s whose Proficiency Rating matched his own. Such a one he hadn't drawn in years. It would have been a touch of paradise. He wished he hadn't known the fellow's rating before they arrived. He'd built up too much anticipation. Forcibly, he turned his attention to the PebbleBeach.
She was streamlined like an exclamation point, aerodynamically stable only under the control of a landing grid, but perfect for the hop, skip, and jump of interstellar travel.
Her phase engines were located in a spherical rear section which retracted into the main body for planetfall, but extended on slender braces when generating the Brightman effect for subspace jumping. From the planetary orbit, she'd take a hop out to about six AU's to set direction, then a skip of about a light year to make sure, and finally, a bold jump of five to ten light years. Then she'd pause near a star with a Beakon planet for her Brightman accumulators to recharge, and for the Astrogator to rest. She was small, so she carried only one accumulator bank and one Astrogator.
The Astrogator was always a Sime because, of all the intelligent species, only that human variant, the Sime, had psycho-spatial orientation, the ability to know exactly where he was even in subspace (or the Interlude as the Simes termed it), and to detect the fields of the Reeves projectors that marked the Beakons.
The Sime claimed that the Brightman effect ... which had been the result of a joint Sime-Gen project ... was primarily a timewarping and so didn't interfere with their spatial senses. Though Gen scientists argued that it must have a spatial component because Simes couldn't endure proximity to the phase engines, they couldn't deny that only a Sime could guide a ship through the Brightman barrier straight to its destination.
So it was Klairon Farris' job to stock the Pebble Beach with everything he might need for the run to Port In Brim. He spent a hectic ten hours checking selyn bank charges, cataloguing and ordering spare parts for his instruments, standardizing those instruments against SBS planet-based standards, checking and cleaning every connection, every possible trouble point. He knew the ship inside out, had practically rebuilt her selyn-powered systems and never stinted on maintenance time, but now he was more thorough than he'd ever been.
With the memory of his premonition still keen, he rechecked all of his work. Usually, if an instrument told him something different than his senses, he'd believe his senses, and service the instrument at the next planet. This time he didn't dare trust his senses. The instruments had to be right.
When he was satisfied with his mechanical servants, he checked his pharmacy and special food stocks. Only routine items were low, and these were swiftly supplied by the field's Sime Center. They supplied every ship, and there was never a problem with material.
At one hour to space-out, he collapsed on his bunk, sure that his department had never been better ordered. Most of the crew had finished their work the previous day and taken liberty today. Only Lieman, the Chief Engineer, remained aboard to do his last minute fussing over his precious Brightmans.
Phil, the Cargo Master Accountant, Bier the Linguist-Cook-Medic, Mirkin the Com-tech Electrician, and Lieman's two assistants would be coming aboard soon with the passengers. At that thought Klairon sat bold upright. Welch had promised to be back with his papers and supplies by sundown! That was hours ago!
He sat there a moment wondering just what kind of disaster he was heading for to let such a thing slip his mind. He must be farther gone than he'd realized.
Then he headed for the Captain's cabin, across from his and the only other cabin on B deck, just under the bridge.
"Come," Welch responded to his door signal automatically.
"Captain, I didn't see you come aboard." Klairon looked around, curiously. Welch spent his spare time building and filling trophy racks with intriguing articles from the many planets they visited, so there was always something new to puzzle over in the rich array that was gradually climbing the bulkheads.
"Just got here. Took a little longer than I expected, but I got everything." He handed over a flat gray case about the size of a briefcase, featureless except for the red handle and Sime caution emblem: three trefoils based toward a common circle, embossed in red on the sides of the case.
Klairon set the case on the Captain's desk and opened the selyn lock which only a Sime could trigger.
"You might have told me about your little joke;" Welch sounded hurt, "just because I don't need that scrawl you people call writing doesn't mean I can't count all the items on a list. You wrote eight things and said to bring all of them, so I watched Weems pack that case. When he shut it with only seven items, I had to open my big mouth. You might have told me you ended the list with a 'gallon of good luck'."
Klairon collected his papers, glanced through them quickly and then, satisfied that he was cleared of all suspicion that he might be violating a Principle, he signed the Articles. Technically, he worked for the Astrogators' Union which had a contract with Welch, so he signed on as a new individual after every leave. Finally, he picked up his case and regarded Welch soberly. "I wasn't joking," he said and left the Captain with a worried frown.
After a momentary pause to stow his emergency supplies in his quarters, Klairon went back out to the B deck landing and stepped onto the spiral stairs that occupied the well that was the long axis of the ship. With typical Sime precision, he caught a foot and hand hold on the selyn-powered lift, the endless belt that moved up and down the center of the well.
He reflected that being a predator had advantages, even though centuries had passed since any Sime had killed a Gen. Simes never stumbled and never fumbled. He had seen groundling Gens quail before the lift he now rode and gape enthralled as a Gen spaceman stepped aboard to ride it with all the sure-footed grace of a Sime. And he'd seen overconfident Gens showing off for groundlings lose their hold and float helplessly stationary in the safety field, fumbling for a hold to get moving again.
Holding firmly to the thought that being Sime had advantages as well as disadvantages, Klairon stepped off onto F deck, which housed the selyn banks, aft support systems and selyn equipment storage area. As only selyn-powered equipment operated during Interlude, the whole ship ran on selyn-power all the time, and the maintenance of those systems was one of Klairon's extra duties. But F deck was the closest to the phase engines Klairon ever had to go. G deck was the first cargo area, Phil Cobb's responsibility, and aft of cargo there was only the engineers' quarters and the four engineering decks, Lieman's territory.
The selyn banks were Klairon's private domain, for here lurked hazards both numerous and deadly for the uninitiate. One pie-shaped wedge of the circular deck was a three dimensional array of cubical selyn batteries in their white safety boxes and bright red trefoil warnings, bolted to floor-to-ceiling racks and interconnected with green, blue, yellow and purple translucent tubes filled with a gelatinous substance.
The wedge was enclosed in a fine, red fiber mesh with a selyn-locked gate. Here was the heart of the ship's power, the pulsating "live" circuits, and here Klairon came to do that which was, at this moment, most repulsive to him.
Locking the gate behind him, he penetrated deep into the wedge, searching for one battery which was full and didn't need to be. He found it, of course, right where he'd put it, detached the purple leads, and, taking a deep breath, extended his laterals and placed himself across the terminals.
Then, with a deep shudder, he made the necessary fifth contact with his lips to the red node on the battery that was there for both packing and discharge by Simes. It was not anything like the lip to lip contact of live transfer, but the sterile, canned stuff coursed into him. It was selyn; it was living time, a reprieve from death; it was also detestable.
He replaced the purpled leads with great care, and then stood for a long minute, face buried in his hands, waiting for the post-transfer emotionalism to wash through him. Here in this most private world, he allowed himself a few quiet sobs over a precious opportunity lost.
The next few hours were packed with the well-oiled routines of spacing out and taking that first hop and then the skip which put them beyond effective communication range and on their own. Klairon took his readings very carefully and then double-checked them before looking his own peculiar way. He was in a nervous sweat when he set up the jump and had to take a deep breath before ordering the commitment. Then they were in the Interlude and would be for three subjective hours. He could "see" nothing wrong with their course; square to Beakon-orbit. Phase-over to normal space would be automatic, his job done for the day.
It was five in the morning by his biological clock when he hit his bunk fully intending to sleep the twelve hours until it was time to hop again. But it was only seven hours later when he woke to a nightmare of suffocating, not so much refreshed as nervous and puzzled. Simes never had nightmares, nor trouble sleeping the full time they decided on.
He lay staring around his quarters.
The Astrogator's quarters were spacious because an ordinary Sime wouldn't mix too freely with the Gens. There were cabinets filled with book and music tapes, musical instruments, and a small refrigerator. In the middle of the room was the big comfortable couch -- burgundy to the taste of one of his predecessors -- facing a viewscreen that could display any artwork he happened to fancy. In the corner near the door, his desk overflowed with back issues of The Astrogator so that the Inter-view control console was barely visible.
Finally, hunger drove him to roll out and dress his lanky, two meter frame in his maroon space merchant's uniform with the graceful Astrogator's trefoil embroidered in silver on the left shoulder. He observed himself in his bathroom mirror as he tried vainly to iron the nervousness out of his sensitive lips and the cowlick out of his jet black hair. An officer was required to maintain certain standards of dignity.
Klairon rode the lift down to E deck, the dining commons, just forward of the selyn banks, focusing his increasing nervousness by wondering if he'd made any mistakes in servicing the selyn bank that powered their support systems.
The familiar, square shape of the eight shiny black tables was welcome after his days among green, skew-shaped Terwhoolin artifacts, but the tables were deserted. He followed the aromas emanating from the galley. The shutter of the serving windows was down.The glowing clock over the window indicated 1400 hours, so Klairon pushed open the swinging door.
Peter Bier, his trim, athletic form clad in whites, multi-herb dispenser in one hand, his latest copy of The Galactic Linguist in the other, presided over a burbling soup cauldron.
Klairon quavered in his best panhandler's voice, "Got a handout for a poor overworked Sime?"
Bier turned with a start, "Klairon!" He set down his reader and took a closer look. "Boy, you look beat." Though not an M.D., Bier had filled in as medic ever since the crew discovered his extraordinary steadiness in disaster. His main diagnostic tool was general appearance, and occasionally he could be astonishingly perceptive. "Sit down, I'll find something. Anything special you want? I owe you a favor for all those Sime ballads you've been teaching me."
"Breakfast, if you've got any. Haven't eaten since noon yesterday."
"How's orange juice, omelet, and toast sound?"
"Splendid. Sure it's not too much trouble?"
"For you? Never. You worked all night while I was sound asleep. Can't send you back to work hungry, can I?" While he talked, he assembled breakfast on the small galley table with economic efficiency. "When do we hop?"
"It'll be nineteen hundred. Just give you time to clear away dinner. And we'll have to work all night again. Be sure you leave us some coffee."
"Sure thing." Bier presented the omelet and sat down opposite to study Klairon with concern. "Yeah, how about that. How're you feeling?"
Parking his knife in a handling tentacle, Klairon regarded Bier levelly, knowing that Bier understood his situation better than any of the others and that he would certainly discuss it with them. Well, they had a right to know. His personal policy had always been frankness with Gens and it had paid off, integrating him into this close-knit group so well he'd been the first Astrogator to stay with them more than six months.
"Not so well," he went back to eating and talking between bites. "I should have slept another three-four hours at least, but I woke up nervous. I'm still edgy. I can't pin it down except to say it must be the general strain. I double check everything I do, but still I lack my usual confidence. When I was setting my line with the hop-skip last night, I noticed it. When we were about to jump, it got worse instead of easing up.
"I'd almost say it's greater than transfer denial could account for, but I can't find anything else to blame it on. It's a weird feeling ... it's almost as if ..." He broke off before mouthing an absurdity. That premonition had primed him for trouble. "Forget it ... I've got too much imagination."
"Don't worry so much. You'll get in the swing of it and we'll be there before you know it," it was Bier's way to take a plan for an accomplished fact. "So you'll be at the Captain's table for dinner?"
"Did I say that?"
"No, but it's before hop and it's a traditional formality for the passengers even if this isn't a regular run."
"You're right, I suppose. What are the passengers like? I passed them when they came aboard, but we haven't spoken."
"Seem nice enough folks, both Earth-humans, dedicated scientists. They seem to make a good team, though I've only spoken to them a few minutes. Why?"
"Captain hasn't invited me, and I haven't met them. Minni can fill the spot just as well if they'd mind eating with a Sime."
"Ohhh ..." Bier scoffed, "nobody's like that these days!"
Klairon smiled ruefully around his coffee mug. "I've met a few. But never mind, set my place at the Captain's table, as usual."
It meant only a few minor modifications, such as marking his place with utensils balanced to be passed from fingers to tentacles with ease. All Simes were on a low sodium diet and he had to be careful to consume more dextrose than sucrose; and, of course, he would be served no meat. Simes found the flesh of the once-living distasteful, getting the bulk of their protein from a bean plant they had cultivated and hybridized.
"Ah," Klairon leaned back with a smile, "that's better. Amazing what a few calories can do for one's outlook. Now, I'm going to check the ventilation systems. That's the only thing I didn't give a double check for space out."
"But you serviced that just a couple of weeks ago! They couldn't possibly need attention already." Bier had visions of Klairon's feet dangling from the galley ceiling. It's taken him a week to clean up the mess, but the maintenance in transit was much cheaper than hiring port-crews and sitting aground for days.
"Just the same, I'm going to have to look at the main scrubbers and vitalizers. If something goes wrong in my department, it's not going to be my fault." And he left Bier reassured that his galley was safe, at least this run.
Riding the lift past D deck with its three passenger cabins, each able to sleep three, but now almost empty, Klairon stepped off onto the C deck landing surrounded by the quarters of Bier, Mirkin and Cobb. Down on hands and knees, he removed one of the deck plates and crawled waist-deep into the tangle of green, yellow,and purple tubing which was the air purifying unit for A to F decks. The special miniature selyn battery was still three-quarters packed, and all the organic conductors -- orgonics -- were still fresh.
He double-checked every connection and the conventional electronic stand-bys before backing out. Even the dust collectors and air scrubbers were far from capacity.
"Klairon!" It was Cecil Minkin, the com-tech who doubled as watch officer and general electrician in his spare time -- which he had plenty of when they were out of practical range of his best FTL communicators. "Something wrong?"
"Not a thing, Minni, just a routine check." Klairon replaced the deck section and stood up to brush himself off.
"But you just finished that job a couple of weeks ago. His words were sharp, but his tone was light. "I'm tired of always falling over your feet sticking out of some unlikely place."
Klairon answered in kind. "Especially when you're all spruced up for dinner?"
"Dinner? Naw, I'm on watch, more's the pity." Minkin's face fell so swiftly, Klairon made the obvious connection with their female passenger.
"Is she that much of a sparkler?"
"And more," Minkin grunted sadly, slumping the handsome breadth of shoulder most women found irresistible.
"Well, maybe you'll get a chance to give her the grand tour."
"With every man from the Captain on down fighting for the privilege? And her not deigning to glance at any of us, including me? You're kidding," Minkin returned as he caught a liftbar to ride up out of sight.
She was every bit that attractive, Klairon reflected over his soup that evening. She was one of those exquisite jewels of miniature perfection. Clad in black velvet and pearls, she was the ideal of all the Earth-bred aristocrats, poised, charming, diplomatic, warm, and yet aloof. It was hard to believe she was a scientist and not a socialite.
The crew's response was equally startling, for never had he seen their dress uniforms worn with such obvious care. Even Dr. Thorson's apparently uncombed white hair and ill-fitting dress tunic didn't spoil the air of gay formality. No, only the awareness of their mission could do that.
That awareness hovered above the two tables occupied by the six off-watch crew and the two passengers like a black thundercloud repelled only by the radiant personality and obviously trained grace of Miss Mandy Wyat. It was such a pity, Klairon reflected gloomily, that his condition kept him from responding to her charm. If he could fix his imagination on her, it would be a refreshing relief from the tension which was rapidly and unexplainably becoming unbearable.
"Miss Wyat," Klairon broke a lull in the conversation, "May I ask a personal question?"
She regarded him with real interest. "What would you like to know?"
"Would you be perhaps related to Ligen Wyat of Orogonics Incorporated?"
"How did you guess!" She smiled him a radiant beam. "Yes, he's my uncle."
"Then whatever led you into Xenovirology?"
Everyone knew that the Gen who had supported the Sime inventor of the organic selyn conductors that made selyn-powered equipment really dependable had founded one of Earth's greatest fortunes. But Klairon was probably the only one on the ship who knew that his name was Ligen Wyat.
"Why," for just an instant her whole bearing changed subtly from dazzling socialite to functional woman scientist, "I find the field irresistibly fascinating," but still there was a penetrating warmth in her steady gaze.
"I see," Klairon nodded, unable to say any more as the strangely powerful fantasy seized his attention.
Just then Bier trundled up a serving wagon with the main course. Towel over his arm, he enjoyed playing high class waiter and then sitting down at the other table with Cobb, Lieman and Iskin, the First Assistant Engineer.
"You see," she turned to Captain Welch smoothly overlooking Klairon's inattention, "I'd always wanted to travel the starlanes, and when ASN offered me a position where I could combine travel with my profession, I was delighted." Her smile changed by imperceptible degrees back to distant charm, "It must be wonderful to be an independent merchant and visit all the out-of-the-way places you do. Tell me about some of your most memorable experiences."
When Klairon recovered his equilibrium, Welch had borrowed his dessert fork and was arranging the rest of the tableware to illustrate how he'd opened a vast non-human market and incidentally won humanity some new friends. The way he put it, it sounded as if he'd done it single-handed, but Klairon was too busy worrying to object. What was the matter with him? Why couldn't he control his imagination? Every once in a while when his guard was down, it was almost as if ... but it was so ridiculous a fantasy. It was so unlike himself. This, well, he'd almost call it ... hallucinating.
He continued eating mechanically, staring at his plate and trying to pin down what could bother him so much.
"Is something wrong, Mr. Farris?" Miss Wyat asked.
Klairon looked up dazed. Her voice penetrated his abstraction like cold silver bells through a fog.
"I asked if you were with the Pebble Beach on Folteen?" She met his eyes with a smile which at another time, Klairon would have taken as inviting. She was too much a lady to do more.
For a long moment Klairon stared at her not comprehending the question. Then he rose stiffly. "Excuse me, please, I'm ... just not myself this run." He bowed formally and left without waiting permission.
In his quarters, he changed to his regular uniform. For just an instant, he contemplated his special pharmacy supplies, then shook his head disgustedly. One doesn't go to the demanding task of a hop-skip-jump under the influence of drugs. And for him to use any drugs at all required the Captain's express consent.
He continued up to the bridge feeling better with every step. Perhaps action would take his mind off himself.
Minkin was there, dutifully monitoring all three stations, Communications, Piloting, and Astrogation. The slice of the bridge which was the Astrogator's domain was walled off from accidental or merely inquisitive interference of Gen hands by a sparkling force field activated by a selyn-locked switch. The delicate instrumentation could be rendered useless by the selyn potential field of even a Donor Gen.
Klairon deactivated the force barrier, leaving only the glowing red strip in the deck plates to indicate the line beyond which Gens must not approach. Then he disengaged the automatic alarm system which monitored his instruments while he was away and began his pre-hop routine.
"You're a bit early, aren't you?" Minkin asked when it became obvious that Klairon didn't intend to speak.
Klairon looked up from the cross-hairs of his viewscreen as if Minkin's presence hadn't registered before this. "Ah, yes, I wanted to check the instruments again before hop."
"What's the matter? Don't appreciate a real lady when you meet one?"
"Minni," Klairon faced him gravely, suppressing an urge to snap a tart reply, "I'm incapable of appreciating any form of femininity at the moment."
All the lightness evaporated from the Com officer's demeanor like hydrogen from an ion drive tube. "I'm sorry, Klairon. I didn't know." To Minkin, such a predicament would be a class AA disaster.
The other's sudden seriousness made Klairon laugh. "Forget it. You're not expected to know everything."
"But I do know that you don't usually baby those instruments so much. They haven't been treated so well since that spit-and-polish 'A-O-K'," Minkin imitated the singsong "Aye" of the military, "ASN cast-off we had before you. Is this a permanent reform or just for the duration?"
"Just for the duration. If I ever make a mistake, it'll be during such a time."
"You won't mess us up." Minkin's relief was plain to read. The Pebble Beach was a clean and efficient ship, but run definitely on the casual side. That was one of the reasons Klairon was so well-liked. Few Simes were casual with Gens, and even fewer multi-talented QN-1s found their way into the merchant service where everyone pitched in on two or three jobs to reduce overhead. Not every Astrogator would or could service all selyn-powered systems. The crew of the Pebble Beach considered themselves very lucky.
Klairon ran through the entire pre-hop twice and then began shooting Procyon just for practice. The pressure was starting to build again and he had to will his hands to stop shaking when he caught himself about to make an error of two degrees of arc.
"Klairon," Welch stepped off the lift and approached the red line, "I'm going to forgive your behavior this time ..."
Straightening as if prodded with a shock-rod, Klairon shouted, "FORGIVE MY ...!" Then he caught himself and his expression went by stages from indignant rage to an artificial calm. He gripped the edge of his bench behind his back. "I'm sorry, sir. I seem to be under a greater strain than I can account for. We'll be ready to hop in nine minutes, thirty seconds.
Welch's frown deepened as he clasped his hands behind his back and balanced on his toes. He said, "Very well, carry on," and took the pilot's station to check with Engineering.
Minkin sat down in his chair, but he had nothing to do as they were well out of range of settled planets and there were no other ships near.
Slowly, all the amber and red lights around the bulkheads flickered and pulsated to green.
Welch said, "Prepared for hop, Mister Farris."
Klairon licked his lips with a suddenly dry tongue. "Hop minus ten seconds ..." He was annoyed that his voice quavered like an adolescent's. He hadn't been able to get a yodel like that in ten years. "Nine ..." and he hadn't sweated a hop like this, ever. "Eight ..." not even his first big jump. "Seven ..." what in the universe had gotten into him, anyway? "Six ..." it was only a hop, was he trying to make that premonition self-fulfilling? "Five ..." what number had he just called? "Four ..." couldn't concentrate. "Three ..." hold on a couple of seconds. "Two ..." it'll all be over. "One ..." now we go. "Commit!"
He bent to his plotting scope and locked the line into the computer. They had to aim for where their destination would be when they got there, not where it appeared to be now. An elementary problem in space-time coordinates if you use psycho-spatial orientation with instrumental aids, and then check it empirically with a hop-skip.
It was a mechanical routine, something the hands did while the brain thought other thoughts. Somehow the hour passed and he had the skip set up. The green lights were all around him, spinning ... no ... he was turning to face the Captain whose voice was so far away. "Prepared for skip, Mister Farris."
"Skip minus ten seconds," he heard a voice say. "Nine ..." it was his own. "Eight ..." it wasn't important. "Seven ..." what was important? "Six ..."... "Five ..." and it washed over him like a wave wiping out a surf-boarder.
Shaking, almost sobbing, half in fear and half in relief, Klairon buried his face in his hands. "It is. IT'S IN THIS SHIP!"
The sound of his own voice screaming, tinged with madness, shocked him back to reality. Welch and Minkin were staring at him in open-mouthed horror, and the banks of green lights pulsated menacingly behind them. He turned and half fell down the spiral stairs, boots clattering wildly in his haste.
"Secure the helm, Mister Minkin!" Welch ordered over his shoulder as he raced after Klairon. But Klairon had at least a five second lead, which was enough considering that his quarters were on the next level. Welch got there just in time to see the door close.
As he stood on the landing staring at the closed door, his frown deepened to a scowl. For just a moment, he wondered if he'd done the wrong thing in getting Klairon for this run. Then he banished the thought. It was a calculated risk; there had been no other alternative.
With a deep sigh, he activated the door signal. There was no answer. One of the unwritten laws of space was that a Sime who didn't answer his door signal was not to be disturbed. Welch waited, signalled again and waited some more. Finally, he decided this was a special case and tried the door. He didn't expect it to open, but Klairon had been in such a hurry he might not have thought to lock it, as one seldom needs locks in space.
It did open.
Klairon was pacing the room, back turned at the moment the door opened. He whirled like a caged lion and roared, "HOW DARE YOU! ... GET OUT OF HERE ... OUT!"
Welch stood his ground. "Klairon, what's got into you? Calm down, man. I only want to talk to you. I want to help if I can," advancing slowly into the room, he closed the door. "Tell me what's wrong. What happened?"
Klairon bit out an oath in Simelan. Poised on the far side of the couch, he was rubbing his forearms with a kind of frantic desperation Welch had never seen before. The delicate lateral tentacles were flicking in and out of their wrist openings like tiny, moist, pink-gray tongues, quivering nervously in Welch's invisible selyn field.
The Captain was totally unaware that this was the visage of a Sime about to pounce and kill for his need. His distant ancestors had never seen this and lived to tell of it. But they would have been afraid. Welch wasn't because it was almost forgotten that Simes had ever attacked Gens. And that may have been what saved his life. A Gen's fear triggers the predator's aggressive instinct in a Sime.
Swallowing sudden excess saliva, Klairon indicated the couch and resumed pacing. "So talk, but don't expect any answers." He couldn't keep the tremor out of his voice.
Welch stood his ground, his back against the door, hands behind him. "Klairon, I don't understand. This has something to do with your condition?"
Again Klairon whirled on him, "OF ..." he stopped himself, swallowed again, and bit out another oath, breathing harder.
"You don't have to swear at me," Welch admonished mildly, "even if I don't understand."
Klairon straightened, eyes closed biting his lip, and after a moment something of the channel's rigid control glossed over the hunted animal look. He wiped the sweat from his hands and toweled his forehead with his handkerchief, and then absently continued rubbing his wrists with it.
"Sir," his voice shook uncontrollably but his face, even his lips, seemed chiseled from flint, "have I your permission to use drugs?"
Welch's frown deepened, if that were possible. "You're no good to me like this ... yes, Mr. Farris, you may use whatever drugs you find necessary to regain control of yourself."
Striding to a selyn-locked cabinet concealed in the wall next to his bunk, Klairon took two tablets, locked up very carefully and went through the door at the foot of his bunk and down the little hall to his bathroom. He swallowed the tablets with some water and leaned over the sink, shaking from head to foot, wishing he had a lemon to bite.
As a man dying of thirst in the desert sees water everywhere, he was seeing salvation in a general class Donor, a GN-3. He knew ... intellectually ... that a kill of a GN-3 would be no more satisfying to him than raw meat would be to a civilized man. No, he didn't need a GN-3. He'd wait.
After a few minutes, he splashed his face with cold water and observed himself in the mirror; the closest thing to a nervous wreck he'd ever seen, but the drug was washing most of it out of his system and taking the fine edge off his senses.
He extended his laterals. They were dripping with ronaplin, nature's selyn-conduction inducing miracle. Resolutely, he washed it away and then considered applying an inhibiting cream. But no, he might need it again soon. The drug was enough. Transfer-abort was hard on a Sime, even on a channel. His laterals were still throbbing with his pulse, but soon the drug would handle that, too.
Then his eyes fell on the twin gold bands lying on the glassite shelf over the sink. The attenuators he'd discarded ... it seemed years ago ... when he'd come aboard. It was a great temptation, but ... no ... he still must monitor the selyn-powered support systems.
He ran a comb through his hair and cursed the gene that gave him such expressive lips. Even the drug wouldn't keep them from betraying him. He closed his eyes a moment to summon the last shreds of his channel's much vaunted control, wishing he'd heeded the premonition in Terwhoolie. Then, firmly, he turned and went back down the two meter hall.
Welch was still braced against the door, frank curiosity replacing the frown.
Klairon said formally, "Thank you sir. I must beg your forgiveness for such an unseemly display. I can only plead extenuating circumstances."
"You ready to go back to work?" Welch was skeptical. He knew that no Sime would mount the bridge under the influence of drugs.
"I fear that's impossible, sir."
"Come on, Klairon, unbend! I'm not going to put you on report, but I am demanding an explanation."
Klairon didn't unbend. He stood as much at attention as a merchant officer ever would and spoke woodenly, eyes front. "Begging the Captain's pardon, but you'll have to put me on report, sir. When you log my drug request, you'll have to explain it. Your contract with the Astrogators' Union demands that. They'll refer it to SBS. SBS will judge my actions." From his tone, he obviously felt he was in the clear logically.
"Dammit, Klairon, how can I explain it when I don't even understand it!"
"I can say no more."
"You can say a helluva lot more!" Welch broke off surprised at himself. "Now, look what you've done! You've made me lose my temper for the first time in twenty years." He paused to switch to a "be reasonable" tone. "As the Captain of this ship, I have to know what's going on. If my Astrogator throws a screaming fit and runs off the bridge in the middle of a countdown, I've got to know why. I've got to know when we'll get going again. And I've got to answer for the delay. In case you've forgotten, this isn't just another run. There's a great deal more at stake than a profit."
Welch waited for that to sink in, then went on. "Now, sit down and talk to me, man to man, like you did on Terwhoolie."
Klairon balanced on his toes a moment, remembering that Welch had won the last round and that's why they were in this mess now. Then the starch seemed to go out of him. Again, he gestured the Captain to the couch and sat on his bunk. "Captain ... there are a few things you ought to know."
Welch sat on the end of the couch near the bunk. "I'm listening," he nodded.
Staring fixedly into the polished black of his boots, Klairon spoke carefully. "I'm sitting here ... more or less calmly ... due only to the tremendous dose of Adinamine in my system.You should note that name and log it." He spelled it emphasizing the two "i's" because they were pronounced "ee".
"It's one of the items you got from Olijon, and it's," Klairon's lips curled in disgust, "the most powerful wide-spectrum suppressant. It acts like an impedance; I'm monitoring the infinitesimal currents of the ship's selyn-powered equipment as usual, but I cannot, under any circumstances, survive the swift massive flows of a 'live' transfer. Furthermore, it renders the mere thought of 'live' transfer repulsive.
"Now, you can appreciate the severity of the measures I find necessary; you should be able to appreciate the gravity of the situation."
Welch considered this seriously for a moment. "How long do we sit here?"
"I wish I knew."
"Take a guess."
"I'd say no more than five days at the most."
"Five days! You know we can't wait that long!"
"It could only be a couple of hours. In any event, it's not up to me. I can only wait."
"Not up to you! Then who is it up to?"
Klairon's face went blank but his voice became choked. "I can say no more."
"All right." Welch backed off. "I appreciate the gravity of the situation, but I've still no idea what the situationis."
"I'm sorry," Klairon almost whispered as he struggled to keep his expression controlled.
"You're sorry? You're not as sorry as the people who'll be dying on In Brim."
"Oh, yes I am, sir. Before I was born, my life was dedicated to the preservation of life. It's written in my genes. I am a channel; more, I am QN-1. My parents knew it before I was born,and a great deal has been invested in me to make me what I am, a guardian and an example of the Sime dedication to our Principles of Action. Nothing can come before that." He leaned forward animated with penetrating sincerity.
"Should all of us here on this ship die; should a whole world perish, still it would be valued nothing compared to the Sime-Gen union. The strength of that union is trust, and the strength of that trust is the certainty that we," he spaced his words with emphasis, "... will ... never ... infringe any of our Principles. Death is so trivial compared to those Principles."
"O.K., you've said that before ... so what aspect of the Principles is involved here?"
Klairon rose to pace about the couch, feeling hunted. "Truthfully, sir, I can say no more."
"You've said that before, too." Welch studied his hands. "All right, don't say anything else. Let's see if I can guess. It has to do with 'live' transfer, it's not up to you, and it involves your Principles of Action. Considering our conversation on Terwhoolie, to me that spells TN-1.
"Somewhere on this ship, there's a TN-1 ripe for transfer, but for some reason you won't go to him, you have to wait for him ... or her? ... to come to you?"
Slowly, as if the slightest jar would break his self-control, Klairon sat down on his bunk, unable to disguise his anguish.
Welch smiled triumphantly. "I see I'm on the right track. Come on, you may as well tell me the rest ... or would you prefer me to ask the TN-1 when I find him?"
"You can't do that!"
"Oh, yes, I can."
"I most certainly would. Why not?"
"Because it's unethi ..."
"Not for me, it isn't. You're not thinking too clearly."
"Then, it's up to me to protect him."
Welch seized on that. "See, you've just admitted it! Now your silence is certainly not going to protect him. Protect him from what and why?"
"From people like you who'd exert pressure. And I can protect him." Klairon's eyes narrowed, his lips trembled with earnestness. "I swear to you here and now, as He who created all is my witness, I will accept no TN-1 unless he comes to me wholly and completely of his own free will. On that point, I can never be deceived."
Welch was completely taken aback by the fervor of that oath. It was a full minute before he asked, "So, why should he need to be pressured? As I understand it, the TN-1 is as much attracted to the QN-1 in need as the QN-1 is drawn to the TN-1. That's what makes the TN-1 different from the other technical class Donors."
"That's why the Inhibitor was developed." Klairon bit his tongue in frustration. Welch was baiting him, and the drug was fuzzing his thinking so much that he blurted retorts without regard for the consequences.
"The Inhibitor! Ah, yes, I've heard about that. It's a long series of treatments to reduce the TN-1's selyn production rate. But it doesn't always work, does it? That's why people are cautioned so many times and required to wait so long before taking the technical class training. Once in, you may not be able to get out. And we've got one on this ship who wanted out and didn't make it? And your Principles won't let you approach that person for any reason.
"Hmmm ... it could only be one of three people. Miss Wyat, Dr. Thorson ..."
"Or a stowaway."
"What? Stowaway? Never thought of that. Well, four, then. Miss Wyat, Dr. Thorson, Talbert, or a stowaway. Personally, I think a stowaway is impossible. Cobb would have noted the weight. Besides, port security hasn't been breached in years."
Klairon cocked his head to one side and blinked, "Talbert?"
"Lowell Talbert, the new Second Assistant Engineer ..."
"New Second Assistant Engineer!? Why wasn't I told we had a new crew member!" Had it not been for the drug, he would have shouted, but only his eyes flashed indignation.
Welch's eyebrows climbed in surprise. "Well, for one thing, you're not the Captain of this ship, and for another, Rallins resigned after you hot-footed off when we set down on Terwhoolie. It was no loss, he was a sour note, clashed with everybody including Pete, who can get along with any being. We snagged a replacement with great difficulty at the last minute, as usual.
"I've had to hunt a new second for Lieman practically every third port for the last two years. And this time, you must admit, things were a bit rushed. If you cared that much you could have checked when you signed on ..."
Klairon waited, thunderstruck. The only one of his routines he'd overlooked. They'd just signed Rallins; he hadn't expected to lose him so soon. But the crew of the Pebble Beach was an odd group as deep spacemen went, and it was hard to fill vacancies.
Welch considered, "Maybe it is a stowaway ... or Miss Wyat or Dr. Thorson?"
"It's not Miss Wyat or Dr. Thorson," Klairon had completely given up, "and now, I'm sure it's not a stowaway. That explains everything; how it was always worse in the dining commons than on the bridge, how it would ebb and flow from time to time as Talbert would go from I to L decks, but always steadily worse as the Inhibitor began to fail, and then suddenly ..." he broke off, unable to even think about that sensation. With a failing Inhibitor, the selyn field soars to two and a half times the TN-1's natural maximum.
Then Klairon frowned deeply. "Didn't anyone tell him about me?"
"Why ... I don't recall ... he didn't sign on as TN-1 ... as I remember the law requires that ..."
"Not of an Inhibited. Nor is he required to wear the identifying ring."
"If he had signed TN-1, it would certainly have come up, but since he didn't ... perhaps nobody's mentioned your status."
Klairon's right eyebrow went up as his left went down. "Not even when explaining that we intended to infringe a very important rule?"
"Since everybody knows you, perhaps it wasn't mentioned. I really can't be too sure. As I remember, he agreed readily, without asking questions. I thought that strange at the time, but a TN-1 would have that sort of confidence."
Klairon groaned, "The advantages of being taken for granted." He shook his head. "If I'd known we'd signed an Inhibited, I'd never have spaced out, not even under the best circumstances. And if he'd known I was QN-1, he'd never have signed on. Mere proximity can induce Inhibitor failure."
"We had no choice. Both of you were the only talent available. Even the ASN installation was barren because, with their budget, they generally depend on contracted transport. Believe me, I scoured the planet."
"Captain," he met Welch's eyes, "do I have your promise that if it is Talbert ... and I'm not certain it is since I haven't been anywhere near him ... that you won't pressure him? That is, use your talents of persuasion?"
Welch started to shake his head. Klairon continued.
"You realize that this TN-1, whoever it is, is fighting the same battle I am. He's going against all his instincts, and losing. He must have a very strong, personal reason. Until his personal conflict is resolved, he's no good to me. So there's nothing that you or anyone else can say that would help. The opposite, in fact, you'd only distract him from solving his problem."
"Oh, all right. I'll bring no personal pressure to bear." Welch's tone was grudging but he'd honor his promise.
Klairon heaved a ragged sigh and rubbed his forehead and eyes with both hands and all four ventral tentacles. Then he looked up, stunned, and his lips shaped words, silently, but obviously in Simelan.
"What?" Welch was instantly alert, mentally cataloguing all the disasters that could cause such a reaction.
"I didn't secure my post! And besides that, we can't park here!" And he was out the door before Welch had climbed to his feet.
The bridge displays were all ambers and reds when Klairon topped the stair well. Minkin moved back and forth overseeing the automatic governors and alarms. He turned at the sound of Klairon's boots. "Ready to hop?"
"Good grief, no. But we can't sit here, we'll bleed dry and never get started again."
"Wwwwhhaatt!?" Minkin sat down hard in his chair.
Welch contributed from the stair well, "That's right, Mr.Minkin. Mr. Farris, give me the bearing back to the Beakon, then secure your station."
Welch took his place and began organizing the countdown for the reverse hop. He granted the necessity of pulling in close to a star because he knew the fate of those who neglected this limitation of the Brightmans more than fifteen hours.
Regulations were explicit about always orbiting a Beakon; you never knew when you'd suddenly require emergency supplies. If the Beakon didn't stock enough to repair the damage, you could call for help and sit it out for a few months, since Earth-type ships always used Earth-type, but uninhabited, Beakon planets.
"Your bearing, sir," and Klairon called out the string of numbers, then shunted his computer into the auto-pilot, secured his station properly this time and waited for Welch to shoot the orbit. Thankfully, the Captain was pilot enough to hit Beakon orbit from here without further Astrogator's assistance.
While Welch was securing the pilot's station, Minkin turned to Klairon. "What's this all about?"
"Minni," Klairon chewed his lower lip, "I'd appreciate it very much if you'd keep what happened to yourself. When this difficulty's straightened out, we'll hop. Nobody needs to know more than that."
Minkin nodded hesitantly. Klairon's reticence was strange, but not incomprehensible. Minkin would be the last to embarrass a shipmate.
Welch inquired formally, "All secure, Mr. Farris?"
"Mr. Minkin, I'll relieve you in half an hour. Come on, Klairon, let's go get some coffee."
Klairon followed, not so much for the coffee, as to keep an eye on the Captain. If he'd learned anything in the five years on the Pebble Beach, it was that Welch was not a man to be bollixed by circumstances. His thinking was fuzzy, but long standing habit guided his steps after Welch.
The dining room was lit only by a single unit above the coffee urn that steamed companionably on the serving wagon. For Klairon's sake, Bier was always specially careful that the coffee didn't boil, producing a Sime stomach-turning aroma. Occasionally, it did boil, despite all precaution, and then Klairon would wish that the crew would accept the pre-brewed, powdered coffee all other ships used.
At one of the tables on the fringe of the puddle of light, Cobb and Bier faced each other, nursing steaming mugs.
Cobb was a big bear of a man with a roar for a voice and a wrestler's grace. He affected the shaven head so popular on his native planet, Terhune. Despite his forbidding appearance, he was an easy-going, congenial sort who would rather play poker than wrestle, and who took pride in keeping the ship's inventory and account books in his head, as well as on paper.
He spoke now, carefully modulating his voice to a near whisper. "What's the matter, Captain? Why haven't we made the jump by now?" He eyed the subjective time clock, still unlit, next to the objective clock over the serving window.
Klairon squinted at the lit clock. Midnight.
Welch answered, "Little problem in Astrogation. We're pulled up to a Beakon and we'll go when we get straightened out."
Bier and Cobb turned to Klairon questioningly. After Welch, he drew his coffee and sat down opposite the Captain trying to ignore their curiosity, thinking he shouldn't have come.
Bier stared at Klairon for a good minute. "Man, you look ..." he shook his head unbelievingly, "awful." After another long, silent scrutiny in which Klairon tried to avoid his gaze, he said, "You on drugs, or something?"
Klairon stiffened visibly, then met his eyes. "What do you think?"
"Informative, aren't you? Look, Klairon, I'm not just being nosy. I'm supposed to watch out for health around here. If you have some medical problems ... or dietary problem ..."
"Neither medical nor dietary, Pete. It's something quite outside your field."
"Well," Cobb cut in, "if we're stuck here because of it, don't we have a right to know what it is?"
Klairon tried to keep the snap out of his voice. This was turning into a duel. "No. I'm afraid I can't elaborate on that. I'm sorry, Phil."
Bier frowned into his mug. Very softly, he said, "Serialasosu forinda?"
Klairon turned on him and snapped, "Bludordi re'inda, Krind!"
Bier didn't look up. "Now, I understand." He said it very softly, then he shook his head as if stricken.
Cobb said, "I didn't know you spoke that language?"
"Languages and cultures are my profession. It would be a huge gap in my qualifications if I hadn't made the effort to learn the only interplanetary language of humanity. And no small effort at that; it's almost impossible from the outside in, but I wasn't about to join the fraternity. I like my freedom too much. No offense, Klairon, but 'there but for the grace of God ...!'"
"What are you talking about?" Cobb didn't raise his voice ... much.
"Captain!" Lieman's voice echoed up and down the shaft as he stepped off the lift. "There's a couple of things I want to talk to you about. First," he came across the shadowed open space toward the coffee urn and into the spot of light, "before I forget, Thorson's make-shift laboratory is spreading all over J deck. There's no room for my men to work. Wish you'd speak to him about that. And then, most important, what the hell is going on, anyway?"
Welch answered absently rubbing his jawline where the youthful Lieman sported a distinguishing fringe of beard. "Grab a mug and pull up a chair. We were just discussing that."
Bringing his coffee, Lieman hooked himself a chair with his foot. "Before we begin," he obviously thought this was one of the usual trouble-shooting conferences, "I want you," he turned to Bier, "to look my new second over real careful. He's been acting strange for the last few hours, like maybe his stomach was bothering him, but he wouldn't admit it. Take good care of him. Pete, Iskin and I like this guy."
Bier's eyes locked with Klairon's and his lips shaped a soundless "oh," which he punctuated with a nod.
"Thanks, Pete. Now," Lieman turned to Welch with the air of a professor about to untangle a knotty problem for a freshman, "What seems to be the trouble?"
Welch leveled his gaze at Klairon. "You tell them."
Klairon felt trapped, but the drug kept it far away as if it were happening to someone else.
Just then a strange voice came from the lift. "Oh, I'm sorry. Do I interrupt?"
"Lowell!" Lieman greeted amiably. "Come on over here. I want you to meet Pete Bier, Phil Cobb, you already know the Captain, and this is ..."
When Talbert was midway from the lift-shaft, Klairon shoved back his chair, and before Lieman finished introducing him, he had circled wide and vanished up the stair well. On the one hand, he couldn't abandon Talbert to them, but on the other, he couldn't face him, either.
He spent the next two hours alternately pacing circles about his couch and sitting on it staring at the blanked display screen. Three times he went to the inter-view to call Welch or Bier or Cobb, but he couldn't think of anything to say that would convince them.
Pressuring an Inhibited wasn't against their ethics. He went over and over the conversation he'd had with Welch pin-pointing each mistake he'd made and berating himself for saying the first word. He should have known better than to match wits with the Captain, or glances with Bier's diagnostic eyes.
Even though Welch had promised not to use personal pressure, he could still influence a five-way conversation so that Talbert would be backed into a corner; sacrifice his own personal integrity or accept public responsibility for a planet of dead human beings.
And Talbert was a Gen. Now, he would want to make that sacrifice but years from now, he might change his mind. If the story got out that he was pressured into overriding the Inhibitor, in effect, that he was not allowed to resign his TN status, it could easily mushroom into a panic that nobody was ever allowed to resign. Without the volunteer TNs, the Sime-Gen union was impossible.
The human race hadn't advanced one bit in the last thousand years. They were still able to overlook the fact that the Inhibitor had irrevocably failed hours before anybody besides Talbert knew about it.
A TN-1 got only one chance at the Inhibitor. Once it had failed him, it would never effect him again. One chance to resign; and if the desire to resign were strong, it could take a long time for him to admit defeat. He might even prefer death. Or he might wait so long that he went permanently insane. But it was his decision to make, his and his alone, his private battle with himself and his conscience.
When he'd reached this point for the fourth time, Klairon paced to his desk for the fourth time to confront the inter-view screen. He had to act! He would!
He pulled the little inter-view console toward him and seated himself before the bulkhead screen. His fingers moved across the controls automatically as his ventral tentacles made the adjustments to inboard reception and auto-scan of his person, so he could move freely. He sounded the B-flat note that was Bier's personal designation three times, urgent.
Bier's image appeared on the screen, alone. He was seated in the dining commons, elbows on the table, head propped on his clasped hands.
Taking a deep breath, Klairon plunged ahead. "Pete, I have to apologize for my abominable behavior. I called you an unforgivable name. I had no right, and it's certainly untrue."
"Nonsense. I am 'Krind,' an outsider poking his nose in without paying for the privilege. You don't need direct selyn transfer experience to understand the connotations of that term, and even when it's used in its most derogatory tone, it's still true of me."
He paused for emphasis. "I know you're required to apologize, so I accept, but believe me, I never took offense. And, if it's any comfort to you, I respect the rights of an inhibited as much as you do. I have a sister who's on the Inhibitor," he gazed straight into Klairon's eyes, speaking slowly, driving every word with sincerity, "and I've protected Lowell just as I would have protected her."
"Pete, what I wanted to say was that if any of you influence him in any way ... at all ... I won't accept him. I told the Captain that, and I meant it. The Principle is very clear in this case, and it is more valuable than the lives of half of humanity's billions. I've ..."
Talbert stepped into the picture, calmly, assuredly, and laid a fine, long fingered hand on Bier's shoulder. "Please," he bent to speak into Bier's ear, softly but in a voice that carried to Klairon. "I must speak now."
Bier relinquished his seat, and Talbert sat down bringing his face into the field of focus.
For the first time, Klairon took a good look at the Inhibited. Lowell Talbert had the almost white-blond hair and pale blue eyes characteristic of the humans of Dyei, the third world colonized from Earth, and one of the few colonies with a native, non-human civilization.
Talbert was so thin his joints bulged like bearings between the long shafts of his bones and the cords of his neck stood out sharply when he swallowed. His nose was long and straight, his skin pale and smooth. He spoke softly, melodically.
"Sectuib, I come before you in respect; I speak the Common Tongue, for others are involved. I make a claim on your attention." Talbert spoke the formal words of a TN bidding for the ear of a channel with a strong Dyei's accent, savouring the vowels and coming down ever so delicately on the consonants. The cant of his native speech overlay his words so thickly that he seemed to just sketch the shape of a sentence, not really enunciating the words at all.
For a long moment, Klairon studied this Dyei'n TN-1 critically, trying to decide if he should listen. Perhaps, he, too, might be influenced by Welch's arguments even if filtered through a third party. Actually, he had no choice. If he was going to stick by the Principles, he had to observe them all. He'd been addressed as Sectuib; he was obliged to listen.
"Sosu, I cannot deny such a plea if it is entered in earnestness and independently motivated. Speak and I shall listen." Klairon wished he'd heeded that premonition and stayed on Terwhoolie, green shadows, skew shapes and all. Talbert spread his large, bony hands on the table and examined the bare fingers minutely.
"It is a story I wish to tell. A story of a tragedy. A story of a personal tragedy. And it is entirely my own wish that I tell it and tell it in my very own way." He looked up at the others with him that Klairon couldn't see, suddenly aware that he had not been speaking clearly enough. With obvious effort, he separated his words and suppressed his tendency to a lilting rhythm. As he spoke, the thumb of his right hand began to rub his right forefinger as if removing some specially tenacious glue.
"It began three years ago with my marriage to the woman I had loved and courted for five years. We had a deliriously joyous honeymoon on Earth, the most romantic planet in the universe. For one whole month, we put aside the vast differences between us, and explored each other with fervent hopes for a bright future. When we returned to Dyei, she was pregnant. Our joy was complete.
"But the honeymoon was over. Our differences ripped us apart. I had made Technical Service my career, rising rapidly from TN-3 to TN-1, and constantly studying until I was in line for an administrative position that would have guaranteed a minimum of travel. Rita, my wife, had always been violently anti-Sime. With her, it amounted to a phobia, but she repeatedly refused to seek aid.
"It soon became apparent that the child was to be a channel, but Rita refused to believe it. That she, a Gen of a Gen family could mother a Sime was beyond her belief. That she could mother a channel was incredible to her, especially since I also come of an almost solidly Gen family. I could not believe the extent of her hysterical blindness.
"She accepted that thirty percent of the children of two Gens are Sime, and that a Sime is indistinguishable from a Gen until puberty, but she could not understand that that's not true for a channel. She would not believe that a channel can be identified by his pre-natal selyn draw which is death to a Gen mother. A fact which, I believe, one of your ancestors discovered?"
Talbert paused, looking up at Klairon's image on the bulkhead screen, avoiding his eyes, but gazing fixedly at the sensitive lips so characteristic of the Farris family. Klairon nodded, admitting to his mainline Farris heritage. Out of his line of sight, Welch smiled, his long suspicion confirmed. The Farrises weren't the only QNs but the mainline Farrises were apt to be the best, and the most influential.
Talbert was engrossed in the minute study of his right ring finger, while his right thumb ceaselessly rubbed imaginary glue from his right forefinger. "She refused to go to the Dispensary for treatment. I was frantic. I begged everyone I knew to do something for her, even over her objections. They would not listen. Simes I had worked for, channels I considered close friends, people I trusted my life to ... not one of them would say anything to me except to quote the Principles of Action ..." his eyes closed over the painful memory. "I was desperate; my training deserted me. I ranted, I raved, I threatened.
"Three months later, I woke up in the middle of the night, and she was cold beside me. I had lost the two things that mattered to me. I struck back the only way I knew how ... I quit."
Again, he regarded Klairon, avoiding his eyes.
"Or, I tried to quit. Until yesterday, I thought I had succeeded. I had carved a new life, found a new profession. Working in Engineering, it was always easy to avoid the Astrogator. And on these small independents, you don't find QN-1s. Especially QN-1s in need." He noted Klairon start at that.
"No. Your presence did not break the Inhibitor." He shook his head emphatically. "The Inhibitor won't hold me. I was ... what they call a natural TN-1. It didn't take me years to learn the techniques. I have," he smiled ruefully, "talent for it. The Inhibitor practically never works for naturals. It is surprising it lasted this long."
Klairon watched him narrowly. He wasn't so sure that his presence hadn't been a factor. With a natural, the Inhibitor was always precarious at the very best.
Talbert frowned, creasing his smooth skin into unaccustomed wrinkles. "But worse than my personal failure is the effect I am having on you. The tragedy I am feeling is doubled and redoubled by the knowledge of what I am doing to you.
"As you passed me a little while ago, I noticed how you're responding to me far too strongly, and I sensed that you're controlling it with one of the damper drugs, a particularly detestable form of suicide."
Klairon blinked in surprise. It would take an extraordinary sensitivity for a Gen to glean that much information just in passing. The Captain might have told him about the Adinamine, but there would be no point for Lowell to claim a sensitivity he didn't have. Impatiently, Klairon cut off that line of thought. He must not allow himself to be influenced by personal desires. Thanks to the drug, it wasn't difficult.
Talbert continued, "As for my discomfort ... I'm already well above my normal maximum potential. I could hold out for another few days, perhaps, for still there is some Inhibitor effect, but in the end I would come begging to you." He said it evenly, calmly; an impersonal statement of fact. But everybody watching him noted the hard tension in his body lines, like a balloon about to burst from internal pressure.
"I know that is the way it would end, for already have I encountered the strength of the Principles," then his eyes closed for a moment as if to cover a pain too sharp to bear. "Under other circumstances, I might make a fight of it. I could try to force you to come to me. But that is my vindictive pride speaking, for victory would be a sour defeat.
"I would have hurt you, shaken the very foundations of your life, but not even touched the Principles I have come to hate." He looked up at Klairon's image and then at the others with him, his jawline hard and sharp, challenging. "Yes, I said hate. Apparently, a human Dyei'n can know hate.
"But the only lasting monument to my hate would be a dead planet; not a scratch on the system that killed my wife and my first child, not a life ennobled, but rather the devastation of a planet of people who knew nothing of the forces acting on their lives.
"And how many young loves, such as my own, would I have destroyed? One? Ten? A thousand? For what?
"I am a TN-1. I am filled with hate. But I am also a Dyei'n." His eyes sparked with the pride of his people who had taken the non-human Dyei'n language and philosophy as their own. "My hate is narrowed, directed and intensified against the Sime Principles of Action, not against innocent people, not against myself and certainly not against you.
"Therefore, in all humility, in the greatest possible ... purely personal ... sincerity," he looked into Klairon's eyes for the first time with a long steady gaze, "I declare myself forin."
Klairon was convinced as he never thought he could be that this was Talbert's own decision. Talbert's inner conflict, if not resolved, was at least disengaged from the issues at hand.
By declaring himself forin, physically and emotionally ready to donate selyn, he was returning to his profession if not willingly, at least with the strong philosophic resignation of his people, untainted by any of Welch's persuasion. Some of the arguments were similar to what the Captain would use, but the whole approach was from a different angle.
He leaned forward, filling Talbert's screen with a bigger than life image of his head, and breathed softly, "Sosu, lliraititsang."
It was the polite request, "TN-1, attend me, now." There were a hundred different ways he could have phrased it, but he made it his own personal request with no indication of the other's position, or of any urgency.
And with that decision, in spite of the drug heavy within him, Klairon felt his lateral tentacle sheaths fill with ronaplin, that special, most precious moisture that would be instantly absorbed by the Gen's skin, opening pathways to the flow of selyn. He was eager, now, to be rid of the Adinamine and to be close to this extraordinary TN-1.
Swiftly, he cut the connection with a back-handed flick of a dorsal as he rose.
At that moment, there was a loud rending crash, a short but frightening wind as air pressure dropped. The deck lurched and vibrated with low register sound like a hung gong tapped lightly with a felt hammer.
Klairon was thrown against his desk trying to catch his balance by clutching at the inter-view console and the orgonics tubing that snaked from the back of the instrument to the wall and ultimately to the main selyn banks, but he was unable to stop himself and went thudding to the deck carrying the small console with him.
Through his grip on the orgonics tubing, he was linked to the main selyn banks. Suddenly, he found himself at a higher selyn potential than the ship's selyn-powered systems, higher than the entire selyn-storage capacity of the banks. Normally, the selyn systems operated at high potential and low current. Now, in one instant, it had changed to low potential and high current, and there was a forced drain from him into a vacuum that could only have been created by an impossibly tremendous leak in the ship's selyn systems.
Stunned, Klairon fought to override the Adinamine that was resisting the swift, massive flow as an electric resistor resists electric current even to its own destruction. He strove desperately to release the selyn stored in his body, but the drug also slowed his reaction time.
It seemed that selyn transfer events he normally dominated now happened faster than he could perceive them. He could not relax his barriers quickly enough to release selyn at the rate demanded by the potential difference. Frantic now, he switched his attention to the purely mechanical act of breaking his physical contact with the orgonics tubes.
He was like a man who's touched a high voltage wire while standing barefoot in mud. He couldn't let go. His body was rigid, paralyzed by the unnaturally immense current through his nerves.
Helpless, Klairon faced death as he had hundreds of times before. The Simes' most dreaded horror, death by attrition, death from lack of selyn, was no stranger to the channel. But it still took an uncommon courage to face it with cool resignation.
Until, finally, it was over. He could move. He broke contact that had held him and lay gasping, numb and dazed. He was almost depleted; at the same near zero potential as the banks. They could suck no more from him. And he was badly burned. But he was still alive ... for a few more minutes, anyway ... Klairon's will to live took over again.
He looked at his arms. The potential difference had been so great that selyn was drawn through the slight insulation of his lateral sheaths and the excellent insulation of the orgonics tubing. But it left no visible mark.
He was aware that he survived mainly because the ronaplin sensitized condition of his laterals kept the nerve damage to a minimum, that if he'd applied that inhibiting cream or if he'd not been so strongly stimulated by Lowell that ronaplin was produced in spite of the drug, he would now be dead.
He staggered to his feet, reeling dizzily, and launched himself toward the door. All the ship's systems sighed, wheezed and rumbled to silence, darkness. The ship was dead.
Klairon got the door open and clung to it fighting desperately for equilibrium. The silence was appalling, but he could hear boots on the stairs, lightly now in the rapidly fading gravity.
The brilliant light-cone of a hand torch pierced the blackness, lancing through Klairon's pounding head like a white-hot probe. He felt himself falling, gently as a leaf, toward the deck. Then Welch was bending over him saying something, but the ringing in his ears wouldn't let him hear.
"Captain," Klairon wasn't sure if his words were clear, but he had to speak, "tell Talbert ... tell him ... Adinamine ... be sure ... allergy ..." He forgot what he was saying or why it was important. The Captain's head receded down a long black tunnel, racing ... then nothing.
It was a cool dream, but not cold ... relaxed ... the sweetness of total surrender, a demand satisfied. It was a formless, imageless dream, just a feeling of a job well done, a reward earned. The reward most craved ... most coveted, the freedom from self-denial, a vacation from discipline.
Klairon groped for words to describe this strange freedom. It was ... it was the tingling aftereffect of a "live" transfer!
It was not the soaring joy nor the solid satisfaction that it could be, but rather the absence of compelling necessity. It was utterly refreshing, and it was peace.
With that thought, he remembered who he was, what had happened, and, lastly, where he had been.
The sickening lurch of psycho-spatial disorientation hit him in the stomach. He was no longer where he had been. But something foreign was there, easing him into his new position in the universe.
There was a rhythmic, pulsating sensation coursing through his body. Languidly, he allowed himself to enjoy it, knowing it for the therapy it was. As he made contact with reality, he connected the pulsing with the cool, delicate, expert touch on his tingling laterals. Through that contact, he read an extraordinary devotion, dedication and ... empathy.
He opened his eyes. He was lying on his bunk, covered warmly against the chill that occurs with near-attrition. Talbert was seated on the edge, deftly massaging his laterals with singular, TN-1 possessiveness, creating that special sense of well-being.
He was holding lateral contact by careful pressure on the extensor reflex node to ease him gently over the disorientation and back to consciousness. It was an extremely difficult technique, but Talbert was smooth ... adept. His null-gradient touch was pure heaven.
Klairon smiled weakly and gripped Talbert's thin, untentacled forearms with his dorsals. "Thanks ... but ..." he tried to get up on his elbows and his head burst into a whirling dance of colored pain.
"Oh, no you don't," Talbert pushed him back firmly. "You would again fall flat." He offered a glass of pearly white liquid, "Drink."
"What is it?" Klairon took it, marvelling at his lack of post-transfer emotionalism. Very few could do that for him.
"Fosebine. You have the worst case of transfer shock ever have I seen. With such a burn, that you live is surprising. How were you linked to the banks?"
"Inter-view orgonics tubes," Klairon answered between swallows of the foul potion. He much preferred the traditional glass of hot Trin tea during the post-transfer heightening of the senses. "We're on electricals now?"
Talbert nodded. "Be still now and let the fosebine work ..." His right thumb again rubbed his right forefinger as he curbed his accent. "Not to exert yourself, I will tell what happened.
"Just after you cut contact, a very large meteor pierced F deck. It did not even graze the neutralizer tanks, but smashed right through the heart of the selyn banks and exited through the racks of extra batteries. The disaster control computer sealed the section off, and Iskin and Lieman are now working between the bulkheads to patch the holes, and they're being careful to be clear of any 'live' areas."
The cold, icy green fingers of his premonition clutched at Klairon's heart ... Terwhoolie ... he could almost feel that wind whipped, green gravel stinging his face as he stood on the grid field ... as if he could wish himself back to that crossroads of his life. Dear God ... why hadn't he yielded!
When he felt Talbert's sympathetic grasp on his arm, he knew his lips had betrayed him again. In spite of his channel's training, he always wore his thoughts on his face.
From far away Talbert's voice said, "It's all right. We're orbiting a Beakon."
Klairon remembered that, now, and slowly focused again on Talbert's face, fine and sensitive, even now ... tranquil. He managed a smile. Talbert continued.
"Captain Welch told me you had taken Adinamine, hours ago. He said you'd mentioned allergy. You are allergic?"
"Highly. More so than most Simes. Runs in the family. Every third drug they invent about kills me."
Talbert nodded. It was a familiar problem. TNs were trained to be careful with Farrises. "So, I guessed it was too late to give you Antiadinol to wash out the Adinamine. I prayed that you had stocked Antiadinate as well, or I would not be able to help you in time. Captain Welch told me where you keep your drugs. Miss Wyat supplied me with a small selyn battery from her vanity kit. I used it to break the selyn-lock on your pharmacy. Nobody could have been more relieved than I when I found the Antiadinate, and it worked without sending you into convulsions.
"I suppose you remember the rest."
"No, I don't. The last thing I remember is the Captain bending over me and then there were the post-transfer sensations."
Talbert eyed him levelly for a long moment. "You attacked me in the 'kill mode'. I'd never had that experience before, but I expected it. You couldn't have been more than ten minutes from death by attrition."
Klairon was shocked. He hadn't realized it had been that close. Even in the Proficiency Rating tests, they don't allow that kind of margin. The suicide line was one hour.
"I was certain you would ignore the Inhibitor that still remained and give me my first taste of transfer shock. How could I expect anything else? You were controlled by the survival instinct." He shook his pale head, mystified, "but you didn't."
"You took the first three levels with truly savage greed, but then you drew the selyn stored in the inhibited TN levels never faster than the Inhibitor would release. No Inhibited could ask for a more gentle breakout. If you weren't conscious, I cannot explain how you did it."
Klairon blinked and shook his head. "Neither can I," he frowned. "Must be those remarkable Farris genes. But now help me up. I must survey the damage."
"Contrary. You must sleep. Fosebine relieves the symptoms, but only sleep will heal the scorched nerves. You need the Sime Sleep of Healing."
"You're quite right. After I've surveyed the damage, I'll let you put me to sleep. Now, help me up." This time he surged to his feet in one movement and Talbert could only hop out of the way.
Swaying unsteadily toward the door, Klairon said, "Come on, give me a hand. I'll never make it down there alone."
Talbert complied quickly enough to keep Klairon from falling against the door. "As TN-1 in charge of a damaged QN-1, I outrank you, but as Astrogator of this ship, you outrank me. We shall let the Captain decide."
They made it all the way to the dining commons before Klairon had to rest. Only the Sime's instinctive sure-footedness allowed him to negotiate the lift at all. The fosebine controlled the worst, but there was still enough nausea, general ache and fatigue to make him wish he'd died peacefully. He stumbled to a chair and sat with his head between his knees waiting for the blackout to fade, taking great comfort from Talbert's hand on his shoulder.
Bier couldn't keep from staring at the sight of someone actually touching Klairon, even though he'd seen other QN-TN teams in the intimacy of null-gradient. Somehow, Klairon had always remained the untouched simply because it was considered impolite of a Gen to force casual contact on a Sime who might be distressed by the field gradient the Gen couldn't even sense.
To mask his staring, Bier said, "Well, I'm glad to see you're alive, but are you sure you're going to stay that way?"
Talbert answered before Klairon could take a breath. "He'll live, but he needs to sleep and heal. He is badly damaged, but he insisted on examining the selyn banks before sleep."
Feeling better now, Klairon saw Bier, Welch, and Cobb seated under the single lighted panel as he had left them ... he checked the clock ... three hours ago. He staggered over to sit with them. Talbert stood close over his right shoulder.
"Captain," Klairon began and then had to breathe deeply before he could continue, "if you can start ferrying up selyn-packed batteries from the Beakon while I sleep, Lowell and I can rig the essential circuits in a few hours. We might still make it to In Brim in time to do some good."
Talbert cut in, "Impossible." He obviously thought Klairon's mind was still foggy. "We might connect enough batteries, but half the orgonics conductors in the ship must be burned out."
Klairon turned to look up at him and instantly regretted disturbing his head. He fixed his gaze on Welch. "No, they're not. I've spent some of my spare time installing the surge-safes to protect the essential functions. If they worked, nothing vital was damaged."
Talbert laid a soothing hand on the back of Klairon's neck. It helped. For a moment he leaned his head against the cool, Gen arm and closed his eyes to let the ache drain out of his backbone. Then he continued explaining to Welch.
"Twenty years ago when this ship was designed, they hadn't invented surge-safes. You see, all of our selyn-conductors are organic substances encased in plastic tubing, warmed during operation by an air bath. I installed larger tubing around the originals and placed surge-safes to flood the large tubes with a cold oil if there was a sudden selyn-current surge. At the lower temperature the orgonics lose all resistance to selyn flow, and so it can't be damaged.
"It should take about half an hour to pump out the oil and warm up the circuits. How long it will take to get going again depends on how much of the selyn banks we have to rebuild. That's why I wanted to take a look now, and tell you how many batteries of what types to bring."
Welch answered trying hard not to stare at Talbert's hand. "That's the problem we were just discussing. The LEAP FROG is ready to shuttle supplies from the Beakon, but I don't know who to send. There's no grid down there, so we can only land the tender. It would be better to wait until you're ready to go down, since none of us is competent to handle live batteries."
Klairon berated himself silently. He was worse off than he felt to forget that!
"Captain," again Talbert spoke up, "I would like to volunteer. I can read a battery field to ten percent. I also know enough about selyn bank mechanics to pick out what we need."
Welch's eyebrows rose almost to his hairline. "I thought only Simes could read selyn fields!"
Daring to glance at Bier and Cobb, but only by moving his eyes, Klairon answered, "Some TN-1s develop a slight ability to read gradients, though apparently a Gen does it differently than a Sime. We teach TN-1s who can read fields how to handle the batteries without getting hurt."
Talbert nodded, "Caution have I not forgotten." He almost sang it.
Welch eyed Klairon calculatingly. "All right, give the wreckage a quick check and tell Lowell what to bring, then go sleep off your ..." he looked at Talbert and then back to Klairon,"... 'damage'."
"And, Mr. Cobb, you'll go down with Mr. Talbert. Inventory is your department. Meanwhile, everyone off-watch will get some sleep." He punctuated that decision with a slap of the table as he rose.
Fifteen hours later, Klairon woke to visions of the decimated selyn banks. The meteor had taken a swath out of the middle of the pie-shaped wedge, and what hadn't been destroyed had fallen into the center when the supports were removed. After twenty minutes exposure to hard vacuum, nothing was left functional. Only the aft air purification unit was untouched in its air-tight housing.
When he'd satisfied himself that there wasn't a spark of selyn in the wreckage, he'd authorized Lieman and Iskin to set up the main stack again with conventional welding, and told Talbert what replacements to bring. That was surprisingly easy. Talbert had been way ahead of him most of the time.
Rolling to a sitting position, Klairon kneaded the back of his neck and groaned. He'd never had such a headache. From his eyebrows to his tail-bone, he was one solid ache that even crawled around to bore into his stomach with a sick, burning throb.
Somehow he got to his feet, took a fosebine packet from his pharmacy, made a mental note to have the lock fixed, and dragged himself into the bathroom.
He had to sit down to wait for the powder to dissolve, but when he'd choked down the opalescent mixture he felt better almost immediately. Due to Talbert's unusually deft assistance in creating the semi-trance, the Sleep had done its job and a brisk shower topped it off nicely.
Twenty minutes later, he felt well enough to go in search of breakfast.
He found Bier and Talbert in the galley; Talbert had just finished eating breakfast. Klairon laid his hand on Talbert's shoulder in silent greeting.
Bier inspected Klairon minutely. "You look a little better, but still, I've seen healthier corpses. Sit. You're having eggs and quasi-steak, and you'll eat it all before I let you go to work. With potatoes." He busied himself with hydrators, defrosters, and fry pans.
There was no arguing with that tone so Klairon sat down opposite Talbert and asked, "Did you get everything, Lowell?" His eye fell on Talbert's right ring finger. The elegant embossed gold band with the brilliant diamond of the TN-1 identity ring dented the flesh long unused to it.
Talbert nodded. "And I found myself a set of tools you don't need tentacles to operate. That was a bonus I didn't expect."
Klairon sat back revising his estimate of the time they'd need. "Then it shouldn't take more than three hours to connect the batteries. We'll have lost one full day. I wonder if there's still a chance we'll make it?"
Bier answered from the stove without pausing in his preparations. "According to Dr. Thorson, it'll be close ... a matter of hours ... if we get moving by midnight, ship's time."
Frowning deeply, Klairon leaned his elbows on the table and steepled his fingers, lacing his dorsal and ventral tentacles around them thoughtfully. "Maybe I can cut the travel time with longer skips."
Bier presented him with a plate of steaming omelet, fried potatoes, and the highly proteinacious bean pattie called quasi-steak. "So we'll make it if nothing goes wrong. What I want to know is, what happens to Lowell when we get to In Brim? Will the Sime Controller snatch him back and put him to work in some Dispensary, or will we be allowed to keep him?"
The savory aroma induced Klairon to taste the eggs, which Bier had expertly doctored with a Sime's idea of spices, before objecting, "Wait a minute! You can't go around deciding other people's futures. Why don't you ask Lowell what he wants?"
Talbert leaned away from the, to him, bitter smell of Klairon's eggs. "I've been thinking about it very much ... what I want to do. Truly, there is no choice that is my own. The Chief Controller, Freihaupt, knows me personally and I assure you that he did not approve the quitting that I chose. Gleefully will he assign me to the most unpleasant Dispensary available."
He took a breath and stared dejectedly at the empty coffee mug before him. As his right thumb began to worry that invisible glue on his right forefinger, his speech became clearer, "I have come to a crossroads of life and I must take a new direction. Were the choice mine to make, I would stay with the Pebble Beach.
"But the choice is with Controller Freihaupt, for I must once again be meshed with the Sime structure and it is the Controllers who must see that every month there is a QN-1 for me." He continued to stare at the coffee mug with such a woebegone expression, Bier poured him more coffee.
After a moment, Klairon answered between bites, "You want to stay with the Pebble Beach? You want to work here, in this ship ... with me?"
Talbert looked up to meet Klairon's eyes as Bier, coffee pot in one hand, white towel in the other, presided over the table. The silence gathered until Talbert gave an almost imperceptible nod, and a very faint smile played around the edges of Bier's lips. Talbert spoke with soft, almost whistling sibilants.
"Never have I found such a crew as this ... such a ... warm... ship where I feel ... homeness ..."
Klairon put down his fork. "Are you suggesting an Exclusive?" He knew that a close QN-TN match as they obviously were could never live in such confined quarters and still remain apart as they would have to if they each carried outside obligations.
Again, Talbert's nod was almost imperceptible. Bier's smile became a full blown grin. Klairon steepled his fingers and twined tentacles about them in an intricate dance.
"I know Freihaupt pretty well, too. In fact, he was elected Chief Controller because I declined the nomination in his favor. He's a very dedicated worker, but he might agree, if I were to explain that with you and I forming a closed system, he wouldn't be gaining an asset, but he would be losing a liability. He knows I have a Proficiency Rating high enough to insist that every TN-1 he assigns me be a 4+," he raised one eyebrow at Talbert, "like you?"
Talbert blinked assent with the very slightest movement of his head, confirming Klairon's suspicion.
Bier's mouth fell open in surprise. He hadn't the slightest inkling that Talbert was one of those fantastically scarce TN-1s with a Proficiency Rating off the theoretical top of the scale. And that Klairon was high enough on the matching QN-1 scale to pull a 4+ every time if he wanted to, came as a complete shock. Even Farrises rarely climbed that high. He must be at least a 4.300! It was like finding you'd been palling around with a crown prince!
Without taking his eyes off Talbert, Klairon continued to weave intricate patterns with his tentacles. "I haven't been paying my way professionally for more than six years. Freihaupt ought to be glad to get rid of me. Such an arrangement would please me very much ... that is, if it's what you really want?"
"Truly," Talbert's nod was a strong affirmative this time, accentuated by a long blink.
Gingerly, Bier poured Klairon a cup of coffee. A 4.300! "Well, then," he beamed complacently trying not to let too much of his awe show, "it's settled. Now if you two will hurry and fix up the selyn banks so my oven will work again, I have some baking to do for the celebration of Lowell's joining the crew permanently. I'll have him fattened up in no time."
He surveyed Talbert's bony arms with professional appraisal and then turned to Klairon. "We'll have the party just before we leave In Brim for Folteen with that load of Dyei'n Dagasuto cheese."
Even though Klairon was used to Bier's way of getting ahead of events, he was astonished. "Sometimes I wonder who's Captain of this ship. We haven't even repaired the damage and you've already got us a cargo for In Brim-Folteen."
Then he noticed the change in Bier's attitude, thinly masked by words. "Pete, what ... ! Oh, Pete, really! I'm still me. I haven't changed from one minute to the next. You knew I was a Farris. So what if I hold a 4.432. What's so surprising? It's a skill written in my genes. I'm no more responsible for it than I am for the color of my eyes. It's personality that counts."
Bier relaxed a little and essayed an apologetic smile. He needed some time to get used to the idea. He turned to Talbert. "How can you sit there so calmly? If I were you, I'd be jumping for joy."
Talbert sipped his coffee gravely before speaking. "Suspicion was mine. There develops a feel for it ... to know the truly extraordinary touch of a higher rating," he nodded. "Point two one one Rating points in the 4+ range would account. It is not surprising but it is a joy inspiring."
He leveled his somber gaze at Bier. "However, must I remind that I am Dyei'n. A delicate joy is to be contained and savoured. Dyei'n exuberance is scarcely visible, and all the more intense for it. Might you well to learn from the Book of Restraint, a point or two to enliven your life."
Bier nodded. He was familiar with the Dyei'n philosophies, but had never imagined them strong enough to contain human emotion on the scale Talbert must be experiencing.
Klairon squinted, calculating. 4.211! No wonder he'd been so deeply affected as the Inhibitor failed. A 3.99 or less, he could have managed. With one out of a hundred thousand TN-1s rating 4+, what were the odds of this happening to him?
As it turned out Bier wasn't too hasty in assuming success. It took three hours and twenty minutes to hook up the new batteries, thanks to Talbert's rather spectacular skill. By the time they were ready to hop, Klairon had thrown off the last effects of his ordeal and was in top form. It was no strain at all to lengthen both the skips and the jumps until he'd saved them a full day travel time.
The rest of the trip went without incident, save that Klairon was not able to respond to Miss Mandy Wyat, which of course, elicited a great many comradely suggestions from his shipmates. Especially when they arrived right on schedule to spray the neutralizer into the purplish skies of In Brim, and she insisted that Klairon was the hero of the day.
The inhabitants of this sixth colony of Earth never knew their peril, and Admiral Krantz of the Affiliated Space Navy was so relieved that he added his influence to Klairon's.
The Chief Controller was caught between his cousin, Admiral Krantz, who also happened to be the brother-in-law of Ligen Wyat, and Klairon Farris, the beloved hero of half his supporters. He yielded gracefully and established the utterly unprecedented Exclusive.
Needless to say, it gave the Pebble Beach remarkable range for a small merchant ship, and that made Captain Welch very happy.
They were well on their way to Folteen before Klairon arrived at the idea that he'd ignored the premonition of danger because subconsciously, he'd known it would turn out to everyone's advantage, including his own, and that he might possibly meet Mandy again some day under other circumstance, a thought which made him very happy.
by Jacqueline Lichtenberg (c) copyright Sime~Gen Inc.(R), 2013-- a very rough draft used as inspiration by http://loreful.com/ for a Sime~Gen Videogame