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3

Bells rang. A soft explosion marked the closing of the dome locks, and Danors sky-boat sailed down out of Four BEEs turgidly perfect sunset like a large silver bird.

You could tell the boat came from BAA, city of the fabulous. Rubies flashed on the covered window spaces, which protected the passengers, as ever, from glimpses of the wild desert that reigns and rampages about beyond the domes. And when the exit ports opened, they spilled a crowd in trailing cloaks of noncombustible fire and similar finery, and with alarming android pet animals and crates of extraordinary luggage, not to mention a flock of baas, now bees. No longer did I use a bee. I carried things about on my person when I bothered to carry anything. The old bee, which always fell on me, more than partly with my own connivance, now lay among that heap of forgotten detritus that cluttered the upper rooms of home.

Hergal was loitering at the edge of the Arrival Stretch with Zirk-as-hero. Both gave me sidelong apprehensive looks, and Zirk flexed a bicep or two in obvious warning. Of Hatta there was, fortunately, no sign, and Mirri had not come either. Thinta, however, materializing in a mild frenzy, darted up and glared at Kley with one of those unique Thinta-glares that convey as much menace as a lollipop.

Attlevey, said Kley, poking me in the ribs by way of a comma. She here yet? Or do I finally say he?

Are you all right? Thinta asked me. You look so washed-out. (Danor? No, at least, we dont know.) Did you remember to have a meal injection?

Nobody knew what body Danor was going to be in. Zirk was having a bet with a Jang male from some other circle that it was that nice little thing in pink, and the Jang maleDoval, by namewas saying he thought it was the other, nicer little thing in red.

Yes, Thinta, I said.

But are you sure? Thinta persisted. Because Ive brought some nutrition pills with me in case.

Just then I saw Danor. It was quite easy to spot heryes, her. The dashing quality and the poignancy were still there, and you could see them clearly, shining up like light through colored glass. If you really looked. The others were still jostling and haggling and waving at the four points of the compass. And Kley suddenly yelled out that maybe Danor had graduated to Older Person status, and slapped on the back a dignified woman, who promptly began to complain about it to the nearest robot. Amid the confusion I slipped my guardsKley, Thintastrolled across to the reception area, and reached it at the very split Danor came away.

Hair like a blue raincloud, and a BAA dress of transparent lightnings. She was leading by a chain of sapphires a sort of swan animal, elegantly stepping on very stiff legs, its plumage just the shade of her own lavender eyes.

Hallo, Danor.

She glanced up and at me, quizzically.

You know me? How derisann. And you?

I told her.

Oh she said, as if she were going on to say something else, and then hesitated. But her eyes, those lavender eyes, were open as two doors on a sort of turmoilalarm, pleasure, cowardice, memory. Shed gone right back to the time she/he jumped off the floater, I could tell, right back to the Secret. No one else knew, surely? No one but me.

You sealed my lips with a kiss, remember? I said.

Did I? Oh, yes, she said. Then a troubled frown. She had apparently progressed beyond that kiss now, beyond the Archaeological Expedition, to the part when I, uttering incomprehensible moans about God and boredom, fell prone upon the floor of the Robotics Museum. Returning afterward from Limbo, I had found her gone, or would have had I been thinking of Danor then. Are you happy? she said to me, blatantly, gently.

Im noted for it, I said. She looked away. And you? How was BAA all these vreks?

Insumatt, she said, of course.

Her swan meanwhile had lifted one stiff immaculate leg and was peeing up the side of a reception pillar, a thing which surprised me, since the android animals of BAA are generally without bodily functions. Two Q-Rs were spraying disinfectant over all of us except, maybe, missing the swan. Zirk had come bounding up too, and was staring nonplussed at the scene, his Herculean face going magenta with explosive emotion. Finally he got out:

You must be Danor!

Danor? I said. This isnt Danor. Danor is the nice little thing in pink.

Danor remained silent.

Zirk floundered and his pectorals deflated uncertainly.

Well, I did reckon the one in pink wasBut then, whos this?

Does it matter? I said. You look after your interests and Ill take care of mine. I craned to his ear. After all, I gave up the Danor idea when I saw you and Hergal getting to work. I should watch Hergal, I added.

Zirk spun round, registered Hergals position, and then galloped boatward to envelop the pink girl with Four BEE gallantry. How surprised she was going to be. Kley and Thinta were gawping at me, and Kleys golden eyes had a leopardine gleam.

Danor, I said, there is a robot bird-plane for hire about ten paces to our left. You didnt protest a moment ago, so I assume you wont now. And I took her hand, and she, I, and the swan ran for the plane and leaped inside. The swan landed on the dashboard, its beak making a merry rattling sound and its wings smiting left and right. I depressed the PAY ON LANDING button, closed the ignition switch, and we were sailing into the velvet upper air of the city. The swan also erupted into flight and whizzed about our heads.

Danor giggled, hauling on the sapphire chain. The swan settled abruptly and the bird-plane plunged to port.

How silly, said Danor. Be calm, she murmured to the swan, and to me: It was a genetic mistake. The flashes in BAA reported it. It came out of the tank wrong and they were going to dismantle it. But I asked Kam if I couldnt have it, and he said yes and arranged it.

How splendid of Kam, I said.

Kam was an Older Person, said Danor. She folded her hands in her lap on top of the swan. Very serenely she said: We lived together for eight vreks. Yes, ooma, a Jang girl with an older male. Watch the buttons, she said softly as I inadvertently spun us into a Hergal-type divethe old Hergal. The Committee finally got around to suggesting we part company. They told us, very kindly, that it was not done, not good for us, not healthy. They told Kam that he was ruining my life, so he made me go.

The swan began to sing in a high-pitched inappropriate voice:

I only want to have love with you, for you are so derisann.


We changed to a bubble, and got along Peridot Waterway and so home. I didnt pay for the bird-planeI seldom did when I could avoid itbut I felt I had to for the bubble, since the swan, obviously a creature of irregular habits, crapped lethargically all over it. Danor did not apologize for the swan, for which I admired her.

At home, we went into the suite of rooms I still occasionally used. An immediate machine came crawling out of the wall and sidled up to Danor, imploring her to let it get her some topaz meringue or crushed fire-apple. Danor declined, which intrigued me; once she had adored food at any hour of night or day. She inquired instead if the swan could have some syntho fruit juice. I acquiesced with mixed feelings.

We sat together in the garden by the pool under the huge artificial stars of Four BEEDanor, the swan, and I.

Can it swim at all? I asked.

Oh, no, said Danor. The swan was apparently a total failure, which was why she loved it.

We had said no more about Kam. At least, I had asked nothing and Danor had volunteered no more. But now, reflectively, she began to talk again. I could tell from her voice, so level and unbitter, that the story caused her great pain, but it was a pain she had mastered. She was informing me, not because she needed to, but out of a sense of fairness. Because to her, as to me, the brief weird trouble between us in the past had achieved importance over the vreks which followed. Danor and I had never been close. In those days Hergal was nearer to me, even Thinta, in her irritating way. But now, under the monotonous starlight, we might have been the offspring of the same makers, brother and sister.

When I went to BAA, she said, I was male again for a little while. A couple of other-circle Jang had followed me; I did it to shake them off, and it worked. One unit I met this older male in the Weather Gardensyou know the place in BAA where they have special weather effects, thunderstorms and snow and everything. I was with a crowd watching an avalanchethey only lay it on twice a unit and it was rather impressive. Then this male came up to me, and he said reproachfully: If you were going to be here, why didnt you signal me? I said I didnt know what he meant. Then he stared very hard, and he blushed. How often do people blush? It was sort of unusual and rather attractive. Hed designed himself very handsomely, and he didnt have that pompous, anti-Jang look either. He said: I am sorry. I thought you were my child. Hes predominantly male, and his last body did look very like yours. But how stupid of me. What must you think. I said I thought it was quite natural, and I didnt mind, and was he the guardian? He gave a little smile, the sort of smile that isnt really a smile. No, the other maker is his guardian. I dont often see either of them. By this time the avalanche was finished. When he had looked at it, his eyes were really far away, unfocused. He didnt seem happy or enthusiastic. Have you noticed, ooma, I expect you have, how nearly everyone is always happy and enthusiastic, and rushing about, and laughing and screaming? He was very restful, and I suppose he thought I was restful, because we were both very silent and sad-eyed. Presently he said he was called Kam, and would I care for a glass of opal wine or some Joyousness or something. Just then I think he wanted to make believe I was his child and Id come to visit him. It eased out, bit by bit, how he and the other maker didnt get along well now, and the other maker, predominantly female, had insisted she be guardian to the child, and it rather seemed she might have turned him against Kam. Kam didnt actually say this. He was trying to be impartial, simply because he felt angry about it, and knew he might not be. I liked him. I said I wished he were my maker, I hadnt seen my two since hypno-school ended.

That was the start of it. We began to go about on a maker-child basis. I was still male then. He was so very nice to me. He paid for everything, and he took me to see the sightsthings I hadnt even heard of. And he introduced me to his friends, though most of them were fairly anti as usual, and even had me meet a Jang circle or two, the children of his contemporaries. One day there were these two gorgeous Jang girls in his palace. Theyd seen me and liked me, apparently, and Kam had encouraged them. He came in, being jolly and maker-ish. He expected Id want to get married to one of them for the unit, but of course I didnt. And it wasnt just the old thingthe having love thingeither. It made me realize. When I didnt bite, the two girls eventually flounced out. I told Kam I was predominantly female, and due for a change. He looked slightly taken aback. He looked something else, toonervous, and not only that, somehow glad. I knew then, and I think he did. I went to Limbo that night. He didnt go with me. This was the body I came out with. I wouldnt change it now, and if I had to, Id replicatefortunately thats a successful fashion that you started, ooma. I ordered it in these soft colors because Id seen he liked them. His home was all blues and mauves like evening skies. Am I making him sound floopy, ooma? He wasnt. But he was very kind. I came back at dawn, and I wondered if he was still asleep. But hed been up the whole night. He was walking about on the roof, and he saw me and came down. To begin with, I felt scared, he seemed so flabbergasted. He just stared at me. And then he apologized and mumbled something about you never knew with Jang, I might have turned up the shade of a fireball, with a knife on each hip. I simply took his hand. I didnt know what I wanted, really. I wasnt analyzing or being rational, and I wasnt afraid. I didnt even remember the idea that Jang never have liaisons with older people. I mean, they never do, do they? I suppose, maybe, it must have happened once or twice, but only for a unit, and all hushed up and hidden afterward, with everyone ashamed and rushing off to suicide or something.

He said, Darling, Im at least half a rorl older than you, and you know I cant follow Jang custom and marry youtheres no provision for older people to marry. You do realize that? I said, Doesnt matter. He looked troubled, for me, because I was a Jang and breaking the unwritten lawthough probably it is written, too. So I kissed him. I hadnt planned to. Id resigned myself anyway, ages before, that having love, for me, was a nonevent and always would be. You see, I hadnt imagined it would be any different with him. I just wanted to make him happy, because he was so special to me. I was ready to play and pretend anything. Danors eyes sparkled. Sublimely, majestically, she made a particularly unequivocal Jang sexual gesture. Well, well, wasnt I due for a surprise?

Yes, I said, Id had a couple of ideas about that too.

I tried not to sound sullen. Kam had stolen my thunder, but never mind, at least her story was original.

All that marrying business, Danor said, glinting. All that delay. Part of me always knew Im spontaneous. He taught me that. Oh, ooma, she said suddenly, the light fading from her face, I loved him. Do you understand what I mean?

Yes, I know about love, I said. Like God, it doesnt seem to function anymore.

They wont let it function. Do you know what happened? One night his child arrivedhow ironical. He was a sort of amber male with cold eyes. He took one look at me and ran off to his guardian, and about three splits later there was a messenger baa in the house from the Committee. They spoke to both of us, together and individually. They were very kind, that was what made it so silly. They explained that the age and experience difference simply wouldnt work. That Kam was a maker-figure for me and I was a child-figure for him. I said, what did it matter if we were happy? But they convinced Kam, and that unit he said I must go. He was very firm. He ordered me out, and his eyes were full of tears.

I glanced at her. She was still calm, wholly in command of herself. She looked very beautiful, very desirable in the cool starlight, which, despite its artificial idiocy, is effective. But what can you do with a friend who sits grieving stoically by your pool for a lost lover that isnt you?

Just then, the swan totteredprobably drunk on its syntho-juiceto the waters edge, and tumbled in.

I had a moments wild hope it would regain a lost instinct and begin to swim, but it sank like a stone, only its beak protruding for an instant, honking out a snatch of songYou are the wonderful sun of my sky!which was presumably the only way it could cry for help.

I suspect the swan had reminded me somewhat of the pet, though the pets intelligence had been razor-sharp, for all its zaradannity, while the swan was manifestly a mental deficient.

Not stopping to calculate, I plunged straight into the pool after the bloody thing, and swiftly emerged with its struggling, wet-feather body, which I deposited on the bank, against great opposition from the swan itself. It promptly puked the water it had swallowed into half the silk-flowers and then sat down on the other half with a look of mild self-congratulation.

I rose from the pool, my poets gear of black cactus-velvet plastered to my skin, and my loosely curling hair matted to a consistency guaranteed to shred my skull when next I came to brush it.

Danor had begun to cry, almost unobtrusively.

Poor swan, she whispered, but I knew who she meant.

I knelt by her and, regardless of my saturated condition, she clung to me. I was familiar with this scene, had acted in it with myself as Danor. I held her close, and presently picked her up and carried her inside. At the door I paused to tie up the swan and send some house machines with towels and things to look after it. Danor thanked me between her sobs.

I set her on the larger, goldwork couch.

We havent married, she said flatly. Jang tradition.

Vixaxn Jang tradition, I said quietly, and her mouth was tearfully laughing as I found it.


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