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9

Even the shadows were green in the Garden. Id felt tired before; I was wide awake now. Just because I was going out to collect some dope of a Jang male off the dunes, probably tossing ecstasy down his throat, and howling. Attlevey, ooma-kasma, its insumattly derisann, believe me, and Im all up on the stars, you bet.

Gardens End was still about half a mile off, though the perimeter seemed to be widening itself a little, small dry grasses seeding, pastel-yellow thistle flowers clutching the sand. Coming from the shade, the sun strikes like a blow on the skull. I thought, collecting it for the three-thousandth time, I ought to get the machines to make me one of those old tribal sun-hat things, an oopsa or oosha or whichever. But I was brooding on down-to-earth practical details in order to stop my fantasies racing up my spine into my brain like an invading horde.

The beast was striding on toward the sand-ship, and me, only a few hundred yards off now over the dunes.

It was almost like a return of my agoraphobia, those few splits I was crossing the open sand. I was half scared to look up, even when the ink-black shadow of the gemstone animal fell thankfully around me. However, shading my eyes with an arm from the elbow of which amethyst trimmings still dripped, I raised my eyes, and stared aloft at the dragons rider.

Nice weather, he flippantly remarked. Bit warm. But nice.

A lot of things hit me at once. I wasnt ready for any of them.

Who are you? I demanded, gritting my teeth with a sensation of white-hot lava crowding me from my flesh.

My names Esten, he said. Derisann to meet you.

Damn you, youve got a farathooming bloody cheek. What are you up to, you bastard? Whats the grakking game, you

Esten, he supplied graciously, as if Id forgotten, and was only filling in with insults to cover the lapse.

Balls, Esten, I said. Howd you get it? Whered you get it? Whyd you come here in it?

Oh, this? You mean the body, do you?

What else, you God-forgotten floop of a Jang thalldrap?

Oh, well, he said, and just waved his hand ever so vaguely, and smiled. It was a long-fingered artistic hand and a charming unexpected smile, the smile of a poet for an attractive girl, the bittersweet greeting of one who is a lover of life despite the tragic death that is slowly, inevitably, devouring him. I knew it pretty well, and not surprising.

He was in my body. The last one, the poets, slight and graceful build, aquilinity of feature, mane of loosely curling dark hair and large shadow-smudged blue opal eyes and all.

He hadnt missed a trick. Not a farathooming one.

Even the gestures were mine.

Only the tan was different, designed to take the sun. Dying of consumption the poet might be, but he didnt fancy sunburn on top of it.

Well, I said, Im waiting.

And very lovely you look doing it, he said, gallantly. I must have looked, actually, like an electric circuit about to blow its valves out. I tried to calm down.

Either you tell me, said I, in a measured, steely voice, if a bit heat-melted at the edges, why you chose to arrive like that, or you can turn youryour whatever-it-is around, and prance off back to BAA.

I cant do that, he said. You know it.

Then explain your conduct. Quickly.

He gave the BAA dragon a little tap and it gracefully knelt. He gracefully slid off and leaned there on its side, immaculately fragile. Oh, I knew that stance. He must have seen the pot boiling over again, because he held up one of those poet-swordfighterss hands and said:

Its quite simple and perfectly mundane. Youll be sick if I tell you.

Youll be sicker if you dont.

Very well, my lady of Jang. I saw the magic film, the film of the enchantress in the waste with her green garden. And I lost mind, soul, and heart. To you.

Crap, I politely replied.

Possibly. I told you youd be nauseated. But you insisted on knowing my reasons, so its your own fault. There is something about your unique brand of boorish, arrogant stupidity that ties me up in a bow. So adventurous, so cynical, such a funny combination of valor and cowardice, idiocy and intelligence. Your dear little face being all lick-arse to the Committee while obscene signs shone from your eyes like neons. I knew at once Id never fancy another female as long as I lived. So. I traveled to BAA in the legitimate last public sand-ship running, intrigued my way into the android-animal breeding-tank domes outside the city, persuaded some floop of an Older woman to let me try a quick dash over the sandy waste on a dragon, and never bothered to go back.

What about oxygen? I said.

They keep supplies on the out-city farms in case they need to leave the farm-domes in a hurry. Oxygen, anti-dehydration tablets, meal injections, the lot. I nicked what I required when the Older lady was resting, after our littleerchat.

Fascinating, I said. You still havent mentioned myyourbody.

Obsessed with you as I was, what else could I do the moment I reached BAA, than order a replicate? It seemed also an excellent way to instant seduction. Youve heard the theory, I suppose, that most of us only want to make love to ourselves? Heres your chance, ooma. A never-to-be-repeated offer.

He didnt make a move, however, just went on looking at me.

I knew the theory fine. Another thing hed stolen from me. Something in it, too, if my reactions were anything to go by. My heart was slamming about in my throat, and the other responsesthose denied hormones pining so longwere leaping and prancing like things possessed. So, of course, I resented it. His cunning plot, my physical inebriation. And I didnt trust him, he was too clever.

Youre too clever, I said. I dont trust you. Im not sure I believe you, either.

My oxygen ran out last night, he said. This slightly asthmatic wheeze isnt part of the act, its real. If I collapse at your feet, will you take me in?

Forget it, I said. One point you overlooked. I know the line; I should, I invented it. Get back on your animal and follow me. I suppose Im stuck with you the way Im stuck with all the rest of them.

Wont you join me on the dragon?

No, thanks awfully.

So he swung back up, and the beast rose, and they paddled behind me over the last stretch of sand, along the steel paths of the Garden, to the ship.


It wasnt a pleasure to watch him. I think a small part of me was emerald with envy. After all, Id hopped it from that excellently designed skin before I was really ready. Now, here he was, poetically swooning all over my veranda, with a reemerged Nilla scurrying to bring him food, drink, and cushions, and even Felain and Glis out and about, Glis getting medical machines to take his pulse and Felain cooing in his ears.

I stood at the other end of the veranda and sulked, glaring around with an air of rabid interest in the state of the climbing plants, the sky, the day. When Felain kissed his hand, I got off the veranda and went stalking toward Moddiks workshop.

The dragon had nodded off enormously in the grass at the forests edge. It was a full android, with no need for food or water. Little curls of scented smoke came from its nostrils. Rather nice it was really, but, unfairly tarred with his brush, I hadnt gone for it much before. What would the Gray-Eyeses (binnimasts) think of it? And the swan? That was better, I was cooling down a little.

I knocked on Moddiks weird-shelter door. A strange clattering ensued. Then the door opened to reveal Moddik among a confused undergrowth of wires, steel frames, and transparent webbing. I began to believe what theyd said, he and Glis, about his knowing how to get anything from anything, as a machine does. In Moddiks case, the rorls had obviously been put to good use. Everywhere actual machines were clicking and spatting, and Borss had been propped like a demoralized drunk in the corner.

Is the arrival pleasing? asked Moddik, tactfully blunt. Is our young leader glad?

No, our young leader isnt glad. The arrivals Jang, and hes had the abysmal gall to turn up here in my last male bodyor a replicate.

Ah! said Moddik. I said he was enterprising, did I not? An acquaintance of yours, perhaps, from Four BEE?

You know, that never occurred to me. He says his names Esten, and I never met an Esten that I recall. He doesnt behave like anyone I knew. Or even misbehave like them.

His manner may be assumed, carefully worked out beforehand in order to mislead. His name could also be false, since, out-dome, it hardly matters.

I sat down to muse on this and hastily got up again with a yell. Moddik removed the six or seven pointed rods from the chair, and began to stuff them in an extraordinary apparatus that appeared to be growing into a gray jelly at the center of the room.

I could ask Danor, I said. She was in my circle. But then, he may not have been in my circle. As I said this, the pulse in my throat slammed me so hard I had to swallow to get rid of it. He, oh, he said he got the body at BAA, via BEE. I suppose he reckoned that way, even if BEE got suspicious, theyd never catch up to him in time.

Bright lad, said Moddik. I shall look forward to meeting him. My prefab horror should be arriving, courtesy of the Committee, about noon, he added. I gave them directions, so it wont land on the fire-root or anything. Then Ill want that extra machine I mentioned from the shipand, with any luck, by sunset tonight, the first water mixer will be serviceable. Not as beauteous as our friend out there, just ropy old steel nozzles and an ice-glass dome, but itll water the land, and thats the idea, isnt it?

What can I say? I asked him. Im overwhelmed.

Then go and investigate your double and leave me in peace, you wretch of a Jang girl, roared Moddik, flapping sleeves and steel tubing and an unseen, nonexistent, ancient sorcerers white beard.


Hallo, ooma, may I join in? Danor asked, gliding into the saloon from which Yay and Jaska were clearing the messy remains of the Jangs dawn meal. I was eating the home-grown sun-peaches for mine. I handed her the dish, with slight misgiving.

Theyre lovely, and they seem OK, but are you sure you want to? I may start an indiscriminate hair growth or something.

Might be pretty, said Danor. Long flamy gold-brown hair growing out, um, everywhere.

We giggled secretively in the way of females who have shared many and varying experiences together. Having been in the same circle did count for something, despite my constant propaganda to the contrary.

Oh, well, anyhow, that smashing nut Moddik was in here last night gobbling those pink things, so I reckon we might all just as well get boils together.

We gnawed in silence awhile. Presently, pouring us fire-and-ice, I told her about the advent of Esten, what he had said, what Moddik had said, quite a lot about my own feelings on the subject.

Danor looked taken aback. I hadnt, selfish and feeble-minded that I am, thought of the implications for her confonted by another me-as-male, a duplicate of the one with whom she had whiled away the hours without Kam. But, in point of fact, this scarcely seemed to trouble her, and she received my awkward mutterings calmly.

No, ooma, she said, I was just considering what Moddik said, how it might be someone you know. I havent met him yet, butdo you remember what I told you about our circle when I got here?

Yes, I said, and elegantly held up my hand (his gesturemy gestureId caught it back off him). Honestly, I did think of that. But, how would he ever dare?

Oh, I dont think daring it would be the problem, said Danor.

Hergal, female, with a male like my previous body, going off to BAAI looked into my wine and didnt say it. I truly didnt know what I should say, or think. Or do.

Not, of course, that really I could do anything.


| Drinking Sapphire Wine | c