CLANS OF THE ALPHANE MOON
Bowing slightly, Gabriel Baines said, 'We constitute the sine qua non council possessing overall authority on this world, an ultimate form of authority which can't be overruled by anyone." He, with stark, cold politeness, drew back a chair for the Terran psychologist, Dr. Mary Rittersdorf; she accepted it with a brief smile. It seemed to him that she looked tired. The smile showed genuine gratitude.
The other members of the council introduced themselves to Dr. Rittersdorf in their several idiosyncratic fashions.
"Howard Straw. Mans."
"J-jacob Simion." Simion could not suppress his moronic grin. "From the Heebs, where your ship set down."
"Annette Golding. Poly." Her eyes were alert and she sat erectly, watchful of the female psychologist who had barged into their lives.
"Ingred Hibbler. One, two, three. Ob-Com."
Dr. Rittersdorf said, "And that would be --" She nodded. "Oh yes, of course. Obsessive-compulsive."
"Omar Diamond. I will let you guess what clan I am from." Diamond glanced about remotely; he seemed withdrawn into his private world, much to Gabriel Baines' annoyance. This was scarcely a time for individual activity, even of a mystical order; this was the moment in which they had to function as a whole or not at all.
In a hollow, despairing voice the Dep spoke up. "Dino Watters." He struggled to say more, then gave up; the weight of pessimism, of sheer hopelessness, was too great for him. Once more he sat staring down, rubbing his forehead in a miserable tic-like motion.
"And you know who I am, Dr. Rittersdorf," Baines said, and rattled the document which lay before him; it represented the joint efforts of the council members, their manifesto. "Thank you for coming here"' he began, and cleared his throat; his voice had become husky with tension.
"Thank you for allowing me to," Dr. Rittersdorf said in a formal but-to him-distinctly menacing tone. Her eyes were opaque.
Baines said, "You have asked to be permitted to visit settlements other than Gandhitown. In particular you requested permission to examine Da Vinci Heights. We have discussed this. We decided to decline."
Nodding, Dr. Rittersdorf said, "I see."
"Tell her why," Howard Straw spoke up. His face was ugly; he had not for an instant taken his eyes from the lady psychologist from Terra: his hatred for her filled the room and tainted the atmosphere. Gabriel Baines felt as if he were choking in it.
Raising her hand Dr. Rittersdorf said, "Wait. Before you read me your statement." She looked at each of them in turn, a slow, steady and totally professional scrutiny. Howard Straw returned it with malignance. Jacob Simion ducked his head, smiled emptily, letting her attention simply pass. Annette Golding nervously scratched at the cuticle of her thumbnail, her face pale. The Dep never noticed that he was under observation; he never once raised his head. The Skitz, Omar Diamond, returned Mrs. Rittersdorf's stare with sweet sublimity, yet underneath it, Baines guessed, there was anxiety; Diamond looked as if at any moment he might bolt.
As for himself he found Dr. Mary Rittersdorf physically attractive. And he wondered -- idly -- if the fact that she had arrived without her husband signified anything. She was, in fact, sexy. As an inexplicable incongruity, considering the purpose of this meeting, Dr. Rittersdorf wore a distinctly feminine outfit: black sweater and skirt, no stockings, gilded slippers with turned-up elfish toes. The sweater, Baines observed, was just a fraction too tight. Did Mrs. Rittersdorf realize this? He could not tell, but in any case he found his attention drawn away from what she was saying to her well-articulated breasts. They were admittedly small but quite distinct as regard to angle. He liked them.
I wonder, he wondered, if this woman -- she was, he surmised, in her early thirties, certainly in her physical, nubile prime -- if she is looking for something more than professional success, here. He had a powerful affective insight that Dr. Rittersdorf was animated by a personal spirit as well as a task-oriented one; again, she perhaps was not conscious of this. The body, he reflected, possesses ways of its own, sometimes in contradistinction to the purposes of the mind. This morning, on arising, Dr. Rittersdorf might merely have thought that she would like to wear this black sweater, without thinking any more about it. But the body, the well-formed gynecologic apparatus within, knew better.
And to this an analogous portion of himself responded. However in his case it was a conscious reaction. And, he thought, perhaps this can be turned to our group's advantage. This dimension of involvement might not be the liability for us that it surely is for our antagonists. Thinking this he felt himself slide into a posture of contrived defense; he had schemes, automatic and plentiful, by which to protect not only himself but also his colleagues.
"Dr. Rittersdorf," he said smoothly, "'before we could permit you to enter our several settlements, a delegation representing our clans would have to inspect your ship to see what armaments -- if any -- you have along with you. Anything else is unworthy of even cursory consideration."
"We're not armed," Dr. Rittersdorf said.
"Nevertheless," Gabriel Baines said, "I propose to you that you allow me and perhaps one other individual here to accompany you to your base. I have a proclamation here" -- he rattled the manifesto -- "which calls for your ship to vacate Gandhitown within forty-eight Terran hours. If you don't comply --" He glanced at Straw, who nodded. "We will initiate military operations against you on the grounds that you are hostile, uninvited invaders."
In a low, modulated voice Dr. Rittersdorf said, "I understand your comprehension. You've lived here in isolation for quite a time. But --" She was speaking directly to him; her fine, intelligent eyes confronted him purposefully. "I am afraid I have to call attention to a fact which you all may find distasteful. You are, individually and collectively, mentally ill."
There was a taut, prolonged silence.
"Hell," Straw said to no one in particular, "we blew that place sky high years ago. That so-called 'hospital.' Which was really a concentration camp." His lips twisted. "For purposes of slave labor."
"I am sorry to say it," Dr. Rittersdorf said, "but you are wrong; it was a legitimate hospital, and you must include the realization of this as a factor in any plans you might make regarding us. I'm not lying to you; I'm speaking the plain, simple truth."
"'Quid est veritas?'" Baines murmured.
"Pardon?" Dr. Rittersdorf said.
Baines said, "'What is truth?' Hasn't it occurred to you, Doctor, that in the last decade we here might have risen above our initial problems of group adaptation and become --" He gestured. "Adjusted? Or whatever term you prefer ... in any case capable of possessing adequate interpersonal relationships, such as you're witnessing here in this chamber. Surely if we can work together we are not sick. There's no other test you can apply except that of group-workability." He sat back, pleased with himself.
With care Dr. Rittersdorf said, "You are, admittedly, unified against a common enemy ... against us. But -- I'd be wining to place a bet that before we arrived, and again after we depart, you will fragment into isolated individuals, mistrustful and frightened of one another, unable to collaborate." She smiled disarmingly, but it was far too wise a smile for him to accept; it too much underscored her very clever statement.
Because of course she was right; she had put her finger on it. They did not function together regularly. But -- she was also wrong.
This was her error. She supposed, probably as a matter of self-justifying protection, that the origin of the fear and hostility lay with the council. But in fact it was Terra who displayed menacing tactics; the landing of their ship was de facto a hostile act ... were it not, an attempt would have been made to secure permission. These Terrans themselves had manifested initial distrust; they alone were responsible for the present pattern of mutual suspicion. Had they wanted to they could readily have avoided it.
"Dr. Rittersdorf," he said bluntly, "the Alphane traders contact us when they want permission to land. We notice that you did not. And we have no problems in our dealings with them; we trade back and forth on a regular, constant basis."
Obviously his gauntlet had been thrown down to good effect; the woman hesitated, did not have an answer. While she pondered, everyone in the room rustled with amusement, contempt, and, as in the case of Howard Straw, pitiless animosity.
"We assumed," Dr. Rittersdorf said at last, "that had we formally requested permission to land you would have refused us."
Smiling. feeling calm, Baines said, "But you didn't try. You 'assumed.' And now, of course, you'll never know, because --"
'Would you have granted us permission?" Her voice snapped at him, firm and authoritative, penetrating and shattering the continuity of his utterance; he blinked, involuntarily paused. "No, you wouldn't have," she continued. "And all of you know it. Please try to be realistic."
"If you show up at Da Vinci Heights," Howard Straw said, we'll kill you. In fact if you don't leave we'll kill you. And the next ship that tries to land will never touch ground. This is our world and we plan to retain it as long as we survive. Mr. Baines here can recite the details of your original imprisonment of us; It's all contained in the manifesto which he and I -- with the help of the others in this room -- prepared. Read the manifesto, Mr. Baines."
"'Twenty-five years ago,'" Gabriel Baines began, "'a colony was established on this planet --'"
Dr. Rittersdorf sighed. "Our knowledge of the assorted patterns of your mental illnesses --"
"'Sordid'?" Howard Straw burst in. "Did you say 'sordid'?" His face was mottled with dire rage; he half-rose from his chair.
"I said assorted," Dr. Rittersdorf said patiently. "Our knowledge informs us that the focus of your militant activity will be found in the Mans settlement -- in other words, the manic group's settlement. Four hours from now we will break camp and leave the hebephrenic settlement of Gandhitown; we will set down in Da Vinci Heights and if you engage us in combat we'll bring in line-class Terran military forces." She added, "Which are standing by approximately half an hour from here."
Again there was a taut and prolonged silence in the room.
Annette Golding at last spoke up, but barely audibly. "Read our manifesto anyhow, Gabriel."
Nodding, he resumed. But his voice shook.
Annette Golding began to cry, miserably, interrupting his reading. "You can see what's in store for us; they're going to turn us back into hospital patients again. It's the end."
Uncomfortably, Dr. Rittersdorf said, "We're going to provide therapy for you. It'll cause you to feel more -- well, relaxed with one another. More yourselves. Life will take on a more pleasant, natural significance; as it is you're all oppressed with such strain and fears ..."
"Yes, Jacob Simion muttered. "Fears that Terra will break in here and round us up like a lot of animals again."
Four hours, Gabriel Baines thought. Not long. His voice trembling, he resumed the reading of their joint manifesto. It seemed to him an empty gesture. Because there is just exactly nothing, he realized, that is going to save us.
After the meeting had ended -- and Dr. Rittersdorf had departed -- Gabriel Baines laid his plan before his colleagues.
"You're what?" Howard Straw demanded with contemptuous derision, his face made into a parody of itself by his grimace. "You say you're going to seduce her? My god, maybe she's right; maybe we ought to be in a neuro-psychiatric hospital!" He sat back and wheezed bleakly to himself. His disgust was too great; he could make no further motions of abuse -- he left that to the others in the room.
"You must think a lot of yourself," Annette Golding said, finally.
"What I need, " Gabriel said, "is someone with enough telepathic ability to tell me if I'm right." He turned to Jacob Simion. "Doesn't that Heeb saint, that Ignatz Ledebur, have at least a little capacity for telepathy? He's sort of a jack-of-all trades, Psi talent wise."
"None that I know of," Simion said. "But you might, you just might try Sarah Apostoles." He winked at Gabriel, shaking his head in mirth.
"I'll phone Gandhitown, " Gabriel Baines said, picking up the phone.
Simion said, "The phone-lines in Gandhitown are out again. For six days now. You'll have to go there."
"You'd have to go there anyhow," Dino Watters said, rousing himself at last from the slumber of his endless depression. He, alone, seemed somewhat taken by Baines' scheme. "After all that's where he is, in Gandhitown, where anything goes, everyone has children by everyone. By now she may be in the spirit of the thing."
With a grunt of agreement Howard Straw said, "It's luck for you, Gabe, that she's among the Heebs; she ought to be more receptive to you because of that."
"If this is the only way we can comport ourselves," Miss Hibbler said stiffly, "I think we deserve to perish; I truly do."
"The universe," Omar Diamond pointed out, "possesses an infinitude of ways by which it fulfills itself. Even this must not out-of-hand be despised." He nodded gravely.
Without another word, without even saying good-by to Annette, Gabriel Baines strode from the council chamber, down the wide stone stairs and out of the building, to the parking lot. There he boarded his turbine-driven auto and presently, at a meager seventy-five miles an hour, was on his way to Gandhitown. He would arrive before the four-hour deadline, he calculated, assuming that nothing had fallen onto the road, blocking it. Dr. Rittersdorf had returned to Gandhitown by rocket-driven launch; she was already there. He cursed at the archaic mode of transportation which he had to rely on, but there it was; this was their world and the reality for which they were fighting. As a satellite of the Terran culture once more they would regain modern means of transportation ... but this in no way would make up for what they stood to lose. Better to travel at seventy-five miles an hour and be free. Ah, he thought. A slogan.
And yet it was a trifle annoying. Considering the vitalness of his mission ... council-sanctioned or not.
Four hours and twenty minutes later, physically wearied by his travel but mentally alert, even keyed- up, he reached the rubbish-strewn outskirts of Gandhitown; he smelled the odor of the settlement, the sweet smell of rot mixed with the acrid stench of countless small fires.
During the trip he had evolved a new idea. So at this last moment he turned -- not toward Sarah Apostoles' shack -- but toward that of the Heeb saint Ignatz Ledebur.
He found Ledebur tinkering with an ancient, rusty gasoline generator in his yard, surrounded by his children and cats.
"I have seen your plan," Ledebur said, raising a hand to stop Gabriel Baines from breaking into an explanation. "It was traced in blood on the horizon just a short while ago."
"Then you know specifically what I want from you."
"Yes." Ledebur nodded. "And in the past, with a number of women, I have made successful use of it." He put down the hammer which he held, strolled toward the shack; the cats but not the children followed. So did Gabriel Baines. "However it is a microscopic idea that you possess," Ledebur said reprovingly, and chuckled.
"Can you read the future? Can you tell me if I'll succeed?"
"I am no seer. Others may fortell but I remain silent. Wait a minute." Within the one main room of the shack he paused, while the cats trotted and hopped and mewed on all sides. Then he reached above the sink, lifted down a quart jar with a dark substance inside; he unscrewed the lid of the jar, sniffed, shook his head, put the lid back on the jar and restored it to its place. "Not that." He wandered off, then finally opened the ice box, rummaged within, came out with a plastic carton which he inspected with a critical frown.
His present common-law wife -- Gabriel Baines did not know her name -- appeared from the bedroom, glanced dully at the two of them, then started on. She wore a sack-like dress, tennis shoes and no socks, her hair a mass of uncombed dirty material coating the top and back of her head. Gabriel Baines looked away in gloomy disgust.
"Say," Ledebur said to the woman. "Where's that jar of you-know-what? That mixture we use before we --" he gestured.
"In the bathroom." The woman padded on by, going outdoors.
Disappearing into the bathroom Ledebur could be heard moving objects about, glasses and bottles; at last he returned carrying a tumbler filled with a liquid that slopped against the sides as he walked. "This is it, " Ledebur said, with a grin that showed two missing teeth. "But you have to induce her to take it. How are you going to manage that?"
At the moment Gabriel Baines did not know. "We'll see," he said, and held out his hand for the aphrodisiac.
After leaving Ledebur he drove to the single shopping center in Gandhitowri, parked before the dome-shaped wooden structure with its peeling paint, its stacks of dented cans, heaps of discarded cardboard cartons littering the entrance and parking area. Here the Alphane traders rid themselves -- dumped, actually -- great masses of seconds.
Within he bought a bottle of Alph' brandy; seated in his auto he opened it, poured out a portion of the contents, added the dingy, heavily-sedimented aphrodisiac which the Heeb saint had given him. The two liquids managed somehow to mix; satisfied, he re-capped the bottle, started up the car and drove on.
This was, he reflected, no time for him to depend on his natural talents; as the council had pointed out he did not particularly excel in this direction. And excellence, if they wished to survive, was mandatory.
Visually, he managed without difficulty to locate the Terran ship; it loomed high and shiny and metallically-clean above the litter of Gandhitown, and as soon as he sighted it he turned his auto in that direction.
An armed Terran guard, wearing a gray-green uniform familiar from the late war, halted him a few hundred yards from the ship, and from a nearby doorway Baines saw the muzzle of a heavy weapon trained on him. "Your ident papers, please," the guard said, warily scrutinizing him.
Gabriel Baines said, "Tell Dr. Rittersdorf that a plenipotentiary from the supreme council is here to make a final offer by which bloodshed on both sides can be avoided." He sat tautly bolt-upright behind the tiller of his car, gazing straight ahead.
By intercom the arrangements were made. "You may go ahead, sir."
Another Terran, also in full military dress with side arms and decorations, conducted him on foot to the ramp that led up to the open hatch of the ship. They ascended and presently he was bumping his way morosely down a corridor, searching for Room 32-H. The confining walls made him uneasy; he longed to be back outdoors where he could breathe. But -- too late now. He found the proper door, hesitated, then knocked. Under his arm the bottle gurgled slightly.
The door swung open and there stood Dr. Rittersdorf, still wearing the slightly-too-tight black sweater, the black skirt and elfish shoes. She regarded him uncertainly. "Let's see, you're Mr. --"
"Ah. The Pare." Half to herself she added, "Schizophrenic paranoia. Oh, I beg your pardon." She flushed. "No offense meant."
"I'm here," Gabriel Baines said, "to drink a toast. Will you join me?" He walked past her, into her diminutive quarters.
"A toast to what?"
He shrugged. "That ought to be obvious." He allowed just the right shade of irritation to enter his voice.
"Are you giving in?" Her tone was sharp, penetrating; closing the door she came a step toward him.
"Two glasses," he said, in a deliberately resigned, muted voice. "Okay, Doctor?" He got the bottle of Alphane brandy -- and its alien additive -- from its paper bag, began to unscrew the cap.
"I think you're definitely doing the wise thing," Dr. Rittersdorf said. She looked distinctly pretty as she scurried about searching for glasses; her eyes shone. "This is a good sign, Mr. Baines. Really."
Somberly, still the incarnation of defeat, Gabriel Baines poured from the bottle until both glasses were full.
"We can land, then, at Da Vinci Heights?" Dr. Rittersdorf asked, as she lifted her glass and sipped.
"Oh sure," he agreed listlessly; he, too, sipped. It tasted awful.
"I'll inform the security member of our mission," she said. "Mr. Mageboom. So no accidental --" She all at once became silent.
"I just had the strangest --" Dr. Rittersdorf frowned "A sort of flutter. Deep inside me. If I didn't know better --" She looked embarrassed. "Never mind, Mr. -- is it Baines?" Rapidly she drank from her glass. "I feel so tense all of a sudden. I guess I was worried; we didn't want to see ..." Her voice trailed away. Walking to the corner of the compartment she seated herself on the chair, there. "You put something in that drink." Rising, she let the glass drop; she crossed as swiftly as possible toward a red button on the far wall.
As she passed him he caught her around the waist. The plenipotentiary from the inter-clan council of Alpha III M2 had made his move. For better or worse the plan was being enacted, their struggle to survive.
Dr. Rittersdorf bit him on the ear. Nearly severing the lobe.
"Hey," he said feebly.
Then he said, "What are you doing?"
After that he said, "Ledebur's concoction really works."
He added, "But I mean, there's a limit to everything."
Time passed and he said gaspingly, "At least there should be."
A knock sounded on the door.
Raising herself up slightly, Dr. Rittersdorf called, "Go away."
"It's Mageboom," a muffled male voice sounded from the corridor.
Springing to her feet, disengaging herself from him, Dr. Rittersdorf ran to the door and locked it. At once she spun and, with a ferocious expression, dived -- it looked to him as if she were diving -- directly at him. He shut his eyes and prepared for the impact.
But was this going to get them what they wanted? Politically.
Holding her down, keeping her to one spot on the floor, a little to the right of the heap of her tossed-away clothing, Baines grunted, "Listen, Dr. Rittersdorf --"
"Mary," and this time she bit him on the mouth; her teeth clinked against him with stunning force and he winced with pain, shut his eyes involuntarily. That turned out to be his cardinal mistake. Because in that moment he was tilted; the next he knew he was somehow on the bottom, pinned in place -- her sharp knees dug into his loins and she grasped him just above the ears, gathering his hair between her fingers and tugging upward as if to pull his head from his shoulders. And at the same time --
He managed to call out weakly, "Help!"
The person on the other side of the door, however, had evidently already departed; there was no response.
Baines made out the sight of the red button on the wall which Mary Rittersdorf had been about to press -- had intended to but now, beyond any doubt whatsoever, would never in a million years press -- and began to squirm inch by inch in its direction.
He never made it.
And the thing that gets me, he thought later on in despair, is that in addition this is getting the council nowhere politically.
"Dr. Rittersdorf," he grated, wheezing for breath, "let's be reasonable. For god's sake let's talk, okay? "Please."
This time she bit the tip of his nose; he felt her sharp teeth meet. She laughed; it was a long, echoing laugh that chilled him.
I think that what's going to kill me, he decided finally after the passage of what seemed an unending amount of time in which neither of them managed to say any more, is the biting; I'm being bitten to death and there is nothing I can do. He felt as if he had stirred up and encountered the libido of the universe; it was a mere elemental but enormous power that had him pinned to the rug, here, with no possibility of escape. If only someone would break in, one of the armed guards for instance --
"Did you know," Mary Rittersdorf whispered wetly against his cheek, "that you're the prettiest man alive?" At that she backed off slightly, sitting on her haunches, adjusting herself -- he saw his opportunity and rolled away; scrambling, he broke for the button, groped frantically to press it, to summon someone, anyone -- Terran or not.
Panting, she seized him by the ankle, brought him crashing down; his head hit the side of a metal cabinet and he moaned as the darkness of defeat and annihilation -- of a sort he had never been prepared for by anything previous in his life -- seeped over him.
With a laugh Mary Rittersdorf rolled him about and once more pounced on him; her bare knees again dug into him, her breasts dangled above his face as she clamped her hands over his wrists and bore him flat. It obviously did not matter to her whether he was conscious really, he discovered, as the darkness became complete. One last thought entered his mind, a final determination.
Somehow, some way, he would get the Heeb saint Ignatz Ledebur for this. If it was his last act in life.
"Oh, you're so lovely," Mary Rittersdorf's voice, uttered within a quarter-inch of his left ear, rang, deafening him. "I could just eat you up." She quivered from head to foot, an undulation that was like a storm of mobility, a tossing of the surface of the earth itself.
He had, as he passed out, a terrible feeling that Dr. Rittersdorf had just begun. And Ledebur's concoction did not account for this because it had not affected him this way. Gabriel Baines and the Heeb saint's concoction had provided an opportunity for something already in Dr. Mary Rittersdorf to emerge. And he would be lucky if the combination did not turn out to be -- as it seemingly was turning out to be -- not a so-called love potion but a clear-cut potion of death.
At no time did he truly lose consciousness. Therefore he was aware that, much later, the activity in which he was caught began by degrees to abate. The artificially-induced whirlwind diminished and then at last there was a fitful peace. And then -- by an agency which remained obscure to him -- he was physically moved from his place on the floor, from Dr. Mary Rittersdorf's compartment, to some other place entirely.
I wish I was dead, he said to himself. Obviously the last of the grace-period had trickled away; the Terran ultimatum had expired and he had failed to halt events. And where was he? Cautiously Baines opened his eyes.
It was dark. He lay outdoors, under stars, and around him rose the junk-heap which was the Heeb settlement of Gandhitown. In no direction -- he peered frantically -- could he make out the shape of the Terran ship. So obviously it had taken off. To land at Da Vinci Heights.
Shivering, he sat weakly up. Where, in the name of all that was sacred to the species, were his clothes? Hadn't she cared enough to give them back? It seemed a gratuitous coda; he lay back and shut his eyes and cursed to himself in a sing-song voice ... and he, the Pare delegate to the supreme council. Too much, he thought bitterly.
A noise to his right attracted him; again he opened his eyes, this time peering shrewdly. An antique vehicle of some obsolete sort put-putted toward him. He made out, now, bushes; yes, he realized, he had been tossed in the bushes, too, fulfilling the ancient saw: Mary Rittersdorf had reduced him to the status of a participant in a folk-saying. He hated her for that -- but his fear of her, much greater, did not budge. What was coming was nothing more than a typical Heeb internal combustion engine car; he could distinguish its yellow headlights.
Climbing to his feet he waved the car to a halt, standing in the center of the nebulous Heeb-built cowpath, here on the outskirts of Gandhitown.
"What's the matter?" the Heeb driver in his drawly, jejune voice inquired; he was so deteriorated as to be devoid of caution.
Baines walked up to the door of the car and said, "I was -- attacked."
"Oh? Too bad. Took your clothes, too? Get in." The Heeb banged on the door behind him until it swung creakily open. "I'll drive you to my place. Get you something to wear."
Baines said grimly, "I'd prefer it if you took me to Ignatz Ledebur's shack. I want to talk to him." But, if it had all been there, buried inside the woman in the first place, how could he blame the Heeb saint? No one could have predicted it, and surely if it generally affected women this way Ledebur would have ceased to employ it.
'What's that?" the Heeb driver inquired as he started up the car.
There was that little intercommunication in Gandhitown; it was a symptom, Baines realized, that rather bore out Mary Rittersdorf's statements about them all. However, he drew himself together and described as best he could the location of the Heeb saint's shack.
"Oh yeah," the driver said, "the guy who has all those cats. I ran over one the other day." He chuckled. Baines shut his eyes, groaned.
Presently they had halted before the dimly-lit shack of the Heeb saint. The driver banged open the car door; Baines climbed stiffly out, aching in every joint and still suffering unbearably from the million and one bites which Mary Rittersdorf, in her passion, had inflicted. He made his way step by step across the littered yard, in the uneven yellow light of the car's headlights, found the shack's door, nudged an undetermined collection of cats from his way, and rapped on the door.
Seeing him, Ignatz Ledebur rocked with laughter. "What a time it must have been -- you're bleeding all over. I'll get you something to wear and Elsie'll probably have something for those bites or whatever they are ... it looks as if she worked you over with a pair of cuticle scissors." Chuckling, he shuffled off somewhere in the rear of the shack. A horde of grimy children regarded Baines as he stood by the oil heater warming himself; he ignored them.
Later, as Ledebur's common-law wife dabbed ointment on the bites -- which constellated around his nose, mouth and ears -- and Ledebur laid out tattered but reasonably clean clothes, Gabriel Baines said, "I've got her figured out. Obviously she's the oral sadistic type. That's where things went wrong." Mary Rittersdorf, he realized soberly, was as sick as, or even more than, anyone on Alpha III M2. But it had been latent.
Ledebur said, "The Terran ship took off."
"I know." He began now to dress.
"There has been a vision," Ledebur said, "That has eached me in the last hour. About the arrival of another Terran ship."
"A warship," Baines guessed. "To take Da Vinci Heights." He wondered if they'd go so far as to H- bomb the Manses' settlement -- in the name of psychotherapy.
"This is a tiny, fast pursuit ship," Ledebur said. "According to my psychic presentation related by the primordial forces. Like a bee. It hurtled down, landed near the Poly settlement, Hamlet Hamlet."
At once Baines thought of Annette Golding. He hoped to heaven that she was all right. "Do you have any kind of vehicle? Anything 1 can ride back to Adolfville in? There was his own car, presumably parked at the spot the Terran ship had occupied. Hell, he could walk to it from here. And he would not drive to his own settlement, he decided; he would go to Hamlet Hamlet, make certain that Annette had not been raped, beaten up or lasered. If she were harmed in any way --
"I let them down." he said to Ledebur. '"I claimed I had a plan -- they depended on me, naturally, because I'm a Pare." But he had not given up yet; his Pare mind was filled with schemes, active and alive. He would go to his grave this way, still planning how to defeat the enemy.
"You should eat something," Ledebur's woman suggested. "Before you go anywhere. There's some kidney stew left; I intended to give it to the cats but you're welcome to it."
"Thanks," he said, managing not to gag; Heeb cooking left something to be desired. But she was right. He needed to regain a certain amount of energy, otherwise he'd fall dead in his tracks. It was amazing he had not already, considering what had befallen him.
After he had eaten he borrowed a flashlight from Ledebur, thanked him for the clothes, ointment and meal, then set off on foot through the narrow, twisted, junk filled streets of Gandhitown. Fortunately his car was still where he had left it; neither Heebs nor Terrans had seen fit to cart it off, saw it up or pulverize it.
Getting in he drove from Gandhitown, took the road east toward Hamlet Hamlet. Once more at a pitiful seventy-five miles an hour he was on his way across the open, exposed landscape between settlements.
With him rode a dreadful sense of urgency, of a sort he had never before experienced. Da Vinci Heights had been invaded, perhaps already had fallen; what was left? How, without the fantastic energy of the Mans clan, could they survive? If perhaps this single small Terran ship meant something ... might that not be a hope? At least it was unexpected. And, within the realm of the expected, they had no chance, were doomed.
He was not a Skitz, or a Heeb. And yet in his own dim way he had his vision, too. It was a vision of the off-chance, the one possibility plucked from the many. His first plan had fallen through but there was still this; he believed in this. And he did not even know why.