RUTH WAS TO LOOK BACK AT THE FIRST FEW CHEM days with a profound astonishment at herself. She grew aware (slowly) that Kelexel was twisting her responses with his outlandish devices, but by that time she was addicted to the manipulation. It was only important that Kelexel return to touch her and speak to her and twist her to his desires.
He grew handsome in her sight. It gave her pleasure just to look at his ridged, tubular body. His square face was easy to read in his devotion to her.
He really loves me, she thought. He had Nev killed to get me.
There was even pleasure in the realization of how utterly helpless she was, how completely subject to Kelexel's slightest whim. She had come to understand by then that the most powerful force on earth was as an anthill when compared to the Chem. By this time she'd been through an educational imprinter, spoke Chem and shiptongue.
The major irritant in her existence at this moment was remembrance of Andy Thurlow. Kelexel had begun to ease back on the strength of the manipulator (her reactions were now sufficiently conditioned) and she could remember Andy with growing clarity. But the fact of her helplessness eased her guilt feelings, and Andy came less and less into her thoughts until Kelexel brought her a pantovive.
Kelexel had learned his lesson with the Subi creature. Activity slows the aging process of a mortal, he reminded himself, and he had Ynvic fit Ruth to a pantovive with access to the storyship's Archive Storage system.
The machine was introduced into a corner of her prison-room, a room that already had taken on touches of her personality as Kelexel fitted it to her wishes. A complete bathroom- dressing room had been installed adjoining it. Clothing? She had but to ask, Kelexel filled a closet to overflowing. Jewelry, perfumes, choice foods: all came at her bidding.
Kelexel bent to every request, knowing himself to be besotted with her and enjoying every moment of it. When he caught the crewmen exchanging sly looks he smiled to himself. They must all have their pleasure creatures from this planet. He presumed that the native males must be just as exciting to Chem females; it was one of the attractions of the place, one of the reasons Fraffin had been so successful here.
Thoughts of his purpose here, his duty, slipped temporarily into the background. He knew the Primacy would understand when he explained and displayed his pleasure creature. After all, what was Time to a Chem? The Investigation would continue, merely a bit slowed ... temporarily.
At first, the pantovive frightened Ruth. She shook her head as Kelexel tried to explain its purpose and workings. How it worked; that was easy enough to understand. Why it worked was completely beyond her comprehension.
It was the time she had come to call afternoon, although there was little sense of day and night here in the ship. Afternoon merely meant that Kelexel had come from whatever mysterious duties took him away and he would now spend a relaxation and rest period with her. Ruth sat in the fitted contours of the control chair. The room's lights were tuned to muted yellow and the pantovive filled her attention.
The tiling somewhat fitted her ideas of a machine. The chair nestled part way into it. There were control rings in the chair arms, banks of knobs and keys to left and right, rows of them in coded colors --yellows, reds, grays, blacks, greens, blues, a series of orange and white ones looking like a crazy piano. Directly in front and slightly below her extended an oval platform with shimmering lines extending to it from behind the banks of keys.
Kelexel stood behind her, a hand on her shoulder. He felt a rather distant pride showing the wonders of Chem civilization to his new pet ... his lovely new pet. "Use voice or key command to select the period and title you wish," he said. "Just as you heard me do. This unit is keyed to your tongue or Chem and will accept and translate in that mode. This is an editing pantovive and looks complicated, but you may ignore most of the controls. They're not connected. Remember, you first open the channel to Archives by depressing this key." He demonstrated, pushing an orange key on her right "Once you've selected your story, lock it in thusly." Again, he demonstrated. "Now, you can begin the action." He depressed a white key at far left
A mob, its figures reduced to quarter size, formed on the oval stage in front of her. A sense of mad excitement radiated from them through the sensimesh circuits. She sat bolt upright as the emotion swept over her.
"You're feeling the emotion of the creatures on the stage," Kelexel said. "If it's too strong, reduce it by turning this control to your left." He moved a dial on the chair arm. The excitement ebbed.
"Is it real?" she asked.
The mob was a wash of colors in antique styles -- blues, flutters of red, dirty rags on arms and feet, rare glitters of buttons or emblems, tricorne hats on some of the men, red cockades. There was an odd familiarity about the scene that inflicted Ruth with an abrupt feeling of fear. Her body came alive to tom-tom pulse-beats from some fire-flickering past. She sensed driving rhythms of drums within herself.
"Is it real?" she demanded, raising her voice this time.
The mob was running now, feet thudding. Brown feet winked under the long dresses of the women.
"Real?" Kelexel asked. "What an odd question. It's ... perhaps real in a sense. It happened to natives such as yourself. Real --how strange. That idea has never concerned me."
The mob ran through a park now. Kelexel bent over Ruth's shoulder, sharing the aura of the sensimesh web. There came a wet smell of grass, evergreens with their resin pungency, the sweaty stink of the natives in their exertions. Stage center focused down onto the running legs. They rushed past with a scissoring urgency, across brown paths, grass, disturbing yellow petals in a flower border. Wet wind, busy feet, crushed petals --there was fascination in the movement
Viewpoint drew back, back, back. A cobbled street, high stone walls came into stage center. The mob raced toward the gray stained walk. Steel flashed in their midst now.
"They appear to be storming a citadel," Kelexel said.
"The Bastille," Ruth whispered. "It's the Bastille."
The recognition held her hypnotized. Here was the actual storming of the Bastille. No matter the present date, here in front of her senses it was July 14, 1789, with an organized movement of soldiery sweeping in from the right of the mob. There was the clatter of hooves on stone, gun carriages rumbling, hoarse shouts, curses. The pantovive's translator rendered them faithfully into English because she had asked for it in English.
Ruth gripped the arms of her chair.
Abruptly, Kelexel reached forward, depressed a gray key at her left. The scene faded.
"I remember that one well," he said. "One of Fraffin's more successful productions." He touched Ruth's hair. "You understand how it works now? Focusing here." His hand came forward, demonstrating. "Intensity here. It's quite simple to operate and should provide you many hours of enjoyment" Enjoyment? Ruth thought
Slowly, she turned, looked up at Kelexel. There was a lost sense of horror in her eyes. The storming of the Bastille: a Fraffin production!
Fraffin's name was known to her. Kelexel had explained the workings of the storyship.
Until this moment, she hadn't begun to plumb the implications behind that label.
"Duties call me elsewhere at the moment," Kelexel said. "I'll leave you to the enjoyment of your pantovive."
"I ... thought you were going to ... stay," she said. Suddenly, she didn't want to be alone with this machine. She recognized it as an attractive horror, a thing of creative reality that might open a hoard of locked things which she couldn't face. She felt that the reality of the pantovive might turn into flames and scorch her. It was wild, potent, dangerous and she could never control it nor chain her own desires to use it.
Ruth took Kelexel's hand, forced a smile onto her face. "Please stay."
Kelexel hesitated. The invitation in his pet's face was obvious and attractive, but Ynvic, fitting Ruth to the pantovive, had sent a new train of ideas coursing through his mind. He felt the stirrings of responsibility, his duty to the Investigation. Ynvic, the oddly stolid and laconic shipsurgeon, yes-she might just be the weak spot in Fraffin's organization. Kelexel felt the need to test this new avenue.
"I'm sorry," he said, "but I must leave. I'll return as soon as possible."
She saw she couldn't move him and she dropped back, faced the raw temptation which was this machine. There came the sounds of Kelexel leaving and she was alone with the pantovive.
Presently, she said: "Current story in progress, latest production." She depressed the proper keys.
The oval stage grew almost dark with little star glimmers of yellow along its edges. A dot of blue light appeared at the center of focus, flickered, washed white and suddenly there was a man standing at a mirror shaving with a straightedge razor. She gasped with recognition. It was Anthony Bondelli, her father's attorney. She held her breath, trying to still a terrifying sense of eavesdropping.
Bondelli stood with his back to her, his face visible as a reflection in the mirror. It was a deeply tanned face with two wings of smooth black hair sweeping back from a high, thin forehead. His nostrils flared above a pencil-line mustache and small mouth. The chin was broad, out of proportion with the narrow features, a fact she had noted before. He radiated a feeling of sleepy complacency.
And indistinct shouting began to dominate the scene. Bondelli paused in his shaving, turned and called through an open doorway on his right: "What th' hell's all that noise?" He resumed shaving, muttered: "Always turn that damn' TV too loud."
Ruth grew conscious of odors in the scene --a wet smell of shaving soap and over that the pervasive aroma of frying bacon. The realism held her rigid in her chair. She felt herself breathing quietly lest Bondelli turn and find her spying.
Presently, a woman in a bold Chinese-pattern dressing gown appeared in the bathroom doorway. She held her hands rigidly clasped in front of her bosom:
In a sudden premonition, Ruth wanted to turn off the pantovive, but her muscles refused to obey. She knew the woman in the dressing gown: Marge Bondelli, a pleasantly familiar figure with braided blonde hair pinned back from her round face. That face was contorted now in shock.
"Tony!" she said.
Bondelli pulled the razor slowly down beneath his jaw, taking care at the pattern of deep creases which ran from the sides of his jaw down along his neck. "Whuzzit?"
The television still could be heard in the background, a muted sense of conversation. Bondelli pulled the razor slowly upward. A look of glazed shock dominated his wife's blue eyes. She said: "Joe Murphey killed Adele last night!"
"Ouch!" A thin line of red appeared on Bondelli's neck. He ignored it, splashed the razor down into the washbasin, whirled.
Ruth felt herself trembling uncontrollably. It's just like a movie, she told herself. This isn't really happening right now. Pain in her chest made it difficult to breathe. My mother's death is a Fraffin Production!
"That terrible sword," Bondelli's wife whispered.
Bondelli thrust himself away from the washbasin, passed his wife, went into the living room and stood before the television.
Ruth felt herself drawn into his wake, a participant, sharing the horror and shock which radiated from the Bondellis as the pantovive amplified her own emotions. The television announcer was recapping the story, using still photographs taken by the town's own newspaper photographer. Ruth stared at the photographs-her mother's face, her father's ... diagrams with white X's and arrows. She willed herself to turn away from this horror, could not move.
Bondelli said: "Never mind my breakfast. I'm going down to the office."
"You're bleeding," his wife said. She had brought a styptic pencil from the bathroom. She dabbed at the cut on his neck. "Hold still. It'll get all over your collar." She pushed up his chin. "Tony ... you stay out of this. You're not a criminal lawyer."
"But I've handled Joe's law ever since he ... Ouch! Damn it, Marge, that stings!"
"Well, you can't go out bleeding like that," She finished, put the pencil beside the washbasin. "Tony, I've a funny feeling ... don't get involved."
"I'm Joe's lawyer. I'm already involved."
Abruptly, Ruth found control of her muscles. She slapped the pantovive shutoff, leaped to her feet, pushing herself away from the machine.
My mother's murder something to amuse the Chem!
She whirled away, strode toward the bed. The bed repelled her. She turned her back on it. The casual way Kelexel had left her to discover this filled her with terrified anger. Surely he must've known she'd find out He didn't care! No, it was worse than that: he hadn't even thought about it. The whole thing was of no concern to him. It was beneath his attention. It was less than not caring. It was disdain, repellant ... hateful ...
Ruth looked down, found she was wringing her hands. She glanced around the room. There must be some weapon here, anything with which to attack that hideous ... Again, she saw the bed. She thought of the golden ecstasy there and suddenly hated her own body. She wanted to tear her flesh. Tears started from her eyes. She strode back and forth, back and forth.
I'll kill him! But Kelexel had said the Chem were immune to personal violence. They were immortal. They couldn't be killed. They never died.
The thought made her feel like an infinitesimal mote, a dust speck, lost, alone, doomed. She threw herself onto the bed, turned onto her back and stared up at the crystal glittering of the machine which she knew Kelexel used to control her. There was a link to it under his cloak. She'd seen him working it
Thought of the machine filled her with an agony of prescience: she knew what she would do when Kelexel returned. She would succumb to him once more. The golden ecstasy would overcome her senses. She would end by fawning on him, begging for his attentions.
"Oh, God!" she whispered.
She turned, stared at the pantovive. That machine would contain the entire record of her mother's death --she knew it. The actual scene was there. She wondered then if she would have the strength to resist asking for that scene.
Something hissed behind her and she whirled on the bed, stared at the door.
Ynvic stood just inside, her bald head glistening in the yellow light. Ruth glared at the gnome figure, the bulge of breasts, the stocky legs in green leotards.
"You are troubled," Ynvic said. Her voice was professionally smooth, soothing. It sounded like the voices of so many doctors she had heard that Ruth wanted to cry out.
"What're you doing here?" Ruth asked.
"I am shipsurgeon," Ynvic said. "Most of my job is just being available. You have need of me."
They look like caricatures of human beings, Ruth thought.
"Go away," she said.
"You have problems and I can help you," Ynvic said.
Ruth sat up. "Problems? Why would I have problems?" She knew her voice sounded hysterical.
"That fool Kelexel left you with an unrestricted pantovive," Ynvic said.
Ruth studied the Chem female. Did they have emotions? Was there any way to touch them, hurt them? Even to cause them a pinprick of pain seemed the most desirable thing in the universe.
"How do you ugly creatures breed?" Ruth asked.
"You hate us, eh?" Ynvic asked.
"Are you afraid to answer?" Ruth demanded.
Ynvic shrugged. "Essentially, it's the same as with your kind -- except that females are deprived of the reproductive organs at an early stage in their development. We must go to breeding centers, get permission --it's a very tiresome, boring procedure. We manage to enjoy ourselves quite well without the organs." She advanced to stand a pace from the bed.
"But your men prefer my kind," Ruth said.
Again, Ynvic shrugged. "Tastes differ. I've had lovers from your planet. Some of them were good, some weren't. The trouble is, you fade so quickly."
"But you enjoy us! We amuse you!"
"Up to a point," Ynvic said. "Interest waxes and wanes." "Then why do you stay here?"
"It's profitable," Ynvic said. And she noted that the native female already was coming out of the emotional spiral that had trapped her. Resistance, an object to hate --that's all it took. The creatures were so easy to maneuver.
"So the Chem like us," Ruth said. "They like stories about us."
"You're an endless pot of self-generating stories," Ynvic said. "An by yourselves you can produce natural sequences of true artistic merit. This is, of course, at once a profound source of frustration and requires very delicate handling to capture and reproduce for our audiences. Fraffin's art rests in eliciting those subtle nuances which prick our risibilities, capture our fascinated attention."
"You disgust me," Ruth hissed. "You're not human."
"We're not mortal," Ynvic said. And she thought: I wonder if the creature's already with child? What'll she do when she learns she'll bear a Chem?
"But you hide from us," Ruth said. She pointed at the ceiling. "Up there."
"When it suits our purpose," Ynvic said. "We are required to stay concealed now, of course. But it wasn't always that way. I've lived openly with your kind."
Ruth found herself caught by the casual aloofness in Ynvic's tone. She knew she couldn't hurt this creature, but had to try.
"You're lying," Ruth said.
"Perhaps. But I'll tell you that I once was the God Ea, striking terror into captive Jews ... in Sumeria a while back. It was harmless fun setting up religious patterns among you."
"You posed as a god?" Ruth shuddered. She knew the words were true. They were spoken with too little effort. They meant so little to the speaker.
"I've also been a circus freak," Ynvic said. "I've worked in many epics. Sometimes I enjoy the illusion of antiquity."
Ruth shook her head, unable to speak.
"You don't understand," Ynvic said. "How could you? If s our problem, you see? When the future's infinite, you have no antiquities. You're always caught up in the Forever-Now. When you think you've come to terms with the fact that your past is unimportant, then the future becomes unimportant. That can be fatal. The storyships protect us from this fatality."
"You ... spy on us for ... "
"Infinite past, infinite future, infinite present," Ynvic said. She bent her head, liking the sound of the words. "Yes, we have these. Your lives are but brief bursts and your entire past little more --yet we Chem gain from you the explicit feeling of something ancient ... an important past. You give us this, do you understand?"
Again, Ruth shook her head. The words seemed to have meaning, but she felt she was getting only part of their sense.
"It's something we can't get from Tiggywaugh's web," Ynvic said. "Perhaps it's something our immortality denies us. The web makes the Chem into one organism --I can feel the life of each of the others, billions upon billions of Chem. This is ... old, but it's not ancient"
Ruth swallowed. The creature was rambling. But the conversation was providing a time to recover, and Ruth felt forming within her a place of resistance, a core place where she could retreat and in which she was safe from the Chem ... no matter what they did to her. She knew she'd succumb to Kelexel still, that this Ynvic creature even now was doing something to shade the Chem captive's emotional responses. But the core place was there, growing, imparting purpose.
"No matter," Ynvic said. "I've come to examine you." She advanced to the edge of the bed.
Ruth inhaled a deep, trembling breath. "You were watching me," she said. "At the machine. Does Kelexel know?"
Ynvic became very still. How did the stupid native know to ask such a penetrating question?
Ruth sensed the opening in Ynvic's guard, said: "You speak of infinity, of epics, but you use your ... whatever ... " She made a sweeping gesture to take in the storyship " ... to ... record a ... killing ... "
"Indeed!" Ynvic said. "You will tell me now why Kelexel is asking for me out in the ship."
The crystal facets above the bed began emitting a blue glow. Ruth felt her will melting. She shook her head. "I ... don't ... "
"You will tell me!" The Chem female's face was a round mask of fury, the bald head glistening wetly silver.
"I ... don't ... know," Ruth whispered.
"He was a fool to give you an unrestricted pantovive and we were fools to go along with it," Ynvic said. She passed a hand across her thick lips. "What do you understand of such things?"
Ruth felt the pressure relaxing, took a deep breath. The core place of retreat was still there. "It was my mother, my mother you killed," she muttered.
"You make people do what you want them to do," Ruth said.
"People!" Ynvic sneered. Ruth's answers betrayed only the shallowest knowledge of Chem affairs. There was danger in the creature, though. She might yet excite Kelexel's interests into the wrong paths too soon.
Ynvic put a hand on Ruth's abdomen, glanced at the manipulator over the bed. The pattern of the lambent blue glow shifted in a way that made her smile. This poor creature already was impregnated. What a strange way to bear offspring! But how lovely and subtle a way to trap a snooper from the Primacy.
The fact of Ruth's pregnancy imparted an odd feeling of disquiet to Ynvic. She withdrew her hand, grew aware of the characteristic musky scent of the native female. What gross mammary glands the creature had! Yet, her cheeks were indrawn as though from undernourishment. She wore a loose flowing gown that reminded Ynvic of Grecian garments. Now there'd been an interesting culture, but brief, so brief ... everything so brief.
But she's pregnant, Ynvic thought, I should be delighted. Why does it bother me? What have I overlooked?
For no reason she could explain, four lines from a Chem drinking song poured through Ynvic's mind then.
"In the long-long-long ago
When each of us was young, We heard the music of the flesh
And the singing of a sun ... "
Ynvic shook her head sharply. The song was meaningless. It was good only for its rhythms, a plaything series of noises, another toy,
But what had it meant ... once?
Over the bed, the manipulator's lenses sank back through green and stopped in a soft pastel fed.
"Rest, little innocent," Ynvic said. She placed a strangely gentle hand on Ruth's bare arm. "Rest and be attractive for Kelexel's return."