Horeb's Main Street had a touch of severe grandure, if no more than a touch. It was broad, with a strip of laboriously watered lawn and a row of apple trees running down the center, busy with pedestrians, bicyclists, and a few carefully slow ground vehicles, mostly trucks and buses. On either side rose buildings of dry-laid native stone, seldom more than three stories high. Neat and poor, they presented a stark, cubist facade, softened by the double golden sunlight.
The people, of every Earthly race, were likewise neat but not all were poor. Most wore uncolored beige or gray work clothes. A few wore TSTO uniforms or bright colors from space. But some wore clothes finer than the usual homespun. The colors were never loud, and the cut was usually a century out of date by Earthly standards, but here and there you saw the rising class of traders and merchants.
To the right of the bus stop bulked the capitol building, the blocky hull of one of the original refugee ships, now half obscured in added masonry. To the left towered the Tseng and Rigoli, all of twenty stories high. Isaiah wondered how many psychic visitors from Terran Space or Refuge had discovered that the top floor was in open psi. He glanced in passing at a lamp post. Half way up was a metal box big enough for a pair of shoes – a long-range psilencer, part of the grid that muffled the whole town. Now he knew how long its range was.
He resumed worrying about the quintet ahead of him. They were here to get Borne's sister out of some trouble involving psi and "fanatics" in Gilead. The fanatic were probably the Glossalalians. Borne had done violence in the past and feared he might have to do it here. So, probably, did FX and the others. How to persuade them not to? Offer his help? On what pretext? Should he be more candid?
They had been conversing in their private language. Isaiah had been too preoccupied to eavesdrop. Now they were a few paces away from the doors of the Tseng and Rigoli. Isaiah pulled himself together and did a gentle Distraction of his own. He met no eyes, matched pace and distances and all other body language to that of the others, subtly anticipated and dodged glances. In a moment, he was through the doors with them, taken momentarily for granted.
The doors were tall and decorated with stained glass, though the pattern was geometrical, not religious. Beyond was very nearly the only touch of opulence on Carmel. The building, like all the others, was dry-laid stone, but the walls of the lobby were curtained in velvety white arras. The floor were carpeted in a mosaic of little rugs, all in deep vivid colors and simple shapes, repeating the theme of the stained glass doors. True, the rugs were alga-mat, tinted with the algal dyes that were one of the few exports of Carmel, and they needed to be replaced monthly. But they were pretty and clean and there.
The ceiling and furniture were also made of algae – blond alga-board, the cheap make-shift of a world with few trees. But once again the hotel had done the best with the materials at hand. Isaiah had seen similar craftwork in the homes of the rising merchant princes; Carmel was developing its own style.
Isaiah waited while they registered with the clerk, then broke the Distraction and asked bluntly, "What's your business on Carmel?"
"Oh, Major! I didn't see you there," exclaimed the clerk. Isaiah ignored him. The five travelers wheeled and stared; all but Borne clearly knew what he had just stopped doing to them.
"Why should we tell you?" asked Canorus.
"I might be able to help."
They traded glances. FX pursed his lips faintly; Vivian nodded microscopically. They were setting in motion some plan, perhaps worked out moments ago, while he trailed behind them, brooding.
"That's very sweet of you," Vivian said brightly. "I see they've got a coffee shop. Have a cup with us and we'll talk about it." She was barely trying to act sincere, but Isaiah could not refuse, as they well knew.
The coffee shop adjoined the lobby. Its hangings were light shades of pink and orange. The travelers all crowded into a booth, jockeying to put Isaiah inside, by the wall. Daima sat down beside him. She smelled like butter, he noticed. And her skin texture was unhuman, seeming a translucent membrane over layers of almost invisibly fine white lace.
"Nice truth-see," said Canorus.
"So, were you sent from Gilead?"
"No. I just happened by. Are you expecting someone from Gilead?"
Canorus scowled. Instead of answering, he demanded, "Who do you work for?"
"The Resurrection Soldiers," Isaiah answered. "I'm a major." He pointed a thumb at the insignia embroidered on his shoulder.
"Military?" growled Canorus.
"No, a Christian denomination. But our clergy use military titles. Soldiers of Christ, you see – Ephesians, chapter six. We copied the idea from the Salvation Army."
The Melior ignored Isaiah's patter. "You all patharchs?"
"By no means," Isaiah assured him.
"So what do Resurrection Soldiers do?" asked FX. "Emergency medicine?"
"Sometimes. We stress practical charity and basic evangelism." He surveyed their hostile faces. "That means we help strangers and we avoid controversy – like the one about psi."
"Shouldn't you be off practicing your charity elsewhere?" FX suggested.
"No, I'm between engagements," Isaiah shot back. He decided to resume asking his own questions and turned to Borne. "What did your sister do, to get a Glossalalian witch-hunter aimed at her?"
Borne's mouth fell open.
"What is your connection with the case?" demanded Canorus.
"Nothing. I told you, I just happened by. I saw you were in trouble and could make trouble. I want to prevent trouble. Raids and jail-breaks, for instance."
FX and Vivian met each other's eyes. "Probably Holmesian," FX said.
Isaiah shrugged. "I'm a patharch. You already knew that."
"And a very good one," FX acknowledged. "So you just want to help? Well, I guess I can believe that more easily on this planet than on most others. If you want to help, tell us about Gilead."
"Certainly. As I said, it's a little farm town. They also make bicycles and power tools. The town was founded by two congregations, the Glossalalians and a Thomasine monastery."
A waiter came by. Daima sent him into retreat with a glare.
"Describe these Glossalalians," ordered Canorus. "You say they're anti-psi."
"Yes. They're a charismatic Protestant group, officially named the Church of the Indwelling Holy Spirit. Full membership requires exhibiting some gift of the Holy Spirit. The commonest example is speaking in tongues, formally called glossalalia, hence the popular name."
"What's 'speaking in tongues'?" Borne asked.
Isaiah sighed. "In the book of Acts, it was described as the miraculous ability to speak and understand a foreign language. In Paul's letters, it was ecstatically saying something in a foreign language without understanding it yourself. Paul recommended it be done in church only with an interpreter present. The Glossalalians don't often manage that."
"It's hysterical gibbering," FX told Borne.
Isaiah sighed again. "Well, much of the time, yes. Or so I suspect." He smiled crookedly. "However, I've been to Gilead and seen some more remarkable 'gifts' in action. People have suggested that those gifts are really psychic talents. T he Glossalalians, of course, will have none of it."
"Who's Paul?" asked Borne.
"What's their government like?" Canorus asked.
"A Glossalalian congregation is run jointly by the minister and the board of deacons. As for the whole town, it's a simple democracy, run by town meetings. They keep it distinct from their church administration, though the mayor is one of the deacons."
"Now tell us about these Thomasines."
"That's a nickname too. They're really the Religious of St. Thomas and St. James. They could be very important to you because they are not anti-psi. They came out here to escape persecution and help the other refugees. Like the Resurrection Soldiers."
"And what's their government like?" the Melior demanded.
"They are ruled by their abbess, who must lead according to the precepts of the Order. A constitutional autarchy, if you like. The abbess is a very nice lady; she could give you a lot of help."
Canorus snorted. "She hasn't so far."
"What has Borne's sister done? Is it anything that would be illegal on Centauri?"
"No," said Borne. "Just–"
"I'm surprised you don't know already," FX interrupted. "Thank you, Mr. Hola, you've been very helpful. But I think that's enough."
Everything went black. He grabbed. Something– Hands? Daima's hands, cool and springy, pushed him back. There was no sound.
Light returned. He sat in the booth, alone.
Now how had they done that? It was no trick of patharchy. Patharchy was limited to controlling your own body and mind, or at most using suggestion on others. Psychics could cast illusions, but the nearest open psi was twenty floors up. Did the quintet have some bizarre technology unknown on Carmel?
Isaiah glanced at the waiter, the only other person in sight. His demeanor showed he had seen nothing unusual. Too bad. Isaiah pondered briefly, sighed (for he was tired of calling up adrenalin), and heightened his senses again.
Once more, he inhaled Daima's buttery smell. Could he play bloodhound with it? He could try.
He moved back to the lobby and promptly lost the smell. The lobby had six exits: the doors to the street, the coffee shop, two corridors, an elevator, and a stairway. He glanced outside, but they were not visible. If they could be invisible on the psilenced streets of Horeb, they were too much for Isaiah. He turned back to the lobby, where the clerk was watching him curiously.
"Can I help you, Major?" he asked.
"What rooms did those five newcomers take?"
The clerk hesitated, then read off the ledger. "Twenty J and K."
The elevator was standing open. Isaiah tried the stairway. Once out of sight of the clerk, he leaned over and sniffed the stairs. Human sweat. The various plastics and leathers of shoes. Butter.
They were clever and dedicated, to take the stairs rather than the elevator, but Isaiah saw no reason to follow their example. He dropped his olfactory hyperesthesia and headed back down the stairs. The path to the elevator took him past the desk. The clerk was gone, back in an office. Isaiah took the ledger and thumbed back through it, speed-reading. Two weeks back, he found "Jeanette Kallinysios," staying in 20-D.
He took the elevator to the twentieth floor. Just before the door opened, he felt an irrational sense of addition, as if something had just appeared in the elevator with him. The shift to open psi. A shift to vulnerability, for him.
The doors to rooms 20-J and -K stood open. Isaiah considered going in to wait for his quarry. But he also wanted to examine 20-D, Borne's sister's room. It was locked. Either someone else had moved in, or the hotel was still holding it for her. It occurred to Isaiah that the five travelers would probably want to examine the room too. They hadn't looked up the number, b ut that shouldn't stop a team of psychics.
The door opposite 20-D was open. Isaiah stepped in and looked around. Here in the rooms, the opulence had run out, but decor was still bright, clean, and neat. A few light tan rugs lay on the floor. The walls were still draped in arras, but in a plain white weave. For furniture, there was a bed, a table and chair, a dresser, and a freestanding wardrobe. A ewer and bowl stood on the dresser. A Bible lay on the table.
He heard voices. Exclamations of relief, coming from the stairway. No doubt they were glad to reach the end of their climb, and to reach open psi. Now they were in the hallway. Now looking over their rooms. FX remarked that "the locals never let up," probably referring to the Bibles on their tables. Vivian said she would call the spaceport to have their luggage delivered. FX offered Daima a bed, but she said she would sleep hanging in the wardrobe. Then their voices died away.
Isaiah waited patiently. A few minutes later, he heard soft steps of many feet. No voices. He moved well away from the door of his borrowed room. The footsteps halted in front of the sister's room. He heard Canorus grunt lightly, then a metallic click. No doubt the lock posed little obstacle; Isaiah could probably have sprung it with his pen knife.
They entered the room. Quiet footsteps but still no talk. Perhaps they were communicating telepathically. There were some other slight noises, then nothing for a long time. Isaiah decided to show up. Silently, he moved across the hallway and stood in the door of 20-D, looking in.
They stood around the bed, on which lay two suitcases and a shipping trunk. Vivian ran her hands slowly over them while everyone else gazed thoughtfully. Daima raised her face and met Isaiah's eyes. She said nothing, and the others went on with their ... investigation?
On her fourth pass, Vivian stooped over the shipping trunk, cocked her head slightly, and nodded. Then she noticed Daima's gaze. She and all the others turned and saw Isaiah.
"Damn!" exclaimed FX. Very suddenly, there was a little gun in Canorus's hand. Isaiah hoped it was a stunner.
"I wish you'd reconsider," he said to them. "If Borne's sister is in jail in Gilead, I'm sure I can get her out for you without resorting to raids and jail-breaking."
"What the frass are you doing here?" FX demanded.
"Arguing with you. If you–"
"Are you in authority?"
"Then go away."
"I have as much right in this hotel room as you do," Isaiah answered in mild tones. "Look, I want to help you, but I don't want to see you charging to the rescue like guerrilla troops on a raid. You'll hurt people. You may get hurt. You'll inflame our conflict about psi. And there are easier ways to spring Jeanette."
"I know that," FX said. "We're not going into Gilead with guns blazing." Isaiah stared pointedly at the pistol Canorus still aimed at him. FX blushed faintly.
"Then let me help you," Isaiah repeated. "I know the people in Gilead." He shut up and watched the emotions shift on the blond man's face.
"Why do you care?" Canorus demanded. He hadn't put the gun away, but he had shifted the aim to the floor.
"I've already said – I'm trying to keep the peace. And even if you don't go in with guns blazing, you're likely to come out that way. You're planning for it."
"As a contingency," the Melior said.
"But not a very remote contingency."
"Wise words," said FX. "But we have no reason to trust you. Sorry, you look suspicious."
Canorus fired. But Isaiah had been quivering with adrenalin (and fatigue) since the Melior had drawn his gun. The reaction had started out spontaneously, but he had channeled it into hysterical speed. Isaiah tumbled out the door as Canorus lifted his hand to aim. It wasn't a graceful move; it looked as if Isaiah had been truly shot. But he went on rolling and was up on his feet in a moment.
Wrath. Isaiah was suddenly seized by the conviction that FX was just behind him, boiling with fury and incalculable powers. If that was a telepathic attack, all it did was make him run faster.
He dove for the stairway, anxious to get down into psilence. He half-fell six or eight steps. There was a fleeting impression that he had dropped something, lost something: he was back in psilence.
Something dark shot overhead. With a slam, Daima hit the landing, coming down on her feet, facing him. She bounced forward, knocking him down against the steps.
Isaiah turned his fall into a slither and tried to slide out from under his opponent. She caught him under the chin with one knee, pushing his head against a step corner. Isaiah started to bring his own knee up into her belly, but there was another, louder slam and Canorus hit the floor behind Daima. Thump again – Borne landed, all his arms outstretched.
FX and Vivian came clattering down the stairs, the first people to use them conventionally. FX gazed down and shook his head regretfully. He raised his arms and produced a small, flat, gray box, apparently from the air between his hands. He tapped at its controls briefly.
Isaiah had an irrational feeling that someone had just joined the group, or the light had brightened, or the noise had level risen. Open psi?
"Viv, would you do the honors?" FX asked.
"Sure." Vivian reached out and touched his forehead. Isaiah looked up and met her eyes. "Sleep," she said.
On to Chapter 3, Recall
Back to Chapter 1, Spaceport
Return to Dragons' Teeth Introduction
Return to Wind Off the Hilltop
Copyright © Earl Wajenberg, 2013