Justice was swift in Horeb. Jeanette, her rescuers, Louise, and the witch-hunters all testified before assorted verifiers – patharchic truth-readers from Horeb's courts and telepaths from the TSTO hierarchy. There was very little disagreement about the facts. Then the Horeb courts conferred with Gilead's rulers. Joel Steves was exiled from the planet for twenty years; his three accomplices were exiled from Gilead for ten. All this was settled in two days, Terran.
The next day, Isaiah showed up at the Tseng and Rigoli, where Jeanette had joined the others, back in the open psi of the top floor. "Steves is taking passage to Centauri," he told FX as he came in.
"Good choice," said FX.
"And I am eaten up with curiosity."
FX sighed. "Sit down. Have some tea. Start asking."
The bare, blank rooms were now a litter of color. FX wore a loose bathrobe with a pattern of prismatic hawks. Vivian sat cross-legged on a blanket nearby, wrapped in a similar robe. A chess board, a teapot, and two cups lay in the middle of the blanket; evidently they had been playing a game.
Off by the window, Daima sat in a dark blue wrap, apparently sculpting a potted tree made of some silvery material. Nearby stood a small potted begonia that seemed to serve as some sort of model. Daima paused, gave Isaiah a good look, then resumed.
The door to the next apartment stood open. Through it, Isaiah could see Jeanette in a pale blue dress and bare feet, reading on the bed. She looked up and smiled at Isaiah. He smiled back. A moment later, he noticed he had unconsciously straightened and pulled back his shoulders.
Borne sat nearby. He wore goggles and earphones on his head, and gloves on his hands, evidently playing a simulation game. Four gloves, four hands. Besides that, he wore only a bright yellow pair of trunks, so Isaiah could clearly see the harness that bore the two extra arms. Borne was smiling, making obscure gestures with his hands. Every few seconds, he rose up in the air and settled slowly down. It must be quite the simulation.
Isaiah could not see Canorus, but a travelogue was projecting on the wall behind Jeanette's head. Presumably the Melior was watching that.
The whole suite made Isaiah think of a flock of bright tropical birds in a wooden crate, and reminded him of college dorms in his remote youth. In his faded red tunic and aging body, he felt dull, ugly. It suddenly occurred to him that all of these strange folk, in their diverse ways, were beautiful. Why? Another mystery about them.
He sat down on a cushion and accepted a cup of tea. They didn't seem to favor chairs, but then there weren't as many chairs as people. "Perhaps you should take another room," he said. "You're getting crowded."
"We're leaving soon, so we didn't bother," Vivian replied. "We were asked to."
Isaiah sighed and mustered his questions. Something trivial first.
"What was that handy little gadget you used to cancel the psilence downstairs in the coffee shop?"
"A psi-opener," said FX. "You need a license to use it, most places. I have one, though it may not be any use here."
"No more use than the psi-opener turned out to be." That was Canorus. He stood in the connecting door, clad in brown-black pajamas. Isaiah smiled at him. The Melior prowled over and sat down on the bare floor. A discussion-group seemed to be forming.
"Next question. Who are you? Explorers? Traders? Missionaries? Secret agents? Are you connected with TSTO, or the KaiSenese, or what?"
FX smiled. "If we were secret agents, we'd be poor specimens."
"We're troubleshooters," Canorus said. "We work for TSTO."
Isaiah turned that over in his mind while he sipped tea. Meanwhile, Jeanette came in and sat down. "I'm surprised," he said. "I would have expected TSTO troubleshooters to be more military."
"Most of them are," FX admitted. "We're sort of like Baker Street Irregulars. Black Sheep Squadron. Tomajian's Rough-Cuts."
"We run around the fringes of Terran Space, investigating problems relating to odd psi," said Vivian. "We have lots of discretionary leeway. Oodles. Heaps. Have some coffee cake."
Isaiah nodded. "Exotic psi troubleshooters. Okay, that makes sense, I guess." He accepted the coffee cake. "My next question is for Daima." She looked up, her face as unreadable as ever. "What are you?" he asked.
She smiled. "Someone not with a good enough disguise. How do you know?"
"Your skin texture. Your smell. They are unhuman. Your voice is odd. And you are ... abnormally beautiful. Don't worry," he told her; she was staring down at her hands, flexing them. "Most people would not look close enough to recognize proof. But I ask again: What are you?"
She looked at the other humans. "Do I tell?"
Canorus rolled his eyes. "Why not?"
Daima rose and bowed slightly to Isaiah. He improvised a seated bow in return. "I am a Sossen frani. Plural, Sossen franen. Species name, Sossen fra. Homeworld, Sossen, in the KaiSenese Association. Darbrin Klo status four. We are a race of stalk-and-pounce carnivores. At home, I look like this."
Daima vanished. In her place stood a creature very humanoid compared to most ETs, but by no means human. Its willowy form was coated in glossy, dark gray fur, softly gleaming with iridescence. Starting low on the forehead, the coat grew out into a luxuriant mane spilling down the back. Its huge eyes were opalescent, and seemed to bear the lens in front of the iris, not behind.
The creature bowed, rose again, and turned, lifting and dropping its arms. Isaiah could see that its limbs were more flexible, its torso more cylindrical than a human's. It waved a hand before him. Six fingers, inhumanly flexible, and whisker-like hairs about the knuckles.
He looked back at the face. Thin gray lips, and no nose. Wait, there was a very shallow, very wide muzzle, the nostrils almost invisibly narrow and over the corners of the mouth, which was rather wide. He could see no ears, though anything could have been hidden in that mane.
Then Daima stood before him again as he had first seen her.
"You show this human-like form in psilence," he said slowly, "so the other was illusion. Right?"
"Yes." She nodded, a learned gesture, like the smile. "A memory."
"Can you really transform yourself, then?"
Again she nodded. "With many days. You call it Fleshkey, or Metabolic TK. It is more often learned by my people than yours. Here is an illusion more Terran." And she changed again. This appearance was, indeed, fully human – a fair, dark-haired woman, slender and lithe but not beyond human measure, pretty but not exotic. Then she changed back. "But I cannot show thus down there, with so much psilence."
"And how do you come to be part of a TSTO crew?"
Daima sat again, folded herself neatly, and recited. "The arts you call patharchy we learn too. I did learn them long ago. They are in the training of a hlemmass. This word translates as champion, judge, knight-errant." She dropped the reciting tone, smiled, and added, "Troubleshooter." Formally again: "In the century past, the Daernts did find the new science. All races now learn as craft what once was myth, yours and mine alike. The hlemmassen do take this as a new province of their arts, and I am a pioneer, a discoverer among these. I seek knowledge of comparative psi among the races of the Ecumene, and KaiSen did counsel me to come to Terran Space. Likewise did KaiSen counsel TSTO to welcome me and find companions with which to teach and learn. And so I journey."
"A sort of officer-exchange program," FX summarized, "for the psychic crafts, mediated by the KaiSenese race-mind."
"Very interesting," said Isaiah. To Daima, he said, "You must find Terran Space and its problems very ... turbulent."
"Oh, yes," she agreed, and performed a human smile again. She had said her Darbrin Klo status was four. DK status was a rough measure of social harmony, in a taxonomy created by the Ethical College of Darbrin Klo, far off in the Ecumene. A culture with a rating of four had no internal wars and so little crime that there was no special institution for dealing with it. "Less fallen," many Christians said. A hlemmass was probably more paramedic, counselor, and rescue-ranger than cop.
Terran Space had rated five. The Psi War had knocked it down to six.
Isaiah turned to Jeanette. "And how do you fit into this? I know you were attending the psi college on Refuge, but why? Surely it's easier to get psychic training back in Terran Space."
"I already have training from Terran Space," Jeanette said. "I guess you haven't heard much about the psychic educational system, have you?" Isaiah shook his head. "In the last hundred years, a widely accepted system of psi-ed has grown up in Terran Space. The training techniques, the metaphors and images, the order skills are learned in, all more or less the same. But tucked away here and there are alternate schools of psi. There's one on Varkard; a small human community developed psi in partnership with several alien species. The Timekeepers of Refuge are another alternate. They're lousy at TK, but their time-sensitive clair and general telepathy are excellent."
"You were doing post-graduate studies," Isaiah concluded.
"Of a very difficult sort," Vivian added. "Crossing schools is tricky, you have to unlearn so much. I learned most of my psi on Varkard, and I haven't been able to learn much besides basic telepathy in the standard Terran line."
"What in Heaven's name made you go to Gilead for a vacation?" Isaiah asked. "Or come to Carmel at all? I've been wondering for days." FX, Vivian, and Canorus all riveted their eyes on Jeanette. Apparently they had been wondering, too.
Faint flickers of unease crossed her face. Embarrassment? Anxiety? Isaiah noticed she was far less readable than in his dream. "Studies were pretty intense on Refuge," she answered. "I was taking a leisurely trip back home. And it was a good opportunity to see several planets. I haven't had the chance before. Carmel is the second most important planet in the Diaspora, after all, and I was interested in seeing the ... divergent culture."
Meaning freak show, Isaiah thought, and gave her a cynical smile. "You got a good, close look."
"There's something else," she added slowly. "I would have stayed here in Horeb, but I kept getting dowsed." The others looked grave. Isaiah looked puzzled. "Dowsing is a simple form of clairvoyance," Jeanette explained. "A good clairvoyant can often tell when they are on the receiving end. Well, I'm good, and I can tell."
"But Horeb is psilenced," said Isaiah, then checked himself. "Ah. Except this bit."
"Right. Of course, I have a personal psilencer. I used it, once I determined that the dowser was no one I knew."
"Tracers?" FX asked.
"I had no tracers on me."
"Why'd you go to the country?" Canorus asked.
"If the dowser had a fix on me, I wanted to leave before he arrived. My ship didn't leave for several days, and there aren't many places to stay in Horeb. I decided I'd be harder to find out of town. Also, if the dowser came looking for me, he'd be easier to spot in a small town like Gilead than in a relatively big city like Horeb."
"Did your complications with Mr. Steves have any connection to this harassment dowsing?" FX asked.
Jeanette sat silently for a moment. "I'm not sure," she said finally. "One day, I got dowsed again. I was teaching Lek his relaxation drills at the time. Poor kid. He was startled when he felt my shock. I broke off the contact, of course, but that just added to the confusion. I told him people could sometimes doze off during a relaxation drill and have odd dreams. Which was true but misleading."
"Wasn't it risky, using telepathy when you wanted to hide from a dowser?" Isaiah asked.
Jeanette shrugged. "Not really. The real risk was being in open psi. I suppose I should have just suffered in psilence... Anyway, I declared a sudden interest in seeing the alga reefs on Ark Island and made ready to leave. But Brother Steves showed up that very evening."
Canorus nodded. "Looks funny."
"I thought so. When we had Steves sleeping in open psi, back there on the sea shore, I audited his memory a little."
"In the basement of this tower!" Isaiah interupted. "Carl Jung used that image for the unconscious mind."
"Right! I love that image. But even unconscious memories only record one point of view. Maybe the dowser hinted about me to Steves. And maybe the dowser worked on Steves's psi phobia and suggested he imprison me. But maybe not. Steves really is a sensitive; he could have detected me by himself. And his phobia's all his own."
"Perhaps the dowser worked on his desires, not his fears," Isaiah suggested.
Borne looked offended. FX and Vivian smiled. Jeanette avoided Isaiah's gaze. "I hadn't thought of that," she said.
"So you think this dowser worked on Steves to lock you up, handy for collecting?" Canorus asked.
Jeanette nodded. "Possibly. I wish I could be sure."
"The dowser would have to be a telepath, too," the Melior reflected, "to work on Steves. Or have telepathic friends. And be on this planet. Or in this system."
"Why?" asked Isaiah. "Why not light-years away? After all, Jeanette contacted Borne that way." Jeanette smiled modestly.
"That was very special," FX said. "If telepathy were a sport, Jeanette would be an Olympic athlete in it. Just like Borne with TK."
Quite the psychic family, Isaiah reflected. He wondered what their parents were like.
"Probably in this system," Canorus conceded. "Why's this dowser so interested in you?"
"I wish I knew."
"Did you get dowsed while imprisoned?" Daima asked.
"Was that why you couldn't communicate freely with Borne?" asked Isaiah. "Fear of being dowsed when you sneaked out of the psilence?"
"Yes, that and Steves's own psi-sensing."
Everyone pondered silently for a few minutes.
"Would you mind," said FX to Jeanette, "if I checked you for tracers?"
"No, please do."
He paced around her with abstracted gaze. Then he beckoned to Vivian, who came over and washed thin veils of lights over Jeanette, then shook her head.
"Three clairs of three different schools say you have no tracers," FX pronounced. "You, me, and Viv. You have no tracers."
"How about her luggage?" asked Canorus.
FX nodded. "Good question."
Jeanette obediently led them into the next room and put her luggage on the bed for inspection. Two suitcases and a shipping trunk. Vivian ran her hands slowly over them while everyone else gazed meditatively.
Isaiah heightened his own perceptions and moved closer. He did not expect to do any ESP; rather, he wanted to study the ESPers in action. He was therefore a bit surprised when he felt something.
Before beginning, he had seen that the psychics gazed at the luggage purely out of habit. Their real attention was elsewhere, presumably in the luggage or on its psionic features. He now felt an additional intensity about each of them. All of them, except for Borne, were doing something, though if he tried to find sense data to justify this feeling, he failed. In particular, Vivian's hands extended something into the luggage.
Was this psi-sensing? What Steves did?
Whatever Isaiah sensed, the others seemed to find nothing. But finally, on a fourth try, Vivian looked up from the shipping case and announced, "There's something here. A little deadness. Do you have a psilencer in here? Or anything Cloaked or Blocked?"
Jeanette shook her head. "Not that I know of."
They opened the case. It contained student junk – books, papers, datablocs, pens, toys, tools (which Isaiah could not always tell from the toys), word processors, posters, holos, and less identifiable debris.
Everyone bent closer. Isaiah could see nothing, but unless he listened to the physical silence, he persistently fancied a busy, bee-like hum. Eventually, they all straightened up. FX held up a blunt tusk.
"What's this?" he asked.
"A souvenir," Jeanette answered. "I picked it up on Philippia."
"It's cloaked," FX announced. "A very tight cloak," he went on as they all went into another huddle around his hand, "with a tricky little smudge of meaningless dice or transparent glamour or something on it, to disguise the little dead zone further."
Noises of grudging admiration.
"You first got dowsed after leaving Philippia?" Canorus asked.
"Bet they were dowsing for their tooth and whoever had it," he said. "Was your luggage nearby each time you got found?"
"Yes, now that you mention it. And in open psi."
"May I see it?" asked Isaiah. FX passed the tooth to him. Any budding psi-senses he had completely failed to feel anything odd. He used his mundane senses. It looked like a scrimshaw whale tooth, but capped at the root with another ivory carving in the form of a coiled snake. Down each side of the tooth rambled a curving Chines e dragon. Stylized tragedy and comedy masks peeked blankly from between the legs and coils. The material was a pale, streaky yellow. The rhythm of streaks suggested to Isaiah's amplified perceptions that this was a synthetic, not a natural or cultured tooth.
"Interesting," he said, passing it on to Jeanette. "Where did you get it?"
She shrugged. "A gift shop in Kingsport. There are lots of them there. This shop had a line of ivory-like carvings. The clerk didn't know what the stuff was, but thought it was a local wood."
"Did they have other teeth?" FX asked.
Jeanette thought for a few seconds, perhaps calling on her mnemonic skills. "No. That was the only tooth. But many items were one of a kind."
"May I examine it further?" FX asked.
"Sure. Do you think you might damage it?"
"I don't know. It depends what's in the cloak." He sat on the bed, closed his eyes, and bowed his golden head over the trinket for several minutes.
"No, no good," he announced. "This may be open psi, technically, but it's not open all the way. There's bleed-off from below. And I want to try some experiments. In the open, not at the top of a building! Some privacy would be nice, too."
On to Chapter 8, Noah
Back to Chapter 6, Wilderness
Return to Dragons' Teeth Introduction
Return to Wind Off the Hilltop
Copyright © Earl Wajenberg, 2013