Jeanette carefully steered the air-car over the streets of Kingston, puttering along at parking-lot speeds. She could have gone much faster, of course, up at the northbound level, but she was coddling Isaiah's acrophobia. Isaiah sat next to her, feeling grateful and embarrassed. And frustrated, since those were not the emotions he wanted to fill his date with.
"I, ah, could get along all right for a while if you wanted to go up to the cruising levels."
"No rush," she said, smiling.
Isaiah smiled back and nodded rather than say "thank you" for the fifty-first time. The car rounded the corner of a building and brought the palace in sight again. They had left a tour of the palace fifteen minutes ago and were en route to the car's rental agency.
"Well, now I've seen it," said Isaiah, declaring the accomplishment. "It's odd how things you've always seen in pictures look rather unreal when you first see them for yourself."
"Yes," Jeanette agreed. "Still, very impressive."
"Ought to be," Isaiah half grumbled. "It's trying hard enough."
"You think it's pretentious?"
"In a way. Not gaudy, of course. But... there's a little touch of fake to it. He ought to have left off the crenellations."
"What are crenellations?" she asked.
"The little rows of blocks at the tops of towers. I mean, those were meant for archers to shoot behind, originally. Philip is protected by patharchic guards with lasers and shock-rifles. Medieval crenellations on his palace make it look like a theme park."
Jeanette shrugged. "He can always take them off later, I suppose."
"Oh, it doesn't really matter," Isaiah sighed. "Every house needs one decorative atrocity, I've been told. I expect the crenellations have become traditional by now, and everyone would wail if they were removed. I didn't mean to sound grouchy. It's been a lovely day. I'm just a bit tired."
"Me, too. But everyone enjoys a good old-fashioned gripe now and then. Myself, I didn't like King's Temple."
"I thought it looked like a gelatin salad. The kind you make in those multi-domed molds."
"Well, I suppose it did," Isaiah admitted, "but I rather liked it. I guess it was a sincere sort of gelatin salad. Not just trying to impress or live up to an image."
"But you can't call all those tinted translucent domes practical."
"Oh, no, but they struck me as someone's genuine effort at worshipful architecture. I could be wrong, of course."
Jeanette grinned. "Can't you do patharchy on architecture? But I'm surprised you like the Temple at all."
"I don't have to agree with the theology behind it to think it's pretty, or to recognize the sincerity of the people who designed it. Or at least imagine that sincerity."
"What is the problem with their theology?" Jeanette asked.
Isaiah looked her over cautiously, remembering that she was, at least nominally, a Templar. "Well, of course, the Temple deliberately refrains from backing metaphysical statements – no dogmas in that sense – but those beautifully orchestrated and symbolic rituals suggest a theology very strongly, even without stating it. And it's a very noble one, but look at the objects of veneration – Nature, Justice, Tradition."
"That's Apollonian Templar," Jeanette said. "This was Original Templar. Nature, Justice, Heritage."
"Ah, yes. Well, the only Templars on Carmel were the Neo-Stoics. They're pretty Apollonian. Anyway, the objects of veneration are concepts. Concepts can be served with great faithfulness, but they can't be obeyed, because they give no commands, take no initiative. The Temple's the kind of thing you get when humanity seeks for the divine."
"But isn't that what all religions are?" Jeanette asked. "Isn't that a definition of religion? Man's search for God?"
Isaiah shook his head. "Christianity, Judaism, Islam – they don't define themselves that way. It's the other way around – God's search for Man. Christians didn't invent Christianity – it just happened to us."
Jeanette looked thoughtful and uncomfortable. "So it all comes back to dogma. You insist on making pronouncements about God." Her words were critical, but her tone was soft, almost regretful.
Isaiah tried to answer as gently. "We believe we are just repeating what God has said about Himself."
"Revelation," she said, apparently dredging up an unfamiliar term.
"That's it in a word. Sounds preposterous, doesn't it?"
Jeanette smiled and shrugged, politely.
"Well, just consider this – if the divine is greater than us, isn't it natural that it would take the initiative in any relationship?" Jeanette continued to look uncomfortable. Isaiah cast about for a new subject. "That sim who delivered the sheb androids to the Count. I wonder if he gets a thrill out of it."
"What kind of thrill?"
"Reversing the positions. I have a friend named Matthew. He's a sim. You wouldn't know it to meet him; his body broke down forty years ago and he lives online now. But his mind is as human as any other sim's. He tells me that, whenever an AI takes a career like ministry or doctoring or counseling, someone always asks it if it gets a thrill out of having authority over humans. A neb-running sim could be working the ultimate reversal – a machine manufacturing humans."
"The nebs are human, but the shebs aren't."
"In a way, though, the shebs are even better. They're hominids with machine-style minds. The converse of sims."
Jeanette nodded. "There's a drawback, though. Just because they don't care, you can't enslave and oppress them the way you can nebs. That must take away some of the thrill." Her voice was chilly with disgust. "I wonder if they sold any nebs here."
"I wonder why they bother to make nebs at all," said Isaiah. "I know they're worth more than shebs, but is the extra profit worth the risk of extra penalty? Shebs aren't even illegal on some worlds. I asked Wisper."
"So you think they get power-tingles from slave trading?"
"I think they might. Or they might just want the money and not give a damn about the risks. Or the nebs, of course."
"It would be very useful to know their motives," said Jeanette.
"Yes. Do all telepaths study psychology? I know you have."
"No, most of them never get deeper than the verbal level. So it's no more than a handy trick for them. The telepaths who study psychology are the ones who dig deeper and use both studies in their work – psychologists, psychiatrists, counsellors, special teachers. Like that."
"Are you going to be one of those?"
Jeanette nodded. "I want to go into psi research, eventually. To start with, I'll look for work as a psychiatric assistant or, if I'm lucky, a mindsmith."
"What's a mindsmith?" Isaiah asked. "I've read the term in news stories from Terran Space, but I never saw it defined."
"It's a psi tutor, a coach. They also sell and repair everyday psi machines like psilencers and ampsies."
"So your immediate use for telepathy is teaching?"
"Yes. I never heard of a mindsmith that wasn't telepathic. It's useful for teaching. You can really show the student what you mean, or remove conceptual blocks."
"I can believe that," said Isaiah, recalling his recent telepathic tutoring on the trip to Philippia.
"Of course, it presents problems, too. Excess telepathy can mean the student never gets a different angle on the subject. They only see your point of view. Or they'll never disagree, because they've caught your feeling of certainty on an issue. So a telepathic teacher should also be good at fancy shieldwork. First you learn to refuse or cut contact. Next, to limit the depth of contact – like allowing verbal contact but shielding your memories. Finally, you learn to allow contact only at desired depth. Say, just verbal, without any empathic overlay. Then you can lie in mindspeech. Like this–"
Words appeared in Isaiah's mind, as though he had read them: "Hello there." There was no sense of heightened presence or expressiveness, such as Isaiah was used to. If he had had no warning, he might not have recognized this as telepathy. "Our broadcast continues," said the words, "with a sampler of lies: Squares are round. I'm from the government and I'm here to help you. I don't know how to pilot an aircar."
Isaiah giggled, surprising himself very much. It was like a card trick. You knew the absurdity couldn't be what it seemed, but you couldn't see why.
"I'm a natural blonde," she went on. "I walked here from Centauri. I'm going to poison your soup at dinner tonight."
"I'm glad that last one is a lie."
"Of course it is," she telepathed, opening her empathic level briefly to punctuate her grin before she dropped contact.
Jeanette brought the car down on the roof of the rental agency. Isaiah, still snickering, tried a volley of his own telepathic lies. "I'm half Sossen frani. I love string beans." Since he didn't know even the simplest shielding, they all rang false, but they kept Jeanette laughing.
Just as he got out of the car and dropped the contact, he felt a flare of glee from Jeanette. He found out the cause when he turned around and saw her standing – hovering – on the other side of the safety railing. "What–?" he began, then stopped and blinked.
"I've got an idea," she said. "For teaching you to fly. Come over here." Isaiah cautiously advanced as far as the railing. "No, I mean climb over."
"Kill or cure? Is that the idea?"
She snorted. "No. You can't hold yourself, but you can hold me up. Right?"
"And I can hold you up. Each holds up the other. Get it?"
"Don't stop to think about it. You're all nice and relaxed. Now, before it wears off. Catch!" And she dropped like a stone.
For a meter and a half, then jerked to a half. "My telekinesis isn't wholly reliable yet, you know," Isaiah warned, his mind gripping her like a vice, his relaxed mood wholly gone.
"That's all right, mine is. Now, over you come. Don't worry, it's just two floors up."
Isaiah glanced down into a little grassy courtyard. It was too small a height to bother him ... when standing behind a railing. To climb out over it, though...
He tried to summon up his trance state on the double, like trying to run an entire speech through a stage-frightened mind in five seconds. A few deep breaths and a handful of memory would have to do. "Catch," he quavered.
He meant to step out. Really. But it didn't happen. He clambered over the railing, held out his arms, then froze. Jeanette lifted him off gently with her own TK, and took his hands.
For a few seconds, they hung there in each others' minds. Then Isaiah's smile, watery to begin with, faded away along with all color in his face. His grip tightened, but his TK wobbled, bobbing Jeanette up and down. That sent a bolt of panic through him. He trebled his efforts and Jeanette found herself nailed in the air, as if imbedded in invisible rock.
She opened her mouth to speak, but the air huffed out, as if she were in the coils of a boa. She touched his mind instead.
Her eyes widened. Very gently, very smoothly, she let him down. About three meters up, his panic dimmed, then switched off as it came within the range of intensity he could control. He loosened his mental grip on her and she inhaled, almost creaking.
Seconds later, they were on the ground, seated on a park bench, shaking. Nothing psychic was happening.
"I'm sorry," Isaiah murmured. "Are you hurt?"
"Don't be sorry for anything. I'm the one who should apologize. That phobia! It's like a scar on your brain."
"Surely you've read phobic fears before?"
"Yes, but not... I wasn't expecting yours..."
"Not in anyone who wasn't an emotional wreck?" he supplied.
Jeanette was silent a moment, then said, "FX is right. I don't know why you bother to learn telepathy. All right, it's a great, big, fat phobia. Why do you still have it? How did you get it?"
"Well, I never did like heights much. Then, when I was about forty-five, I was in an aircar accident and truly became acrophobic. I took up patharchy because of it. I started by learning relaxation techniques and such, then got interested in psychosomatics, then mnemonics, and so on. After enough time, I'd learned about everything. Except how to stanch the acrophobia.
"There are drugs, of course, but the ones that are strong enough impair my judgement. And I can't be popping a pill or slapping on a patch every time I take an air bus. There's counter-stimulation therapy. That works, but then it wears off. Ditto hypnosis and auto-suggestion and such."
Jeanette softly resumed telepathic contact. Isaiah felt it, but went on talking aloud anyway. He could feel her cool pity, tinged with her own shame but unstained by any contempt, and her calm attention watching the memories he brought into awareness.
"The patharchy led me to Christianity," he went on. "A round-about way. I studied different states of consciousness, including mystical states. So I read up on mystics through history, including Christian ones. I tried some of their spiritual exercises. Never got anywhere, but I did start to pray.
"I already believed in God. Sort of. Centuries ago, in the British parliament, they were having a religious debate; one of the members, trying to make peace, said, 'Surely we all believe in some sort of a something.' I believed in a Something, in an off-hand way. Then I had to take a business trip to the Moon. I had some patches, but they didn't work. Too old, I think. So I used patharchy. And I prayed."
He paused, aware that he had wandered off the track, was even babbling. But he felt Jeanette's curiosity and expectation. "Did you get an answer?" she asked.
"A mystical experience?"
"No. I've never had one. Not anything St. Teresa would bother to write home about, at least."
"But you were ... comforted?"
"Well, no. But I was given some detachment. I saw– I was told that my fear wasn't important. Oh, it was real. It just wasn't as important as other things."
"Yes, but I didn't realize that then. I just got interested in religious questions. I knew that it wasn't a matter of comparative mythology. I didn't become a Christian until years later."
"Why is there that bitter streak in the memory?"
"Well, my conversion estranged my wife. We separated. We had four years to go on a twenty-five-year contract, and she just let it lapse."
"Christians don't do term marriage contracts, do they?"
He shook his head. "No, most don't. I wouldn't. I– I'm sorry. You asked how I got acrophobic, and all this just came tumbling out." Jeanette smiled, radiated apologetic regret, and let the contact gently fade. "So how do you think my acrophobia gets in the way of my levitating?" he asked.
She frowned. "It's funny. I'd think that learning to fly would be a big help."
"I'm sure it would eliminate the phobia completely."
"You seem to be afraid even of flying under your own power."
Isaiah sighed and shrugged. "Maybe when I'm more used to TK."
"I'm the one who's sorry, Isaiah. I shouldn't have pulled a dramatic stunt like that on you."
"Well, it was still a clever idea. Here." He got up. Jeanette found that she was getting up, too – rising into the air. "Let's try it again. Just a meter up. Now you lift me."
A few seconds later, they were hovering a meter above the grass, hands clasped. Isaiah laughed. "This high is fun." He started to hum a waltz tune and sent them gliding and gyrating above the little courtyard.
"I don't know how to waltz," Jeanette said.
"That's all right, I don't think I could spare the concentration for it anyway." They spiraled gently down.
Isaiah landed on the grass and sighed. "Maybe the fear prevents me from believing in my own control."
"That disbelief must be frightening in itself," said Jeanette, "to someone who wants to control himself so much." She looked away. "Sorry. Personal remark. Uncalled for."
Isaiah smiled. "You read my thoughts and emotions, then apologize for telling me something I've known for centuries. I must catch up on the new standards of privacy."
"I'm not too clear on them myself," Jeanette answered, laughing. "Come on. We've got to meet the others, and with a little luck, we'll see the face of the neb-maker."
On to Chapter 16, First Blood
Back to Chapter 14, Tracking
Return to Dragons' Teeth Introduction
Return to Wind Off the Hilltop
Copyright © Earl Wajenberg, 2013