The goodbyes were said, the trial of liftoff was past, and the Will o' the Wisp was dropping through hyperstate toward Hellene. Isaiah sat at the banquet table while the feast coalesced about him out of the air. He stared at the wall screen, now showing the dining hall of Barchester Towers, without seeing. He was trying to sort out his feelings.
Why had he had to declare his love in the middle of a crisis? And was it really love? How could he be sure? Was he just feeling protective of Jeanette?
No, he was not. He was also preoccupied with her beauty and her character. He was quite sure, aside from flashes of silliness such as that moment of doubt, that he was in love. But what to do about that?
He pushed the question away. There was no answer for it yet. Probably none was needed. Nor was there anything to do, at the moment, about his entangled feelings of guilt and hatred – guilt over Abel and hatred of the neb-runners.
He sighed and looked about him. The table was set, including the silverware. The last dishes had floated down out of the air. Jeanette sat opposite him. "How are you doing?" she asked. "Over the takeoff yet?"
"Oh, yes. I was just wool-gathering. Good grief, what's that?" He stared at the dish nearest them, an intricate tower of pale yellow, dripping a sticky orange sauce.
"Origami pasta," she told him. "It's a fad just now. Tastes like ordinary spaghetti."
Daima, in her most human illusion, sat down. All were now present. FX rose and toasted, "Cheers." Isaiah echoed the toast and sipped his wine. "Absent friends" came next. Again an echo and a sip. FX sat and, to his own surprise, Isaiah found himself rising. "Our victims," he said, raising his glass.
There was a startled pause, then a ragged response – "Right." "Hear, hear." "Our victims." "Yeah." Then they all drank.
Isaiah sat and got his second surprise when Daima leaned over and clinked her glass against his. And Jeanette murmured, "Bravo."
"So," said FX, "ever been to Hellene?"
"Oh, yes," Isaiah answered. "I lived there for a few years. In Europina. That was where our refugee fleet formed."
"Where haven't you lived?" Vivian asked.
Isaiah shook his head and laughed. "I've only lived on Earth, Hellene, and Carmel. Add Luna, Centauri, and now Philippia, for the list of planets I've set foot on. But I won't be much of a guide to Hellene."
"I didn't mean that," FX said. "Just making conversation. But you'll find it is very different."
"Psi and such," said Isaiah.
"That, too, but I meant the politics."
Isaiah chewed thoughtfully and cast his mind back. "I gathered there was another local war there, shortly after the Psi War. But little wars are normal for Hellene, aren't they?"
"Not any more," said FX. "There were one or two wars after the Psi War, depending on how you count them. Let's see, how to describe it simply..."
Vivian gave it a try. "New Alaska and Haute France started an undeclared trade war," she said. "Pericles intervened and Haute France tried to secede." Pericles was the seat of the planetary government. "High Caledonia and Warsavia refused to supply troops or support to Pericles. So after Pericles put down Haute France, they deposed the governments of Warsavia and High Caledonia, too."
"Good grief!" excalimed Isaiah. "Pericles running three puppet regimes at once?"
Vivian nodded. "The surprise is that they made it work."
"Of course, all the Pericles appointees got voted out at the next free election," FX added.
"Yeah, but no one's tried any tricks since," Vivian finished. "That was – what? – something like fifty years ago."
Isaiah chewed some more. "So Hellene is finally unified," he reflected. ("Well, mostly," FX muttered.) "That's almost as amazing as psi."
"The Psi War drummed up a lot of solidarity," Jeanette said. "All the enclaves hated the psi lords worse than they did each other. Some of the solidarity outlived the war. When the enclaves rebelled, they didn't get enough popular support."
"Have you been to Hellene?" Isaiah asked her.
She shook her head. "I just read a lot. But the rest of them have." She grinned at her brother, then at Vivian. "The Case of the Green Glamourist," she said. Borne groaned; Vivian rolled her eyes.
"What–?" Isaiah began.
"Some other time," said FX. "Much later."
Once more, the lounge furnishings were tuned down to a single wrestling mat. Isaiah bounced off it, rolling sideways in the hopes of avoiding Canorus's shoulder. It worked.
Isaiah uncurled and stood, hooking one knee out from under the Melior on his way up, pulling the other foot off the floor with TK. Canorus started to fall, then hung in mid-air, revolving around his center of mass. Isaiah found his own legs swept out from under him by the Melior's arms. He tried to twist out of the grip, but was countered by invisible pressures. More TK, he thought, as well as he was able to think with his head recently thumped on the matting.
"Better," puffed Canorus. "That's better."
"I like it better still when I'm the one on top," Isaiah mumbled.
Canorus chuckled and let Isaiah up. "You connected a few times in that one," he said. "No more purely defensive."
"I've been working on my aggression level," said Isaiah, who had deliberately brooded over Abel's fate for ten minutes before the lesson.
Canorus nodded and Isaiah wondered how the Melior regulated his own aggression. Did he remember old enemies from Varkard or Delta Chrysaor? Or did his temperament just supply the drive when he needed it?
The Melior gave Isaiah a puzzled glance. "Where did you pick this up?"
Isaiah laughed briefly. "You mean martial arts? Where we're going. On Hellene."
"Oh. But I mean, it's funny, a preacher knowing street fighting. Why? Exercise?"
"It was part of my ministry," Isaiah answered sardonically.
"How to find inner peace by kicking out people's livers? That kind of thing?"
"No. When we were gathering the refugee fleet, I worked at the Europolis shipyards. Getting the ships ready. Getting the people ready, too. It wasn't a nice neighborhood. So we learned defensive martial arts."
Canorus nodded. "It's the same near Pericles spaceport. We were stuck there once."
"Ran out of cash."
"Was this during the Case of the Green Glamourist?" Canorus grinned and nodded again. "What's that about, anyway?"
"You'll have to get FX to tell you; I can't keep the details straight. But we were stuck there with no cash for a while. Found an interesting way to raise it..." he reflected.
"Went trolling for muggers." He waited, deadpan, for Isaiah's question.
"How does that work?"
"Viv and Daima took it in turns to wander the streets at night, looking victimly – lone female tourist, a little drunk, real scared. Someone jumped them, Borne and I would jump back, then loot them. Picked up rent and food money that way. Creative financing."
"And an interesting approach to community improvement."
"That, too." The Melior stood up. "Ready for another round? Let's do this one in psilence."
"All right," said Isaiah, just before he had to dodge.
"So what is the Case of the Green Glamourist?" Isaiah asked. He stood in the door of FX's cabin, directing the question to FX himself. FX sat on his bed, running a stitcher along the seam of some new garment and trying to ignore both Isaiah and Vivian, who had been working at the comm but was now giggling to herself.
"Don't you have anything better to do?" he asked Isaiah severely.
"Well, actually, I wanted to ask you some questions about glamour."
"Green glamour?" Vivian asked, snickering.
"Glamour in general," Isaiah said in soothing tones.
"Ask away," said FX after a final glare at Vivian.
"What are the limitations?"
"There's a range limit, characteristic of the glamourist, just as for other forms of TK," said FX, still stitching. "Likewise a limit to the number of decibels or lumens you can handle, and a limit to the complexity of the presentation. And you can't manipulate frequencies you can't sense. And it's just sound and light. Intangible. Lots of limitations."
"Hmm. Can you appear to shrink or grow?"
FX said nothing, but dwindled down to a handspan high. Still stitching away, he looked like the kind of brownie that creeps in to assist impoverished tailors in the dead of night.
"Can you stand up without breaking the illusion?" Isaiah asked.
The tiny FX put down his work and stood. But the moment he laid the cloth aside, it spread out to normal size. And the tiny figure did not climb or jump off the bed; instead, it reached the floor by a snapping stretch that Isaiah could not follow.
"That didn't look quite–" Isaiah began.
"Oh, well, no," said FX. "I didn't orchestrate the transition." At first, his voice came out of apparently empty air, where his mouth really was. As he spoke, the voice sank down until it coincided with the miniature image. "You want something like this."
The tiny image scrambled up the bedsheets, faced Isaiah and bowed, then hopped off, bowed again, then sauntered under Vivian's chair, where it vanished. The real FX faded into view, standing by the bed.
"Bravo," said Isaiah. "But the orchestrated version is harder, isn't it?"
"Of course. Not much harder, but I've been doing glamour for years."
"Yes, but suppose you wanted to cast that glamour on me, or someone else who doesn't know glamour."
FX lifted his lip in a sneer of distaste. "That would be a big patterning job, if I couldn't be there to monitor the whole show. I'd have to cast the glamour, bind it so it didn't fade when my attention left, then pattern it – program it – to react to as many contingencies as I could think of. Like climbing up and down chairs."
"Okay, now suppose you just wanted to disguise me as Canorus."
FX gestured. Isaiah looked down and saw he was dressed in charcoal gray. Looking in the mirror, he saw Canorus looking back. "Very good–" he said, then paused. The voice was Canorus's, too. "Very good. But I'm still short. And I'm not speaking with a Melioran accent."
FX sighed. "I could do something about the accent. Shape the vowels, for instance. But I can't affect the cadence without making it look like bad dubbing. And there are tradeoffs with the height. Like, if I put your head up that high, your eyes won't quite track what you're really looking at. Not without more patterning or personal orchestration. Is this the kind of thing you wanted to know?"
"Yes, thank you," said Isaiah, watching the mirror as his own form melted back into view. "Given these limitations, it sounds like the easiest kind of disguise made with glamour gives the same effect as a mask and a vocalizer."
"ID on the neb-runners," said Vivian, realizing what Isaiah was leading up to.
"Right. Unless they put a lot of effort into their glamour, the real neb-runners have the same builds, the same postures, the same gaits, the same cadences of speech that we've seen in the images we got from Bourgoise."
"Can you really make an ID based on that?" asked FX dubiously.
"No, but it's one more source of clues. And I can try to teach the rest of you, too."
"Can you teach Wisper?" asked Vivian.
"Um. I can try. Why?"
"Then we could give him some more databases to search. Video contracts, taped calls, police records, that sort of thing."
"I see. Well, I'll work up some experiments and lessons on penetrating glamour. Just one thing, though – What was the Case of the Green Glamourist?"
FX howled and threw a green fireball at Isaiah. Laughing, Isaiah raised his arms to fend it off. The ball exploded in emerald dazzle and Isaiah's arms turned green. FX shot off some more fireballs and soon the whole room, including Vivian and himself, was dyed green.
"I was the Green Glamourist! Okay? It wasn't a case at all."
"It was a medical case," Vivian corrected. Her skin was now pale olive; her blonde hair had become lime green.
FX collected himself and sat back down on the bed. "It was right after we finished off Moiros on Varkard. There were legal complications. We were summoned to the TSTO offices on Hellene to sort them out. It took a long time. And civilization began to catch up with us. There we were, stuck in Pericles, with no money, in a very tenuous legal and political situation. Waiting for the gears of the bureaucracy to finish grinding. Fresh from months of confusion and paranoia. I just... It was too..." He was not yet mumbling uncertainly, but he was clearly headed in that direction. He paused, collected himself again, and concluded, flatly, "I started having panic attacks."
"I don't wonder," Isaiah murmured. "How did green come into it?" He looked around the room, which was fading back to its proper colors.
"I broke out in poltergeists. Involuntary TK. It was part of the panic attacks. In my case, it was spontaneous glamour. Always green. Turning things green. Greek sparks. Green auras. Green mirages. Two weeks of bed rest with a bottle of tranquilizers and a psilencer. I'm fine now." There was a slightly defiant ring to the last sentence, matching the glance with which FX met Isaiah's gaze.
"Good," Isaiah said. "I had no notion there were psychic illnesses."
"Poltergeist is one of the commonest forms," Vivian said.
"Under the circumstance," Isaiah said, "it doesn't sound any stranger than working off your battle anxieties by trolling for muggers and picking fights in back alleys." Vivian stared at him and this time it was FX who snickered.
They were all gathered in the lounge, which was furnished as a lounge, for once, not as a dining hall or a gym. There was no furniture but a cluster of chairs and the wall screen, where Wisper's dragonfly icon flickered, ready to take notes. Nift, the fimmet, fluttered in real-life counterpart around Daima's hands.
"We don't really know they're headed for Hellene," Vivian pointed out.
FX shrugged. "If the trail ends, we ask for another assignment. Meanwhile, this is our only lead."
"How will we hunt neb-runners on Hellene?" Isaiah asked.
"As we did on Philippia," FX answered. "We look for their androids. In fact, we're already looking. I've sent ahead requests for record searches."
"But they couldn't have reached Hellene already, could they?"
"No, but I'm betting they've done business there before. We're looking at records less than a year old. In any case, we'll have the search programs waiting for them when they get there. If they go there," he added, nodding slightly at Vivian.
"How common are androids on Hellene?" Isaiah asked. Nift flew over to him and perched on a shoulder.
"It varies a lot, from place to place. In some enclaves, they're illegal. In the Cybernate, any android that comes into their jurisdiction is automatically freed. In other places, they're common enough to cause labor disputes. All legal androids are in the census records since they're reckoned as human as far ecology goes. Then there are android medical records. A lot of those will be in public databases."
"How about the private databases?" Jeanette asked. "Financial records, android fanciers' clubs, things like that?"
"We have programs looking for relevant ones," FX said. "A few are open to TSTO authority. For others, we'll have to wait until we get there and ask permission in person." FX glanced at Canorus. "Or something like that." The Melior grinned.
"It sounds like a lot of our time will be spent getting permission," said Isaiah. "Or access, anyway." Nift left his shoulder and tried to perch on the Melior's head. Canorus brushed him away.
"A lot of my time, at least," said FX. "And Viv's. And yours and Jeanette's, if you're willing. We'll have to get you some kind of official status – temporary deputies or something. The others aren't great negotiators."
"A vacation?" said Borne. "I finally get a vacation?" He glanced at the fluttering Nift, who suddenly found himself drawn from Canorus to Borne.
"What do you mean, 'finally'?" demanded Vivian. "How about Adonis?"
"That wasn't very restful." Borne pulled Nift into his hands and scratched the back of his neck with a thumb. Nift tried looking blissful for a couple of seconds, decided it wasn't his style, and flitted off.
"The neb-runners," rumbled Canorus, staring at Isaiah. "You said you knew something about their religion. Fearlings, or something."
"Vierlingers," said Isaiah. "German for 'four-folk.' You aren't a full initiate of their religion unless you've joined a group of four. Nearly always two males and two females, forming two couples."
"Are they all psychic?" Canorus asked.
"Yes. And at least one is always a good telepath. Usually the Integral."
"Integral?" echoed FX.
"The four members of a Vierlinger quartet have individual roles – Integral, Shadow, Persona, and Animus or Anima. The Shadow is supposed to marry the Persona; the Integral marries the ... Animum, let's call it. The Integral and Persona are one sex, the Shadow and Animum are the other."
"So we're dealing with two men and two women," said FX, "each with a definite role to play."
"Very definite. I suspect the woman who sold the androids to Bourgoise was the Persona. So the Integral would also be a woman. And the Integral is the leader of the group."
"Wait," said Borne. "Didn't you say that shrine back in the warehouse was dedicated to the Personna?"
"Yes. Each individual Persona in a quartet is an ectype, an instance or representative, of the Persona archetype. The same goes for the other archetypes."
"So, is this group worshipping one of its own members?" Borne asked.
"A member who isn't the leader," Canorus added.
Isaiah hesitated. "I don't know. I think they set up that shrine for Abel. The Personna is the mask, the public role, the surface of the mind. They thought it was the proper god for a neb, an instant person of no substance, a less-than-real person, a phantom. That's what they thought him. That's what he thought himself. He was too young, too untaught, to be able to think his own thoughts."
There was momentary silence while the group waited for Isaiah to retreat from Abel's memories.
"If the group itself worships any one member," he went on, "it would most likely be the Integral, but they ought to worship the archetypes, not the ectypes. If they're proper Vierlingers."
"Are they proper?" Vivian asked. "After all, they're criminals. Why couldn't they be ... you know, heretic Vierlingers? Or are all Vierlingers crooks?" Nift lit in her lap, curled up, and slept.
"They aren't all crooks," Isaiah said, "but their religion is indifferent to morality. It's more concerned with mental health."
"These are incompatible?" asked FX, with one eyebrow raised.
"Of course not. They're just not identical."
"So," asked FX, "are we up against ragingly sane criminals?"
"No," said Jeanette firmly, while Isaiah was still thinking. "They're a gestaltist cult. That's why the Integral is always a powerful telepath."
"Oh," FX said, dismissively, apparently unimpressed by gestaltists. "Do you know all about Vierlingers, too?"
"No. I just knew them as a name on a list of gestaltists groups."
"What's a gestaltist?" Isaiah asked.
"People who try to form into a group mind, a gestalt," Jeanette told him. "They're trying to form a psychic superbeing. Most give up after everyone gets on one another's nerves, someone has a nervous breakdown, and the best telepath quits. If they don't give up, they generally have psychological problems to begin with, and this makes them worse."
"A bad idea whose time has come," FX told Isaiah. "But let's get back to these four roles. The Integral, I gather, is the leader?"
"Yes, and the Persona is the social contact, the foursome's link with the outside world. The other three are generally quite private, especially the Integral."
"And the other two?"
"I can tell you their psychological function. I can't guess what part they'll play in the neb-running operation. The Animus will be a–"
"I thought you said 'Animum,'" said Borne.
"I was speaking generally then. In our group, this role will be filled by a man, so it's 'Animus.' The Animus is a sex object. A romantic hero. He'll be the husband of our Integral. The fourth role is the Shadow. In psychology, that's the repressed, unexpressed part of the personality. In Vierlinger society, it's the counterpoise, the balance to whatever tendencies the others share. He'll be the husband of the Persona."
"And they never trade roles?" asked FX.
"Not that I've heard."
"Four gestaltists, driving one another crazy by playing stereotypes and turning it into a religion," mused FX. "Making their money and getting their kicks by neb-running. Interesting."
Nift woke up, yawned, stretched, and flew out of Vivian's lap. "One of those men is the neb-maker," she said. "Either the Shadow or the Animus."
Isaiah pondered the issue. "The Animus, I think," he decided. "Abel was the neb-maker's clone. I think he would have made a better Animus than Shadow." Nift landed on his shoulder, then dove down his chest and stuck his head in a shirt pocket. "How long did it take Nift to solidify?"
"A week," Vivian told him. "Maybe less."
"I wonder if Noah is safe yet."
Dear Matthew and Max,
Thanks, Matthew, for the information on pattern recognition training. It has been a great help in teaching Wisper how to recognize people by posture and gait.
I look forward to the time I can give you full details about people, places, and times. Meanwhile, FX tells me that the investigation has reached the point where discretion is needed. Apparently, we are counting on the discretion of the entire Philippian court system and several dozen TSTO officials. Any of these could give a full account of our work so far, or could get such an account through routine channels, but it is his investigation, so I comply.
Early on, I volunteered to act as ship's engineer. Don't laugh, either of you. I don't know much about the new machinery – yet – but I know more about engineering than anyone else aboard. Borne has been showing me around the ship and it makes my mouth water, it is so crammed with the latest technical goodies.
You know about the communications equipment and the furnisher. All the major systems are supplied from the generator by remote power links, not cables or conduits. The hyperdrive needs only a fraction of the tuning needed by the best drive I ever saw before we left Terran Space. The autodoc and the life-support cycler are both frighteningly tiny. Ditto the gravity motors. And so on.
Borne is technically interesting in himself. He learned TK around age five and does not recall a time when he couldn't fly. He bounces around like a balloon all day. I compare this to my own TK; I grow weary after a few minutes of it and, as you know, don't fly at all.
His additional arms are the very latest thing in psi tech, I'm told. The sensor systems and artificial musculature are still very much like the limbs on a sim, but they are controlled by "splice chips" – small computers patterned after the sensory and motor centers of the brain, but also capable of sensory-level telepathy with the wearer. They "splice" themselves in to the wearer's brain and instantly modify the body image. That can be quite a wrench to the psyche, the first few times, like the reverse of a phantom limb...
Isaiah sat in his cabin, reading up on psionic physics. On Carmel, he had been able to read nothing but popularizations. This book, plucked off the net for him by Wisper, was much more substantial, and there was a tutorial program waiting for him when he had finished it.
If he ever did finish it. Nift, the fimmet, was delaying that. Isaiah had become a favorite with Nift, since he would play with the creature more often than the others. Nift wanted to play. Now. At least Isaiah supposed that that was why he kept fluttering down to burrow under the pages of the book. Or perhaps the paper smelled good, or he was nibbling at the binding.
"What do you hope to find in there?" he asked Nift, rhetorically, of course. Then it occurred to him that he could get an answer from Nift, though he would have to go in and look for it.
Isaiah reached out for Nift's mind. The fimmet peered out from under the pages and looked back. He remained calm; this shallow contact only told Nift "Isaiah's here, watching you," which he knew already. He was not reflective enough to wonder why this idea should suddenly occur to him.
Isaiah deepened the contact to the empathic level. Nift was enjoying an enviable relaxed wakefulness. Nift, of course, became aware of Isaiah's mood – benign curiosity. He crawled out into Isaiah's lap, arched his neck and tail, half-spread his wings, and trilled. Showing off.
And "come pet me," or so Isaiah supposed from an eager tone in Nift's mood. But he was not down to the conceptual level yet. He worked the contact deeper. In a human, the next level would have been verbal thought. Nift, of course, had no analog to that. Next came sensory experience–
Confusion. Alarm. Fascination. Confusion. Nift saw all these emotions in Isaiah. Isaiah might have seen Nift's rising excitement and playfulness in response, but he was not paying attention, any more than Nift was paying attention to Isaiah's sensory experiences, though they were there for the little fimmet to consider.
Nift took off and fluttered in Isaiah's face, hoping for a game of peek-a-boo. The human flinched and dropped the contact. Nift scored a painless nip on Isaiah's nose, fluttered about his ears for a few moments, chirped crossly, and landed again on the pillow. Isaiah wouldn't play.
Isaiah stared before him, motionless, oblivious. Nift's sensations had been, quite strictly, unimaginable. His vision was sharper, wider-angled than anything Isaiah could experience, and the colors... Hardly any color had had a name in any human tongue. The bedsheet, Isaiah's own skin and hair, Nift's own feathers, were all seen in new hues.
Isaiah's imagination made a shift. It was as if Nift somehow saw objects as having several colors at once, without seeing the objects in multiple exposure. But that was really no more imaginable than the wholly new colors.
Isaiah floundered in his thoughts. The memory of Nift's wings, seen through Nift's own eyes, brought to mind another weirdness – kinesthesia, proprioception, body image. Nift had a tail and wings, besides his four legs. Having seven limbs was more than a new sensation to Isaiah; it was a new shape of sensation, a new format for experience.
Ten minutes later, Isaiah was fighting off a panic attack. He could not get Nift's sensations out of his mind. Not that they were painful or horrible. They were fascinating! Or had been. Now they fascinated in an unwelcome way, they worried and troubled. It was as if his memory choked on them, unable to digest and classify these alien experiences. His consciousness circled tightly around them, as if trying to solve an urgent problem, trying to understand. But there was nothing to understand. Nift's sensations were what they were, and their oddness could not be made familiar by connection to any thought or memory in Isaiah's brain.
How does Borne stand it? Isaiah wondered. Suddenly, he saw an escape. Borne does stand it, even enjoys it. You can develop a capacity for a changing sensorium.
The room swam and his vision darkened. Isaiah needed to develop that capacity quickly.
Shuddering, he strode down the corridor and beat on Borne's door. Borne opened. His room was an untidy swirl of laundry and magazines, vibrating to loud, heavy-beating music, but Isaiah noticed none of this; anyway, it was normal. "Borne, may I borrow your arms?" he blurted.
Borne's welcoming smile faded into puzzlement. "Uh, sure, but, ah... Are you all right?" Isaiah certainly did not look all right; he looked feverish.
"Yes. I don't know. I need to try your arms. Please. It's– I can't describe–"
Borne glanced at the drawer beneath his bed. It slipped open and the arms rose out, tethered on their harness. He caught his arms in his arms and glanced at the desk console; the music stopped. Isaiah stripped off his shirt. "Help me," he said. "What do I do?"
Borne was unnerved by the rawness in Isaiah's voice. "Uh, sure. Put your head through here.... Look, what's wrong? Are you sure you ought to try this now?"
But Isaiah was seeing his own face in nameless colors, feeling wing-muscles in his memory. "I need to– to learn this kind of thing. Now. Please."
Borne was, of course, still baffled. "Okay. Make sure the ends are stuck on. Remember, splice jobs can be quite a shock, especially the first few times." Isaiah had the harness on now, the extra arms dangling lifelessly below his own. "Just push the button there on the buckle."
Isaiah hesitated briefly, then hit the button. The spliced arms jerked and Isaiah gasped. While his own hands made tentative motions, he brought the spliced hands up before his face. He turned them back and forth, rubbed them against each other, and clenched them into fists. He laughed softly. Borne did not like the laughter's tone.
Suddenly, Isaiah pressed the button again – with one of the spliced hands, as it happened. The arms dropped and Isaiah shuddered. Then he pressed the button again. And again. And again.
At first, he did this slowly, attentively, watching the shape of his sensorium change with each tap of the button. Deliberately, he let the experience be new, be itself, hopelessly unlike any other. But this took his mind off controlling the panic attack. It built up and claimed him. He hammered on the button like a telegraph key, furious for some kind of breakthrough, some way to live with such possibilities.
He curled up, four hands over his face. He did not notice when Borne floated him over to the bed, and barely felt Borne's hands on (some of) his wrists. "It's okay, it's okay," Borne crooned, gently forcing the hands down with his own hands and TK. "It's okay. You're okay. Let's get this off you."
Isaiah nodded, trying to pull in a full breath. He stood and reached for the button. Just then Jeanette appeared in the door, summoned by an anxious telepathic call from Borne.
Isaiah instantly blushed from forehead to clavicle. This was not how he wished to appear to Jeanette – half naked, freakish. Ridiculous, too, for the arms were copies of Borne's own. They were longer than Isaiah's and the skin was darker. He must look like a panicked Hindu scarecrow, an over-engineered Frankenstein monster.
"Isaiah? What's wrong?" Isaiah tried to speak and failed. "Borne," Jeanette growled, "did you cozzen Isaiah into a brainburn with those stupid arms of yours?"
"No! Nothing like it! He came in here and asked for them! He was upset when he got here. I couldn't find out why."
At Jeanette's words "stupid arms," Isaiah grimaced and clenched his fists – all four. By the time Borne was finished, he had turned the arms off again and was struggling out of the harness. "I'm all right," he insisted, in a shuddering voice that contradicted his words. "In a minute I will be, anyway. It wasn't Borne's fault."
"Whatever got into you?" Jeanette asked.
"Uh ... Nift. Or I got into him." He picked his shirt up off the floor and started describing his experiment in sensory-level telepathy. By the time he was done, brother and sister were both gazing at him wide-eyed.
"Poor Isaiah!" Jeanette exclaimed. "You've had a rough day."
"Yeah," said Borne. "Zeening and splicing for the first time, within minutes of each other. Yow!"
"Zeening?" Isaiah asked.
"Xeno-telepathy," Jeanette explained. "Sensory telepathy across species. It's illegal on some planets, like splicing, because it makes some people spaz."
"I can believe that. I must be one of those people."
"Are you? Are you having a panic attack now?"
"Well, no." Isaiah gingerly tested his memories. They were certainly disorienting, but no enslaving power remained in them. His embarrassment had broken their grip.
"Some people really can't take zeening," Jeanette admitted, "but they react much worse than you did. You just got taken by surprise. We should have warned you as soon as you worked down to sensory level in your telepathy lessons. After all, you might have tried it with Daima at any time."
"Her senses are alien too?"
"Yes, just more subtly. Dolphins and bats, I'm told, are very bad. Echolocation. You wind up hearing images." Isaiah winced. "But the way you describe it, you weren't panicked by the strangeness. You were panicked by the fascination. You were afraid you couldn't shake it."
Isaiah nodded. "It all seemed ... very ... entrapping."
Jeanette smiled, a touch cynically. "Ask yourself if part of the problem wasn't liking it too much. I think we should have you do some sensory telepathy with Daima, under controlled conditions."
Two uncomfortable suggestions in a row. Isaiah sighed and nodded, then put them aside for the moment. "So, how is Nift's color sense organized?"
Jeanette laughed. "I never studied fimmet vision, but it probably resembles bird vision. We have only three kinds of color receptors in our retinas, but some birds have five or six. It lets birds perceive more features of color than we can."
Isaiah thought for a bit. "Long, long ago, I took an art class and learned that color sensations have three dimensions: brightness, saturation, and hue. Looking at the color as a power spectrum, they correspond to amplitude, bandwidth, and peak frequency. Maybe Nift can perceive more detail in the power curve than that. For him, a spectrum has more than one dimension."
Jeanette smiled. "You know more than I about what Nift sees."
Isaiah rose. "Let's try that session with Daima now, if she's willing. If I put it off, I may become shy of it."
"I hope I didn't damage the arms, Borne."
Borne tossed the arms toward the drawer. "Don't worry about it. They're rugged."
... So, in the past week, I have become accustomed to zeening the fimmet. Try dropping that phrase into the conversation some time. Max, I may zeen you someday. Matthew, we'd both need a lot of preparation before I zeened you. ...
On to Chapter 19, Hellene
Back to Chapter 17, Evidence
Return to Dragons' Teeth Introduction
Return to Wind Off the Hilltop
Copyright © Earl Wajenberg, 2013