"Suppose you tell me what's really going on," I suggested. She couldn't add much to what I knew already, but the last fragments of the pattern were beginning to settle into place. Rakhal, seeking the matter transmitter and some key to the nonhuman sciences of Wolf--I knew now what the city of Silent Ones had reminded me of!--had somehow crossed the path of the Toymaker.
Evarin's words now made sense: "You were clever at evading our surveillance--for a while." Possibly, though I'd never know, Cuinn had been keeping one foot in each camp, working for Kyral and for Evarin. The Toymaker, knowing of Rakhal's anti-Terran activities, had believed he would make a valuable ally and had taken steps to secure his help.
Juli herself had given me the clue: "He smashed Rindy's Toys." Out of the context it sounded like the work of a madman. Now, having encountered Evarin's workshop, it made plain good sense.
And I think I had known all along that Rakhal could not have been playing Evarin's game. He might have turned against Terra--though now I was beginning even to doubt that--and certainly he'd have killed me if he found me. But he would have done it himself, and without malice. Killed without malice--that doesn't make sense in any of the languages of Terra. But it made sense to me.
Miellyn had finished her brief recitation and was drowsing, her head pillowed on the table. The reddish light was growing, and I realized that I was waiting for dawn as, days ago, I had waited for sunset in Shainsa, with every nerve stretched to the breaking point. It was dawn of the third morning, and this bird lying on the table before me must fly or, far away in the Kharsa, another would fly at Juli.
I said, "There's some distance limitation on this one, I understand, since I have to be fairly near its object. If I lock it in a steel box and drop it in the desert, I'll guarantee it won't bother anybody. I don't suppose you'd have a shot at stealing the other one for me?"
She raised her head, eyes flashing. "Why should you worry about Rakhal's wife?" she flared, and for no good reason it occurred to me that she was jealous. "I might have known Evarin wouldn't shoot in the dark! Rakhal's wife, that Earthwoman, what do you care for her?"
It seemed important to set her straight. I explained that Juli was my sister, and saw a little of the tension fade from her face, but not all. Remembering the custom of the Dry-towns, I was not wholly surprised when she added, jealously, "When I heard of your feud, I guessed it was over that woman!"
"But not in the way you think," I said. Juli had been part of it, certainly. Even then I had not wanted her to turn her back on her world, but if Rakhal had remained with Terra, I would have accepted his marriage to Juli. Accepted it. I'd have rejoiced. God knows we had been closer than brothers, those years in the Dry-towns. And then, before Miellyn's flashing eyes, I suddenly faced my secret hate, my secret fear. No, the quarrel had not been all Rakhal's doing.
He had not turned his back, unexplained on Terra. In some unrecognized fashion, I had done my best to drive him away. And when he had gone, I had banished a part of myself as well, and thought I could end the struggle by saying it didn't exist. And now, facing what I had done to all of us, I knew that my revenge--so long sought, so dearly cherished--must be abandoned.
"We still have to deal with the bird," I said. "It's a gamble, with all the cards wild." I could dismantle it, and trust to luck that Wolf illogic didn't include a tamper mechanism. But that didn't seem worth the risk.
"First I've got to find Rakhal. If I set the bird free and it killed him, it wouldn't settle anything." For I could not kill Rakhal. Not, now, because I knew life would be a worse punishment than death. But because--I knew it, now--if Rakhal died, Juli would die, too. And if I killed him I'd be killing the best part of myself. Somehow Rakhal and I must strike a balance between our two worlds, and try to build a new one from them.
"And I can't sit here and talk any longer. I haven't time to take you--" I stopped, remembering the spaceport cafe at the edge of the Kharsa. There was a street-shrine, or matter transmitter, right there, across the street from the Terran HQ. All these years....
"You know your way in the transmitters. You can go there in a second or two." She could warn Juli, tell Magnusson. But when I suggested this, giving her a password that would take her straight to the top, she turned white. "All jumps have to be made through the Mastershrine."
I stopped and thought about that.
"Where is Evarin likely to be, right now?"
She gave a nervous shudder. "He's everywhere!"
"Rubbish! He's not omniscient! Why, you little fool, he didn't even recognize me. He thought I was Rakhal!" I wasn't too sure, myself, but Miellyn needed reassurance. "Or take me to the Mastershrine. I can find Rakhal in that scanning device of Evarin's." I saw refusal in her face and pushed on, "If Evarin's there, I'll prove he's fallible enough with a skean in his throat! And here"--I thrust the Toy into her hand--"hang on to this, will you?"
She put it matter-of-factly into her draperies. "I don't mind that. But to the shrine--" Her voice quivered, and I stood up and pushed at the table.
"Let's get going. Where's the nearest street-shrine?"
"No, no! Oh, I don't dare!"
"You've got to." I saw the chak who owned the place edging round the door again and said, "There's no use arguing, Miellyn." When she had readjusted her robes a little while ago, she had pinned them so that the flat sprawl of the Nebran embroideries was over her breasts. I put a finger against them, not in a sensuous gesture, and said, "The minute they see these, they'll throw us out of here, too."
"If you knew what I know of Nebran, you wouldn't want me to go near the Mastershrine again!" There was that faint coquettishness in her sidewise smile.
And suddenly I realized that I didn't want her to. But she was not Dallisa and she could not sit in cold dignity while her world fell into ruin. Miellyn must fight for the one she wanted.
And then some of that primitive male hostility which lives in every man came to the surface, and I gripped her arm until she whimpered. Then I said, in the Shainsan which still comes to my tongue when moved or angry, "Damn it, you're going. Have you forgotten that if it weren't for me you'd have been torn to pieces by that raving mob, or something worse?"
That did it. She pulled away and I saw again, beneath the veneer of petulant coquetry, that fierce and untamable insolence of the Dry-towner. The more fierce and arrogant, in this girl, because she had burst her fettered hands free and shaken off the ruin of the past.
I was seized with a wildly inappropriate desire to seize her, crush her in my arms, taste the red honey of that teasing mouth. The effort of mastering the impulse made me rough.
I shoved at her and said, "Come on. Let's get there before Evarin does."
Outside in the streets it was full day, and the color and life of Charin had subsided into listlessness again, a dim morning dullness and silence. Only a few men lounged wearily in the streets, as if the sun had sapped their energy. And always the pale fleecy-haired children, human and furred nonhuman, played their mysterious games on the curbs and gutters and staring at us with neither curiosity nor malice.
Miellyn was shaking when she set her feet into the patterned stones of the street-shrine.
"I know Evarin. You don't. But"--her mouth twitched in a pitiful attempt at the old mischief--"when I am with a great and valorous Earthman...."
"Cut it out," I growled, and she giggled. "You'll have to stand closer to me. The transmitters are meant only for one person."
I stooped and put my arms round her. "Like this?"
"Like this," she whispered, pressing herself against me. A staggering whirl of dizzy darkness swung round my head. The street vanished. After an instant the floor steadied and we stepped into the terminal room in the Mastershrine, under a skylight dim with the last red slant of sunset. Distant hammering noises rang in my ears.
Miellyn whispered, "Evarin's not here, but he might jump through at any second." I wasn't listening.
"Where is this place, Miellyn? Where on the planet?"
"No one knows but Evarin, I think. There are no doors. Anyone who goes in or out, jumps through the transmitter." She pointed. "The scanning device is in there, we'll have to go through the workroom."
She was patting her crushed robes into place, smoothing her hair with fastidious fingers. "I don't suppose you have a comb? I've no time to go to my own--"
I'd known she was a vain and pampered brat, but this passed all reason, and I said so, exploding at her. She looked at me as if I wasn't quite intelligent. "The Little Ones, my friend, notice things. You are quite enough of a roughneck, but if I, Nebran's priestess, walk through their workroom all blown about and looking like the tag end of an orgy in Ardcarran...."
Abashed, I fished in a pocket and offered her a somewhat battered pocket comb. She looked at it distastefully but used it to good purpose, smoothing her hair swiftly, rearranging her loose-pinned robe so that the worst of the tears and stains were covered, and giving me, meanwhile, an artless and rather tempting view of some delicious curvature. She replaced the starred tiara on her ringlets and finally opened the door of the workroom and we walked through.
Not for years had I known that particular sensation--thousands of eyes, boring holes in the center of my back somewhere. There were eyes; the round inhuman orbs of the dwarf chaks, the faceted stare of the prism eyes of the Toys. The workroom wasn't a hundred feet long, but it felt longer than a good many miles I've walked. Here and there the dwarfs murmured an obsequious greeting to Miellyn, and she made some lighthearted answer.
She had warned me to walk as if I had every right to be there, and I strode after her as if we were simply going to an agreed-on meeting in the next room. But I was drenched with cold sweat before the farther door finally closed, safe and blessedly opaque, behind us. Miellyn, too, was shaking with fright, and I put a hand on her arm.
"Steady, kid. Where's the scanner?"
She touched the panel I'd seen. "I'm not sure I can focus it accurately. Evarin never let me touch it."
This was a fine time to tell me that. "How does it work?"
"It's an adaptation of the transmitter principle. It lets you see anywhere, but without jumping. It uses a tracer mechanism like the one in the Toys. If Rakhal's electrical-impulse pattern were on file--just a minute." She fished out the bird Toy and unwrapped it. "Here's how we find out which of you this is keyed to."
I looked at the fledgling bird, lying innocently in her palm, as she pushed aside the feathers, exposing a tiny crystal. "If it's keyed to you, you'll see yourself in this, as if the screen were a mirror. If it's keyed to Rakhal...."
She touched the crystal to the surface of the screen. Little flickers of snow wavered and danced. Then, abruptly, we were looking down from a height at the lean back of a man in a leather jacket. Slowly he turned. I saw the familiar set of his shoulders, saw the back of his head come into an aquiline profile, and the profile turn slowly into a scarred, seared mask more hideously claw-marked and disfigured than my own.
"Rakhal," I muttered. "Shift the focus if you can, Miellyn, get a look out the window or something. Charin's a big city. If we could get a look at a landmark--"
Rakhal was talking soundlessly, his lips moving as he spoke to someone out of sight range of the scanning device. Abruptly Miellyn said, "There." She had caught a window in the sight field of the pane. I could see a high pylon and two of three uprights that looked like a bridge, just outside. I said, "It's the Bridge of Summer Snows. I know where he is now. Turn it off, Miellyn, we can find him--" I was turning away when Miellyn screamed.
Rakhal had turned his back on the scanner and for the first time I could see who he was talking to. A hunched, catlike shoulder twisted; a sinuous neck, a high-held head that was not quite human.
"Evarin!" I swore. "That does it. He knows now that I'm not Rakhal, if he didn't know it all along! Come on, girl, we're getting out of here!"
This time there was no pretense of normality as we dashed through the workroom. Fingers dropped from half-completed Toys as they stared after us. Toys! I wanted to stop and smash them all. But if we hurried, we might find Rakhal. And, with luck, we would find Evarin with him.
And then I was going to bang their heads together. I'd reached a saturation point on adventure. I'd had all I wanted. I realized that I'd been up all night, that I was exhausted. I wanted to murder and smash, and wanted to fall down somewhere and go to sleep, all at once. We banged the workroom door shut and I took time to shove a heavy divan against it, blockading it.
Miellyn stared. "The Little Ones would not harm me," she began. "I am sacrosanct."
I wasn't sure. I had a notion her status had changed plenty, beginning when I saw her chained and drugged, and standing under the hovering horror. But I didn't say so.
"Maybe. But there's nothing sacred about me!"
She was already inside the recess where the Toad God squatted. "There is a street-shrine just beyond the Bridge of Summer Snows. We can jump directly there." Abruptly she froze in my arms, with a convulsive shudder.
"Evarin! Hold me, tight--he's jumping in! Quick!"
Space reeled round us, and then....
Can you split instantaneousness into fragments? It didn't make sense, but so help me, that's what happened. And everything that happened, occurred within less than a second. We landed in the street-shrine. I could see the pylon and the bridge and the rising sun of Charin. Then there was the giddy internal wrenching, a blast of icy air whistled round us, and we were gazing out at the Polar mountains, ringed in their eternal snow.
Miellyn clutched at me. "Pray! Pray to the Gods of Terra, if there are any!"
She clung so violently that it felt as if her small body was trying to push through me and come out the other side. I hung on tight. Miellyn knew what she was doing in the transmitter; I was just along for the ride and I didn't relish the thought of being dropped off somewhere in that black limbo we traversed.
We jumped again, the sickness of disorientation forcing a moan from the girl, and darkness shivered round us. I looked on an unfamiliar street of black night and dust-bleared stars. She whimpered, "Evarin knows what I'm doing. He's jumping us all over the planet. He can work the controls with his mind. Psychokinetics--I can do it a little, but I never dared--oh, hang on tight!"
Then began one of the most amazing duels ever fought. Miellyn would make some tiny movement, and we would be falling, blind and dizzy, through blackness. Halfway through the giddiness, a new direction would wrench us and we would be thrust elsewhere, and look out into a new street.
One instant I smelled hot coffee from the spaceport cafe near the Kharsa. An instant later it was blinding noon, with crimson fronds waving above us and a dazzle of water. We flicked in and out of the salty air of Shainsa, glimpsed flowers on a Daillon street, moonlight, noon, red twilight flickered and went, shot through with the terrible giddiness of hyperspace.
Then suddenly I caught a second glimpse of the bridge and the pylon; a moment's oversight had landed us for an instant in Charin. The blackness started to reel down, but my reflexes are fast and I made one swift, scrabbling step forward. We lurched, sprawled, locked together, on the stones of the Bridge of Summer Snows. Battered, and bruised, and bloody, we were still alive, and where we wanted to be.
I lifted Miellyn to her feet. Her eyes were dazed with pain. The ground swayed and rocked under our feet as we fled along the bridge. At the far end, I looked up at the pylon. Judging from its angle, we couldn't be more than a hundred feet from the window through which I'd seen that landmark in the scanner. In this street there was a wineshop, a silk market, and a small private house. I walked up and banged on the door.
Silence. I knocked again and had time to wonder if we'd find ourselves explaining things to some uninvolved stranger. Then I heard a child's high voice, and a deep familiar voice hushing it. The door opened, just a crack, to reveal part of a scarred face.
It drew into a hideous grin, then relaxed.
"I thought it might be you, Cargill. You've taken at least three days longer than I figured, getting here. Come on in," said Rakhal Sensar.
He hadn't changed much in six years. His face was worse than mine; he hadn't had the plastic surgeons of Terran Intelligence doing their best for him. His mouth, I thought fleetingly, must hurt like hell when he drew it up into the kind of grin he was grinning now. His eyebrows, thick and fierce with gray in them, went up as he saw Miellyn; but he backed away to let us enter, and shut the door behind us.
The room was bare and didn't look as if it had been lived in much. The floor was stone, rough-laid, a single fur rug laid before a brazier. A little girl was sitting on the rug, drinking from a big double-handled mug, but she scrambled to her feet as we came in, and backed against the wall, looking at us with wide eyes.
She had pale-red hair like Juli's, cut straight in a fringe across her forehead, and she was dressed in a smock of dyed red fur that almost matched her hair. A little smear of milk like a white moustache clung to her upper lip where she had forgotten to wipe her mouth. She was about five years old, with deep-set dark eyes like Juli's, that watched me gravely without surprise or fear; she evidently knew who I was.
"Rindy," Rakhal said quietly, not taking his eyes from me. "Go into the other room."
Rindy didn't move, still staring at me. Then she moved toward Miellyn, looking up intently not at the woman, but at the pattern of embroideries across her dress. It was very quiet, until Rakhal added, in a gentle and curiously moderate voice, "Do you still carry a skean, Race?"
I shook my head. "There's an ancient proverb on Terra, about blood being thicker than water, Rakhal. That's Juli's daughter. I'm not going to kill her father right before her eyes." My rage spilled over then, and I bellowed, "To hell with your damned Dry-town feuds and your filthy Toad God and all the rest of it!"
Rakhal said harshly, "Rindy. I told you to get out."
"She needn't go." I took a step toward the little girl, a wary eye on Rakhal. "I don't know quite what you're up to, but it's nothing for a child to be mixed up in. Do what you damn please. I can settle with you any time.
"The first thing is to get Rindy out of here. She belongs with Juli and, damn it, that's where she's going." I held out my arms to the little girl and said, "It's over, Rindy, whatever he's done to you. Your mother sent me to find you. Don't you want to go to your mother?"
Rakhal made a menacing gesture and warned, "I wouldn't--"
Miellyn darted swiftly between us and caught up the child in her arms. Rindy began to struggle noiselessly, kicking and whimpering, but Miellyn took two quick steps, and flung an inner door open. Rakhal took a stride toward her. She whirled on him, fighting to control the furious little girl, and gasped, "Settle it between you, without the baby watching!"
Through the open door I briefly saw a bed, a child's small dresses hanging on a hook, before Miellyn kicked the door shut and I heard a latch being fastened. Behind the closed door Rindy broke into angry screams, but I put my back against the door.
"She's right. We'll settle it between the two of us. What have you done to that child?"
"If you thought--" Rakhal stopped himself in midsentence and stood watching me without moving for a minute. Then he laughed.
"You're as stupid as ever, Race. Why, you fool, I knew Juli would run straight to you, if she was scared enough. I knew it would bring you out of hiding. Why, you damned fool!" He stood mocking me, but there was a strained fury, almost a frenzy of contempt behind the laughter.
"You filthy coward, Race! Six years hiding in the Terran zone. Six years, and I gave you six months! If you'd had the guts to walk out after me, after I rigged that final deal to give you the chance, we could have gone after the biggest thing on Wolf. And we could have brought it off together, instead of spending years spying and dodging and hunting! And now, when I finally get you out of hiding, all you want to do is run back where you'll be safe! I thought you had more guts!"
"Not for Evarin's dirty work!"
Rakhal swore hideously. "Evarin! Do you really believe--I might have known he'd get to you too! That girl--and you've managed to wreck all I did there, too!" Suddenly, so swiftly my eyes could hardly follow, he whipped out his skean and came at me. "Get away from that door!"
I stood my ground. "You'll have to kill me first. And I won't fight you, Rakhal. We'll settle this, but we'll do it my way for once, like Earthmen."