Finally, he said, "That's the trouble with them, the Hirlaji. I can't really understand them. It's like there's really no contact, not even through the interpreter." He stared into his drink. "I wish to hell we had some straight telepathers here; they might work with the Hirlaji, since they're telepathic anyway. I'd like to make a direct link myself."
After a moment he felt Mara's hand on his arm, and realized that he had almost fallen asleep on the table.
"You'd better go on back to your quarters," she said.
He sat up, shaking his head to clear it. "No, but really-what do you think of that idea? What if I had a telepather, and I could link minds with Horng? Straight linkage, no interpreter in the middle. I could get right at that race memory myself!"
"I think you need some sleep," she said. She seemed worried. "You're getting too wrapped up in this thing. And forget about the telepathers."
Rynason looked at her and grinned. "Why?" he said quietly. "There's no harm in wishing."
"Because," she said, "we've got three telepathers coming in the day after tomorrow."
Rynason continued to smile at her for several seconds, until her words penetrated. Then he abruptly sat up and steadied himself with one hand against the edge of the table.
"Can you get one for me?"
She gave a reluctant shrug. "If you insist, and if Manning okays it. But is it a good idea? Direct contact with a mind so alien?"
As a matter of fact, now that he was faced with the actual possibility of it, he wasn't so sure. But he said, "We'll only know once we've tried it."
Mara dropped her eyes and swirled her drink, watching the tiny red spots form inside the glass and rise to the surface. There was a brief silence between them.
"Repent, Lee Rynason!" The words burst upon his ears over the waves of sound that filled the room. He turned, half-rising, to find Rene Malhomme hovering over him, his wide grin showing a tooth missing in the bottom row.
Rynason settled back into his chair. "Don't shout. I'm going to have a headache soon enough."
Malhomme took the chair which Manning had vacated and sat in it heavily. He set his hand-lettered placard against the edge of the table and leaned forward, waving a thick finger.
"You consort with men who would enslave the pure in heart!" he rumbled, but Rynason didn't miss the laughter in his eye.
"Manning?" he nodded. "He'd enslave every pure heart on this planet, if he could find one. As a matter of fact, I think he's already working on Mara here."
Malhomme turned to her and sat back, appraising her boldly. Mara met his gaze calmly, raising her eyebrows slightly as she waited for his verdict.
Malhomme shook his head. "If she's pure, then it's a sin," he said. "A thrice-damned sin, Lee. Have I ever expostulated to you upon the Janus-coin that is good and evil?"
"Often," Rynason said.
Malhomme shrugged and turned again to the girl. "Nevertheless," he said, "I greet you with pleasure."
"Mara, this is Rene Malhomme," Rynason said wearily. "He imagines that we're friends, and I'm afraid he's right."
Malhomme dipped his shaggy head. "The name is from the Old French of Earth-badman. I have a long and dishonorable family history, but the earliest of my ancestors whom I've been able to trace had the same name. Apparently there were too many Smiths, Carpenters, Bakers and Priests on that world-the time was ripe for a Malhomme. My first name would have been pronounced Reh-nay before the language reform dropped all accent marks from Earth tongues."
"Considering your background," Mara smiled, "you're in good company out here."
"Good company!" Malhomme cried. "I'm not looking for good company! My work, my mission calls me to where men's hearts are the blackest, where repentance and redemption are needed-and so I come to the Edge."
"You're religious?" she asked.
"Who is religious in these days?" Malhomme asked, shrugging. "Religion is of the past; it is dead. It is nearly forgotten, and one hears God's name spoken now in anger. God damn you, cry the masses! That is our modern religion!"
"Rene wanders around shouting about sin," Rynason explained, "so that he can take up collections to buy himself more to drink."
Malhomme chuckled. "Ah, Lee, you're shortsighted. I'm an unbeliever, and a black rogue, but at least I have a mission. Our scientific advance has destroyed religion; we've penetrated to the heavens, and found no God. But science has not disproved Him, either, and people forget that. I speak with the voice of the forgotten; I remind people of God, to even the scales." He stopped talking long enough to grab the arm of a passing waiter and order a drink. Then he turned back to them. "Nothing says I have to believe in religion. If that were necessary, no one would preach it."
"Have you been preaching to the Hirlaji?" Rynason asked.
"An admirable idea!" Malhomme said. "Do they have souls?"
"They have a god, at least. Or used to, anyway. Fellow named Kor, who was god, essence, knowledge, and several other things all rolled into one."
"Return to Kor!" Malhomme said. "Perhaps it will be my next mission."
"What's your mission now?" Mara asked, smiling in spite of herself. "Besides your apparently lifelong study and participation in sin, I mean."
Malhomme sighed and sat back as his drink arrived. He dug into the pouch strung from his waist and flipped a coin to the waiter. "Believe it or not, I have one," he said, and his voice was now low and serious. "I'm not just a lounger, a drifter."
"What are you?"
"I am a spy," he said, and raised his glass to drain half of it with one swallow.
Mara smiled again, but he didn't return it. He sat forward and turned to Rynason. "Manning has been busily wrapping up the appointment for the governorship here," he said. "You probably know that."
Rynason nodded. The headache he had been expecting was already starting.
"Did you also know that he's been buying men here to stand with him in case someone else is appointed?" He glanced at Mara. "I go among the men every day, talking, and I hear a lot. Manning will end up in control here, one way or another, unless he's stopped."
"Buying men is nothing new," Rynason said. "In any case, is there a better man on the planet?"
Malhomme shook his head. "I don't know; sometimes I give up on the human race. Manning at least has a little culture in him-but he's more vicious than he seems, nevertheless. If he gets control here...."
"It will be no worse than any of the other planets out here," Rynason concluded for him.
"Except for one thing, perhaps-the Hirlaji. I don't have much against men killing each other ... that's their own business. But unless we get somebody better than Manning governing here, the Hirlaji will be wiped out. The men here are already talking ... they're afraid of them."
"Why? The Hirlaji are harmless."
"Because of their size, and because we don't know anything about them. Because they're intelligent-any uneducated man is afraid of intelligence, and when it's an alien...." He shook his head. "Manning isn't helping the situation."
"What do you mean by that?" Mara asked.
Malhomme's frown deepened, creasing the dark lines of his forehead into furrows. "He's using the Hirlaji as bogey-men. Says he's the only man on the planet who knows how to deal with them safely. Oh, you should hear him when he moves among his people.... I envy his ability to control them with words. A little backslapping, a joke or two-most of them I was telling last year-and he talks to them man to man, very friendly." He shook his head again. "Manning is so friendly with this scum that his attitude is nothing short of patronizing."
Rynason smiled wearily at Malhomme; for all the man's wildness, he couldn't help liking him. It had been like this every time he had run into him, on a dozen of the Edge-worlds. Malhomme, dirty and cynical, moved among the dregs of the stars preaching religion and fighting the corporations, the opportunists, the phony rebels who wanted nothing for anyone but themselves. He had been known to break heads together with his huge fists, and he had no qualms about stealing or even killing when his anger was aroused. Yet there was a peculiar honesty about him.
"You always have to have a cause, don't you, Rene?"
The greying giant shrugged. "It makes life interesting, and it makes me feel good sometimes. But I don't overestimate myself: I'm scum, like the rest of them. The only difference is that I know it; I'm just one man, with no more rights than anyone else, except those I can take." He held up his large knuckled hands and turned them in front of his face. "I've got broken bones in both of them. I wonder if the Buddha or the Christ ever hit a man. The books on religion that are left in the repositories don't say."
"Would it make any difference if they hadn't?" Rynason asked.
"Hell, no! I'm just curious." Malhomme stood up, hefting his repentance sign in the crook of one big arm. His face again took on its arched look as he said, "My duty calls me elsewhere. But I leave you with a message from the scriptures, and it has been my guiding light. 'Resist not evil,' my children. Resist not evil."
"Who said that?" Rynason asked.
Malhomme shook his head. "Damned if I know," he muttered, and went away.
After a moment Rynason turned back to the girl; she was still watching Malhomme thread his way through the men on his way to the door.
"So now you've met my spiritual father," he said.
Her deep brown eyes flickered back to his. "I wish I could use a telepather on him. I'd like to know how he really thinks."
"He thinks exactly as he speaks," Rynason said. "At least, at the moment he says something, he believes in it."
She smiled. "I suppose that's the only possible explanation for him." She was silent for a moment, her face thoughtful. Then she said, "He didn't finish his drink."
"You're all hooked up," the girl said. "Nod or something when you're ready." She was bent over the telepather, double checking the connectives and the blinking meters. Rynason and Horng sat opposite each other, the huge dark mound of the alien looming silently over the Earthman.
He never seemed upset, Rynason thought, looking up at him. Except for that one time when they'd run into the stone wall of the block on Tebron, Horng had displayed a completely even temperament-unruffled, calm, almost disinterested. But of course if the aliens had been completely uninterested in the Earthmen's probings at their history they would never have cooperated so readily; the Hirlaji were not animals to be ordered about by the Earthmen. Probably the codification of their history would prove useful to the aliens too; they had never arranged the race memory into a very coherent order themselves.
Not that that was surprising, Rynason decided. The Hirlaji had no written language-their telepathic abilities had made that unnecessary-and organization of material into neatly outlined form was a characteristic as much of the Earth languages as of Terran mentality. Such organization was not a Hirlaji trait apparently, at least not now in the twilight of their civilization. The huge aliens lived dimly through these centuries, dreaming in their own way of the past ... and their way was not the Earthmen's.
So if they cooperated with the survey team on codifying and recording their history, who was the servant?
Well, with the direct linkage of minds the work should go faster. Rynason looked up at Mara and nodded, and she flicked the connection on the telepather.
Suddenly, like being overwhelmed by a breaking wave of seawater, Rynason felt Horng's mind envelope him. A torrent of thoughts, memories, pictures and concepts poured over him in a jumble; the sensory sensations of the alien came to him sharply, and memories that were strange, ideas that were incomprehensible, all in a sudden rush upon his mind. He fought down the fear that had leapt in him, gritted his teeth and waited for the wave to subside.
It did not subside; it settled. As the two minds, Earthman and Hirlaji, met in direct linkage they became almost one. Gradually Rynason could begin to see some pattern to the impressions of the alien. The picture of himself came first: he was small and angular, sitting several feet below Horng's-or his own-eyes; but more than that, he was not merely light, but pallid, not merely small, but fragile. The alien's view of reality, even through his direct sensations, was not merely visual or tactile but interpreted automatically in his own terms.
The odor of the hall in which they sat was different, the very temperature warmer. Rynason could see himself reeling on the stone bench where he sat, and Mara, strangely distorted, put out a hand to steady him. At the same time he was seeing through his own eyes, feeling her hand on his shoulder. But the alien sensations were stronger; their very strangeness commanded the attention of his mind.
He righted himself, physically and mentally, and began to probe tentatively in this new part of his mind. He could feel Horng too reaching slowly for contact; his presence was comfortable, mild, confused but unworried. As his thoughts blended with Horng's the present faded perceptibly; this confusion was merely a moment in centuries, and soon too it would pass. Rynason could feel himself relaxing.
Now he could reach out and touch the strange areas of this mind: the concepts and attitudes of an alien race and culture and experience. Everything became dim and dream-like: the Earthmen possibly didn't exist, the dry wastes of Hirlaj had always been here or perhaps once they had been green but through four generations the Large Hall had stood thus and the animals changed by the day too fast to distinguish them even under Kor if he should be reached ... why? there was no reason. There was no purpose, no goal, no necessity, no wishing, questing, hoping ... no curiosity. All would pass. All was passing even now; perhaps already it was gone.
Rynason shifted where he sat, reaching for the feeling of the stone bench beneath him for equilibrium, pulling out of Horng's thoughts and going back in almost immediately.
A chaos of mind enveloped him, but he was beginning to familiarize himself with it now. He probed slowly for the memories, down through Horng's own personal memories of three centuries, dry feet on the dust and low winds, down to the racial pool. And he found it.
Even knowing the outlines of the race's history did not help Rynason to place and correlate those impressions which came to him one on top of another, overlapping, merging, blending. He saw buildings which towered over him, masses of his people moving quietly around him, and thoughts came to him from their minds. He was Norhib, artisan, working slowly day by ... he was Rashanah, approaching the Gate of the Wall and looking ... he was Lohreen discussing the site where ... he was digging the ground, pushing the heavy cart, lying on the pelt of animals, demolishing the building which would soon fall, instructing a child in balance.
A dirt-caked street stretched before him by night, the stones individually cut and smooth with the passage of heavy feet. "Tomorrow we will set out for the Region of Chalk while there is still time." A mind-voice from a Hirlaji hundreds, perhaps thousands of years old, dead but alive in the race-memory. Rynason could feel the whole personality there, in the memories, but he passed on.
"Murba has said that the priests will take him."
"There is no need for planting this year ... the soil is dry. There is no purpose."
"The child's mind is ready for war."
He felt Horng himself watching him, beside him or behind him ... nearby, anyway. The alien heard and saw with him, and stayed with him like a protector. Rynason felt his presence warmly: the calm of the alien continued to relax him. Old leather mother-hen, he thought, and Horng beside him seemed almost amused.
Suddenly he was Tebron.
Tebron Marl, prince in the Region of Mines, young and strong and ambitious. Rynason caught and held those impressions; he felt the muscles ripple strangely through his body as Tebron stretched, felt the cold wind of the flat cut through his loose garment. It was night, and he stood on the parapet of a heavy stone structure looking down across the immense stretch of the Flat, spotted here and there by lights. He controlled all this land, and would control more....
He was Tebron again, marching across the Flat at the head of an army. Metal weapons hung at the sides of his men, crudely fashioned bludgeons and jagged-edged swords, all quickly forged in the workshops of the Region of Mines. The babble of mind voices swelled around him, fear and anger and boredom, dull resentment, and other emotions Rynason could not identify. They were marching on the City of the Temple....
He slipped sideways in Tebron's mind, and suddenly he was in the middle of the battle. There was dust all around, kicked up by the scuffling feet of the huge warriors, and his breath came in gasps. Mind-voices shouted and screamed but he paid no attention; he swung his bludgeon over his head with a ferocity that made it whistle with a low sound in the wind. One of the defenders broke through the line around him, and he brought the bludgeon smashing down at him before he could thrust with his sword; the warrior fell to one side at the last moment and took the blow along one arm. He could feel the pain in his own mind, but he ignored it. Before the warrior could bring up his sword again Tebron crushed his head with the bludgeon, and the scream of pain in his own head disappeared. He heard the grunting and gasps of his own warriors and the clash of bodies and weapons around him....
The Hirlaji could not really be moving so quickly, Rynason thought; it must be that to Tebron it seemed so. They were quiet, slow-moving creatures. Or had they degenerated physically through the centuries? Still smelling the sweat of battle, he found Tebron's mind again.
There was still fighting in the city, but it was far away now; he heard it with the back of his mind as he mounted the steps of the Temple. Those were mop-up operations, clearing the streets of the last of the priest-king forces; he was not needed there. He had, to all intents, controlled the city since the night before, and had slept in the palace itself. Now it was time for the Temple.
He mounted the heavy, steep steps slowly, three guards at his back and three in front of him. The priests would be gone from the Temple, but there might be one or two last-ditch defenders remaining, and they would be armed with the Weapons of Kor ... hand-weapons which shot dark beams that could disintegrate anything in their path. They would be dangerous. Well, there would be no temple-guards in the inner court; his own men could remain outside to take care of them while he went in.
He stopped halfway up the steps and lifted his head to gaze up at the Temple walls rising above him. They were solid stone, built in the fashion of the Old Ones ... smooth-faced except for the carvings above the entrance itself. They too were in the traditional style, copied exactly from the older buildings which had been built thousands of years ago, before the Hirlaji had even developed telepathy. The symbols of Kor ... so now at last he saw them.
Tomorrow he would effect a mass-linkage of minds and broadcast his orders for reconstruction. That would mean staying up all night preparing the communication, for it was impossible to maintain complete planet-wide linkage for too long and Tebron had many plans. Perhaps it would be possible to find a way to extend the duration of mass-linkages if the science quest could be pushed forward fast enough.
But that was tomorrow's problem-today, right now, it was right that he enter the Temple. It was not only symbolic of his assumption of power, but necessary religiously: every new ruler leader within the memory of the race had received sanction from Kor first.
A momentary echo-whisper of another mind touched his, and he whirled to his right to see one of the temple-guards in the shadows; he had been unable to successfully shield his thoughts. Tebron dropped to the ground and sent a quick, cool order to his own guards: "Kill him." The heavy, dark warriors stepped forward as the guard tried to shrink back further into the shadows. He was trapped.
But not unarmed. As he dropped to the steps and rolled quickly to one side Tebron heard the low vibration of a disintegrator beam pass over his shoulder and the crack of the wall behind him as it struck. And then the guards were on the warrior in the shadows.
They had brought down several of the temple-guards the night before, and commandeered their weapons. In a matter of moments this one fell too, his head and most of his trunk gone. One of the warriors shoved the half-carcass down the stairs, and bent forward at the knees to pick up his fallen weapon.
So now they had all fourteen of them; if any more of the temple-guards remained they could be dealt with easily. Tebron rose from the steps and wished momentarily that those weapons could be duplicated; if his whole army could be equipped with them.... But after today that would probably be unnecessary; the entire planet was his now.
He walked up the last few steps and stepped into the shadows of the Temple of Kor....
The walls melted around him and Rynason felt his mind wrenched painfully. There was a screaming all through him, thin and high, blotting out the contact he had held with Tebron's mind. It was Horng's scream, beside him, overpowering. Terror washed over him; he tried to fight it but he couldn't. The shadows of the walls twisted and faded, Tebron's thoughts disappeared, and all that remained was the screaming and the fear, like a mouth open wide against his ear and hot breath shouting into him. He felt his stomach turn and nausea and vertigo threw him panting out of Tebron's mind.
Yet Horng was still beside him in the darkness, and as the echoes faded he felt him there ... alien, but calm. There had been fear in this huge alien mind, but it had disappeared almost immediately with the breaking of the connection with Tebron. All that remained in Horng's mind now was a dull quietness.
Rynason felt a rueful grin on his face, and he said, perhaps aloud and perhaps not, "You haven't forgotten what happened here, old leather. The memories are there, all right."