And in Horng he heard the whisper of distrust, of fear, and the echoes of that hatred which had struck at him once before. But they were in the background; all around him here on the surface was a pervading feeling of ... uselessness, resignation, almost of unreality. The calm which he had noted before in Horng had been shaken and turned, and in its place was this fog of hopelessness.
Tentatively, Rynason reached for the racial memories in that grey mind, feeling Horng's own consciousness heavy beside him. He found them, layers of thoughts of unknown aliens still alive here, the pictures and sounds of thousands of years past. He probed among them, looking again for the memories of Tebron ... and found what he was searching for.
He was Tebron, marching across that vast Flat which he had seen before, the winds alive around him among the shuffling feet of his army. He felt the muscles of his massive legs tight with weariness, and tasted the dryness of the air as he drew in long gasps. He was still hours from the City, but they would rest before dawn....
Rynason turned among those memories, moving forward in them, and was aware of Horng watching him. There was still the wariness in his mind, and a stir of anxiety, but it was blanketed by the tired hopelessness he had seen. He reached further in the memories, and....
The temple-guard fell in the shadows, and one of his own warriors stepped forward to retrieve his weapon. The remains of the guard's body rolled down three, four, five of the steps of the Temple, and stopped. His eyes lingered on that body for only a moment, and then he turned and went up to the entrance.
There was a moaning of pain, or of fright, rising somewhere in his head; he was only partly aware of it. He walked into the shadows of the doorway and paused. But only for a moment: there was no movement inside, and he stepped forward, down one step into the interior.
Screams echoed through the halls and corridors of the Temple-high and piercing, growing in volume as they echoed, buffeting him almost into unconsciousness. He knew they were from Horng, but he fought them, watching his own steps across the dark inner room. He was Tebron Marl, king priest ruler of all Hirlaj, in the Temple of Kor, and he could feel the stone solid beneath his feet. Sweat broke out on his back-his own, or Tebron's? But he was Tebron, and he fought the blast of fear in his mind as though it were a battle for his very identity. He was Tebron.
The screaming faded, and he stood in silence before the Altar of Kor.
So this is the source, he thought. For how many days had he fought toward this? It was useless to remember; the muscles of his body were remembrance enough, and the scar-tissue that hindered the movement of one shoulder. If he remembered those battles he would again hear the fading echoes of enemy minds dying within his, and he had had enough of that. This was the goal, and it was his; perhaps there need be no more such killing.
He opened his mouth and spoke the words which he had learned so many years before, during his apprenticeship in the Region of Mines. The rituals of the Temple were always conducted in the ancient spoken language; Kor demanded it, and only the priest-caste knew these words, for they were so old that their form had changed almost completely even by the time his people had developed telepathy and discarded speech; they were not communicated to the rest of the people.
"I am Tebron Marl, king priest leader of all Hirlaj. I await your orders guidance."
He knelt, according to ritual, and gazed up at the altar. The Eye of Kor blinked there, a small circle of light in the dark room. The altar was simple but massive; its heavy columns, built upon the traditional lines, supported the weight of the Eye. He watched its slow waxing and waning, and waited; within him, Rynason's mind stirred.
And Kor spoke.
Remain motionless. Do not go forward.
He felt a child as a wave of sensitivity spread through all of his skin and his organs sped for a moment. Then it was true: in the Temple of Kor, the god leader really did speak.
"I await further words."
The Eye held his gaze almost hypnotically in the dimness. The voice sounded in the huge arched room. The sciences quests of your race lead you to extinction. The knowledge words offered to me by your priests make it clear that within a hundred years your race will leave its planet. You must not go forward, for that way lies the extermination of all your race.
His mind swam; this was not what he had expected. The god leader Kor had always aided his people in their sciences; in the knowledge word offerings they reported to the Eye the results of their studies, and often, if asked properly, the god leader would clarify uncertainties which they faced. But now he ordered an ending to research quests. This was unthinkable! Knowledge was godhood; godhood was knowledge, of the essence; the essence was knowing understanding. To him, to his people, it was a unity-and now that unity repudiated itself. Faintly in the darkness somewhere he again heard screaming.
"Are we to abandon all progress? Are the stars so dangerous?"
The concept wish of progress must die within your people. There must be no purpose in any field of knowledge. You must remain motionless, consolidate what you have, and live in peace. The Eye in the dimness seemed larger and brighter the longer he looked at it; all else in the echoing room was darkness. The stars are not dangerous, but there is a race which rises with you, and it rises more rapidly. Should you expand into the stars you will only meet that race sooner, and they will be stronger. They are more warlike than your people; already you are capable of peace, and that must be your aim. Remain on your world; consolidate; cultivate the fruits of your civilization as it is, but do not go forward. In that way, you will have five thousand years before that race finds you, and if you are no threat to them they will not destroy you.
He felt a rising anger in him as the god leader's words came to him in the dark room, and a fear that lay deeper. He was a warrior, and a quester ... how could he give up all such pursuits, and how could he be expected to force all his people to do the same? There would be no hope wish of advance, no curiosity ... no purpose.
"Is this other race so much more advanced than we are?" he asked.
He heard a low humming from the altar and the Eye grew brighter again. They are not so much ahead of you now ... but they are more warlike, and will therefore develop more quickly. In both your races, war is a quest which you use as a release for what is in you. Your sciences questings and your wars are the same thing ... you must suppress both. They are discontentment, and you will find that only in peace, if at all.
He dipped his head to one side, a gesture of acquiescence or agreement. He couldn't argue with the god leader Kor, and he had been wrong even to think of it.
"How am I to suppress the race? Is it possible to convince each of them of the necessity for abandoning forgetting all questing?"
The Eye hummed, and grew brighter against the darkness of the carved wall behind it, but it was some time before Kor spoke again. It would be impossible to convince every one. The reasons must be kept from them, and kept from the shared memories; you must not communicate my knowledge words in any way. Consolidate your power, force peace upon them and lead them into acceptance. The knowledge questing can be made to die within them. Remember that there will be no purpose ... in that they must find contentment.
The king priest leader of all Hirlaj waited a moment, and was ready to rise and leave when the Eye spoke again.
You must abolish the priesthood. The knowledge which I have given to you must die when you die.
He waited for a long time in the dim, suddenly cold hall for the god leader to speak again, then slowly rose and walked to the door, the image of the Eye of Kor still bright in his vision. He stopped outside the doorway, hearing the soft wind of the city flowing slowly past the stone archway above him. One of his guards reached out and touched his mind tentatively, but he blocked his thoughts and strode heavily down the steps past them.
The sound of the wind above him rose to a screaming, and suddenly it was as though he were tumbling down the entire length of the stairway, fragments of sky and stone and faces flashing past in a kaleidoscope, and the screaming all around him. He almost reached for his bludgeon, but then he realized that he was not Tebron Marl ... he was Lee Rynason, and the screaming was Horng and he was being driven out of those thoughts, tumbling through a thousand memories so fast he could not grasp any one of them.
He withdrew from Horng's mind as though from a nightmare; he became aware of his own body, lying in the dust of Hirlaj, and he opened his eyes and motioned weakly to Mara to break the connection.
When she had done so he slowly sat up and shook his head, waiting for it to clear. For awhile he had been an ancient king of Hirlaj, and it took some time to return to the present, to his own consciousness. He was dimly aware of Mara kneeling beside him, but he couldn't make out her words at first.
"Are you all right? Are you sure? Look up at me, Lee, please."
He found himself nodding to reassure her, and then he saw the expression on her face and felt the last wisps of alien fog clearing from his mind. There were tears in her eyes, and he touched the side of her face with his hand and said, "I'm all right. But why don't you kiss me or something?"
She did, but before Rynason could really immerse himself in it she broke away and said, "You must have had a bad time with him! It was as though you were dead."
He grinned a trifle sheepishly and said, "Well, it was engrossing. You'd better unhook the beast; he had a bad time of it too."
Mara rose and removed the wires from Horng gingerly. Rynason remained sitting; some of the meaning of what he had just experienced was coming to him now. It certainly explained why the Hirlaji had suddenly passed from their war era into lasting peace, and why the memories had been blocked. But could he credit those memories of a voice of an alien god?
And sitting in the dust at the edge of the vast Hirlaj plain the full realization came to him, as it could not when he had been Tebron. Not only the Temple, but the Altar of Kor itself had been unmistakably the workmanship of the Outsiders.
They left Horng sitting dully at the edge of the Flat and retraced their steps through the Hirlaji ruins, still drawing no notice from the aliens. Rynason had been in some of the small planetfall towns where settlements had been established only to be abandoned by the main flow of interstellar traffic ... those backwater areas where contact with the parent civilization was so slight that an entirely local culture had developed, almost as different from that of the mainstream Terran colonies as was this last vestige of the Hirlaji civilization. And in some of those areas interest in Earth was so slight that the offworlders were ignored, as the Earthmen were here ... but he had never felt the total lack of attention that was here. It was not as though the Hirlaji had seen the Earthmen and grown used to them; Rynason had the feeling that to the Hirlaji the Earthmen were no more important than the winds or the dust beneath their feet.
As they passed through the settled portion of the ruins Rynason had to step around a Hirlaji who crossed his path. He walked silently past, his eyes not even flickering toward the Earthlings. Crazy grey hidepiles, Rynason thought, and he and Mara hurried out across the Flat toward the nearby Earth town.
On the outskirts of the town, where the packed-dirt streets faded into loose dust and garbage was already piled several feet high, they were met by Rene Malhomme. He sat long-legged with his back leaning against a weathered stone outcropping. He seemed old already, though he was not yet fifty; his windblown hair was almost the color of the surrounding grey dust and rock-perhaps because it was filled with that dust, Rynason thought. He stopped and looked down at the worn, tired man whose eyes belied that weariness.
"And have you communicated with God, Lee Rynason?" Malhomme asked with his rumbling, sardonic voice.
Rynason met his gaze, wondering what he wanted. He lowered the telepather pack from his shoulder and set it in the dust. Mara sat on a low rock beside him.
"Will an alien god do?" Rynason said.
Malhomme's eyes rested on the telepather for a moment. "You spoke with Kor?" he asked.
Rynason nodded slowly. "I made a linkage with one of the Hirlaji, and tapped the race-memory. I suppose you could say I spoke with Kor."
"You have touched the alien godhead," Malhomme mused. "Then it's real? Their god is real?"
"No," said Rynason. "Kor is a machine."
Malhomme's head jerked up. "A machine? Deus ex machina, to quote an ancient curse. We make our own machines, and make gods of them." The tired lines of his face relaxed. "Well, that's a bit better. The gods remain a myth, and it's better that way."
Rynason stood over him on the windy Flat, still puzzled by his manner. He glanced at Mara, but she too was watching Malhomme, waiting for him to speak again.
Suddenly, Malhomme laughed, a dry laugh which almost rasped in his throat. "Lee Rynason, I have called men to God for so long that I almost began to believe it myself. And when the men started talking about the god of these aliens...." He shook his head, the spent laughter still drawing his mouth back into a grin. "Well, I'm glad it isn't true. Religion wouldn't be worth a damn if it were true."
"How did the men find out about Kor?" Rynason asked.
Malhomme spread his hands. "Manning has been talking, as usual. He ridicules the Hirlaji, and their god. And at the same time he says they are a menace."
"Why? Is he still trying to work the townsmen up against them?"
"Of course. Manning wants all the power he can get. If it means sacrificing the Hirlaji, he'll do it." Malhomme stood up, stretching himself. "He says they may be the Outsiders, and he's stirring up all the fear he can. He'll grab any excuse, no matter how impossible."
"It's not so impossible," Rynason said. "Kor is an Outsiders machine."
Malhomme stared at him. "You're sure of that?"
He nodded. "There's no doubt of it-I saw it from three feet away." He told Malhomme of his linkage with Horng, the contact with the memories, the mind, Tebron, and of the interview with the machine that was Kor. Malhomme listened with fascination, his shaggy head tilted to one side, occasionally throwing in a comment or a question.
As he finished, Rynason said, "That race that Kor warned them about sounds remarkably like us. A warlike race that would crush them if they left the planet. We haven't found any other intelligent life ... just the Hirlaji, and us."
"And the Outsiders," said Malhomme.
"No. This was a race which was still growing from barbarism, at about the same level as the Hirlaji themselves. Remember, the Outsiders had already spread through a thousand star-systems long before this. No, we're the race they were warned against."
"What about the weapons?" Malhomme said. "Disintegrators. We haven't got anything that powerful that a man can carry in his hand. And yet the Hirlaji had them thousands of years ago."
"Yes, but for some reason they couldn't duplicate them. It doesn't make sense: those weapons were apparently beyond the technological level of the Hirlaji, but they had them."
"Perhaps your aliens were the Outsiders," Malhomme said. "Perhaps we see around us the remnants of a great race fallen."
Rynason shook his head.
"But they must have had some contact with the Outsiders," Mara said. "Sometime even before Tebron's lifetime. The Outsiders could have left the disintegrators, and the machine that they thought was a god...."
"That's just speculation," Rynason said. "Tebron himself didn't really know where they'd come from; they'd been passed down through the priesthood for a long time, and within the priesthood they did have some secrets. I suppose if I could search the race-memory long enough I might find another nice big block there hiding that secret. But it's difficult."
"And you may not have time," Malhomme said. "When Manning hears that the Altar of Kor was an Outsiders machine, there'll be no way left to stop him from slaughtering the Hirlaji."
"I'm not sure there'll be any real trouble," Rynason said.
Malhomme's lips drew back into the deep lines of his face. "There is always trouble. Always. Whoever or whatever spoke through the machine knew that much about us. The only way you could stop it, Lee, would be to hold back this information from Manning. And to do that, you would have to be sure, yourself, that there is no danger from the Hirlaji. You're in the key position, right now."
Rynason frowned. He knew Malhomme was right-it would be difficult to stop Manning if what he'd said about the man's push for power was true. But could he be sure that the Hirlaji were as harmless as they seemed? He remembered the reassuring touch of Horng's mind upon his own, the calmness he found in it, and the resignation ... but he also remembered the fear, and the screaming, and the hot rush of anger that had touched him.
In the silence on the edge of the Flat, Mara spoke. "Lee, I think you should report it all to Manning."
Her face was clouded. "I'm not sure. But ... when I disconnected the wires of the telepather, Horng looked at me.... Have you ever looked into his eyes, up close? It's frightening: it makes you remember how old they are, and how strong. Lee, that creature has muscles in his face as strong as most men's arms!"
"He just looked at you?" said Rynason. "Nothing else?"
"That's all. But those eyes ... they were so deep, and so full. You don't usually notice them, because they're set so deeply in the shadows of his face, but his eyes are large." She stopped, and shook her head in confusion. "I can't really explain it. When I moved around him to the other side, I could see his eyes following me. He didn't move, otherwise-it was as though only his eyes were alive. But they frightened me. There was much more in them than just ... not seeing, or not caring. His eyes were alive."
"That's not much evidence to make you think the Hirlaji are dangerous."
"Oh, I don't know if they could be dangerous. But they're not just ... passive. They're not vegetables. Not with those eyes."
"All right," Rynason said. "I'll give Manning a full report, and we'll put it in his hands."
He picked up the telepather pack and slung it over his shoulder. Mara stood up, shaking away the dust which had blown against her feet.
"What will you do," Malhomme asked, "if Manning decides that's enough cause to kill the Hirlaji?"
"I'll stop him," Rynason said. "He's not in control here, yet."
Malhomme flashed his sardonic smile again. "Perhaps not ... but if you need help, call to God. The books say nothing about alien races, but surely these must be God's creatures too. And I'm always ready to break a few heads, if it will help." He turned and spat into the dust. "Or even just for the hell of it," he said.
Rynason found Manning that same afternoon, going over reports in his quarters. As soon as he began his description of the orders given to Tebron he found that Malhomme's warnings had been correct.
"What did this machine say about us?" Manning asked sharply. "Why were the Hirlaji supposed to stay away from us?"
"Because we're a warlike race. The idea was that if the Hirlaji stayed out of space they'd have about five thousand years before we found them."
"How long ago was all this? I had your report here...."
"At least eight thousand years," Rynason said. "They overestimated us."
Manning stood up, scowling. There were heavy lines around his eyes and he hadn't trimmed his thin beard. Whatever he was working on, Rynason thought, he was putting a lot of effort into it.
"This doesn't make sense, Lee. Damn it, since when do machines make guesses? Wrong ones, at that?"
Rynason shrugged. "Well, you've got to remember that this was an alien machine; maybe that's the way they built them."
Manning threw a cold glance at him and poured a glass of Sector Three brandy for himself. "You're not being amusing," he said shortly. "Now, go on, and make some sense."
"I'd like to," Rynason said. "Frankly, my theory is that the machine was a communication-link with the Outsiders. It could explain a lot of things-maybe even the similarities in architecture."
Manning scowled and turned away from him. He paced heavily across the room and looked out through the plasticene window at the nearly empty, dust-strewn street for a few moments; when he returned the frown was still on his face.
"Damn it, Lee, you're not keeping your mind on the problems here. While you were looking into Horng's mind, how do you know he wasn't spying in yours? You had an equal hookup, right?"
Rynason nodded. "I couldn't have prevented him in any case. Why? Are we supposed to be hiding anything?"