"This is getting me nowhere," Jorak hissed. "You're making me look like a fool, Earthsmith." Perspiration bathed the purple face, stained the sides of Jorak's tunic darkly.
And then he smiled. Smith felt giddy, hardly could keep his legs under him, yet hardly had Jorak touched him. Then the man of Gyra was using his psi-powers, despite the sanction. Oddly, Smith felt detached from it all. Let him use his powers then--that would end it. Let him....
"Fight back, Smith!" Geria cried.
Jorak's powers were not like the woman's. He could induce giddiness, yes, but not in any overpowering quantities. Smith swayed foolishly, tipped first to left, then to right, stood for a moment with arms at sides. Jorak rushed upon him and struck out with both fists, and Smith stumbled back half a dozen steps, crashed into a pair of struggling figures, was dimly aware that both fell.
Jorak came on, cocky, confident, and Smith rocked for a moment on the balls of his feet. Once and once only he lashed out with his right arm, smeared Jorak's nose flat against his face. Jorak toppled backward and fell, writhing.
Smith looked around him, panting. The other contestants ceased their struggles, and the instructor said: "Someone has used psi. I don't know who, but someone--"
Jorak pointed weakly, said, "Earthsmith!"
"Snap judgment," the instructor admitted. "Your word only. Still, you alone were bested, Jorak of Gyra--and, hah, that makes twice, doesn't it?"
"Once with psi," said Jorak.
"I ought to know what hit me! He held me rigid, I tell you, and then he struck me. What could I do? I ask you, what?"
Smith knew that the instructor could read minds--with limitations. He knew the psi-power had been used, but he did not know who had used it.
Jorak wiped the blood from his face with the back of one hand. "Listen," he confided, "Earthsmith is a savage, really and truly, of the planet Earth. Terribly barbaric. Obviously, he'd have no compunctions against dirty fighting."
"Well--" said the instructor.
"There's only one thing wrong with all this," Smith told him. "Nobody on Earth uses psi-power."
Jorak slapped his hand against the mat. "Then you admit that there are psi-powers on Earth?"
"Yes," Smith said. "There are psi-powers on Earth." Things were happening to Smith. He felt vague stirrings inside of him, and he dampered them.
"There. He admits it," Jorak said. "The men of Earth are not without their psi-powers, and Smith or Earthsmith--I still don't know the barbarian's name--used them on me." He shook his fist. "You just can't trust these barbarians."
The instructor still did not seem sure of himself, but there were angry mutterings in the crowd, and the albino woman who had almost but not quite joined the fighters said, "Let me try a fall with him. Probably I would lose, but we of Nugat can perceive the psi-powers readily."
Smith stormed away from her, felt hot anger rushing through him. "I wouldn't fight with a woman."
Jorak taunted, "He's afraid she'll discover--"
"Nothing! I'm afraid of nothing, Jorak. I just won't fight a woman." He was shouting now, and he couldn't help it. Again, there was the odd feeling that part of his mind at least stood away from all this, observing, shaking its head and telling him to curb his temper.
A hand lay heavily on his shoulder, big gnarled, orange. "Kard of Shilon would like a fall with you, Earthsmith of Earth. Perhaps I am not as subtle as the woman from Nugat, but still I think I could tell."
The instructor nodded, and Kard spun Smith around, kept him spinning with a short chopping blow to his jaw. Smith hardly felt it. But something told him deep inside his whirling brain to fall, fall, fall--and the faintest shadow of a smile flickered across Jorak's lips.
Win or lose--what was the difference? Those who could would feel the psi-powers, and Smith would be their man.
By crotch and collar he caught the huge man of Shilon, lifted him. Kard's arms and legs flailed air, helplessly. He bellowed as Smith began to whirl, slowly at first, but then faster. Up he raised the great orange hulk, held it aloft on outstretched arms for one moment--hurled it.
Arms and legs still flailing wildly, Kard struck the mat, seemed almost to bounce, landed in a heap atop Jorak.
Geria jumped up and down delightedly, but the woman of Nugat scowled. "Psi," she said. "I felt it."
"As did I," admitted the instructor. "Faintly. Smith of Earth--"
"Don't tell me you didn't see me use my arms then, just my arms?"
"Kard appeared awful helpless--"
"I felt the psi," said the woman of Nugat.
"And I," a man agreed.
"As I said," Jorak declared smugly, "when you bring a barbarian to the school you must expect barbarous behavior. Oh well," he stifled a yawn, "I'll get my nose fixed, of course, but this sort of thing could continue. Unpleasant, is it not?"
The instructor nodded slowly, dismissed class.
"Did you or didn't you, Smith?"
"What do you think, Geria?"
"I'd say no, but I did feel the psi when you threw Kard."
"That was Jorak--and he used it on me."
"Not very strong then, because I remember how readily I--"
"Look, Geria. What's the difference? They've made up their minds, and I can't do a thing about it. I didn't use the psi, I can tell you that and you'll believe me. But it doesn't matter, really. They're convinced. What happens next?"
The woman of Bortinot frowned. "I don't know. They could expel you possibly. You forget I'm new at the school, too. Let's forget all about it. You will, anyway, in dream empathy."
It was easy for her to say that, but Smith couldn't forget. The more he had tried to convince them he had not employed the psi-power, could not employ it, the more they thought that he did. He was of Earth--primitive by their standards, a barbarian. They had said so. Culture had leaped past Earth in all directions, had leaped so far that he could not even recognize it as such, had encompassed the stars and broad new concepts as big as the parsecs of space between the stars. How could he understand--ever?
Or was there anything to understand? If he could take everything at its face value, if he could trust his own judgment, this was not culture at all. But he had forgotten again: his judgment didn't matter. He was being judged, not the school.
"--be strictly a neophyte in dream empathy," Geria was saying. "But not me. I've had my share of it on Bortinot, and they'll be pairing us off, experienced and novice. I'll take you as a partner if you'd like, Smith."
"You bet I'd like it!" He felt genuinely cheerful again, quite suddenly. Geria was the one bright spot at the school, and at least he had that. And yet there was something he could not remember, something pushing against the fringes of consciousness, and it concerned Geria. What actually had happened yesterday on the crags? He could remember, remember--but he couldn't at all, not really, and somehow he knew that the most important item of all remained tantalizingly close, yet just beyond his immediate reach.
He said, "Just what is this dream empathy?"
"Now you are joking."
"No. I don't know a thing about it."
"What do you people of Earth do for entertainment?"
"Well, we talk, or we dance, or we play games, ride horses, take walks in the country, see a show--anything anyone else does, I guess."
"No one else does any of that, because d.e.'s a lot better. You know anything about dreams, Smith?"
"A little. Very little. They've always been something of a mystery on Earth."
"Well, do you read or watch the telios on Earth?"
"Of course. But it's strictly local stuff on Earth. That's why I'm here."
"Well, if it's fiction, why do you read?"
"Excitement I guess. Interest, suspense. I watch the hero, I struggle with him, succeed when he does if the book's a good one--"
"Exactly. You go into empathy with him. Smith--how would you like to do that--with me?"
"Take a dream. I dream it, not you. It's a good one, under control. A vivid dream, more real than life itself in a lot of ways, emotions highlighted, maintained, increased--and exactly what I want to dream because I know we'll both like it.
"I dream it, not you. But you feel it with me. You grow tired of your own thoughts, so you switch in on someone else's. Control there. Gorgeous dreams, fantastic dreams, even horrible ones, if both would like it. Complete empathy--in a dream world.
"Then later, when you're experienced, you dream and I emp. How does it sound, Smith?"
He smiled. "Not much privacy. But I'd be a liar if I said I wouldn't want to take a peek at your dreams, Geria. It sounds fine."
Geria laughed softly, a lilting feminine sound. "It's a little more private than that, provided I know what I'm doing. There's a control. I can dream what I want, and can restrict it. You'll see."
Smith very much wanted to see. Almost, he forgot about Jorak and the psi-power. But briefly in his mind he saw the black uniformed giant from Wortan, felt again the flailing Kard raised high overhead, saw accusation in the woman of Nugat's eyes....
They lay on two adjacent couches, Smith and the woman of Bortinot. A bare cubicle of a room with just the two couches in it. A door, now closed, led into a room in which they had received their instructions. But Smith hardly had listened. Geria knew the game well enough, and he'd let it go at that. The rasping voice of the female instructor had annoyed him, anyway, but he noticed that she was a woman of Bortinot, not beautiful like Geria, but of her planet nonetheless.
"Psi-powers again," Geria told him. "Hypnotism and telepathy mostly. You'll see...."
Something which looked like a candle-flame seen through a long dark tube flickered from the ceiling. It came closer, steadied, flickered no more. Smith couldn't draw his eyes away from it.
"You're asleep," Geria told him, matter-of-factly.
He was. Not really, because in sleep there was a lack of awareness. But he could not move and everything was dark and he could only think.
He felt nothing. Absolutely nothing. A mind without a body, in complete darkness. The tingle of awareness which you hardly regard as such because it always is with you was gone. Nothing.
And then it returned. He felt his heart beating again. His ear itched and he scratched it. He shifted his left arm which had fallen asleep.
Oddly, the ceiling light had moved. It had been just to the right of center--now it was just to the left, flickering again, retreating. It was gone.
He turned over on his left side, sleepily, contentedly--on the brink of real sleep. Geria knew what she was doing. He'd rest. He looked--at his own sleeping figure!
Madness toyed with the edges of his mind, gained inroads, made him look again. The silent figure to his left--himself. He raised his hands, felt the hair, long, flowing, billowing about his head--looked down, could see the gentle rounded rise of breast.
A voice nibbled at consciousness, repeated itself, became clearer, laughing: "We will go to sleep now, Smith. How does it feel to be here with me? Let's dream. Dream--"
The voice reassured, and Smith-Geria relaxed, slept.
He, Geria of Bortinot--really she, then--stood on a hill. A weathered hill and aged, on a frigid world where winds of winter raged and howled and battered mountains into submissive mounds. Fearful place, grim and almost dead it was--and yet he liked it. Smiling, he stood atop the hill and bade the tempest strike. The winds hurled him headlong and he stumbled, but he felt elated, wild and free, part of the elements that did battle there in that country of the weathered hills. And there were others and they were men. They came up the hill and they tried to take him in their arms, strong men and fair, but he ran laughing with the wind. His identity faded in that wind, was torn to tatters by it--left only was Geria of Bortinot, her feelings, her thoughts, but his awareness.
She stumbled, fell, turned over and over, much too slowly. Winds still howled, but above her here at hill's bottom. Wraiths of fog swirled in eddying gusts, came closer and faded, appeared again and swept away.
She cried a name because the fog brought her an image and the name and the image were one. "Smith of Earth, of Earth, of Earth...." And he came to her, this image, on a charger, an animal much too thick through the shoulders to be a horse, with three pairs of legs. Low out of saddle he leaned, graceful, handsome bald head pink with excitement. He clutched at her, lifted her through the mists, above them. The six-legged horse soared high, above the hills, above the winds, carried her higher and higher. Smith stroked her yellow hair, kissed her. She tingled....
"Wake up Smith! Up, come on now, the class is over for today."
He stirred. The dream--Gods of Earth, what a dream!
"Well, how'd you like it? See what I mean about dream empathy, Smith? Beats everything, doesn't it?"
Smith hardly heard her. They say dreams fulfill wishes, they say--and what was it Geria had dreamed? Suddenly, it was very important to Smith, terribly important, more important than anything, because he remembered, without knowing how or why, what had happened yesterday on the crags.
"Geria," he said. He tried to make his voice soft, but it boomed loudly, almost startled her.
"What's the matter?"
"Nothing. Why nothing is the matter. You remember yesterday on the crag, Geria?"
"And your dream--Geria?"
Again, the casual nod.
"Geria, I--I love you. I think I want to marry you. I think--"
He stopped. She looked at him for what seemed a long time but really was only a few seconds, and then she grinned. There was nothing malicious about it, Smith knew, just a grin. It spread, and the woman of Bortinot began to laugh. Softly at first, but soon she was laughing very hard and Smith felt foolish. He wanted very much to be out of there, any place but in that room, but he did not know for sure that he knew how to operate the door.
"Oh, Smith, Smith," she said, "if you could see yourself now. But I suppose I deserve it. I planted the suggestion, you fought it, now you're pretending. All right, I admit defeat. But stop now; you should see your face."
Serious. She was serious. She thought he was joking. Post-suggestively you tried to get someone to do something--anything, and it was very very funny if they did. Funnier yet if they didn't, because then they beat you at your own game, made fun of you, laughed at you, but eventually with you. Of course it was like that, let her think it was like that.