realize, unless you join my cause.”
“Or you mine,” Flandry said.
“And each of your men who might know something I would like to learn is
likewise screened against me. Does not that apparatus on their heads
make sleep difficult? I warn you in any case, wear the things not
overmany days at a stretch. Even for a race like yours, it is ill to
keep the brain walled off from those energies which inspirit the
universe, behind a screen of forces that themselves must roil your
“I see no reason for us to stay.”
Aycharaych inhaled from his glass. He had not touched the liquor yet. “I
would be happy for your company,” he said. “But I understand. The
consciousness that dreary death will in a few more decades fold this
brightly checkered game board whereon you leap and capture–that keeps
you ever in haste.”
He leaned back, gazed out at a tree turned into a jewel by icicles, and
was quiet awhile. Flandry reached for a cigarette, remembered the
Chereionite disliked tobacco smoke, and soothed himself with a swallow.
“It may be the root of your greatness as a race,” Aycharaych mused.
“Could a St. Matthew Passion have welled from an immortal Bach? Could a
Rembrandt who knew naught of sorrow and had no need for steadfastness in
it have brought those things alive by a few daubs of paint? Could a Tu
Fu free of loss have been the poet of dead leaves flying amidst snow,
cranes departing, or an old parrot shabby in its cage? What depth does
the foreknowledge of doom give to your loves?”
He turned his head to face the man. His tone lightened: “Well. Now that
poor mortified Tachwyr is gone–most mightily had he looked forward to
the sauce which gloating would put on his dinner!–we can talk freely.
How did you deduce the truth?”
“Part hunch,” Flandry confessed. “The more I thought about that message,
the more suggestions of your style I found. Then logic took over. Plain
to see, the Merseians had some ulterior motive in asking for a
conference as nugatory per se as this. It could be just a signal to us,
and an attempt at sounding out Molitor’s prospective regime a bit. But
for those purposes it was clumsy and inadequate. And why go to such
trouble to bring me here?
“Well, I’m not privy to high strategic secrets, but I’m close enough to
him that I must have a fair amount of critical information–the kind
which’ll be obsolete inside a year, but if used promptly could help
Merseia keep our kettle longer on the boil, with that much more harm to
us. And I have a freer hand than anybody else who’s so well briefed; I
could certainly come if I chose. And an invitation from Tachwyr could be
counted on to pique my curiosity, if nothing else.
“The whole idea was yours, wasn’t it?”
Aycharaych nodded, his crest a scimitar across the Milky Way. “Yes,” he
said. “I already had business in these parts–negotiant perambulantem in
tenebris, if you like–and saw nothing to lose in this attempt. At least
I have won the pleasure of a few hours with you.”
“Thanks. Although–” Flandry sought words. “You know I put modesty in a
class with virginity, both charming characteristics which should be
gotten rid of as fast as puberty allows. However … why me, Aycharaych?
Do you relish the fact I’ll kill you, regretfully but firmly, the
instant a chance appears? In that respect, there are hundreds like me.
True, I may be unusual in having come close, a time or two. And I can
make more cultured noises than the average Navy man. But I’m no scholar,
no esthete–a dilettante; you can do better than me.”
“Let us say I appreciate your total personality.” The smile, barely
visible, resembled that upon the oldest stone gods of Greece. “I admire
your exploits. And since we have interacted again and again, a bond has
formed between us. Deny not that you sense it.”
“I don’t deny. You’re the only Chereionite I’ve ever met–” Flandry
After a moment he proceeded: “Are you the only Chereionite anybody has