Chalker, Jack L. – Well of Souls 01 – Midnight at the Well of Souls


He looked down at himself, and saw the shadow of his head on the grass. I’m one of them, he suddenly realized with a shock. I’m a deer. No antlers like those big males over there, so I must be a doe. A deer? he thought quizzically. Why a deer? He was still meditating on this, when suddenly the grass seemed to explode with yells and strange shapes; great, rectangular bodies with their facial features in their chest, and big, big teeth. He watched as the Mumies singled out a large doe not far from him and surrounded it. Suddenly they speared it several times, and it went down in wordless agony and lay twitching on the ground, blood running, but still alive. The Muraies pounced on it, tearing at it, eating it alive. To be eaten alive! he thought, stunned, and suddenly blind panic overtook him. He started running, running away from the scene. Up ahead another band of Mumies leaped out of nowhere and cornered another deer, started to devour it. They’re all over! he realized. This is their world! I’m just food to them! He ran narrowly avoiding entrapment several times. There were thousands of them here, and they all were hungry. And even as he ran in exhausted, dizzy circles, he knew that even if he avoided them today he would have to avoid them tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after, and wherever he ran on this planet there would be more of them. Sooner or later they’ll get me! he thought in panic. By god! I’ll not be eaten alive! I’ll cheat Brazil of his revenge! He reached the highlands by carefully pulling himself together. Now that he had decided on a course of action, he felt calm. There! Up ahead! his mind said joyfully. He stopped and looked over the edge of the cliff.


Over a kilometer straight down to the rocks, he saw with satisfaction. He ran. back a long ways, then turned toward the cliff. With strong resolve, he ran with all his might toward the cliff and hurled himself over it He saw the rocks coming up to me&t him, but felt only the slight shock of pain. Skander awoke. The very fact that he awoke was a shock, and he looked around, He was back on that plain at the edge of the forest His shadow told him. He was a deer again. No! his mind screamed in horror. ‘/ cheat the bastard yet! Somehow I’ll cheat him! But there were a lot of deer and a lot of Mumies on that world, and Skander still had six more times to die. Paradise, Once Called Dedalus, a Planet Near Sirius VARNETT GROANED, THEN OPENED HIS EYES. HE FELT cold. He looked around him and saw a number of peo-ple peering at him anxiously. They all looked exactly alike. They didn’t even look particularly male or female. Slight breasts and nipples, but nothing really female. Their bodies were lithe and muscular, sort of a blend of masculine and feminine. All of them had small male genitals where they should be, but, from his vantage point, he could see a small cavity beneath them. None of them had any body hair. K you did it upside down and the other was right side up, he thought, you could give and receive at the same time. “Are you all right?” one asked in a voice that sounded like a man’s voice but with a feminine lilt


“Do you feel all right?” another asked in the identical voice. “I—I think so,” he replied hesitantly, and sat up. “A little dizzy, that’s all.” “That will pass,” the other said. “How’s your mem-ory?” “Shaky,” he replied carefully. “I’m going to need a refresher.” “Easily done,” the other replied. He started to ask them their names, then suddenly remembered. They didn’t use names on his planet His planet! His! “I’d like to get right to work,” he told them. “Of course,” another replied, and they led him from the sterile-looking infirmary down an equally sterile corridor. He followed them, got into an elevator, and they rode up to the top floor. The top floor, it seemed, was an office complex. Workers were everywhere, filing things, typing things, using computer terminals. Everybody else was slightly smaller than he was, he realized. Not much, but in a world where everyone was absolutely identical such a slight difference was as noticeable as if Cousin Bat had entered the room. His office was huge and well-appointed. White wall-to-wall carpeting, so thick and soft his bare feet practically bounced off it. There was a huge desk, and great high-backed chair. No other furnishings,, he noted, although their lack made the place look barren. “Bring me a summary of the status of the major areas of the planet,” he ordered. “And then leave me for a while to study them.” They bowed slightly, and left. He looked out the glass window that was the wall in back of his desk. A complex of identical buildings stretched out before him. Broad, tree-lined streets, some small parkland, and lots of identical-looking shapes walking about on various business. The sky was an off-blue, not the deepness of his na-tive world, but it was attractive. There were some fleecy clouds in the sky, and, off in the distance, he saw signs of cultivated land. It looked like a rich, peaceful, and productive place, he thought. Of course,


weather and topography would cause changes in the life-styles planet-wide, but he wagered those differences were minimal. The aides returned with sheaves of folders bulging with papers. He acknowledged them curtly, and ordered them out There were no mirrors, but the lighting reflected him in the glass windows. He looked just like them, only about fifty millimeters taller and proportionately slightly larger. He felt his male genitals. They had the same feel as the ones he had had as Cousin Bat, he thought. He reached a little lower, and found the small vaginal cavity. He spread some papers around to make it look as if he had been studying them. He would, in time, of course, but not now. He saw a small intercom on the desk and buzzed it, taking a seat in the big chair. At the far end of the room a clerk almost beat the track records entering, coming up to the desk and standing at full attention. “I have found indications,” he told the clerk seriously, “that several members of the Presidium may be ill. I want a team of rural doctors—based, as far as possible, away from here—to be brought to my of-fice as soon as possible. I want that done exactly and at once. How long before they can get here?” “If you want them from as far away from government centers as possible, ten hours,” the clerk replied crisply. “All right, then,” he nodded. “As soon as they ar-rive they are to see me—and no one else. No one is even to know that they have been sent for. I mean absolutely no one, not even the rest of the office.” “I shall attend to it personally. Chairman,” responded the clerk, and turned to leave. So much for the spongies, he thought. “Clerk!” he called suddenly, and the other halted and turned. “Chairman?” “How do I arrange to have sex?” The clerk looked surprised and bemused. “Whenever

345 –

the Chairman wishes, of course. It is a great honor for any citizen.” “I want the best specimen here in five minutesi” he ordered. “Yes, Chairman,’* responded the clerk knowingly. and left. His eyes sparkled, and he rubbed his hands to-gather gleefully, thinking about what was to come. Suddenly Nathan Brazil’s visage arose from the corners of his mind. He said he’d give me my chance, he thought seriously. And I’ll make good on it. This world will be changed! The door opened, and another inhabitant of Paradise entered. “Yes?” he snapped. “I was told to report to you by the clerk,” the newcomer said. He smiled. The world would be changed, yes— but not right away, he thought. Not until I’ve had much more fun. “Come on over here,” he said lightly. “You’re about to be honored.” On the Frontier— Harvlch’s World HE GROANED, AND OPENED HIS EYES. AN OLDER MAN in overalls and checkered shirt, smelly and with a three-days* growth of beard, was bending over him, looking anxious. “Kally? You hear me, boy? Say somethin’!** the old man urged, shouting at him. He groaned. “God! I feel lousy!” he managed. The old man smiled. “Good! Good!’* he enthused. “I was afeared we’d lost you, there. That was quite a crack on the nog you took!”


Kally felt the left side of his head. There was a knot under the hair, and some dried blood. It hurt— throbbed, really. “Try to stand up,” the old man urged, and gave hum a hand. He took it, and managed to stand shakily. “How do ya feel, boy?” the old man asked. “My head hurts,” he complained. “Otherwise— well, weak but okay.” “Told ya ya shoulda got a good gal ta help with the farm,” the old man scolded. “Ifn I hadn’ta happened along you’d be dead now.” The man looked around, puzzled. It was a farm, he saw. Some chickens about, a ramshackle barn with a couple of cows, and an old log shack. It looked like corn growing in the fields. “Somethin’ wrong, Kally?” the old man asked. “I—uh, who are you?” he asked hesitantly. “And where am I?” The old man looked concerned. “That bump on the noggin’s scrambled your brains, boy. Better get into town and see a doctor on it.” “Maybe you’re right,” the other agreed. “But I still don’t know who you are, where I am—or who I am.” “Must be magnesia or somethin’,” the old man said, concerned. “I’ll be damned. Heard about it, but never seed it afore. Hell, boy, you’re Kally Tonge, and since your pa died last winter you’ve run this farm here alone. You was borned here on Harvich,” he explained, pronouncing it Harrige, “and you damned near died here.” He pointed to the ground. He looked and saw an irrigation pump with compressor. Obviously he had been tightening the top holding nut with the big wrench and had kicked the thing into start. The wrench had whirled around and caught him on the head. He looked at it strangely, knowing what it must mean. “Will you be all right?” the old man asked concern-edly. “I got to run down the road or the old ladyll throw a fit, but if ya want I can send somebody back to take ya inta the doc’s.”


“I’ll see him,” Kally replied. “But let me get cleaned up first. How—how far is it into town?” “Christ, Kally! Ya even talk a little funny!” the old man exclaimed. “But Depot’s a kilometer and a half down the road there.” He pointed in the right direction. Kally Tonge nodded. “I’ll go in. K you get a head injury, it’s best to walk. Just check back in a little while, just in case. I’ll be all right” “Well, okay,” the old man responded dubiously. “But if I don’t hear ya got in town, I’m comin’ lookin’,” he warned, then walked back to the road. He’s riding a horse! Kally thought wonderingly. And the road’s dirt! He turned and went into the shack. It was more modern than he would have guessed, although small. A big bed with natural fur blankets in one comer, a sink, a gas stove—bottled gas underneath, he noted—and the water was probably from a water tank near the barn. A big fireplace, and a crude indoor shower. There was a small refrigerator, too, running off what would have been a tractor battery if he had had a tractor. He noted the toilet in one comer, and went over to it. Above it hung a cracked mirror, some scissors, and toiletries. He looked at himself in the mirror. His was a strong, muscular, handsome face in a rugged sort of way. The hair was long and tied off in a ponytail almost a meter long, and he had a full but neatly trimmed beard and mustache. The hair was brown, but the beard was reddish. He turned his head, saw that the knot was almost invisible in the hair. Brushing it back revealed an ugly wound. He died in that accident, he thought Kally Tonge died of that wound. And I filled the empty vessel. He stripped and took the mirror off its nail hanger, looking at himself. He saw a nigged, muscular body, well toned and used to work. There were calluses on the hands, worn in from hard farm labor. The wound did hurt, and while he was certain it wouldn’t be serious now, it would be better to go into


town. It would also help to explain his mental lapses. He put on a thick wool shirt and work pants, and some well-worn leather boots, and went back outside. The place was interesting, really. It looked like something out of ancient history, yet had indoor plumbing, electricity, albeit crude, and several other signs of civilization. In the midst of this primitive-ness, he noticed with amusement that he wore a fancy wristwatch. It was not cold, but there was a chill in the wind that made bim glad he had picked the thicker shirt. They were short on rain here, he noted; the dirt road was rutted and dug up, yet dry and caked. He walked briskly down the road toward the town, looking at the scenery. Small farms were the rule, and many looked far more modem than his. There wasn’t much traffic, but occasional people passed on horse-back or in buckboards, giving him the impression that modem vehicles were either in short supply or banned. And yet, despite the lack of recent rain, the land was good. The tilled soil was black and mineral-rich, and where small compressors pumped water from wells or nearby creeks into irrigation ditches, the land bloomed. He came upon the town much faster than he had anticipated. He didn’t feel the least bit tired or uncomfortable, and he had walked with a speed that astonished him. The town itself was a study in contrasts. Log buildings, some as tall as five stories, mixed with modem, prefabricated structures. The street wasn’t paved, but it went for several blocks, with a block or two on either side of the business district composed of houses, mostly large and comfortable. There was street lighting, and some of the businesses had electric signs, so there was a power plant somewhere, and, from the look of things, running water and indoor plumbing. He studied some of the women, most of whom were dressed in garb much like his own, sometimes with small cowboy hats or straw broad-brimmed hats on their heads. There weren’t nearly as many women as men, he noted, and those that were here looked tough, muscular, and mannish. The town was small enough so that he spotted the doctor’s office with no difficulty and headed for it.


The doctor was concerned. He had quite a modem facility, with a minor surgery and some of the latest machines and probes. Clearly medical care was well into the modem era here. The X-rays showed a severe concussion and fracture. The doctor marveled that he was alive at all, as he placed medication and a small bandage on the wound after sewing seven stitches. “Get somebody to stay with you the next few days, or look in on you regularly,” the doctor advised. “Your loss of memory’s probably only temporary, and not that uncommon in these cases. But a lot of damage was done. The brain was bruised, and I want someone to see that you don’t have a clot in there.” He thanked the doctor, assuring him that he would take care of himself and be watched and checked. “Settle the bill at the end of the month,” the doctor told him. This puzzled him for a minute. The bill? Money? He had never used it himself, and, back on the street, he pulled out a thin leather wallet, which looked like the survivor of a war, and opened it. Funny-looking pieces of paper, about a dozen of them. They had very realistic pictures, almost three-dimensional, on them, the fronts showing the same man three times, the others two other men and a woman. The backs showed a remarkably realistic set of farm scenes. He wished he could read the bills. He would have to find out what each, one was and remember the pictures. A three-story log building’s lights went on in the coming twilight, and he saw from the symbol on the sign that it was a bar and something else. He didn’t recognize the other symbol, and couldn’t read the words. Curious, he walked over to it. There was a rumbling of thunder in the distance. She awoke, feeling nauseated, and threw up. The bile spilled on the cheap rug, and in it, as she gagged uncontrollably, she could see bits and pieces and even whole pills of some kind. The spasms lasted several minutes, until it seemed there was nothing else to give. Feeling weak and ex-350

hausted, she lay back on the bed until the room steadied. The stench of the bile permeated her. Slowly, she looked around-A tiny room, with nothing but a bed much too large for it and a wicker chair. There was barely fifty centimeters’ clearance on either side of it. The walls and ceiling seemed to be made of logs, but the construction was so solid it might as well have been rock. It was dark in the room, and she looked for a light. Spying a string hanging above her, she pulled it, and a weak, naked light bulb suspended from the ceiling flicked on. The glare hurt her eyes. She raised her head slightly and looked down at her body. Something was definitely different. Two extremely large but perfectly formed breasts met her eye, and her skin seemed creamy smooth, dark-complexioned but unpigmented. Her gaze slid down a little more, and she saw that the rest of her body matched the breasts—curving in all the right places, definitely. She felt—strange. Tingly all over, but particularly in the areas of her breasts and crotch. She was nude from the waist up, but hanging on sultry hips was a pantslike garment of fine-woven black lace, to which hundreds of tiny sequins of various colors were attached. She felt her face, and found that she had some sort of hairdo. There were also long, plastic earrings hanging from pierced ears. She looked around in the gloom, found a small cosmetics case with a mirror in it, and looked at her face. It is a beautiful face, she thought, and she was not being vain. Maybe the most beautiful face I’ve ever seen. Cosmetics had been carefully applied to bring out just the right highlights, but the face was so perfect that they seemed almost intrusive on its beauty. But whose face was it? she wondered. She noticed a box next to the cosmetics case on the floor, and picked it up idly. It was a pillbox—open, and empty. There was a universal caution symbol on it, but she couldn’t read the writing. She didn’t need to. This girl, whoever and whatever she was, had killed herself. She had taken all those pills and overdosed. She had died here, in this room, moments before—


alone. And the moment that girl had died, she had been somehow inserted into the body, and the physical processes righted. She stared again at that beautiful face in the nun-or. What would make someone who looked like this and experienced such feelings as she now did commit suicide? So very young, she thought—perhaps no more than sixteen or seventeen. And so very beautiful. She tried to get up, but felt suddenly light-headed and strange. She flopped back down on the bed and stared up at the light bulb, which, for some reason, had become fascinating. She found herself gently caressing her own body, and it felt fantastic, like tingling jolts of pleasure at each nerve juncture. It’s the pills, a corner of her mind told her. You didn’t get all of them out of your system. The door opened suddenly, and a man looked in. He was dressed in white work clothes, like kitchen help. He was balding and fiftyish, but he had a tough, hard look to him. “Okay, Nova, time to—M he began, then stopped and looked at her, the empty box, and the bile and vomited-up pills on the floor and the side of her bed. “Oh, shit!” he snarled angrily, and exploded. “You went for the happy pills again, didn’t you? I warned you, dammiti I wondered why a sexy high-top like you would work this jerkwater! They tossed you out of the others!” He stopped, bis tone going from fury to disgust. “You’re no good to anybody, not even yourself,” he snapped. “I told you if you did this again, I’d toss you in the street. Come on! You hear me?” he started yelling. “You’re going out and now! Come on, get upl” She heard him, but the words didn’t register. He looked and sounded somehow funny, and she laughed and pointed to him, giggling stupidly. He grabbed her by the arm and pulled her up. “Jesus!’* he exclaimed. “You’re a hell of a piece. Too bad your insides don’t match your outsides. Come on!” He pulled her out into the hall and dragged her down a flight of wooden stairs. She felt as if she were


floating, and made flying motions with her free arm and motor sounds with her voice. A few other young women peered out from second-floor rooms. None of ‘em pretty as me, she thought smugly. “Stop that giggling!” the man commanded, but it sounded so funny she giggled more. The downstairs was a bar, some sawdust on the floor, a few round tables, and a small service bar to one side. It was dimly lit, and empty. “Oh, hell,” he said, almost sadly, reaching into a cash drawer behind the bar. “You ain’t even earned your keep here, and you bumed your clothes on the last flyer. Here—fifty reals,” he continued, stuffing a few bills in the lace panty. “When you come to out in the street or the woods or the sheriff’s office, buy some clothes and a ticket out. I’ve had it!” He picked her up as if she weighed nothing, and, opening the door with one hand, tossed her rudely into the darkening street. The chilly air and the hard landing brought her down a bit, and she looked around, feeling lost and alone. She suddenly didn*t want to be seen. Although there were few people about, there were some nearby who would see her in a few moments. She saw a dark alley-way between the bar and a store and crawled into it. It was very dark and cold, and smelled a little of old garbage. But at least she was concealed. Suddenly the streetlights popped on, and deepened the shadows in which she sat confused. The shock of where she was and her situation broke through into her conscious mind. She was still high, and her body still tingled, particularly when rubbed. She still wanted to rub it, but she was aware of her circumstances. I’m alone in a crazy place I don’t know, practically nude and with the temperature dropping fast, she thought miserably. How much worse can things get? As if in answer, there was a rumbling and a series of static discharges, and the temperature dropped even more. Tears welled up in her eyes, and she started crying at the helplessness of her position. She had never been more miserable in her life.


A man was crossing the street, walking toward the bar. He stopped suddenly. Lightning flashed, illuminating her for a brief moment. He looked puzzled, and came toward the alley. She was folded up* arms around her knees, head down against them. She rocked as she cried. He saw her and stared in disbelief. Now what the hell? he thought. He reached out and touched her bare shoulder, and she started, looked up at him, saw the concern on his face. “What’s the matter, little lady?” he asked gently. She looked up with anguished face and started to speak, but couldn’t. She was, even in this state, the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. “Nothing’s that bad,” he tried to soothe her. ”Where do you live? I’ll take you home. You’re not hurt, are you?” She shook her head negatively, and coughed a little. ”N0, no.” she managed. “Don’t have a home. Thrown out.” He squatted next to her. The lightning and thunder continued, but the rain held off still. “Come on with me, then,’ he said in that same soft tone. “I’ve got a place just down the road. Nobody there but me. You can stay until you decide what to do” Her head shook in confusion. She didnt know what to do. Could she trust him? Dare she take this opportunity? A strange, distant voice whispered in her brain. It said, “Can you feel it? Fear, greed, horror, ambition, burning within you, consuming you! … Perfection is the object of the experiment, not the component… . Don’t torture yourself, run away from your fears. Face them! Stand up to them! Fight them with goodness, mercy, charity, compassion… .” And trust? she wondered suddenly. Oh, hell! What have I got to lose if I go? What do I have if I don’t? “I’ll go,” she said softly. He helped her up, gently, carefully, and brushed the dirt off her. He’s very big, she realized. I only come up to his neck.


“Come on,” he urged, and took her hand. She hesitated. “I don’t want—want to go out there looking like this,” she said nervously. “There’s nothing wrong with the way you look,” he replied in a tone that had nothing if not sincerity. “Nothing at all. Besides, the storm’s about to break, I think. Most folks will stay inside.” Again she looked uncertain. “What about us?” she asked. “Won’t we get wet?” “There’s shelter along the way,” he said casually. “Besides, a little water won’t hurt.” She let him lead her down the deserted street of the town, and out into the countryside. The storm continued to be visual and audible, but not as yet wet. The landscape seemed eerie, illuminated in the flashes. The temperature had dropped from about fifteen degrees Celsius to around eight degrees due to the storm. She shivered. He looked at her, concerned, feeling the tremors in her hand. “Want my shirt?” he asked. “But then you’ll be cold,” she protested. “I like cold weather,” he responded, taking off his shirt. His broad, muscled, hairy chest reactivated those funny feelings in her again. Carefully he draped the shirt around her. It fit her like a circus tent, but it felt warm and good. She didn’t know what to say, and something, some impulse, caused her to lean into him and put her arm around his bare chest. He responded by putting his arm around her, and they resumed walking. Somehow it felt good, canning, and her anxieties seemed to flee. She looked up at him. “What’s your name?” she asked in a tone of voice she didn’t quite comprehend, but was connected, somehow, in its throaty softness to those strange feelings. “W——” he started to say, then said, instead, “Kally Tonge. I have a farm not much farther dowa the road.** She noticed the bandage on the side of his head. “You’re injured.” “It’s nothing—now,” he replied, and chuckled. “As a matter of fact, you’re just what the doctor ordered


—literally. He said somebody should be with me through the night.” “Does it hurt much?” she asked. “Not now,” he replied. “Medicine’s pretty advanced here, although as you know the place is rather primitive overall.” “I really don’t know much about this world,” she replied truthfully. “I’m not from here.” “I could have guessed that,” he said lightly. “Where do you come from?” “I don’t think you’ve ever heard of it,” she replied. “From nowhere now, really.” “What’s your name?” he asked. She started to say “Nova,” the name the man had called her, but instead she said, “Vardia.” He stopped and looked at her strangely. “That’s a Corn name, isn’t it?” he asked. “You’re not from any Comworld!” “Sort of,” she replied enigmatically, “but I’ve changed a lot.” “On the Well World?” he asked sharply. She gasped, a small sound of surprise escaping her lips. “You—you’re one of the people from the Well!” she exclaimed. “You woke up in that body, as I did! That head wound killed Kally Tonge and you took over, as I did!” “Twice when I needed someone you comforted me, even defended me,” he said. “Wuju!” she exclaimed, and an amazed smile spread over her face. She looked him over critically. “My, how you’ve changed!” “No more than you,” he replied, shaking his head wonderingly. “Wow!” “But—but, why a man?” she asked. His face grew serious. “I’ll tell you sometime. But, good old Nathan! He sure came through!” The storm broke, then, and the rain started coming down heavily. They were both soaked through in seconds, and her fancy hairdo collapsed. He laughed, and she laughed, and he picked her up and started running in the mud. Just ahead he saw his shack, outlined in the lightning flashes, but he misjudged the turn to his walk with his


burden. They both tumbled into the road, splashing around and covered with thick black mud. “You all right?” he shouted over the torrent. “I’m drowning in mudi” she called back, and they both got up, laughing at each other. “The barn’s closer!” he shouted. “See it over there? Run for it!” He started off, and she followed, the rain getting heavier and heavier. He reached the door way ahead of her, and slid it aside on its rollers. She reached it, and they both fell in. The place had an eerie, hol-low sound, the rain beating on the sheet-metal roof and wood sides of the barn. It was dark, and smelled like the barn it was. A few cows mooed nervously in their stalls. “Wooj?” she called. “Here,” he said, near her, and she turned. “Might as well sit it out here,” he told her. “There’s a pile of hay over there, and it’s a thousand meters to

the shack. Might as well not go through the deluge twice.” “Okay,” she replied, exhausted, and plopped into the hay. The rain continued to beat a percussion symphony on the bam. He plopped beside her. She was fussing with her lace pants. “The mud’s all caked in them, and the sequins are scratching me,” she said. “Might as well get them off, for all the good they’ll do as clothing anyway, even if they are all I’ve got in the world.” She did, and they lay for a while side by side.. He put his arm around her and fondled her breast. “That feels good,” she whispered. “Is—is that what I’ve been feeling? I thought it was still the pills. Is this what you felt with Brazil?” “I’ll be damned!” he said to himself. “I always wondered what an erection felt like to a man!” He turned and looked at her. “I’ll show you what it’s really like, if you want,” he said softly. “I—I think that’s what he wanted,” she replied. “Is it what you want?” he asked seriously. “I think I do,” she whispered, and realized that it was what she wanted. “But I don’t even know how.” “Leave that to an expert,” he replied. “Although


I’m not used to this end of things.’* He put both arms around her, kissed her and fondled her. And he kicked off his pants, and showed her the other side of being a woman, while discovering himself what it was to be a man. The rain was over. It had been over for a couple of hours, but they just lay there, content in the nearness of each other. The door was still half-open, and Vardia, still dazed and dreamy from her first sexual experience, saw the clouds roll back and the stars appear. “We’ll get you some clothes in the morning,” he said at last. “Then well tour the farm. This rain should do everything good. I was born on a farm, you know, but not my own farm.” “People—non-Corn people—they do that every day?” she asked. He chuckled. “Twice if they’re homy enough. Ex-cept for a couple of days each month.”

“You—you’ve done it both ways,” she said. “Is it different?” “The feeling’s definitely different, but it’s the same charge,’* he replied. “An important part, male or female, is that you do it when you want with someone you want.” “Is that love?” she asked. “Is that what -Brazil was talking about?” “Not the sex,” he replied. “Thafs just a—a component, as he would say. Without the object—without love, without feeling for the other person, without caring, it’s not pleasant at all.” “That’s why you’re a man now,” she said. “All the other times—they were the wrong kind, weren’t they?” “Yes,” he replied distantly, and looked out at the stars-She clenched his hand tightly in hers. “Do you think he was really God?” Vardia asked quietly. “I don’t know,” he replied with a sigh. “What if he wasn’t? When he was in the Well he had the power. He gave me my farm, a good, healthy young body, a new chance. And,” he added softly, “he sent you.”


She nodded. “I’ve never lived like this,” she said. “Is it all as wonderful as tonight?” “No,” he replied seriously. “There’s a lot of hard work, and pain, and heartache—but, if it all comes together, it can be beautiful.” “We’ll try it here,” she said resolutely. “And when the fun is gone, if ever, or when we’re old and gray. we’ll take off for a Markovian world, and go back and do it again. That’s a good future.” “I think it is,” he responded. “It’s more than most people ever get.” “This world,” she said. “It must never become like the others, like the Corn. We must make sure of that.” At that moment there was a glow far beyond the horizon, and suddenly a bright arrow streaked upward in the dark sky and vanished. A few seconds later, a distant, roaring sound came to them. *‘Poor Nathan,” he said sadly. “He can do it for everyone but himself.” “I wonder where he is now?” she mused. “I don’t know what form he’s in,” he replied, “but I think I know where he is and what he’s doing, and thinking, and feeling.” They continued to gaze at the stars. Aboard the Freighter Stehekm NATHAN BRAZIL LAY IN THE COMMAND CHAIR ON THE bridge and gazed distantly at the fake starfield projected in the two window screens. He glanced over to the table atop the ancient computer. That same pornographic novel was there, spread open to where he had last been reading it. He couldn’t remember it at all, but, he reflected, it didn’t matter. They were all alike anyway, and there was plenty of time to read it again.


He sighed and picked up the cargo manifest, idly flipping it open. Cargo of grain, bound for Coriolanus, it read. No passengers. No passengers. They were elsewhere now—the rotten ones in their own private hells, the good ones—and the potentially good—with their chances. He wondered whether their dreams were as sweet as they had imagined. Would they forget the lessons of the Well, or try for change? In the end, of course, it didn’t really matter. Except to them. He closed the manifest and threw it across the control room. It banged against the wall and landed as-kew on the floor. He sighed a long, sad sigh, a sigh for ages past and the ages yet to be. The memories would fade, but the ache would re-main. For, whatever becomes of the others or of this little corner of the universe, he thought, I’m still Nathan Brazil, fifteen days out, bound for Coriolanus with a load of grain. Still waiting. Still caring. Still alone.


Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

Categories: Chalker, Jack L