Fred Saberhagen – The Golden People

Adam, folding his paper receipt into a pocket, waited until he was outside again with Merit before he asked her: “Where are Ray and your husband now?”

“They went straight from the spaceport to the physics lab, at some place called Fieldedge. Scientists to the core. I told them I’d rather try to look you up first, and see some of the scenery at the same time. Since Earth people are rather confined here-or most of them choose to be-I thought I could probably find you with a minimum of trouble.”

“Glad you did. Very glad.” Adam paused. “You said that you were here partly just to be with your husband. What else?”

“For one thing, I have an obvious interest in seeing what had become of you. But there’s something else, too. Geryons.”

“Geryons. That’s right, the last time I saw you you were getting into exobiology, weren’t you?”

“Yes, I’m into it, as you say, rather deeply now.”

“In fact-wait a minute. There was somebody named Creston mentioned as a source in a couple of references, last time I was over at Stem City library trying to look something up.”

“The accused stands before you. It wasn’t geryons you were looking up, I trust, or I couldn’t possibly have been quoted as a source. I find the idea of them fascinating-the face, of course-but I’ve never even seen one outside of a holograph. I’d like to begin a study, though.”

“Their faces, yes.”

“You see, it’s occurred to me that their faces might be less a result of chance than an example of interspecies parallelism on different but closely similar worlds.”

“I wondered about that too. I had to study some of that evolutionary theme theory, of course, for planeteering. so, Ray’s here taking an interest in the Field. I wonder what he thinks of it. What do you think?”

“About the Field? I don’t know what to think.” Merit looked out over the river, past the distant line of marker poles, then closed her eyes briefly. “I don’t sense it there at all. I haven’t been able to sense anything about it, since we arrived. Though I suspect Ray may have. do you know if anyone with parapsych talents has tried to investigate it?”

“I know of a few civilians who claimed to be making some effort along that line, years ago. As far as I know, they had no success. But of course they weren’t Jovians. what are your plans? I mean right now?”

“Right this moment? I don’t really.”

“Then how about a canoe ride? You can enter the Field directly and experience it first hand. Not that there’s really anything to experience.”

“Oh, yes. I’d like to!”

They walked back to where Adam’s square-sterned canoe was waiting. The Space Force guard on duty in front of the trading shack looked up from his weary debate with the two Tenoka long enough to nod familiarly to Adam.

As they got into the canoe, Merit remarked: “It looks like the Space Force is going to trust me not to start any trouble with the natives.”

“You’re with me.” Adam untied the canoe and shoved off from the dock. “And the Space Force usually humors me, because I’m still something of a privileged character with the Tenoka. They identify me particularly with the help we gave them against geryons, back in the early days. Of course if I ever get far enough from the Stem, well beyond Tenoka territory, things are going to be different. There are quite a number of other tribes out there, who I gather don’t much like the Tenoka or their friends.” The outboard started purring.

Merit was trailing her fingers in the water. “I presume this is safe to do. Nothing’s going to come along and snap some of my fingers off?”

“Don’t hear me yelling, do you?”

The Far Landing dock was falling behind. Ahead of them, open wilderness expanded.

“Adam, are Earth-descended people ever going to be able to see much of this planet?”

“Frankly, I don’t think so. I don’t believe we know any more about the Field today, really, than we did on the first day we ran into it.”

“You don’t seem unhappy about that situation.”

“Actually, I suppose I’m not.”

Merit was laughing again. “I can see already that you and Vito are going to hit it off just great. Oh, wow. He’s all charged up with theoretical ideas, schemes on how to solve the problems that the

Field poses, in what he still likes to call general field theory. I think he spent most of his time on the ship worrying that someone else would have the Field completely figured out before he got here.”

Adam found himself smiling, grinning broadly, and then enjoying a laugh too, for what seemed like the first time in years. “I’d say he may have a few days yet, before someone beats him out. Now hang on, here we go.”

Already the canoe was closely approaching the line of marker poles, at a place where that line went marching almost straight across the river, at right angles to the banks. Adam turned off the motor and let the small craft drift on its momentum toward the boundary.

He grinned at Merit. “Look at your timepiece,” he suggested. Her expression brought back to him memories of her as an-occasionally-wide-eyed little girl. The flat silvery plate that she was wearing on her wrist went totally blank a moment after the invisible border had been crossed. Then numbers and other symbols reappeared on the small surface, but seemingly at random, flickering on and off erratically.

Adam was on the point of asking Merit why she wore the watch at all; no Jovian in his memory had ever needed an artificial chronometer just to know what time it was, only perhaps for the exact timing of a race or some scientific experiment; and this particular instrument didn’t look as if it was intended for such purposes. But the convincing idea at once suggested itself to Adam that the timepiece was a present to Merit from her husband, who when he gave it to her had not known her as well as Adam did. At the thought, Adam felt a moment of superior pride, mixed with an uncertain amount of jealousy.

With a sigh, Merit at last raised her head from contemplation of the confused chronometer and looked around her. “I still can’t sense anything different here,” she murmured. “Are we bound for anywhere in particular?” She sounded as if she would be satisfied either way.

“If you’ve got about an hour to spare, I’ll show you where I live.”

When they were quite near the Field-side shore, Adam spotted something moving in the bushes there, and rested his paddle for a moment, watching alertly. Two Tenoka children, a boy and a girl, came out into the open as soon as they aw that he was aware of them. Then they stood on the shore giggling and dumb with shyness, impressed by the strange woman in the canoe.

“You have a couple of admirers,” he told Merit. “Wave to them.”

Merit and the two children had a waving good time until the canoe reached Adam’s little dock. At that point the kids vanished back into the leafless winter brush, too shy to approach the stranger closely.

He led Merit up along the well-worn narrow path, that wound a hundred meters up the side of a low bluff, to the shelf of land near the top where his cabin stood. The cabin was built mostly of native logs, the chinks between logs filled with local clay and sealed with a little liquid plastic. The small house, hardly more than one room, had a shingled roof that had been sealed with plastic in the same way, and a chimney of clay and stone.

Merit appeared to be enchanted by his home.

But a thought struck her. “How do you lock up when you leave?”

“I left the latchstring hanging out this time. There, see? Any of my local friends who happen to come along can walk in, but animals are kept out.”

“Don’t the Tenoka ever steal?”

“Rarely from a home. Quite rarely. And anyway I’m something of a privileged character, as I told you. If the tourists get much thicker out this way I may need to devise some more protection.” He swung open the stout wooden door, that moved easily and silently on its Earth-fabricated hinges of neat modern metal, and gallantly bowed his visitor in.

Merit, following Earth custom, slipped off her shoes at the door. Once inside, she was instantly fascinated by his hearth and hewn furniture, and by the couple of trophies he had mounted on his walls. The heads were of different species of large carnivores, evidence of Adam’s bow-hunting prowess.

A small fire was still burning, to which Adam now added fuel. The cabin was reasonably warm.

Merit was gazing at a mounted head. “Leopard-variant theme, I take it.”

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