Fred Saberhagen – The Golden People

Lorsch’s cigar was burning itself out, forgotten in an ashtray. Her chair was still. “There have been a few scouting expeditions, necessarily made on foot-neither horses nor native animals have worked out as well as we had hoped for transportation. We intend to send out more expeditions eventually, probing deeper.”

“I’d like to go along on the next one that you do send, General. It might be possible to make some observations away from the Stem that would materially help the physicists’ work at Fieldedge.”

“Well.” Somewhat surprised, Lorsch thought it over. “Maybe something can be arranged along that line.” It didn’t hurt to say that much, at least. “I’ll let you know if a suitable chance should come up while you’re still on planet.”

“I intend to be on Golden quite a while. Why did you call me in here today, General? Just to ask about my lobbying efforts back on Earth?”

“You weren’t forced to come when I called. You’re a practicing telepath, aren’t you? Do you need to ask me about my motives?”

“I need no special parapsych powers to read your hostility. General Lorsch, you must know something of how telepathy actually works, as opposed to the popular ideas. You must realize that the idea of probing your mind is as distasteful to me as it must be to you. And I can assure you it’s not a very reliable way to obtain information.”

“Youhave tried it, then.”

Kedro ignored the question. “Now why do you think I want you and your people to leave Golden? So I can make myself governor? Dictator? Or enrich myself by smuggling?”

The General shook her head. “No.” Her voice was weakening a little, and with a conscious effort she made it stronger. “I don’t really think you people want such things, except maybe in an incidental way. You people don’t work to become conspicuous rulers, and you’re not ostentatious about your wealth. You’d much rather stay behind the scenes, and marry each other, and cooperate with each other to accumulate indirect control over all kinds of human activity.”

“I might say the very same things, and just as accurately, about the Space Force, General Lorsch. Are those things evil when we do them, and good-”

“It’s not the same thing at all, dammit!” Lorsch, to her own surprise, could feel her self control slipping. “It’s simply not true that we try to control all kinds of human activity. And we don’t consider ourselves to be more than human!”

Kedro looked down at the floor for a few seconds. His handsome face was sad. When he raised his eyes and spoke, his voice was soft and almost tentative. “Why should you be tempted to consider yourselves more than human, General?”

“Doyou thinkyou’re more than human? Homo Superior? I’ve heard that you do!”

“Do you believe that I am human, General Lorsch? Or even something less than that, perhaps?” Kedro’s voice this time was still low. But it was no longer soft, or tentative.

Seconds slid away in silence. Lorsch, trying with unexpected difficulty to frame her answer, felt an impression growing on her with the speed and force of nightmare. It was the impression that what sat and spoke with her in her office was not a man in any sense, but rather an elemental force, a materialized law of the universe that had taken on a slightly larger than human form, and might at any moment take on a different and more disquieting form than that.

While remaining physically calm, the General found herself somehow-unable? unwilling?-to move or to speak. And her inner being froze and screamed silently in fright at the prospect of confronting directly, seeing clearly, the alien being, the god, who sat facing her across her desk.

Part of the General’s outer mind was able to say comfortingly: Nonsense, this is just a foolish notion that’s taken me. Nothing is really happening. I can move and speak whenever I like. Of course I can.

She looked into Kedro’s compassionate blue eyes, and her ego cowered and whimpered:Is this how a pet feels, a dog, when it looks up at –

“Well, do you?” Kedro prompted, in an ordinary voice, and the instant he spoke the spell, or whatever it had been, was gone.

“Do I what? Oh. No, I can’t admit that you’re more than human.” Lorsch moved slightly in her chair, to prove to herself that she could do so. Her uniform adhered to the chair irritatingly. The words of her answer almost stuck in her throat. But still, everything was normal again. Except that she was perspiring. It was only a big man who sat there, across her desk. A big, handsome, and extremely dangerous man.

“Then isn’t your fear of us a touch irrational?” Kedro’s voice was as reasonable as any voice that she had ever heard. “Really, we have the talent to get what we want by ordinary, legal means. Power? We don’t especially want the responsibility of governing, this planet or any other. And even heavy manipulation from behind the scenes, however it might be accomplished, implies responsibility.

“Wedo like to guide the world of Earth-descended humanity just a bit, keep it when we can from making certain catastrophic mistakes. Show it values that it might otherwise miss. We’d like to be able to do a better job of guiding.”

Kedro shifted in his chair, leaning his perfectly proportioned bulk forward, resting one elbow on the desk. He was smiling now, his handsome eyes narrowing in friendly, almost irresistible intentness. “Think of the good that we could do if we had, working with us instead of against us., all the wealth and power and organization of the Space Force. Or even a part of it. Say the Wing that you command, here on Golden.”

The General could very easily visualize the benevolent giants, golden in their virtue, superior to natural humanity. From their height above the struggling confusion that had given them birth, the Jovians saw far into the future, far and accurately, discerning a thousand dangers and warning their parent race against them all. The godlike powers of the Jovians’ superior minds won victory after victory, over ignorance and disease and human misery, victories gladly shared with mere humanity. and now the golden people turned toward General Lorsch, seeming to plead:Help us, help us to do these things. For your own sake, help us .

The dream of glory faded. Of course Kedro had been projecting it somehow into her mind. Lorsch started to say: “Oh how I wish-”

She meant to finish: “-we could do that.”

“-I could believe you,” was what she said.

Kedro leaned back from the desk. He lowered his face into his hands for a moment and rubbed his eyes. He looked tired when he straightened up in his chair again. Tired, but not diminished.

“I wish you could,” he said, and got to his feet. “Was there anything else?”

The General shook her head. She felt that she might commit some spectacular failure if her confrontation with this-visitor-went on any longer.

Kedro towered over the desk. “Let me know about the expedition, please,” he said. “Really. If and when it ever gets organized.” And he walked out of the office.

It was over. The General sat quietly for a minute, pulling her nerves back together. Trying to pull them back. She was all right, she was functional, but she suspected she would never be quite the same again.

When she got up to check the cameras and recorders hidden in her office she found that all of the machines had unaccountably stopped functioning and that nothing of the interview was preserved.

Chapter Twelve

Adam Mann stood stretching and yawning in the open doorway of his cabin, looking out from inside with a comfortable small fire at his back. He was gazing upon yet another mild winter afternoon with something like contentment-though it was a different sort of contentment than he had enjoyed, or had thought he was enjoying, a few days ago. Satisfaction with cabin life was mixed now with a new restlessness.

Merit was here. Only a few kilometers away.

Ever since he had joined the Space Force, the idea of living on Earth or some other crowded planet had repelled him more and more. Then the Space Force had lost its attraction too.

What Adam really wanted, when he looked at it squarely, was to be a Jovian, to have Merit for his woman and Ray and the others as his peers, as his brothers and sisters in a sense. But he was not going to become a Jovian, no matter what he did. Therefore it was necessary to adopt some other life. Until a few days ago the cabin and the rough, chancy existence of a fur-hunter had been, for the time being at least, quite satisfactory.

Merit was here, only a few kilometers away. But there were other women in the world. Many others, in the plurality of available worlds. Tenoka women, themed close enough to Earth-human for fun, still separate enough for there to be no worries about fertility and responsibility.

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