Fred Saberhagen – The Golden People

Adam stretched again. Tonight he intended to go into Stem City, and enjoy one last little fling before he left to spend a week alone up in the northern mountains. One more good haul of fine furs should be possible before spring.

Someday the tribesmen who lived up there, distant cousins of the Tenoka, might try to kill him, just to steal his marvelous bow, compounded of magical Earth materials. That risk, he thought, was not yet too great. But what was the risk of going into town tonight, to seek out another man’s wife and at least spend as much time as possible with her? Because that’s what he was intending to do. There was no use trying to lie to himself about it. And in fact he doubted very much whether he was starting for the mountains tomorrow, either. Not while she was here.

Out of all of them, the entire hundred, Merit was the one, the only one so far as Adam knew, who had chosen a non-Jovian to marry. And when she did that, she picked out a man who lived on Earth like an Earth-descended human being, not one who had turned into a hermit on an alien world-

Someone was approaching the cabin. It was a single person, walking quietly but not sneaking. Thin ice in a small shaded puddle crackled underfoot. He or she was coming along the faint path that followed the top of the river bluff, from the direction of the nearby religious colony. Again Adam heard movement, and saw small birds fly up from the brush near the path.

He knew that he had an enemy or two in Stem City, among the hoodlums settling in there on the fringes of the fur business. Then there was Tooth Biter, the Tenoka he had once caught stealing. Without moving from his position in the doorway, Adam reached an arm along the inside cabin wall to take his twenty-five kilo composite bow down from its pegs. He set the bow on end just inside the doorframe, and reached again to slide a broad-bladed hunting arrow out of the hanging quiver.

Then in a few seconds .he saw the white robes, marked with the symbol of the cross. Adam put back the weapons, and stepped out in smiling welcome. “Father, glad to see you.”

Father Francis Marti was young and small; at first glance, he might have been a theological student lost in the woods. His hobby was studying the native wildlife of Golden, while his work was in a parish in Stem City. There, as he had once told Adam, the geryons’ faces were sometimes even more convincingly human than were the faces of the geryons out here in the wilderness.

Now he might have been greeting a favorite parishioner. “Adam. Are you keeping well?”

“Still alive. You trying to convert your religious competition over there?” Adam nodded in the direction from which the priest had come. The colony of black-clad folk were back that way, only a couple of kilometers distant.

Father Marti appeared to consider the question seriously. He said at last: “No. I have been trying to warn them-some of them travel frequently alone and unarmed in the woods. Maybe their patriarch would listen to you more readily than to me.”

Both men glanced toward the end of the right sleeve of the priest’s white robe, from which no hand emerged. Father Marti did own quite a good right hand, but it was complex enough that the metal and plastic joints of it tended to freeze up or exhibit other bizarre behavior whenever he wore it into the Field. He usually, as today, left his right hand in the city whenever he visited the wilderness. Father Marti too had once walked in these woods unarmed. But then had come his wrestling match with a small geryon. Since then he came with the sheath of a Bowie knife hanging on his belt, ready for a left-hand draw.

“I’ll talk to them tomorrow,” Adam said.Before I leave for the mountains , he thought. /really had better go. Then why don’t I tell the Father I’m making one more hunting trip this winter? Because I know I’m not going. I mean to stay here instead and hang around another man’s wife. Being merely human, I always lie to myself .


“What is it?”

But there was nothing, really, to be said.

In the late afternoon Adam heated some water and got cleaned up and dressed to go into the city. He had no very extensive wardrobe, and wore a modified version of his usual garb. According to what he could see of himself in his small metal mirror, he looked like a tourist trying to look like an old settler. Not, he supposed, that it made any difference anyway.

By the time he had paddled and motored himself across the river to Far Landing, darkness was at hand, the million distant lights of Stem City starting to come on against the night. The shuttle copter rose from the meadow behind Far Landing into the last fading fire-glory of the sunset. The only other passengers this trip were a tourist couple carrying cameras and wearing tired, vaguely disappointed expressions. Maybe I shouldn’t have washed up and changed clothes, Adam thought. He pictured himself boarding the copter in a begrimed hunting shirt, saying to the tourists: “Me half Tenoka. You take picture?” He grinned.

When he was on his way to look for Merit, he could feel good about his life.

The first thing he did on reaching the city was to try to call the Lings at their hotel-she had told him which one they were staying at. But they were out. They might, Adam supposed, be dining tonight at the home of one of the Fieldedge scientists, but he had no way of looking for them there. Stem City’s rapidly multiplying places of entertainment were a different matter. He would give some of those a try.

Already the center of the only city on Golden strongly resembled that of a resort town on Earth. If the buildings here were not yet quite as tall as those on more crowded worlds, the money flowed at least as freely. People who traveled this far from Earth or anywhere else to seek amusement had plenty of money to spend.

Adam started on a round of bars, working his way outward from the exact center of town. He actually drank only a small amount. Neither alcohol nor other drugs had ever assumed any great importance in his life.

While smoking an Antarean cigar in a place that featured the worst music he had heard in at least a year, he happened to glance out through a large bubble window a hundred meters above the street. Kilometers distant, out near the northern perimeter of the Stem, there stood the newest tower on the planet, four hundred vertical meters of steel and stone, bathed at night in searchlights of changing color. A huge sign flashed pictures, first frothy bubbles pouring from a glass, then a couple dancing side by side, then the name of some entertainer blazing out, and then the cycle started over.

Yes, Adam thought, quite likely. It was the newest hotel on planet, advertised as top-status. Built on a hill that was still outside the burgeoning city proper, the tower looked up to the northern mountains in the distance, whence the savage fur hunters could look down at it in wonder. A Fieldedge scientist might well consider such a hotel the ideal place to take off-world visitors. Anyway, Merit would certainly not be here where Adam was now, listening to this subhuman music.

From the center of Stem City an enclosed, multi-lane slideway stretched all the way out to the new resort. FASTEST WITHIN TEN LIGHT YEARS! advertised the slideway’s entrance signs. The dully-gleaming, black-surfaced lanes bore a thin scattering of passengers. Adam stepped from lane to lane, out to the express walk that moved nearest the stationary central divider, and was whistled along at highway speed. People going the other way blurred past him, just on the other side of the air-buffered plastic barrier in the center.

There was clear plastic overhead, too, a shield against weather. Every two hundred meters or so, glass or composite observation platforms had been bubbled out from the slideway’s structure, other-wise mostly enclosed tunnel. These platforms were accessible from the slow outer lanes, and gave day or night a good view of the Stem country. Much of the Stem was already lighted at night, sketched in with roads and markers for future development even where there were as yet no buildings. Soon, Adam expected, the city was likely to fill the Stem completely; at which point the developers would be sure to want a new treaty with the Tenoka, and then an expansion of development into Field territory. Which, Adam thought drily, should be fun to watch.

Now a pair of teener boys came hurtling past Adam on the other side of the center divider. With an expertly violent throw, one of them heaved something over the barrier as they came shooting toward him, some object that was caught and spun in the air buffers but still came past Adam’s dodging head at sixty or seventy kilometers an hour, to land on the strip that he was riding and make a long streaked splash of something messy. For a second he thought of chasing the kids, but decided that would be a waste of time, whether or not he was able to catch up with them.

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