Fred Saberhagen – The Golden People

Ray was making fascinating statements, opening topics and then dropping them. That wasn’t really his way, as Adam remembered. Adam still leaned on the bar. He wasn’t ready to drop this one. “That’s it, isn’t it? It comes back to the Builders. Why did they create the Field, and where are they now?”

“Why? I think they created it-just to see what would happen when someone else, like-Earth-descended humanity, discovered it. And where are they now? I think that they’re not too far away.” Abruptly Ray pushed off from the bar. Not really looking to see whether Adam was following him or not, the huge man led the way toward the distant table where the Lings and the Shishidos appeared to be having a genuinely good time, celebrating something. Celebrating what, Adam wondered? Certainly not the laboratory failure he had just heard about. Certainly not the near-fight on the dock.

“Do you think the Field could be a parapsych effect?” Adam wondered aloud, suddenly, as they were skirting the low stage. The stage was occupied by frenetically dancing girls whose skins were covered with colored lights and almost nothing else, and Adam felt a little idiotic walking almost among them, discussing parapsych effects.

Ray turned to answer, the lights playing indirectly on his face. “If it is, it’s a damned good one. They’ve integrated it with effects of the physical sciences. That’s a little beyond what we can do. So far.” It sounded like that, maybe, was the main point of what he had been thinking about. He turned again and moved on.

Vito Ling was the first person at the table to see them coming; the tall physicist’s face took on an anxious look, and he scrambled to his feet and stuck out his hand to Adam. “Sorry about the other day. Really sorry. I had no reason to act that way, no excuse at all.” He was obviously sincere.

“It’s all right-no harm done.”

“I’ll say not. I’m just lucky that you’re cooler than I am.”

The handshake was firm. It might be easy to get to like this character, Adam thought. That was all he needed, that would make things really nice. Oh, yes.

Merit, delighted at the truce, got up to greet Adam with an old friend’s kiss. He sat down in the chair Ray pulled up for him, between Merit and Ray. A drink was poured for him. He was introduced to Mrs. Shishido, at close range a nicer-looking woman than he had expected. Mrs. Shishido beamed at him.

“Well, now!” said her small husband, also well pleased to see peace. “Well! Mr. Mann, I understand that you are actually the first human being of Earth to ever set foot on this planet-except perhaps for the unfortunate Golden. And you’ve been living here for some time now? I wish that I might have been able to meet you sooner.”

Shishido was genuinely interested in the planeteering history. The others were too, once the subject had been raised. Adam began to talk of the earliest days of the Space Force exploration of Golden, telling as an eyewitness of the first experiments with the Field. He could speak well when he wanted to put forth the effort, and now he had a willing audience.

Vito Ling and Dr. Shishido listened with complete attention. Ray stared into space, but Adam felt that he was absorbing every word. The eyes of the two women stayed on Adam’s face. The noise and visual confusion of the Pioneer Hotel faded into a vague background.

When Adam paused, Vito let out a sighing breath, and shook his head. “I wish I’d been here then!”

“It’s still the same planet, outside the Stem,” said Adam. “That’s what I like about Golden. We haven’t been able to ruin it. And it’s still the same Field that we saw then.”

The physicists began a three-way argument among themselves, each for slightly different reasons damning the theories and activities of the Research Foundation. Meanwhile, dancing was in again this year, and Adam danced with Mrs. Shishido, though he didn’t feel much like it.

Then he led Merit out onto the crowded floor. The music was part of an uproar, that was about all you could say for it. Bodies jostled them this way and that.

“How’s the geryon research going?” he asked.

“Slowly. I don’t know if I can even call it research yet. I’ve been to your local zoo and library.”

“They do a pretty good job, I think. I helped the zoo people collect some of their specimens, last year.” Merit dancing beside him was silent, as if her thoughts were wandering. He asked: “What brought you to the Pioneer Hotel?”

“The Shishidos’ idea. I really don’t mind a place like this-about once a year.” She didn’t ask Adam what had brought him here tonight; probably she knew. Instead she asked him: “How do you like my husband?”

“I guess I like him.”

“I love him, Adam. And he’s a good man.” Something was definitely worrying her. “And what more important things than those is it possible to say about anyone? About you, or Ray, or anyone else?”

Adam said nothing, important or otherwise. He held Merit gently and chastely in his arms, at the proper times during the dance, or tried to do so, while they were bounced around like fools on the stampeded dance floor. This was what he was going to get from her. This much and no more.

When there was a pause in the dancing, and the two of them got back to the table, Adam looked carefully at Vito for signs of another jealous fit. But Vito only smiled vacantly at both of them and went on with the scientific discussion of the Field.

Adam sat and listened to the scientific argument, meanwhile sipping on another drink. Now the alcohol in his bloodstream was easing him past the level of slight exhilaration, to the point where there seemed to be a certain amount of electronic noise in his brain, and concentration was needed to drive clear signals through.

Ray and Merit. Always his friends, right from the start. More than his friends. And yet at the same time always above him, above the rest of humanity too. Merit and Ray, their ninety-eight. siblings, Ray called them sometimes. Kin? Clan members? In Adam’s opinion there still wasn’t a good word. Maybe that was by design, to make the Jovians appear to outsiders as less of a cohesive group.

Not pretending to be superior. Not pretending anything. Not claiming a birthright above common humanity for the purpose of boosting their own egos, or to maintain themselves somehow in power. Adam might deride, or fear, or feel contempt for people who claimed superiority for such purposes, but he would never envy them.

And the truth was that he did envy the Jovians. Theywere superior, standing together above the world. Suddenly he wondered if there were any little second-generation Jovians as yet. It would be very strange, he thought, if there were not.

Some words caught his ear. The subject of table conversation had shifted, and he broke into the talk of Golden’s possible future. “Hold on, this planet may be pretty well populated already.”

“Primitive,” said Vito. “Oh, I don’t mean that we should talk all over ’em. But there must be enormous uninhabited areas out there, hey? Practically whole continents.”

Adam said: “I really wouldn’t think so. Of course it’s hard to tell, from pictures taken from above six or seven hundred kilometers. The Field seems to cause random distortion of detail.”

Ray chuckled softly. “I wonder how random it really is.”

Chapter Thirteen

Adam got to his feet; he felt a little drunk, maybe more than just a little, and the sensation was unpleasant as well as unfamiliar. “Well, glad to have seen all you people. I feel the urge to move on.” Merit looked up at him with an unreadable expression. The other people round the table made their several protests and offered their farewells, and he started away from them. From near the elevators he looked back, across the room’s activity. Ray was standing now, resting one giant muscular hand gently on Merit’s head, while she sat with her eyes closed and face relaxed, looking as if she might be sound asleep. The others round the table watched the two Jovians, not understanding any more than Adam did. And we never will, thought Adam.

Abruptly Ray left the table and walked toward the stage, which was empty now of dancers and musicians. Adam turned his back and found his way to the wall near the elevators, where in an alcove stood a discreet machine, dispenser of sobering pills. He gulped down a pill, and looked around again. Now Vito and Merit, who was lively again, seemed to be getting ready to leave, and Ray was seated at a piano beside the stage. Adam recalled suddenly that there had almost always been beautiful music, live or recorded, to be heard at any time somewhere in Doc Nowell’s enormous house. And it would be like a Jovian, Adam thought, to play fine music now, in a place like this, amid such noise that no one else would be able to hear it.

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred