Fred Saberhagen – The Golden People

Eleven-year-old Merit greeted him now with a giggle. “Hi, Ad. You look like you’re getting your hair set.”

Adam grunted. The problem was that he wanted desperately to say something witty, to show he didn’t mind if she teased him a little, but he could think of no words at all. Suddenly he remembered there were a hundred telepaths, or at least potential telepaths, within a few hundred meters of him. Now he could feel his face getting warm. Why in hell did she have to stand there giggling at him-

“I think you’d better leave, young lady,” said Doc, raising his head from his control panel. “You’re a disturbing influence just now.”

“All right, Grouchy Doc,” said Merit. She spoke as if humoring some elderly and harmless relative- but she didn’t argue. “Call me if he’s mean to you, Adam.” She winked at the boy in the chair, and gracefully closed the door behind her.

“So long,” Adam called out, lamely, at the last moment, as the door was already closing. Suddenly he felt angry with Merit, irritated with Doc, with Doc’s wife Regina, with the whole crew of these people here, who had so damn much more going for them than any group that Adam had ever met before.

The lean man in the lab coat sighed, bending over his control panel again. Then he straightened up. “Let’s try something, Adam.” With an air of decision, almost a theatrical gesture, Doc raised and let fall a hand, extended finger touching one of the panel switches. Adam could feel no change. Doc said: “I want you to close your eyes now, and imagine a black screen, waiting for a picture.”

Adam closed his eyes. “What color is the screen?”

“Make it white. Okay? Got it?”

“Good. Now, just let the screen stay there, and listen to the story.”

He was about to ask Doc what story, but there was no need. Right on cue, a recorded voice began to reach Adam’s ears, coming to him through the helmet. In soothing tones the voice started telling him about a man named Caesar, who at some time, evidently long ago, had loaded an army onto a fleet of eighty ships, and sailed off with them for Britain.

“Keep your eyes closed, Adam,” said Doc’s voice, coming through the helmet too, now, as the storyteller paused. “Now, as you listen, try to imagine an ending for the story, and guide the story to that ending. Understand?”

“No sir, I don’t think so. How can / change the story? Isn’t it recorded?”

“You don’t have to change it, really. Just give it a try. The effort should make some things happen that I can observe. All right?”

Adam shrugged, the helmet rustling on his scalp. He felt a faint tug. Somehow the probes in the helmet had taken hold of him, and he hadn’t even noticed it until now. “Yessir, all right.”

The whispering voice resumed its narrative. Caesar and his army poked around Britain, exploring and getting into trouble. They lost some of their ships in a storm, and fought against blue-painted warriors who liked to ride in chariots and hurl javelins. Adam didn’t think much of Caesar, whoever he was, or had been. He seemed to have had no good reason for going to Britain and bothering the people who lived there.

Eyes still shut, Adam concentrated on trying to change the story. But, of course, the narrator’s recorded voice just droned on. Adam didn’t have anything to do with deciding what it said.

By now, the imaginary white screen in Adam’s mind had been forgotten. If hewere telling the story, he would have made up a different course of events, disliking Caesar as he did.

If only.

Just suppose. that some of the offended Britons could have sneaked into the invaders’ camp, bent on revenge. Right into Caesar’s tent, why not? Adam could see them clearly now, half a dozen men, not blue-painted but wearing robe-like garments, pulling out their knives suddenly and attacking. And Caesar reeled back and let out a hoarse scream, and his clothing was all blood. And Caesar’s eyes closed, then opened, fastening on one of his killers. And.

“Kai su teknon!” The shouting voice broke with its emotion.

At the sound of the shout, Adam lurched upright in the giant chair. He was vaguely aware again of Doc Nowell’s laboratory around him. But still at the same time, like watching a reflection in a window, he was still able to see the inside of Caesar’s tent. Caesar had now disappeared, along with his killers, but something-Adam knew it demanded his full attention-stirred the fabric of the tent flap.

Now the head of a handsome man was thrust inside the tent. The man’s forehead was high, under a fringe of dark hair, and his features were noble and impressive. But something about him was very wrong, frighteningly so. Adam knew that before he had the least idea of what the wrong thing was. The head intruded a little farther now into the tent, and now with horror the boy saw that it was borne on a long, scaly, reptilian neck. The body supporting that neck was still blessedly hidden by the flap of fabric making the tent door.

. and now, all around Adam in the vision, people were gathering. There might have been a hundred of them surrounding him. All of them, women and men alike, were giants, godlike in their beauty and power.

And now a single human figure came pushing its way through that awe-inspiring assembly. It was that of a stocky and powerful man, much more ordinary than the rest, except that he was wearing what might have been some kind of elaborate spacesuit. The face of the man in the spacesuit was clearly visible through the faceplate. It was solemn in its expression now, but Adam thought that there was a habit of humor in the eyes.

“My name is Alexander Golden,” the stocky man in the spacesuit said to Adam. Then he turned toward the long-necked creature with the human head, and swung his arm as if to strike at it-

And then, abruptly, Doc Nowell’s psych lab, its enclosing walls and equipment-loaded benches, was again the only visible reality. The psych helmet had already been raised from Adam’s head, and Doc was standing close beside the great chair, looking at him intently.

“What happened?” they asked each other, speaking simultaneously.

It was Doc who answered first, putting on a faint smile that might not have been quite genuine. “Well, you went to sleep, that’s what happened. Sometimes my stories, recorded or otherwise, have been known to have that effect on people. But what did you experience?”

Adam related as well as he could what he had seen and heard. As if it had been a true dream, some of the details were already starting to go.

He concluded: “And then the last man said that his name was-Alec Golding. I think. Something like that.”

“It’s fading?” Doc’s tone was sharp.

“Yeah. Like a dream.”

“The face of the man in the suit-you say you saw it plainly. Do you know him? Ever see him before?”

“No. I don’t think so.” It was hard to be sure. Now that last face was going too.

Doc hesitated, on the brink of saying something else. Then he turned away to shut things down at the control panel.

He turned back. “Kai su teknonis Greek-means something like ‘you too, my child.’ It’s what Caesar is supposed to have cried out when he was stabbed, though that didn’t happen in Britain-you know who Caesar was?”

“Nossir. When I read it’s mostly about the Space Force.” –

“Damn. Oh, it’s not your fault. The Space Force is a worthy subject too, I suppose, but-don’t they teach you anything at that Home?”

“They say next year they’re gonna reorganize the school.”

“I should hope so. anyway, Caesar was quite a famous man. He’s in the minds of a lot of other people down through the centuries, and his death-scene is one of the classical results we get from this test. Though I must say not one of the more common ones. You picked it up either from me, or directly from the past. Shows you have at least a fair amount of parapsych potential, certainly more than I do myself. If you had begun training very early, you might have become quite adept.”

Doc walked back to the great chair in which his subject was still sitting, and rested his hands on one of the padded arms. “Adam, you interest me. Your biological inheritance is-superb. Almost equal to that of my children here. Whoever your parents were-you said you don’t know.”

“Nossir. They never could find out at the Home. Someone just left me there, when I was a baby.”

“An unlucky start, in many ways. I was about to say, whoever your parents were, they at least blessed you with a superb genetic inheritance. One quite good enough to enable you to overcome environmental difficulties. You could, for example, become an outstanding athlete. But I think you have too good a mind to be satisfied with only that. We’re going to have to make sure that your schooling is improved. And there is definitely some parapsych potential-but you may be happier with that undeveloped.”

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