Fred Saberhagen – The Golden People

The appearance of the villages near the Stem had changed substantially over the last few years, as had the lives of those who dwelled in them. Now, nearly all of the Tenoka teepees were made from tough Earth fabrics, and nearly every Tenoka fire heated a cook-pot of Earth metal.

The warriors of this particular village greeted Adam warmly, and eyed Merit and her camera with greater toleration than most tourists received, since she was with him.

“There have been signs and omens, Geryon-Slayer,” said one of the elders, speaking in his own language. “Even now Pierced Arms lies in trance. We have been expecting you, for he foretold two visitors for today.”

“Did you get that?” Adam asked Merit.

She wrinkled her forehead. “Not too well.” There was nothing unethical in a telepath’s “reading” a message that was available to the ears anyway- and, as Adam understood it, nothing particularly unpleasant to the reader. But thoughts formed in an unknown language were apt to be difficult.

When Adam translated for her, Merit was interested. She asked: “Could we see this medicine man? Do you think it’s genuine parapsych or fakery?”

“Probably fakery, if I know old Pierced Arms, and I think I do. but then, I thought I knew myself, before I started catching glimpses of the future. Well, we can try.”

Adam turned to the elders and addressed them in their own tongue. “How about if we see old Pierced Arms? Would it be possible? Might scare my lady here a bit.”

They smiled and took the bait; very little was so sacred to the Tenoka that it could not serve as the basis for a practical joke.

“He speaks messages now,” whispered an attendant, as Merit and Adam were ushered into the darkened lodge. This one, consecrated to magic, was made of real skins. Surrounded by a large assortment of magical paraphernalia, with oil lamps burning at his head and feet, Pierced Arms lay tossing on his pallet. The body of the medicine man was daubed with colored clay in intricate patterns, and strings of feathers were laced through the loops in his wrinkled skin. Now his eyes were open, now they were shut. His arms and legs twitched, and he breathed irregularly and jabbered strange words.

“I don’t quite get that dialect,” Adam whispered.

Merit closed her eyes. “I can get something out of it. Yes. I think-a message from one man to another, here on Golden. They’re distant relatives, and they live a long way apart. Congratulations, I think, one is saying to the other. congratulations on I don’t know what. Something will be sent. A present. But both men are surprised at being able to communicate in this way. It doesn’t usually-”

Her eyes opened. “And, Adam, wait. There’s something else going on, in the background.” Merit was excited. Not quite worried; alert.

Then she was silent for a moment, and Adam said: “I think you’re right about the messages being passed, somehow.” He was fascinated. “I’ve never seen this before, though I’ve heard stories.”

Merit pressed his hand, urging silence; she was concentrating intensely.

The shaman was beginning a new message now. His voice changed in tone as he did so, and shifted to a language that Adam had never heard before. Neither could Merit really follow it this time. Then quickly there was another shift. More talk followed, more minds were tapped. There were greetings between more people who were surprised to find themselves in mental communication-usually the subjects were not really astonished, though. It was something not unknown to the natives of Golden, this type of communication, but it was something rare. When they found themselves unexpectedly in mental contact, they exchanged greetings, or occasionally threats. Sometimes the exchange consisted of obscure words and ideas that neither Merit nor Adam could understand.

Once, when Pierced Arms paused longer than usual between messages, Adam paused to open the tent flap and look out. He was getting restless. “We’d better start back soon. It’s going to be getting dark-”

Merit gripped his hand, suddenly and hard. But it was Pierced Arms whose voice boomed out a second later, louder than before, commanding, uttering perfectly accented words and sentences in the preferred language of Earth’s Space Force and most of her colonies.

“Raymond Kedro, a message for him,” Pierced Arms almost shouted. “My name was Alexander Golden, and I speak to warn the man from Earth called Kedro. He closes his mind against me, but he should hear. If he persists in what he plans for this world, he must fail. People will die, other people will suffer. Kedro himself may die-”

Merit raised fists to her forehead. Her scream was an elemental, primal sound, that had to have been driven out of her by some force greater than the mere shock of the words, of any words. The scream was so loud that it made Pierced Arms awaken, with a start.

Adam held Merit tightly while she recovered. The Tenoka at the door of the lodge were giggling quietly at the joke’s excellent though long-delayed success.

“Merit. What was it? Merit-?”

“Adam,” she whispered, “Ray was here-his mind- fighting something-”

“Hungry,” muttered Pierced Arms, sitting up and scratching his lean old ribs. “Much talking always makes me hungry. Where’s my worthless elder wife? Ha, Geryon-Slayer, you bring a woman to hear me speak? No matter, she can help prepare the food. Wife!”

“Merit, brace up,” Adam murmured in her ear. “We’ll talk later. Right now we’d better be good guests.”

And she did brace up, immediately. If an ordinary woman had recovered with such speed from screaming fright, you would think she had been acting.

Chapter Fifteen

The string twanged sharply, and the arrow from Earth went humming away from Ray Kedro’s thirty-five kilo bow. After a flight of thirty meters the shaft punched almost exactly into the center of the bright blue bullseye. The target, concentric rings of color on a soft plastic disk, hung from the stump of a branch on a tree at the edge of a clearing. The clearing was no more than about a hundred meters from Adam’s cabin.

“I have no doubt about one point,” said Ray, as he drew a second arrow from the new, fancifully decorated quiver on his back. “What you heard from the medicine man was genuinely intended as a message for me. I take the message seriously. And I’d prefer that you tell no one else about it.”

The two men were completely alone in the woods at the moment, there being probably no other human beings within a kilometer in any direction. Merit was at the hospital, where she was spending most of her time these days. The medical reports were good, and Vito was due soon to be released.

“I won’t tell anyone else about it if you say so,” Adam said. “But why not?”

“Humor me.”

“All right. But the Space Force is going to hear about your message anyway, through the Tenoka.”

“I suppose they will. But let’s not confirm it.” Ray nocked his second arrow on the bowstring and took quick aim. A moment later another shaft sank into the bullseye, close beside .the first. At archery, as at everything else, he was superb.

“And the communication was from Alexander Golden,” Adam said, meditatively. “Pierced Arms said that name very plainly. And I don’t understand it at all.”

“I don’t believe the message really came from Alexander Golden, but through him,” Ray answered calmly. “Or through what’s left of him, more likely.”

Adam paused in the act of reaching for one of his own arrows. “What?”

Ray was looking at him soberly. “Even before I left Sol System I was vaguely, distantly aware of very strong parapsych activity, here on this planet and around it. Yes, I know, the enormous distance. But the mind, the Jovian mind at least, is not entirely constrained to obey the laws of physics. and since I arrived on Golden I’ve been able to confirm the parapsych activity. There’s more of it here than there is on Earth, or anywhere else I’ve been. It may be that there’s something natural about the planet, that induces or promotes it. You never had a precognitive experience before you came here, did you?”

“No. but what is all this activity that you detect here? What’s the source?”

“Some of it emanates from these native people. The Tenoka here and around the Stem area, and others of their species around the planet. But the preponderate amount of parapsych action on Golden comes from the beings you have called the Field-builders.” Ray studied Adam’s reaction, and added: “Oh yes, they’re still around. Very much so.”

It was Adam’s turn to shoot, but he still stood with his bow forgotten in his hand, staring at Ray. “If that’s so. then you’re the first person from Earth to ever make contact with them.”

Ray smiled faintly. “Except for the unfortunate Alex Golden, of course. but they don’t want such contact, Adam. They prefer to hide from us, from both Jovian and Earth-descended humanity, and study us at their leisure. And more and more.” Ray came to a halt, gazing at Adam in an abstracted and unhappy way.

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred