Fred Saberhagen – The Golden People

“We may be temporarily separated after the first jump,” Ray warned the others. “But we should still commence the second jump at the same time, if not from exactly the same place. And I guarantee we’ll get back together when it becomes necessary. After four or five jumps we should arrive together in the vicinity of the Ringwall-not in it, but in sight of it. All you all ready? Then here weSO-”

-and they were standing on another wooded hillside, a place Adam did not recognize; it was still dusk here, so they could not yet have traveled many kilometers toward their goal.

Vito was not with them. Merit, her sudden fear evident, looked around in all directions for her husband. But he was gone. She turned to Ray.

“It’s all right,” Ray told her, calmly, paternally. “The little feller isn’t too scared-I’ve still got a touch on him.”

Merit’s eyes blazed briefly in anger, and Adam was glad they were not aimed at him.

The three of them waited, resting minds and bodies between jumps. They had warned Adam that teleportation could be physically draining, and he was learning that they were right. They walked about a little, restlessly, as individuals, but still kept close together. Dusk was deepening slowly. Limited conversation was exchanged. Ray had to keep reassuring Merit, or trying to do so. “I tell you he’s all right.”

“He’d better be. He’d better be.”

“Time to go,” Ray told the others presently. He was as calm as ever.

-and they were standing in the middle of an open space, a larger clearing surrounded by a different forest, and now it was deep moonless night. The group was still three strong; Vito had rejoined it somehow, but now Ray was nowhere to be seen.

Merit almost crushed her husband hugging him, crying out softly in her relief. Then the three exchanged whispered information. Vito had spent his time of separation from the others in almost total darkness. Except that he had been under trees somewhere, evidently in a forest, he could offer no intelligent opinion as to where he had been, or how far from the others.

Overhead, the Galaxy sprawled across a velvet sky. From the position of the constellations Adam estimated the local time at about two hours after sunset. That meant that they were well on their way around the planet, standing now on Golden’s surface at a point much farther from Stem City than any other Earth visitors had ever reached.

Vito was fumbling with something in the dark. Then he announced: “We’re still in the Field here. Just as I was on my solo side trip. I thought we might strike a pocket of normality under the Field somewhere. Theoretical possibility, but we haven’t come to it yet.”

Adam whispered to Merit: “How long will we wait here, do you think?”

“Maybe as long as half an hour. I don’t think the next jump can be delayed more than that-Adam?”


“Did Ray show you-anything of the Field-builders, as he did me?”

“No. He evidently couldn’t-I’m not able to see into his mind that clearly.”

“He showed me. If he’s right, well, what we’re doing is more important than-almost more important than we can imagine.”

“Great.” Vito sounded more impatient than impressed. “Is that the sea I smell?”

They all sniffed the air. There was a certain alien tang; none of them could be sure if salt water was a component.

Adam said: “But we can’t be far from the sea now, anyway. Do you think we’ll make the other coast in one more jump, or will it be an island?”

“There’s no way to be sure,” said Merit.

Adam could feel an inner tide rising, an oncoming aura of teleportation. He opened his mouth to speak, but there was no time to speak. Then the ground dropped out from under Adam’s feet, and he lost his surroundings in the darkness. He was aware, for just a moment, of a strong, cool wind blowing in his face from out of the continuing darkness, as he fell feet first through empty night.

And then he splashed into salt water, deep and rough.

He fought his way back to the surface, swimming desperately to keep afloat against the weight of pack and weapons. The pattern of the icy stars told his racing mind that the time here was near midnight, and that in turn meant that he must be somewhere near the middle of a great ocean.

Parapsych theory to the contrary, there seemed to be nothing to prevent his drowning here as a direct result of his teleportation. Adam slipped out of his pack straps, abandoned bow and quiver to the sea, and let the belt that held his knife and hatchet sink away from him. There was no choice.

The water was almost comfortably warm. At least it felt considerably warmer than the air, and now, relieved of his burden of equipment, Adam could swim quite easily. There was no need, at least as yet, to shed his boots. They were lightweight and non-absorbent, Space Force surplus like some of the rest of his clothing.

From moment to moment he expected to be rescued from the sea by another teleporting jump. But the usual premonitory sensation did not come to him, and no jump happened. Did that indicate that even in the middle of the ocean he was really not in serious danger? So Ray had reassured him. Adam wouldn’t have cared to bet on it. But now he had no choice.

Adam bobbed about in moderate waves, turning to look and listen in every direction. He tried to keep a screen blank in his mind, ready for any telepathic message that might be sent his way. He called out vocally, but got no answer.

At first the night around him had appeared featureless. But as his eyes adjusted more fully to the dark, he thought he saw, in one direction, a dark mass at the horizon, blotting out stars in the lowest part of the sky. Having no other plan to follow, Adam paddled toward the blot. Still really expecting to be teleported away at any moment, he took his time, coasting relaxed face down in the water for long seconds, then coming up for a quick breath and a lunging stroke with arms and legs.

It was impossible to judge the distance of the land ahead. If indeed it was land-it still might be clouds, for all he knew. Whatever it was, Adam swam on toward it, through the alien sea and night, each moment half-expecting the next teleportation jump to whisk him away.

The stars informed him that something like an hour of steady swimming had passed, before he felt completely sure that the dark mass was solid and that he was definitely closer to it. Then almost at once he heard the sound of gentle waves on a beach, and touched sand with his feet.

He had been in excellent physical shape and well rested when the teleporting started, and the swim had not really tired him. With hardly a pause for rest, Adam walked up out of the water onto a sand spit which curved away toward a greater land mass, his original dark target bulk. There were no lights to be seen ahead, nothing but featureless darkness. Staring through the darkness, Adam tried to formulate a plan.

He was beginning to grow worried. He should have been swept away many minutes ago, together with his fellow Jovians, in another teleporting jump. But he had not been swept away. Something might have gone wrong. The telepathic world was dark and cloudy too, as far as his own limited, half-developed powers could show it to him.

It was borne in on him how much he was dependent on the others, on Ray especially. Too dependent. There was no help for it now, but Adam didn’t like it. He was going to have to develop his own powers.

But now was not the time to start on that. Still it was not in a planeteer’s nature to just sit and wait and hope for the best-nor was it in a Jovian’s nature, Adam told himself. He began to walk slowly and cautiously along the narrow curving spit of sand toward the dark amorphous mass ahead. He tried to probe ahead with his mind, willing to settle for a minimum, for the foreknowledge of a few meters of space, a few seconds of time. Even this modest effort failed.

Slowly the dark blur resolved itself. An island gradually grew and widened and took shape around Adam as he advanced. There were many trees, sheltering pools of deeper blackness. He could not guess at the island’s size. For all that he could see, it might have been some portion of a mainland; but he was still sure that he was somewhere near midocean.

His steps slowed as the darkness thickened. The only artificial light he had with him was matches, and he feared they might only reveal him without letting him see much of his environment. He decided that it would after all be best to find some kind of hiding place in which to wait for daybreak. Then, when he could see, he would cope with the situation as best he could, assuming that teleportation had still not swept him on.

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred