Fred Saberhagen – The Golden People

He was bounced off again, more violently than before, and coming back saw on his capsule’s viewscreen a red-rimmed dark hole, a couple of meters in diameter, piercing the smooth bright Jovian hull just ahead of him.

“Breach! Breach!” someone else was shouting, having spotted the hole at the same time.

“Thor, this is Bee, we are entering a breach,” Boris called back to the flagship, giving the machine called Fire Control the information that fragile friendly human flesh was about to do just that.

“We’re gaining!” shouted the voice that usually saidWe’re holding -the voice of someone who watched an indication of the total force being exerted by the Jovian. The enemy had been hurt now-either that or he was faking, pretending weakness, gathering his strength for an even greater effort to come.

Brazil led his boarding party into the torn-open hull, hoping to stay alive, trying to take the enemy alive. Weapons ready, he scrambled his capsule forward through a slick patch of still semi-molten metal, into the breach.

“You killed Alice. You were behind everything they did to her.” Adam spoke as he stood facing Ray on the flat rock, with the wide river roaring below them and the Ringwall looking down.

Ray looked at him calmly, and made a slight dismissive gesture. “Oh yes. Your wife. But never mind that now. We knew best. You have to admit that we always know best.” The answer was delivered almost absently, as if Ray were overwhelmingly distracted. Even before he finished speaking he had turned his face partly away from Adam, and was looking up at the Ringwall again.

Ray said: “The Field-builders are in there, with their victims-and they’re aware of us out here. Aware at this moment of me here, looking in at them. but our ship is overhead-did I tell you that?” He looked back at Adam, calmly and inquiringly.

Adam stared back. Even rage had to pause. “You’ve forgotten telling me that, two minutes ago?”

Ray blinked at him, as if Adam’s question had no possible relevance. Then Ray, as if continuing with some subject already under discussion, said: “It was years ago when we first began to weed the human garden. For a time, a long time, we were too conservative. We removed only certain very objectionable people-the power-mad, the organizers of hate groups and of crime syndicates-obscene little creatures, unworthy even of our true human ancestors. Then gradually we began to feel more confident, and to do more.

“From now on, we will do more still. You of course were wrong to mate with a human female. But you didn’t know then that you were Jovian. We can forgive you.”

“You-can forgive me Alice.”

Ray ignored the answer. “We were right, of course, to dispose of her. But I see now that we were in-can I call it error?” He shook his head, muttering for a moment to himself. “Of course I can call it error, I can say whatever I like.”

He looked closely again at Adam, and for a moment Ray’s old infectious grin was visible. Then the grin as gone, replaced by-something else. A look that would have gone better with a long, scaly neck. “. in error, in our choice of methods. Hired physical violence.” Ray’s voice expressed contempt, and he shook his head. “You foiled the attempt on Ling in Stem City, and I’m glad now that you did. The use of such means is really beneath us.Now , after we have killed with our minds alone, I understand that. I think my intellect is growing tremendously now, hour by hour, even minute by minute. now I understand that, and now I see the true glory of. of. what was I saying?”

A pebble fell, from out of the clear blue sky. Adam saw it clearly as it fell, as it struck Ray on the shoulder and bounced off to come to rest with minor clatter on the huge flat rock where they were standing.

Ray looked up, puzzling at the sky with slow, vague eyes.

The mighty intelligence was crumbling, the godlike powers falling in upon their center. Adam watched the collapse with cold rejoicing, violent hatred.

Adam said: “Damn you to hell, you deserve what you’re getting!”

“Ohhh?” Ray again tore his gaze down from the Ringwall. And now, for the first time since Adam had climbed up on the rock with him, he gave Adam his full attention. Ray’s body came jerkily back to normal shape, the elongated leg restoring itself as in some dream, or some conjuror’s trick.

Ray said: “One thing you must remember, one thing about being a Jovian. It is that I am your leader, and I am always right. If you dispute that, you must and will be disciplined. We have begun with Merit. I think that it will be preferable to destroy her personality entirely, and then rebuild-”

A trigger pulled in Adam’s brain, sending him two steps forward, left, right, and then the front snap kick with the left foot, snapped faster than the eye could follow.

Ray moved almost as fast, and very lightly for all his bulk, sidestepping perfectly. He smiled pityingly, and shook his head. “Adam, Adam, will I have to rebuild you too? How can you hope to fight a telepath physically? One who is bigger and stronger than you are?

“I think I will remove both you and Merit to the ship, and begin the process there, as soon as the difficulty with the human ships is over.” Ray squinted up into the misty sky. “That should be soon now.” He turned his back on Adam again to gaze up at the Ringwall. “Later I can return to deal with the-creatures-who live there.” Without looking Ray dodged Adam’s chop at the back of his neck. Then the huge man spun around, avoiding a driving knee, and swung.

Adam saw the enormous fist coming at him, and thought he had it ducked, but it seemed to swing lower, following the movement of his head. There was a flash in his head and his consciousness was gone-

-for what must have been only a second or two; he found himself rolling onto his back, hands and feet ready for defensive work. There was a numb fogging pressure on his mind, and his eyes were blurring.

Ray was standing back, calm and safe, talking and talking, delivering a lecture:

“-acting like a human-cannot condone-”

Ray, Ray, who was Ray? Alice’s killer, Merit’s tormentor, freely confessed, standing there in front of him. Adam rolled up into a catlike crouch, and heard himself muttering the gutter words and threats of his childhood. In a few seconds the cold computer in his head was clear enough, the body ready. He started forward in a half-crouch.

“You cannot fight a telepath in such a way.” Ray was leaning forward, speaking very distinctly, as if to a child. Then a shade of alarm crossed his face and he started his dodging motion in time to avoid the first kick and the second. Then he parried the smashing backfist strike with his forearm, and launched a kick of his own that Adam was expecting and easily avoided.

There was not much room on the little table of rock for stalking, the cold computer commented unhappily to Adam. He moved in again on Ray, and saw knowledge of his own intentions in Ray’s eyes, knowledge disregarded by Ray’s supreme confidence.

Adam threw another combination of kicks and blows. Again Ray could not totally avoid the final impact, though he almost succeeded in dodging it, so much of the force was lost. But the last kick caught him just above the knee. This time Ray’s counterpunch went only halfway before he jerked it back, just in time to keep from being grabbed by arm and shoulder, levered off his feet, and slammed down onto rock.

Adam and Ray moved hesitantly closer, then alertly jerked away from each other. Now, whenever Ray’s weight came on his right leg, he limped.

A purple welt from one of the exchanges was now rising on Ray’s hairy forearm. But he was able to make himself stop limping. “You are a true Jovian,” he said, sounding like a proud father. “A true-”

He got his guard up just barely in time. Again the last phase of the attack damaged him; he could not move swiftly enough to escape entirely what he perceived was coming. Nor could he strike back with Adam’s unthinking speed.

Adam made no conscious tactical plan. He moved in on Ray, and let the years of training and practice take over.

Adam was knocked down again. Then when Ray stepped close to kick at him, Adam blocked the kick with his own feet, tripped Ray and threw him back and down. Both men got to their feet, almost grappling, breaking apart at the last instant. Then they lunged and fell together, lungs sobbing for air, arms locking and twisting for advantage. Ray’s greater strength began to tell. Adam got an arm free, and jabbed his enemy in the throat, and broke away.

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