Fred Saberhagen – The Golden People

Adam didn’t know what to say.Almost equal to that of my children here . He thought of Ray, backed up against the playground wall.

Out of the hundred Jovian kids, as the news media had christened them, only Merit and Ray ever became anything like close friends to Adam. The others, all of them at least slightly older than Ray, were always pleasant enough to Adam on his visits to Doc Nowell’s estate. But when they were out of Adam’s sight he sometimes had difficulty in even remembering their names and faces.

. and now the physical wanting was over, for the moment. In a way, for Adam, it hadn’t been much different from what happened when one of the girls in the Home became available and willing. And in another way it had been very different indeed from that.

Adam lay watching Merit, who at the moment was lying on her back with her eyes closed. It was a summer afternoon, and the two of them were on one of the small, isolated roof-terraces of Doc Nowell’s huge house. Their clothing was on the tiles at the foot of the lawn-furniture lounge on which they lay, Adam’s garments scattered in savage haste, Merit’s folded almost neatly.

“For a minute there,” said Adam, and had to pause at that point to find the right words. “It felt like I was in your mind.”

“Mm,” said Merit, and turned her face a little more toward him. Her lips smiled faintly but her eyes did not open.

“Is that what it’s like,” Adam asked abstractedly, “when Ray or one of the others-?”

Merit’s eyes came open now, but they were looking over Adam’s shoulder, not into his face. He turned.

Ray was there. Adam hadn’t heard the only door to the terrace open or close, but Ray was there. He didn’t laugh, or even stare at the couple on the lounge, the way any of the guys at the Home would have done. He didn’t show embarrassment either. Adam couldn’t read the expression on his face at all.

Merit was at first alarmed to see Ray. Not because her clothes were off, because her first move wasn’t to hide herself. Instead she jumped up halfway from the lounge, getting one foot on the deck, as if to be ready for anything. Adam watched her for a moment, then scrambled to do the same.

All Ray said was: “It’s all right, you two. Really. It’s all right with me.” And there was still that strange look on his face, that was to stay in Adam’s memory almost as indelibly as the image of Merit’s body did. And Ray turned away and left them alone again, departing in an ordinarily noisy fashion by the ordinary rooftop door.

On his first encounter with the Jovians in a group, Adam had noticed that most of them seemed to look up to Ray in some subtle way, even though Ray was among the very youngest. Once Adam thought: Ray’s a late model, with all the tested improvements built in. Then he felt vaguely ashamed of having such a thought about his friend.

Adam returned to Doc Nowell’s estate for at least a dozen visits, at irregular but gradually increasing intervals, over the next five years. Repeated tests showed Adam’s parasych potential to be fading steadily, and eventually Doc gave a shrug and announced that he would test him no more. Such withering away of parapsych abilities was more common than not, he assured Adam, in normal human subjects. It hadn’t set in yet in the hundred subjects of his genegineering work; whether it would or not remained to be seen. Parapsych talents had never been established as dependable effects in any segment of the general population; Doc still hoped that with his hundred kids the story would be different.

Somehow the estate, the school, and the people who worked there seemed a little less familiar every time Adam returned; and except for Ray and

Merit, the Jovians, though still friendly, were slightly and subtly more remote.

Adam paid his last visit to Nowell’s estate at the age of seventeen, proudly wearing the uniform of a Space Force recruit. On that occasion he opened an unlocked door, one that he had opened often enough before, and walked into a room where he thought he might find Merit. She was there, all right. With Ray. Adam stopped silently in his tracks and stood watching them, without comprehension.

Hand in hand, eyes closed, Ray and Merit were floating together in the air, more than a meter above the floor. Their eyes were closed, and they gave no sign of being aware of Adam’s presence. After staring at them for a few more seconds he retreated, from the room, shaken.

He would come back later and talk to Merit. Now he decided to find Doc. The halls of the great building, and the grounds around it, were nearly empty of people now. Most of the hundred unique children were out in the world, making their way as adults. As far as Adam knew, they were having invariable success. And no small part of their success, he thought, was the way in which they were managing to fade gradually out of public attention.

A worker told Adam that Doc was in the laboratory. When Adam slid open the psych-lab door, he saw Doc sitting alone at his desk near the center of the room, just sitting there with his hands folded. There on the desk was a picture of Regina, Doc’s wife, killed last year in a pedestrian stampede while she had been visiting New New York.

When Doc realized the door had opened, he looked up and jumped up and came over quickly to shake hands. “Well, Adam!” His eyes lighted when he took note of Adam’s uniform. “So, it’s up and out for you! I knew you’d make it.”

“Thanks, I guess I always thought I would.”

“I don’t suppose you’re sorry now that your PS talents eroded. From what I’ve seen of the Space Force psychological tests they seem to weed out almost everyone whohas such talents, even in rudimentary form; I know that a couple of my own kids tried to enter and were turned down.”

After greeting Doc, Adam mentioned the levitation he had just seen.

Doc nodded, without surprise. “I’ve seen that one. I once saw about twenty of my kids bobbing around in the air at once. it apparently requires a trance-like state that keeps them from doing anything else at the same time. And what good it will ever do them I don’t know.”

“There must be some other.” Adam gestured vaguely.

“Applications? Maybe there are. I no longer try to teach them anything, Adam. I just try to keep up with everything they’re doing. And I can’t.” Doc paused.

“I’m sure they’ll do great things.”

“Yes, well, I hope so. That was the idea. I love them all, Adam, I tend to worry about them like a parent. And now, already, a lot of them are out in the world. what kind of lives they’re going to have in this world I don’t know. And what are their lives going to mean to humanity, after all?”

The aging man and the young one looked at each other, two mere humans, wondering.

“But come in, Adam. Have some coffee? Tell about the Space Force, how it strikes you now.”

But he hadn’t got far in his relation when Doc, who seemed scarcely to be listening, interrupted:

“Often, I wonder, Adam. Was there some-some force, some universal, natural law, acting through me, when I pushed my microscopic tools into those living cells, and tore down and rebuilt molecules?”

“I don’t know.” The young man felt sorry for the old one, and puzzled by his evident quiet distress.

“Are these kids of mine really the next step up from humanity?”

“Oh. Is that what’s worrying you? I don’t know, Doc. You can be damn proud if they are.”

Unexpectedly Doc scowled. “Proud of what? Of being used?” He fell silent, making an irritated gesture. “Forces and laws,” he said obscurely, with something like disgust. Frowning made his face look more lined, considerably more lined, than Adam remembered it. Adam wondered if possibly the mind developed lines and wrinkles too.

“She was incurably sterile, you know,” Doc said. Now he was looking back at the picture on his desk. “We could never have any children biologically our own.” Then he looked at Adam again, and brightened, with a visible effort. “Well, enough of that. You’re going to the Academy, hey? How soon will you have a chance to try to get into planeteering? I remember how you always talked of that.”

Chapter Three

The chance to get into planeteering had not come easily, but it had arrived at last, only after Adam had spent four years at the Academy, and three more at other assignments.

Then planeteering school. After that, his second exploration mission took him to the world that was shortly afterward named Killcrazy, by the survivors among the Earth-descended men and women who had been in the first group to land upon it. But Killcrazy was behind Adam now, along with the homeward-bound starships, and the Terraluna transport run, and the shuttle down to New New York. Ahead of him were thirty glorious days of leave, with Alice. Then the two of them were going together out to the enormous Space Force base located in the Antares system. Alice had a job in the science analysis section, and the baby would be born out there, a spacer right from the start.

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