“. and vegetables, and then there are animals, and then comes good old Earth-descended Homo. Sap. And then at the top are Jovians.”
“Ray, I’ll listen to it all some other-”
“The ladder of created being,” said Ray in a loud firm voice. “That’s what C.S. Lewis-do you know him?-wrote somewhere. but he was wrong. Very wrong. Because that is all there are.”
“Rock, vegetable, animal, human, Jovian. We’re at the top. Now I am considering the possi-the possi-I am thinking about.”
“Lemme think. I-can’t-think-” Ray’s body distorted into new frightfulness; a moment later he once more flickered away out of sight.
Adam stared stupidly; had Ray really been there at all, this time? Adam’s arm was throbbing violently now. He must be feverish. He looked around and saw a geryon watching him, from the last bend in the passage, watching with those yellow eyes, like those of a dead thing. The geryons were real enough.
The animal stretched its neck forward, the human face as always lacking any expression except for the illusion of pride. Was it at long last impatient, ready to charge? Adam got to his feet.
Merit’s mind touched his again; now it was as if he could hear her calling to him, out of a foggy distance.Adam, leave me, go on, look for help .
It took no courage to say no to that. There was no place in the world for him to go, if he left her.
Some time later, they were again limping along in glaring sunlight. Adam realized that they were now inside the Ringwall, because now the day-light was much brighter, and around him there were tall trees and tall stones, and towering, unidentifiable shapes that he had not seen outside. But it didn’t matter. Soon everything would be over. He kept expecting to feel teeth.
At one point he realized clearly that he was crawling up a little slope, moving on his knees and his one good hand, and that Merit was standing beside him, trying to pull him along. Then they were sitting together, side by side, backs propped against a wall, looking down a little slope to where the familiar geryons-almost old friends by now- peered from among tall rocks to see if their victims were yet weak enough. Merit looked as if she had passed out again. Good. That was good. She might never feel the teeth.
A frightening thought came to disturb Adam’s calm. It was that he might be able to get up and go on farther if he really tried. It would be much easier just to sit here and be chewed to death. But he couldn’t just sit here, that was impossible. There welled up in Adam a terrible puny rage, a fury like that of a sick old man, against the animals. He would not them defeat him, destroy him and his woman. He could not. He groped with his left hand for something, anything, to use as a weapon. Like an animal, he growled at the other animals that menaced him.
They cringed away uneasily. But not from Adam. They looked around, raising their leathery ears beside their human faces. They turned and looked behind them, aiming their tails in his direction. Then they retreated prudently between tall rocks, to watch and wait. Someone was approaching from that direction. Or something was.
A figure wearing heavy Space Force ground armor emerged from among the tall rocks, a little distance beyond the geryons. The figure came walking, with steady powerful strides, straight toward Adam and Merit.
“Our plan has succeeded,” said a voice at Adam’s side. Ray’s voice. Ray sat there on the ground. His face still showed what Adam’s hands had done to him, but his shape was normal again, as he sat watching the walking figure approach.
The newcomer halted a few meters in front of them. Through the transparent front of the ground-suit’s helmet a man’s face was plainly visible. and Adam thought that he had seen that face somewhere before. Somewhere, somewhere.
“You’re not real,” Adam accused him suddenly. “We’re in the Field here. Your groundsuit wouldn’t work if you were real.”
“But my suit does work,” the stranger’s air-speaker replied calmly, in what sounded like a native Earthman’s voice. “Therefore we are not in the Field. Not right here.”
Ray stood up, towering taller than the other. “Now I have you,” Ray said to him majestically. “Your race is in my power. I am the supreme being of the universe, do you realize that? I have come to harrow your dungeons, release your prisoners, destroy your power.”
Merit was still passed out.
Ray’s mad rambling voice seemed to be reaching Adam’s ears from a distance.Not in the Field , the man in the groundsuit had said.Not right here . What did that mean? Adam couldn’t think. His mind was running itself to death in a little circle of animals and rocks.
The man in the suit had said something to Ray, and now Ray was speaking again, arguing with him: “-no, I am not human. I am much more than that.”
“But youare human,” the stranger answered. “And so are we. Did you think that we who built the Field were more than that? You have a small idea of what being human means.”
“I am not human.”
“I have never understood you Earth-descended, though I know you better than most of my kind know you. Because I have lived among you.”
“Alex Golden,” Adam croaked, suddenly remembering. Both of the other men turned to look at him. Merit did not turn her head. She was still out cold.
Ray only seemed annoyed by the interruption, but Golden-yes, it was he all right-gave Adam interested attention.
“Yeah, that’s me,” the man in the suit said, in a different, more ordinary voice. “The only Alex Golden that ever was. This is my planeteering outfit.” He raised a gauntleted hand and gestured at himself; whether he meant the suit alone, or suit and body both, Adam could not tell.
Ray’s annoyance had grown. “Lived among us, did you? That’s nothing! I can change my shape, too!” He demonstrated. “I can get free your prisoners.”
“We have no prisoners. Your mind has torn itself on its own weapons,” Golden told him, watching bizarre alterations with little apparent interest.
Adam could feel a wave of faintness coming over him. “Help us,” he asked, of anyone who would listen.
Golden turned back to him. “Most of my kind would not take notice of you here. It’s not that we’re your enemies; Kedro here sees our minds only through his own hate, he fills our images with his own sickness. There are no torture chambers here, except the ones he has imagined. But most of us would simply not take notice. Our minds and yoursare vastly different. I think it’s only because I lived so long on Earth that I realized you were here now.”
“I am no human. And I can do more than you can do! I am going to turn you into a telepathic frequency converter.” Ray stood beside Golden, grabbing at the smaller man’s armored sleeve. But even Ray was not going to be able to push around someone wearing heavy ground armor, and Golden was not perturbed. The Jovian towered beside him like a giant child, fretting and plucking, demanding more attention.
“Help, then,” Adam whispered.
“I’ve already told you,” said Golden. “All you need to know. You can do the rest.”
There was a silence. Ray stood clenching his hands and staring helplessly at Golden. But Ray was being ignored.
Adam suddenly pushed himself almost erect, leaning against the rock behind him. Every time he blinked his eyes, the figure in armor wavered, like everything else in his field of vision. But it did not disappear.
“Your suit works,” Adam croaked. “So there’s no Field here, inside the Ringwall.”
Golden regarded him calmly, but gave no other answer.
“So seven years ago your scoutship had room enough, altitude enough under the Field, to pull out of its fall. It landed here, as you knew it would.”
Maybe Golden smiled, just a little, inside the helmet.
Ray sank down on his knees, suddenly, with a loud cry. “No! I must be more than human!”
Golden immediately crouched down too, as if he wanted to keep on a level with Ray to speak to him. He waved at the skulking geryons. “Those are only animals, no more than animals now, no matter what their faces say. Once-they were more. Consider that. We are above them, you and I. Above the human, there is nothing, or one life-form only. Is there not pride enough for anyone in that?”
“One life-form only.”
“Not you, my sick man, no, not you. Those sane beings who say they see it call it God.”
Ray shook his head slowly, slowly. “I am more than a man. More than a man.”