Fred Saberhagen – The Golden People

Adam had met Alice only a year ago, and had married her only a month before he had to start out on the Killcrazy mission. But Alice understood. She was Space Force herself, as were her parents before her.

This time, coming home, it was fun for once to encounter the roaring confusion of the great city. At the shuttle port in New New York Adam came dodging his way nimbly through the crowd, a thick-limbed, brown-haired, strong young man of average height, swinging a heavy travel bag.He wore a dress uniform that hadn’t seen much use to date and a new ribbon on his chest. Alice had written something about his coming home with the decoration on, and so he was wearing the uniform instead of civvies.

As Adam emerged from a pedestrian entrance of the shuttle port into canyon-like city streets, he saw a headline flashing on a media kiosk:


The headline was quickly, replaced by a giant three-dimensional picture. The face of Ray Kedro, blond and ruggedly handsome, looked down in a multiplied image from each of the kiosk’s panels. Adam hadn’t seen Doc, or Ray, or Merit, or any of the other kids, for a long time now. For years. He recalled having read and seen news stories from time to time, to the effect that most of the Jovians were intermarrying with each other, that most of them seemed to be blending quite smoothly into society, tending to avoid publicity, not making waves. The suggestion of the stories was that the hundred born, or decanted, out on Ganymede, were after all not that much different from the rest of the world. Very bright and capable people, yes. But.

Pushing his way through the crowds, Adam wondered now about Merit, what she might be doing at this moment. There had been a time.

With a small start, a sensation almost of guilt, he recalled that Alice was almost within reach now, waiting for him. She was certainly no Jovian. And for that Adam was thankful-though he had never made the effort to analyze just why.

The heavy travel bag felt feather-light in Adam’s grip as he changed slidewalks for the last time, stepping onto the one that would take him to their little sublevel apartment. Going right home this way was certainly better than trying to meet her in the spaceport swarm. People had been queued up there at all the communication booths, so he hadn’t delayed to call her from the shuttle port. Anyway, Alice knew when his ship was due in.

Adam surveyed the endless hive of tiny dwelling units through which the slidewalk carried him, private cells stacked high and wide, their ranks staggered and their walls insulated in an effort to grant the occupants some diversity and privacy. On Antares Six they would have better quarters than this. There wouldn’t be any outdoors there for the baby, not for some time at least, except for, as Adam had heard, a little domed-over garden. But that was really about all the outdoors you got in New New York.

Adam dialed his private combination to let himself into the tiny apartment. He put the travel bag down and moved stealthily, hoping against hope to achieve surprise. Ready to jump at Alice the moment he spotted her, he tiptoed into the bedroom, and then the kitchen. No one.

It was in the kitchen that he found the note.

Darling-suddenly I can’t wait to see you, so I’m going to the spaceport. If you find this,

I’ve missed you, and the joke’s on me for being impatient. Sit tight and I’ll be home soon. LoveXXXX Me

He sat tight for an hour, savoring his impatient joy. He looked at Alice’s clothes, hanging in the small closet, and touched them tenderly.

The phone chimed.

The screen at first showed only an official shield. Then a man’s voice spoke: “Spaceport Authority. I’d like to speak to Spaceman Adam Mann, please.”


Then a man’s face, the expression that it wore bringing the first cold blow of fear: “Is Alice Dexter-Mann your wife?”

“My wife. Yes.”

“I’m sorry to tell you that there’s been an accident.”

Adam afterward could never remember exactly what else the man on the videophone might have said. He raced in a nightmare through the bright anthill of the city, back to the shuttle port. Traveler’s Aid. They told him where to go. In the Port-master’s office, there were sudden grave, guarded looks when Adam gave his name, looks of sympathy and hidden triumph:It happened to you, not to us .

After hearing the words several times, from two different people, he began to realize that Alice was dead. The surgeon on duty at the port said that the baby was dead too, though she had ripped it out of Alice’s body, trying to save it.

“We did all we could for her, spaceman. Sometimes it still just isn’t enough.”

A policewoman sat with Adam and talked to him calmly and gently, trying to bring him through the first shock. She tried to answer his questions. It had been a violent and deliberate attack, right in the crowded port. One suspect had been seized, but then the people who might have been witnesses had all melted away without identifying themselves.

“These teenpacks-I don’t know what the answer is, spacer. We do all we can. This year the big thing for some of them is to hunt pregnant women. Last year it was something else.”

“Who’s your suspect?” Adam’s stomach had turned sick and his knees weak. But still the truth hadn’t really, totally, sunk in.

“I’ll show you. He’s a real prize.”

The policewoman let him look through oneway glass at a young man who sat slouching on a bench. The suspect’s body had grown out of adolescence. But the appearance of him, the look in his face and eyes, suggested that his mind and soul had long since ceased to grow, that now they only wriggled, caught like baby worms on some unknown fishhook. Greasy pigtails framed the masklike face. The oddly-styled leather jacket was lipstick-marked with obscene clan symbols.

Adam opened the door of the detention room and stepped through, moving too fast for the cop beside him, who was left reaching after him with one outstretched arm. There were other police, men and women, in the detention room with the suspect, and they looked up at Adam’s entrance, wondering.

“This one did it?” Adam’s knees were no longer weak.

The sneering young mask-face held out insult like the groping hand of a blind man, trying to touch someone with it. “Sure, fatherman. I must have did whatever it was:”

Now a large and gentle cop was standing close beside Adam, soothing him and standing in his way. “Easy now. Maybe it wasn’t him at all.” The other cops were standing around a communicator, going on with whatever they had been doing. But they each kept an eye out now for the bereaved young spaceman, watching him with pity and calculation, ready to lead him away if he should become violent.

Little they knew. Adam’s brain and body had absorbed the Academy training in personal combat as if he had been designed for that purpose and no other. He might have gone on to world class competition in the martial arts, except that his feelings for them had always been mixed. Arm-twisting stuff, he sometimes called that sort of activity, with a certain contempt that proceeded from a blend of distaste and fascination. What he really wanted was to be a planeteer. But before leaving the Academy Adam had acquired the ability to be more effectively violent than almost any of the instructors.

Now the impersonal trained-in combat computer offered one of several feasible plans: three quick strides to the target, then the certain kick with the left foot, a blow with the right fist. Impacts that would break bone and crush nerves. As like as not the shock waves that the target’s brain received would be enough to kill. The police were not wearing their stunguns in here; even so, their numbers and positions in the room could make it an interesting technical problem. But Adam doubted that the police would be able to stop him. The target might react to some purpose by the time he reached it. He doubted that a great deal too.

“Come along.” The large cop’s gentle hand was resting on Adam’s arm. “We’ll find out, if it was him. We’ll find out.”

The pig-tailed youth, looking at Adam, said: “C’mere, fatherman. I got a present for ya.” He giggled, and made a gesture that meant nothing whatever to Adam.

Adam waited for whatever spark it would take to set him off. Once before, as a teenager defending himself on a street near the Home, he had killed with his hands. But why had he bothered to defend himself, that time? He didn’t understand it now. It had done him no good, for now his life was gone.

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45

Leave a Reply 0

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *