degreeand he needed comfort. For all his mask of dedi-
cated ruthlessness, Heirndall was capable of anxiety, and
what Rimerley had told him had been alarming, to say
It was to be hoped that his ingenious trick to provide
the Corps with another major headache and distract their
interest would work.
His train of attendantsriding yorbs, as he was: no
other transportation was known here apart from rough
cartsfollowed him down the hill road towards the
town. Behind came the wagon, covered with an opaque
cloth screen on wooden poles, in which were the well-
guarded secrets of their job. A party of local notables
waited to greet them at the town’s edge, and after a
suitably grave exchange of good wishes they all
proceeded together to the market square.
We shall have to do some more propaganda here,
Heirndall advised himself as he scanned the horrible col-
lection of palsied and maimed and sickly candidates for
the good offices of the Receivers. We must get it through
their heads that an aged crone, or an ill-nourished infant,
is beyond hope–rwhat we can “offer to help” is typically
a healthy but injured late adolescent.
Suddenly, as he was about to turn away, he saw the
girl sitting with her boy-friend on the last-arrived cart at
the side of the square. His heart gave an uncharacteristic
leap. To a first glance, it appeared that what he had been
asked by Rimerley to locate had turned up without his
even looking. Of course, it would require closer exam-
ination to make sure, but the chance was so good he
found himself grinning in a fashion quite unsuited to his
pose in this society.
Nervously, Soraya waited as the Receivers made their
rounds of the sick. Firdauri wanted to hold her hand
while they watched, but she could not bear anyone’s
touch except her mother’s. The old woman was awake
and kept trying to lift her head, but failed.
At last the Receivers came to their cart, and after ac-
knowledging good wishes peered down solemnly at the
wasted body on the heap of skins.
“Your mother?” the leader of the Receivers inquired
“Mine,” Soraya said. “Uhthis young man is a friend
who came with us.”
“I see.” The Receiver nodded. He had a face of such
sternnessnose cruelly beaked, mouth thin and
straightthat Soraya found it hard to recall what Mar-
ouz had told her: that these were good men, full of an-
cient wisdom and kind intentions.
“Come with me, please,” he said abruptly, and ges-
tured Soraya to descend from the cart. Shivering a little,
she complied, and was astonished when the Receiver set
off at a brisk pace towards his own wagon.
Following, she tried to point out that it was her
mother and not herself who had come to seek help. The
man ignored her protestations, saying nothing until they
came to the wagon. Then he made her get up on it,
holding back the cloth screens to let her through.
Beyond, in a tiny enclosure, there was a table with
many strange things on it: little glass tubes, white tiles
marked in squares on some of which were smears of
blood, dishes and jars containing coloured liquids. There
were also two chairs, one this side, one that side of the
A man in Receiver robes with his hood thrown back
appeared from between the hangings that concealed the
rear part of the wagon. He instructed her to sit down,
taking from a pad on the table a sharp needle which
he Jabbed without warning into the ball of her thumb.
She gave a litde cry, and the Receiver who had escort-
ed her uttered a few words of mechanical reassurance.
There followed a sort of ritual whose meaning she did
not understand. The blood from the needle-prick was
taken in a glass tube and smeared on the white tiles; then
some more was dropped into a )ar of coloured liquid;
then more still, which had to be squeezed out, was taken
out of sight into the back of the wagon. Incomprehensi-
ble sounds followedhumming like insects’, a gentle clat-
tering, muttered comments in near-whispers.