Voyage From Yesteryear

Celia looked down at the glass in her hand and bit nervously at her lip. “I don’t know,” was all she could whisper. Sterm watched her impassively. In the end she shook her head. “No.”

Sterm allowed a few seconds for her admission to settle. ‘Because they would become jailers of the prison that Howard is turning that world into. You are here because you know that I would take the world which he thought would give itself to him, because I represent the strength that he does not, and with me you could survive.” Celia looked up again, but Sterm’s eyes had taken on a faraway light. “Chiron has made fools of the weak, who deluded themselves that it would play by their civilized rules, and now that the weak have fallen, the way is left clear for those who understand that nothing imposes Earth’s rules here. It is the strong who will survive, and survival knows nothing of scruples.”

Celia’s eyes widened as many things suddenly became clearer. “You …” Her voice caught somewhere at the back of her throat. “You knew this was going to happen- Howard, Phoenix, everything. You were manipulating all of them from the beginning, even Wellesley. You knew what would happen after the landing but you endorsed it.”

Sterm looked back at her and smiled humorlessly. “Hardly what I would call manipulating. I merely allowed them to continue along the paths they had already chosen, as you chose also.”

“But you saw where the paths led.”

“They would never have listened if I had told them. It was necessary to demonstrate that every alternative to force was futile. Now they will understand, just as you have come to understand.”

“How-how could you justify it?”

“To whom do I have to justify anything? Those rules belong to Earth. I make my own.”

“To Congress, the people.”

Sterm snorted. “I need neither. The same forces that will subdue Chiron will subdue the people also.” His eyes flickered over Celia’s body momentarily. “And they will submit because they, like you, have an instinct to survive.”

Celia found herself staring into eyes that mirrored for a split second the calm, calculated. ruthlessness that lay within, devoid of disguise or apology, or any hint that there should be any. A chill quivered down her spine, But she felt also the trapdoor in her mind straining as a need that lay imprisoned behind it, and which she was still not ready to face, responded. Sterm’s eyes were challenging her to deny anything that he had said. She was unable to make even that gesture.

Howard had sought to possess, and she had refused to become a possession. Sterm sought. Not to possess but to dominate Chiron. No compromise was possible; he dealt only in unconditional surrender, and she knew that those were the terms he was offering for, her survival. Perhaps she had known it even before she arrived.

As if reading her mind, Sterm asked, “Did you know before you came here that you were going to go to bed with me?” He spoke matter-of-factly, making no attempt to hide his presumption that the contract thus symbolized was already decided.

“I ,,. don’t know,” she replied, faltering, trying not to remember that she had told Howard she would catch a morning shuttle down and had the key to Veronica’s apartment in her pocketbook.

“Does he expect you tonight?” Sterm inquired curiously, although Celia couldn’t avoid a feeling that he already knew the answer. She shook her head. “Where are you supposed to be?’

“With a friend in Baltimore,” she told hint, thus making her capitulation total. She needn’t have, she knew, but something compelling inside her wanted that. She knew also that it was Sterm’s way of forcing her to admit it to herself. The terms were now understood.

“Then there is no reason for us to allow unseemly haste to lower the quality of the evening,” Sterm said, sitting forward and reaching with a leisurely movement of his hand for the decanter. “A little time ripens more than just fine cognac. Will you join me in a refill?”

“Of course,” Celia whispered and passed him her glass.


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