Cover: Mara flying, Guard HQ, squares showing other members of the Guard or
Perial, Turtle Woman, Mara in her new costume, Negative Man, the Gligo

New Friends

by Leo D. Orionis

To the friends I've made despite myself: especially Suzanne B.,
Forrest and Alison, David and Julia, and Conrad and Margaret.

Previously in Eoverai:

Last issue, Ekirvai Kemto, head of House Ekirvai, an Orthodox Great House, visited the recovering Mara and praised her valor in the test of her (and her ring of power) against the might of the Kaitempē military. Privately, however, y was furious that she hadn't killed anyone during Operation Mara, and was more a "puppy" than a soldier. Y ordered the women closest to her removed, and Mara herself "toughened up".

Ihed́ao Juhao Jatai, Consul of Psionics at the University of Teřańa, a Liberal institution, was shown some impressive "tricks" by Borai Lapo, a Psionics major, who's working on a general theory of psionics.

The survivors of his light-cruiser squadron, and the highest-ranking male in his household, convened to honor and to mourn Kranao Mota, who lost his life (as seen in issue 3) defending Mara from a rogue Drē ship during Operation Mara.

Lord Ekirvai met with Ihed́ai Vîd́a, head of the Liberal Great House Ihed́ai, and Speaker of the Verē; and Ihed́ao Kristu, the Speaker's wife. They discussed what to do with Mara and her ring. The Speaker declared Mara to be "perfect for the Imperial Guard!"

Four days later, Mara left Ekirvai Place to fly to Guard headquarters. Ekirvao Kaθa, one of the two women who'd "softened" Mara with love and kindness, gave her a present from herself and Ekirvao Kara, the other woman, who couldn't be there.

Mara flew around Ekirvai Place, seeing it from the outside for the first time, and marveling at its majesty and beauty. Then, flying north, she found eight men from House Ekotkai, an Orthodox Great House, abusing three members of a lesser household. She descended and upbraided the gang for their behavior. When they asserted their right to treat "trash people" any way they pleased, she gave them a quick, thorough beating and rescued their victims. This was the first time she'd flown over the city, and her first use of her ring in a civlian setting.

At Imperial Guard headquarters, Mara admired the odd, non-human architecture of the building, and the beauty of its plaza. Perial, a native of the Perilai starsun system, and the leader of the Guard, was waiting for her. He was the first alien she'd ever met.

Mara has lived her entire life in Ekirvai Place, surrounded and indoctrinated by the political and religious views of an extremely Orthodox house. Now, suddenly, she will be working with people, many of them not even human, with different points of view; and having many new experiences, as she goes out and about in the world.

Imperial Guard HQ,
Teřańa,
7 Galestô Karθao,
Year 10,040 (First History)

Orientation:

"I don't know what to call you," Mara confessed. "Should I call you sir?"

"It's best to call other members of the Guard by their names, or by their group designations—'hero names', some call those," replied the leader of the Imperial Guard. "Mostly people call me Perial, which is my real name. You can also address me as Black Rabbit or Black Hare, if you want to be formal."

"Very well, sir. I mean, Perial. Call me Mara, if you wish. Ekirvao Mara is the only name I have."

"Hmmm," said Perial. "Tell me about yourself, Mara."

Perial had been briefed on Mara by the Speaker himself, but that told him what the Speaker knew about her, and how he saw her. It didn't tell him what she knew about herself, or how she saw herself, which was important for fitting her into the team. When Perial looked at her, he didn't see a Verē woman, but a Krahos woman, a female of the human race from which the Verē had arisen. Did she think of herself as Krahos, or Verē? Her body, barely taller than his own five and a half feet, argued the former; her name and her House colors asserted the other. Clearly she'd been raised in one of the most rabidly Orthodox Houses of all. That had the potential to cause major problems for his team.

"Sounds like you had quite the adventure," he said, as Mara finished telling "Operation Mara" from her point of view. "What did you think of the Kaitempē?" It seemed like a change of subject, but it really wasn't.

"Well, they serve the Speaker," Mara said stiffly, rather like a child reciting a rote lesson. "And the Speaker stands for the whole race."

"But do you like them? Hate them? They tried to kill you, you know."

"It wasn't personal! It was a test. Actually, it was fun, mostly."

"What about the Kaitempē who tried to kill you after you surrendered?"

"Them!" she said furiously. "You'd better believe Lord Ekirvai had something to say to Lord Imorai about that!"

Perial had no idea what one Orthodox lord might have said to another, on that or any other subject. But the Speaker himself had told him, while briefing the Guard leader on his new member, that the Verē in question would never again wear green and yellow in his name, under any circumstances.

"And don't forget, one of the Kaitempē died to keep the Drē from carrying me off," Mara said.

"Kranao Mota," Perial said. "All honor to his name and his memory." He waved a hand at the headquarters entrance. "Let's go inside."

The entrance was a perfect semi-circle on the front of the bottom globe of the headquarters building, sixteen feet high and thirty-feet wide. It had doors of solid matter (since almost all of the Guard members weren't Verē and couldn't use Verē doors), a dark marbled red. As Perial and Mara approached, the doors parted in the middle and slid into the wall on either side, with just a foot of door showing on either side.

"That reminds me," Perial said, nodding at the doors. He reached into one of the pockets in his shorts, and produced another silvery disk like the one at the juncture of his crossed shoulder belts. The disk was about four inches across and an inch and a half thick, attached to a strong silvery chain. "Please put this on."

Mara looked at it, then lifted it over her head and slid it down over her helmet so the chain hung from her neck and the disk hung between her breasts. There was no clasp on the chain, so no one could undo it; over the head it would have to go, whenever she took it off or put it on. Someone in Ekirvai, probably Kara, had given them her measurements; the chain was just the right length. "What's this?".

"That's your Guard identification, and lets you operate all the machinery in our headquarters, from the omnicraft in our hangars, to the fabricators, to the elevators and doors. Without that disk, none of our equipment will work for you. It's also your communicator, by which you can talk to any other Guard member, wherever they are, or you are. For those of us who can't fly, this gives us that ability, like a Verē with a flight harness. For those of us who come from worlds with lighter gravity—almost all of us!—it reduces the pull of gravity to what we're used to. If we're underwater, high in the atmosphere, or in space, it projects a field around us and supplies us with air. It also provides heat or coolness as needed."

"Not every member of the team needs all those services, but with this," he said, tapping his own Guard badge, "we all have a basic set of abilities in common, no matter what our powers, or what world we're from."

"All that from this little thing?" Mara said, holding it in her left hand and looking at it curiously. "How do I operate it?"

"It's automatic. Just think of what you want. Why don't you say hello to the rest of the Guard?"

"Really?" Mara said, still holding her ID. "Um… Hello?"

In response, an array of circles appeared in the air before her, showing the faces of all the members of the Guard. There were about forty of them, though she didn't count them, including herself and Perial. Presumably they were all smiling, although most of them didn't have human expressions. "Hello, Mara. I'm the Streak," said a quadrupedal being that was red all over. "Welcome to the Imperial Guard!" Others followed in quick succession: "Welcome, Mara, I'm Lightning," said another, surrounded apparently with storm clouds and lightning, "Welcome, Mara, this is the Gligo," said another, with green and black fur and pointed ears on the top of his head, and on and on and on. It was confusing, and a bit overwhelming. With her sheltered past, Mara had never so much as heard of any of them.

"Thank you," Mara said. "Thank you all."

"Mara will be coming to meet you over the next month, while she also learns her way around the headquarters," Perial said to the team. "Let me know when it's most convenient for each of you to get together with her, given your current assignments and duties, and I'll make a schedule of meetings."

"Well, what do you think?" he asked, after the faces had acknowledged his order, said goodbye to Mara, and disappeared.

"I don't know what to think! I'll never be able to remember all their names, and what their powers are, and where they come from."

"Sure you will," Perial assured her. "It just takes a little time. Your badge has all that information, and more. Study it, and use it if you get lost."

The ground floor of the headquarters was a circle over 600 feet in diameter, but it was divided into many rooms and halls. The entrance hall was an elliptical room whose long axis ran 120 feet from the front door; plenty of space for all of the Guard to stand, or sit, or mingle with guests, which was its usual function. Opposite the main door were five smaller doors, single rather than double. Scattered about were about two dozen objects whose purpose wasn't obvious to Mara. One, for example, was a bowl ten feet across, attached to a pedestal which held it at about a sixty-degree angle, four feet away from the floor. Another was a cylinder whose top was about three feet across, about three and a half feet tall, with a ramp about two feet wide wrapped around it from the floor to its top.

All this roundness was making her almost dizzy. All her life she'd lived in rectangular rooms with rectangular doors and windows, with flat, level floors below and flat, level ceilings above, surrounded by flat walls at right angles to the ceiling, floor, and each other. Lab benches were flat, level surfaces, rectangular in shape; chairs had flat, level, rectangular seats and flat, rectangular backs as their default settings. Here, only the floor and the ceiling were flat and level, and even they weren't rectangular.

"Have a seat. I mean, please sit," Perial said, remembering that he was speaking to a person raised as a Verē.

"On this?" Mara poked the indicated seat, which was shaped like a little hill three feet tall; another oval, with a round rather than flat top, and sides falling away at an angle. Its surface was cloth, or something like it, with padding underneath it. It had no corners or edges anywhere. Before she could decide, her ring made a proper chair for her, with a proper seat, back, and arm rests, from its soul stuff.

Thanks, love, she said, and seated herself.

"How interesting," Perial said. He'd sat as soon as she had, observing proper courtesy between a Verē host and a guest. He leaned forward from his place on the mound (bench? chair? hassock?) she'd been examining, and extended a furry black finger. "May I—?"

A tendril of ring stuff arose from Mara's chair and extended towards Perial's finger. Mara laughed.

Perial had no eyebrows separate from the black fur covering his head, but he tilted that head in inquiry. Was that a native or a learned gesture, Mara wondered. "I'm sorry," she said. "I was thinking it looked like two animals meeting for the first time, and touching noses. No offense meant!" She knew too well that most Orthodox Verē would regard Perial as just that: a jumped-up animal with a few tricks.

"None taken. I'm sure you didn't mean to call your ring an animal," Perial said drily. He watched the tendril withdraw into the rest of the chair. "What's the verdict?"

"He likes you!" Mara answered, feeling the ring purring. "He says—well, he doesn't actually have many words, but the gist is—he says you taste good."

"Hmmm. Not in a stew, I trust," Perial said, shocking Mara with the reference to eating living things, an obscenity in Verē culture. He stood up again. "Let me show you around some more."

Mara was soon feeling lost. She couldn't really get lost, with her ring mapping everything as they went, and her badge containing a full three-dimensional map of the building, and a directory function. But none of that was in her memory.

Guard HQ had over 200 floors of different sizes, divided into different numbers of rooms, and some of the rooms, like the hangars for the omnicraft that could fly through the air, underwater, or out into space, extended through more than one floor. It was a three-dimensional maze, and she'd lived her whole life in one building, Ekirvai Place. The floors ranged from the ground level to the top floor of the highest sphere, 2600 feet up. And that didn't count the floors and chambers in the three spheres under the ground!

There were meeting rooms, libraries for all kinds of media, laboratories, exercise rooms, training rooms, personal suites for all the members of the Guard (with as many again presently vacant), configured for the special needs of each species; store rooms, equipment rooms, armories with all kinds of feud weapons and weapons of war…

All the equipment was the latest or best technology from all the worlds of the Verē Empire. So add fuel storage (mostly fully-charged standard batteries with huge capacities), spare parts for everything, manufacturing facilities, fabrication rooms; freight elevators, drop shafts and lift shafts, moving stairs and walkways, and the machinery for all of those; security systems, air conditioning, water pipes, lighting, and all the parts and machinery for that. It was very long-lasting equipment, built to work practically forever, and very energy-efficient. But it all took space. Lots and lots of space. From ostentatiously large, the headquarters began to seem almost too small for all the functions it needed to provide.

"This is probably my favorite place," Perial said, as they stepped out of the latest of what felt like an endless series of elevators. Mara stopped, stunned by the view.

The topmost floor of the topmost sphere was a single room, sixteen feet high in the center, and curving down gently on all sides. The walls were completely transparent. When the elevator doors closed, the elevator sank down, leaving its top showing as a round steel-colored disc flush with the floor, which otherwise was tiled. Throw rugs were scattered around, seemingly at random, of various colors and patterns and combinations of colors. Above the room was nothing but sky. To the south, Mara could see Teřańa the city; the outskirts of the spaceport were rather closer to the north. Far to the east, the snow-capped majesty of Moon-Tree Mountain could be made out only dimly by her Krahos eyes; to the west, the western reaches of Heki and the near shore of continental Loraon merged indistinguishably.

"Please, be seated," Perial said, sinking into a cross-legged position with the ease of long practice. Mara was dubious that a human being could even do that, though Perial's legs didn't look different; she sat on another chair provided by her ring.

"What do you know about the Imperial Guard?" Perial asked.

"Not too much, actually," Mara answered. "I know that all of you are aliens—is that an offensive word? I mean that all of you come from worlds within the Empire, but none of you are Verē."

"True, with a few exceptions. What else?"

"Well, you're like the Kaitempē; the Speaker set you up, and you deal with crimes and disasters and wars—but I guess I don't understand what your purpose is."

"Fair enough. Always be honest about what you don't know, and don't understand, and don't like, and you'll do well in the Guard," Perial told her. "We've had people who wanted to lie their way into the Guard, others who thought they could win membership by claiming to be better than another of their species who was already a member. Arrogance isn't accepted here, either." He appeared to be reminiscing about something, but she had no idea what.

"Anyway, 40 years ago, the Speaker claimed the Crown, the Throne, and the Axe, and the Orthodox houses couldn't stop him, though they tried. But his DNA, and that of his wife, showed they were blood of that House. The first thing he did, even before restoring Ihed́ai Place and accepting members for his House, was to begin an investigation into how his Household had been murdered."

"It was clear that Ihed́ai Place couldn't have been invaded, and most of the Household murdered, unless at least some Kaitempē were part of the conspiracy. Otherwise it would've been a matter of 'unknown assassins' with feud weapons such as axes and swords, up against Ihed́ai Mrada's Kaitempē, armed with weapons of war. and the 'unknown assassins' would've been captured and interrogated long before they could hurt anyone. Then, in the morning, the arrests of the conspirators behind them could've begun."

"Three years after the Speaker claimed his heritage," Perial continued, "all the obvious villains in the Kaitempē had been weeded out. Those were the ones who openly acted contrary to their oaths, or who'd bragged about evil deeds they'd done while wearing the green and yellow. No one believed they were the only renegades, however."

"Enter the Imperial Guard. We aren't Verē, with a couple of exceptions allowed by the Speaker himself. We aren't members of any House, either Liberal or Orthodox, yourself excepted. Our mission is to protect the Verē people and the Verē Empire, and to answer solely to the Speaker, just as the Kaitempē do. But we also watch the Kaitempē, and if the need should ever arise, fight them, too. And if the Kaitempē watch us at the same time?" Perial shrugged in a very human fashion with his fur-covered shoulders. "Fine. We have nothing to hide."

"But I'm Ekirvao Mara!" she proclaimed proudly. "I am a member of a Verē House. Lord Ekirvai gave me this helmet with ys own hands—see the axe?—and said that y was proud of me."

"I'm happy for you, truly," said Perial. "But surely you can see that people will look at your House colors first, and your self second? When you serve with the Guard, you need to wear other clothing, just as the Kaitempē wear green and yellow, not their House colors, when they serve the Speaker."

She made an unhappy face, but didn't argue with him.

"Didn't those Imoral thugs you beat this morning think you were on their side, because of your gold and dark red?" Perial pressed, quietly.

"You know about that?" Mara said, amazed.

"It was reported to me, yes. And when you flew the victims to medical help, didn't your colors cause more trouble?"

No good deed:

Mara was following the neuter's directions when they passed an Eisaxao male in the white and violet of that Liberal Great House. His head whipped around. With the vanes of his flight harness fully extended, he came charging after them.

"Ehi! Ehi! Ekirvy! What are you doing with those people?"

Then he caught up with her, and got a good look. He recoiled. "Ehiu! What are you?"

"It's all right!" cried the neuter. "She saved us from the Imorē."

"Don't slow us down, Eisaxao Hati!" the female said, looking up from the wounded male on Mara's platform. "Juho needs medical help!"

"Matai Culo? Matao Lara? Is it you? All right, Ekirvy," said the Eisaxao boy, "follow me! No tricks," he warned.

Mara ignored him. She looked at Matai Culo, the neuter. "Sir? What do you want me to do?"

"Keep going this way, please. We're almost there. Eisaxao Hati means well, but he's male, and he tends to think with his muscles."

"As you wish, sir," Mara said.

Eisaxao Hati had discovered she wasn't obeying him, and flew up behind them. He grabbed her near arm. "I said no tricks, Ekirvy!" he shouted.

Yellow ring stuff armored her in an instant, forcing his hand away. Then she backhanded him, angry at his disrespect for her female privilege, and put a yellow dome over the platform. She'd had enough!

She'd just helped the three Matē into the Kaitempē station, and stepped back outside, when Eisaxao Hati descended, axe in one hand, with three other males of his House, armed the same way. Mara instantly armored up again.

"There she is!" Hati shouted. "What have you done with the Matē, Ekirvy?"

"They're in the Kaitempē station, fool, getting their injuries tended," Mara said shortly, pointing over her shoulder.

A Kaitempē officer came out with a tøska pistol, a wace, in his hand. "What's going on out here?"

"Arrest her!" demanded Eisaxao Hati. "She kidnapped Matai Culo, Matao Lara, and Matao Juho, and ran away before I could stop her!"

"What?" said the officer, pointing his weapon at her.

"God the Powergiver!" swore Mara. "I rescued those people from eight Imorē goons, and brought them here! They're inside your station right now! All this muscle-brained idiot did, was get in my way!"

"A likely story!" scoffed the muscle-brained idiot in question.

"Go look!" shouted Mara. "You don't believe me, go inside and look!"

"And let you escape?"

"Oh, to hell with you! To hell with all of you!" Mara said, and leapt straight up into the air. The wace beam and the flung axes bothered her not at all. Off she flew, so angry she was shaking. Behind her the Kaitempē officer looked at his weapon as if it had betrayed him, and then he and the Eisaxao males dodged the falling axes.

"All right," Mara said to Perial, slowly. "I see your point. Waving Orthodox colors in Liberal faces is asking for trouble—and the other way around, too, I suppose. But—" She took off her helmet and held it in her lap, tracing the golden axe, not looking at Perial.

"There's no reason you can't wear your House colors when you're not on Guard duty," he said kindly. "I wouldn't deny you that if I could! But while you are on duty, people need to see the Guard, not the House. Again, that's why the Kaitempē wear their green and yellow. It represents the Verē people, not their houses."

"Well, what did you have in mind?" Mara asked.

Imperial Guard HQ,
Teřańa,
4 Galestô Karθao,
Year 10,040 (First History)

Girlfriends:

"Well, what do you think?" asked Turtle Woman, three days later.

In many ways, Mara and Turtle Woman ("Call me Wima," she'd said) were opposites. Where Mara was carefully designed with a non-Verē body, but raised in a Verē House, Wima was a true Verē who'd grown up feral in the sea, among the deadly sea serpents, mosasaurs, and sea lurkers.

How the infant girl had been abandoned at sea was a mystery that might never be solved. No household claimed her, and no household admitted losing a child. Had some household been wiped out in a feud, and the bodies disposed of in the ocean? The gaping maws of the oceanic predators would certainly remove all evidence quickly—voraciously, even. Was she, as was consistent with her age, another Ihed́ao survivor? No one was saying. Maybe no one knew.

The seas and oceans of Eoverai were savage places, full of teeming schools of fish pursued by ruthless predators at all depths. Most fish were armored with great bony plates, and all the sea turtles had thick shells. Even the great whales weren't safe from the biggest mosasaurs, and nothing at all was safe from the sea serpents, which lived and grew until they were killed by a swarm of smaller ones, or starved to death because they couldn't catch enough prey to keep their enormous bodies alive.

Into this toothy cauldron the infant Wima had fallen, and had been adopted by a pod of huge armored turtles. Her Verē psionics let her communicate emotionally with the gentle beasts, and the space between a scaly neck, and the overhang of the upper shell, the carapace, provided her earliest shelter against sharks and other predators small enough to notice her, and big enough to gobble her up. As she grew, she made herself armor from giant clam shells and other discards, drilled with sharpened bones and strung together with sinew; set shark teeth and serpent teeth in a whale rib for a sword; and used a giant conch shell for a helmet. Later she hunted smaller kinds of turtles, and used the carapace and plastron of one for back and belly armor for herself, and the carapace of another for a shield.

Always she stayed with her pod, her family. She had no more language than they, but had an emotional bond to them. She went with her pod as it swam east from Loraon to Syorkai, crossing between the two continents in northern waters, then turning south along the western coast of the latter. In southern seas at the tip of Syorkai, they turned west to Loraon again, and then north to the mouth of the Inland Sea and the Sentinel Islands, completing the cycle. Twice she made that circuit growing up, repairing and improving her armor and weapons, watching the giant turtles mate in season and lay their eggs in the sand of scattered isles only they knew.

The third time, however, when the pod reached the southern tip of Syorkai, she turned east instead of west, leaving her family to go its way, except for one companion her own age. They swam around Syorkai together, and went east to the western shore of Kantos in equatorial waters. From there the two of them turned north, sampling waters no turtle of their pod had ever tasted. They rounded Kantos in cold northern seas, and then swam east and south to Loraon, in water that smelled like home. Coming at last to the Sentinel Islands from the north, they looked forward to rejoining their family.

Instead, they met people, in the form of a small fleet of boats on which an eccentric lesser house of the Verē dwelt, at home among the whale sharks and the killer whales. There, Wima learned what she truly was, and with skillful help from Verē mind medicine, learned the culture and language of her birth people, eventually even joining the Imperial Guard with the express permission of the Speaker.

"You designed this?" Mara asked her now.

"Oh, yes," Wima beamed. "I love playing with the clothing fabricator!"

Mara well believed it. Wima's appearance cried out to be displayed in a colorful costume. She had exceptionally pale skin for a Verē, ivory colored rather than brown; sun-streaked blonde hair, and deep purple eyes. No doubt her skin had been burnt almost black by years at sea, back when she'd first met her own kind, and surely her hair had been a matted mess, hacked off whenever it had gotten in her eyes. But those days were far behind her. Today she glowed with good health.

The Guard costume she'd designed and made for herself was the same green and yellow as a Kaitempē uniform, but otherwise could hardly have been more different. Her shirt had no collar, but a round opening at the top for her head that showed the insides of her collar bones, and the dimple at the base of her neck. The sleeves went to her wrists, but had no cuffs. The fabric of her shirt was covered with one-inch scales, green with yellow edges. She wore yellow gloves that came up to her forearms. Her tightly-fitting yellow pants were held up with a green belt that had a buckle in the shape of a sea turtle, seen from the dorsal side, and the pants tucked into green boots that flared in front, suggesting flippers.

To give her credit, she hadn't put Mara in a costume like her own, but had designed one that suited the new Guardswoman. It was a lot like Mara's old Ekirvao uniform, but with less inflammatory colors, powder blue and yellow instead of dark-red and gold. Her shirt was powder blue with a yellow collar and cuffs, and her new helmet was also powder blue. Instead of pants, the shirt flared at her waist and fell to just above her knees as a skirt, with a yellow belt at her waist; the briefs she wore beneath the skirt were powder blue as well. She wore boots like her old ones, but yellow instead of dark red.

Looking at a perfectly-reflective tele serving as a mirror, Mara mostly approved. She had some misgivings about the skirt and the bare legs, but she'd promised Wima she'd give them a chance.

She definitely liked the emblem Wima had put on the front of the shirt. It depicted the ring soul, in its actual yellow color, rising from the belt; but instead of the cylinder the ring stuff usually employed in flight, it was shown spreading out winglike extensions to either side, and a pointed top. Though it was her ring's spirit in a birdlike configuraion, if you squinted, or used your imagination, you could see it as a double-bladed axe with a spike on top!

Mara put on the new helmet and looked at the whole image. "Yes," she said, "this is good." She looked sideways at Turtle Woman. "Did you think of a Guardian name for me, too?"

"Why not just Power Ring?" Wima said.

The ring preened itself in her head. Mara laughed. "Why not, indeed?"

Somewhere in the Second Universe,
Somewhere in time
(First History)

Alive, for now:

Kranao Mota was shocked to discover that he still lived. He should've been ripped to separate atoms when he went through the Ťirai singularity, and the atoms scattered across the universe, except for the ones further ripped into sub-stomic particles. Dead in a noble cause, perhaps, but nonetheless, thoroughly and instantly dead.

Wherever he was, it was as dark as a lightless cave, burning cold, and airless. He slapped the emergency patch on his uniform. The tøska device in his belt, thus activated, quickly evaluated his environment. It put a force field around his body to recycle his air and heat, and started to create more by a number of ingenious means programmed into it. Since there was no light, the field above his forehead began to glow in the infra-red. The Verē could see in the infra-red, and it took less energy to provide light in that band than in any other color, which meant the light would last as long as possible.

Mota took stock. He didn't seem to be injured; all of his limbs moved easily, and he felt no pain. His cruiser, on the other hand, had been mortally wounded. He looked around carefully. A sphere of seat, controls, etc. appeared untouched. Outside that sphere, the cruiser was wrinkled and crumpled, as though it had been wrung by giant hands. The corners of the vehicle's formerly rectangular shape were completely gone. No doubt that was how his air had escaped.

In sum, he was fine, but his cruiser was wrecked. Or was it? The only essential part was the shallow dome that amplified his telekinesis—if that were intact? He scrambled over the back of his seat, and with great difficulty, pitting his Verē strength against warped metal, pried up a hatch.

No good. The drive might have been intact, if it had been directly below the pilot's compartment. Being below and behind, it looked like someone had seized an unfired clay bowl by opposite points on the rim, and pulled. The sides had curled over, the whole dome had been stretched along the axis of the ship, and a piece at the back had been entirely ripped away.

So be it. His life expectancy, then, previously four or five hundred years, was now measured by how long his tøskê could keep him from freezing, and recycle the air within his field. Even odds whether he would freeze, strangle, or starve first. Better conserve energy. He turned off the infra-red light.

Instantly it was pitch-dark again. Except… he popped the cruiser's top, and climbed out for a better look. Yes… He could see, faintly, dim little blobs of light around the ship, but not above it. The wrecked cruiser was casting a shadow, a little darker than the general dimness. No, wait, the shadow was larger than the cruiser, and… round?

He clambered down the side of the cruiser, holding on by fingers and telekinesis. He reached the underside, and stared. An unlit vehicle hung there, at rest with respect to his own, saucer-shaped like a Drē craft, but material, not energy. It hung with its midsection parallel to the plane of the cruiser, twice as large in diameter as the cruiser was long. It blocked the light from the pale blobs on the other side of it, darkening the cruiser's belly and casting the shadow his Verē eyes had seen. Likewise his cruiser cast a dim, roughly rectangular shadow on the saucer. Given enough eons, light pressure from the blobs would push the vehicles together.

Blobs of light? Suddenly he realized—he was seeing whole galaxies! He looked again. Among the true blobs of the elliptical galaxies, some of the "blobs" showed the structure of spirals and barred spirals, oh so faintly. Krahos eyes, with their crude lens-and-retina anatomy, could never have detected it, but he did, now that he thought to look. Somehow, he'd wound up in one of the vast empty bubbles which made up most of the universe, surrounded by its foam of galaxies. He was billions of billions of light years from any galaxy, an unguessable distance and direction from his own!

But he wasn't alone, he deduced. If some unknown physical principle brought the wreckage of singularities here, there should be dozens or them, maybe hundreds, over the vastness of the universe and its 10-14 billion years of age. Two, and only two, implied there was no such principle; he'd been brought here deliberately. The odds against any other conclusion were simply impossible.

"Come out, come out, wherever you are," Kranao Mota said.

There was no reply. He shrugged minutely, and leapt lightly towards the saucer craft. Landing on his fingers, with the ease of experience in low gravity, he reoriented himself mentally so that the derelict cruiser was below him. In this environment, "up" and "down" were only conventions.

Nothing was visible on the "underside" of the saucer. He pulled himself "up" over its rim, and froze. There was a bubble-shaped cockpit in the center of the "top", and a face looking back at him.

In the dimness he strained to see. The face wasn't lit by its own light, as the galaxies were. The person in the bubble had a generally humanoid shape, but the face was a horror. It was like a wax bust of a man, left in the sun. The caverns of the eyes were melted out of round, with drooping brow ridges; the nose was gone, and the ears mostly so. The mouth was a gaping wound, only partially and irregularly covered by a ragged upper lip, and the teeth showed bare on its left side, where there was no skin from cheekbone to jaw.

He felt overwhelmed with pity, but forced it down. Whatever kind of alien it was, it seemed obvious it was long dead, and its suffering long over. He needed to get inside the vessel, which looked intact, unlike its occupant, and see whether it contained anything he could use.

Not looking at the corpse, Mota pulled himself up to the bubble, and searched its rim for some kind of release mechanism. Suddenly, he froze. There was a hand opposite his, on the inside of the bubble. The alien was alive! He looked up from the juncture of the bubble and the hull.

The ruined face of the humanoid creature was looking right back at him from inches away. He screamed!

Kranao Mota wasn't a vain man, but like any Verē, he unconsciously edited his appearance to match his self-image, whenever he went through a tele. Since everyone did that, he had never seen monstrous deformity like the image in the bubble. It took a lot of feeling his own face with his hands, while the creature opposite him matched his every movement, to convince him that the ruined visage was his own reflection. If he screamed—if he wept, even—who could blame him?

"Enough sniveling," he said at last. "Too much, even." He held out to himself the likelihood that his deformed features could be fixed by surgery, if not by tele, and returned to his interrupted search for a way into the saucer. He couldn't find a latch to open the bubble from outside. But the crew had to get inside somehow!

"All right," he said. "You've stumped me. But you brought me here for a reason. Time to let me know what it is."

"Extend your field over the bubble, to hold in the air and heat, and I'll open it," said a voice in his mind, accompanied by images and flavors of emotions. Mota never doubted he was hearing someone else in his head, he only wondered why the other hadn't "spoken" sooner. Maybe he'd been too far away until he'd climbed aboard the alien's vessel? For now, he did as he was asked. The bubble split into two halves, which slid down into the saucer's hull.

The occupant was superficially like a bird, in that it had wings, and a beaklike proboscis on its face. Unlike a bird or a man, it had six limbs: two legs, two arms, and the two wings. Only the wings were feathered; the rest of the body was covered by a grey leathery hide. It was naked, except for a kind of skirt around its waist, falling over its upper thighs. The head, lolling back against the padded chair in which it sat, had a dozen dark beady eyes, six on either side of its beak. Two rows of sharp pointed teeth showed in its mouth, which was hanging open.

It wasn't an appearance designed to win the trust of a human being. But the real question was…

"Are you alive, or dead?" Kranao Mota asked.

"My host is dead," said the voice, "but I'm alive."

"Host? I don't understand," Mota said. He reached out gingerly. The other's flesh was rubbery, and cold. Now that Mota was breathing the saucer's air, a faint smell of rot surrounded him. He ignored it. He'd seen and smelled dead bodies before; he was Kaitempē. He'd fought in the last Imperial War, and other actions before and since.

The voice said, "I am the never-dying, the eternally reborn. I have no name, and no native language, because there's only one of me. I live in the mind of a sentient being, sharing its life, until it dies; then I go on to another. Often a long time passes between hosts; sentient life is rare, rare!"

Kranao Mota snorted. "Not in my galaxy," he said.

"I see that! What a miracle! I long to experience it."

"No miracle," Mota said. "The Krahos—or rather, the Mižinē who preceded the Krahos—planned it that way."

"Oh, glorious! Will you show it to me? Will you be my host?"

"Maybe. What does that means, exactly?"

"I enter your body, as a guest enters a house," said the Never-Dying. "There I'll find the parts of your brain that you're not using—every species with a large brain, sentient or not, has unused portions set aside in case of brain damage. I'll set up house there, and there will I dwell for as long as you live, sharing your experiences and learning everything that your culture knows."

"And what do my people and I get out of it?" Kranao Mota asked.

"Whatever I have is yours," said the voice. "I have lived thousands of lives, all over the universe, in the billions of years since sentience arose. (It would have been more, but sometimes it takes millions of years to find a new race, after one dies out.) Anything I can tell you, any knowledge I've picked up that you don't have, I will gladly share."

"That's some offer! I'm not sure my duty would let me refuse."

"I can offer you so much," said the Eternally Reborn. "For instance you don't seem to travel by singularity."

"Not being made of energy, no," Mota answered, drily. "Wait—you mean you can?"

"My last host's people did. As he was dying, he came here through a singularity, and it was by looking through others that I saw you near yet another, and brought you here as well."

"I'm sorry about your ship, and your face," it went on. "It wasn't until your ship began to come apart that I realized that you weren't going into the singularity on purpose. I took over the transition and brought you through, but a lot of damage had already been done."

"Forget it, not your fault. As far as I knew, I was already dead."

"Oh, but I should have realized, when I saw the shape of your ship!" mourned the voice. "I thought you were going to show me how to traverse a singularity in a vessel that wasn't saucer-shaped! I'm so very, very sorry!"

"Never mind," said Mota. "Misunderstandings always happen in first-contact situations."

"You have vocabulary and protocols for meeting alien races, and experience of it!" marveled the voice in his head. "How wonderful!"

"Not so wonderful, sometimes. But you can get me home?"

"Eventually, yes," said the Never-Dying. "But it's a big universe. We might have to forage for food on life-bearing worlds to keep us going while we search. I hope your species is long-lived?"

Kranao Mota began to laugh. "Oh, lonely little mind thing!" he exclaimed. "My new friend, you have no idea what you've stumbled across, do you? I am Verē!" he said proudly.

Imperial Guard HQ,
Teřańa,
Galestē Karθao,
Year 10,040 (First History)

The Absorbing Men:

"So what are they?" Mara asked, amazed. It was the first day of the new month, four days after Wima had designed a new costume for her. She'd been spending all her time learning her way around Guard headquarters, and meeting her new colleagues. They were an odd lot, no two of them of the same species or from the same star system; but the creatures she was seeing now were the strangest yet.

The Verē male in the dark-blue and white uniform smiled. Next to him were three humanoid shapes, as tall as he, but without the vańe loops that Verē had on their heads. The creatures were naked, if the word could be applied to things that had no private parts, or features of any kind. More neuter than a neuter Verē, they looked like they were made of sponge, or clay, as they stood motionless beside him. One of the lumpy things was light blue, one light red, and the third was white.

"These are the last three absorbing men," Ronao Vîd́a, the technician, said proudly. "I'm one of their operators. They absorb me, and I walk them where they need to go."

The blue-and-whites were the crew who ran the headquarters for the Imperial Guard. As much as possible, the headquarters functioned using non-Verē machinery and technology familiar to the members of the Guard. But every system was backed up with Verē technology, so that an attack that disabled the non-Verē tech could be countered with Verē tech, and vice versa. The sworn members of the Guard headquarters crew were the Verē who made it all work, while the Guard themselves went on missions.

"What do you mean, they 'absorb' you?" Mara asked.

"Like this," he said. He walked over to the nearest featureless, faceless creature, the one colored light blue, and put his hand on its shoulder. It began to shrink in and harden. Features formed and became definite. In a couple of minutes it looked very much like him, except it still had no vańe, and it was still light blue all over. Its features were his, it now had hair cut and styled the same as his, and it had duplicated his uniform, but it remained light blue from hair to boots. Color, it seemed, was the one thing it couldn't copy.

It spoke with Ronao Vîd́a's voice. "Now that it's me, and knows everything that I know, I can take it through a tele to where we need it."

"All right," Mara said, looking back and forth between the original person and his light-blue duplicate. "But what's the point? What does it do?"

"Whatever it needs to do," replied the original technician, while the duplicate stood by silently. "Suppose we need the Gligo, with his powers, in two places at the same time. One of our Absorbing Men becomes him, and then we can send the original to one place, and the copy to the other. The copy has all the knowledge, training, and powers of the original."

The Absorbing Men, he told her, were the products of an attempt to create artificial life from non-biological precursors—chemicals, electricity, light, and heat, but no organic cells or materials. The outcome was five things that couldn't definitely be said to be alive or not, and whose metabolic and catabolic processes were mysterious. The light-purple one had been dissected right away, in a mostly-futile effort to learn what it was. Then, when their "absorbing powers" were discovered, the light-green one was taken apart next. Much had been learned from the two dissections, but more new questions had been raised, than old ones had been answered. The most important question was, How do we make more of these useful monsters? So far the answer was, How did we make the ones that we have now?

"Ehi!"—Hey!—Ronao Vîd́a said. "What's it doing?" While he'd been talking to Mara, his face had faded from the light-blue creature, and it had returned to its blobby, featureless shape. Puzzled, the technician stepped forward. The thing swept him aside and knocked him down with a sweep of one arm.

"Ehiu!" he shouted. "What's going on?"

As if in answer, Mara's face appeared on the front of the heads of all three of the creatures. Without otherwise changing, they began shambling towards her.

Mara didn't know what was happening, but she didn't want the absorbing men to touch her. Stop them, she told her ring.

The technician saw her point her ring at the experimental creatures moving towards her. A ray of yellow light shot from her left hand and formed a barrier from wall to wall, and from floor to ceiling, in front of them. They ran into the barrier, then jerked back as if they'd received an electric shock.

"They've never made a voluntary motion before, when no one was operating them," Ronao Vîd́a said. "Even the two we dissected just laid there like clay puppets! What is this?"

"If you don't know, how can I?"

All three of the creatures raised both fists and began pounding on the yellow barrier between them and Mara, over and over. THUD! THUD! THUD! The dull bludgeoning noise was the only effect they had.

"They've never displayed someone's face unless that person had touched them, and then they changed into ym, her, or him. What's up with that?" Ronao Vîd́a wondered.

"Again, how would I know? They're your creatures."

The ring decided it was done being pounded. It curved forward and wrapped itself in a cylinder around the absorbing men. They stiffened, jerking as if they were being electrocuted. There was an unpleasant burning smell, but without smoke or visible signs of charring.

That's enough, love, Mara said. Let them go.

Obediently, the ring being flashed back into the ring. The creatures it had enclosed toppled like logs, stiff and still jerking slightly, without breaking their falls in any way. They didn't show her face any more.

Their operator hurried over to them and shook one. It didn't respond. "You've killed them!" he cried.

"I defended myself," Mara said calmly. Thank you, she told the ring.

Borai Place,
Teřańa,
6 Numestô Karθao,
Year 10,040 (First History)

On the third day of the new month, in his new living quarters, Borai Lapo gathered his thoughts, then began to dictate a new draft of his most important paper to date. "New document. Thesis format. Title: A General Theory of Telekinesis."

"First paragraph. The physical universe is the expression of the data in an underlying set of information points," Lapo said. He was sitting in his lab, in front of a static pressor desk like the one he'd admired in the office of the Consul of Psionics. The data collector that was presently recording his voice, and storing it as a formatted document, was a small rectangle the size of a standard sheet of paper (eight inches wide by eleven inches tall), and two inches thick. It drew upon his tøskê, his psi, to store his input in a solid molecular matrix.

"Paragraph. Each information point is a single quantum of space and time. Each one is linked to zero to many adjacent points in the three dimensions of space. Insert diagram. In the time dimension, each one is linked to zero to many adjacent points in the previous and next quantum of time. Insert diagram. The total set of spatial links defines the total universe at a given quantum of time. Insert equation. The total set of temporal links connects the universe, at any given instant, to its immediate past quantum of time, and its immediate future quantum of time. Insert equation. "

Lapo paused, struck by a thought. "Memo to self. Thought experiment. If we could 'break' or 'cut' links, and split the universe in two, would the two halves perish, or would we get two universes? If the latter, would they remain half the size of the original, or generate new information points along the 'cut'? If we split the universe along the time dimension, would the past universe generate a new future? Would the former future generate a new past, continue without a past, or collapse? What would happen if we removed a single atom from the universe, by cutting all its links? Save memo. Resume thesis.

"Paragraph. The data in the information points defines both the structure of matter and energy in the universe, and the changes that occur in space and time. A single electron is described in many, many information points, because even an electron is very large on a quantum scale. Begin footnote. How large? Calculate how many information points it takes to contain all the data for an electron, a neutron, or a proton. Show the calculations. Invite the reader to extend the data to atoms of various elements. End footnote. As it moves, the electron's description is written through adjacent electron-sized groups of information points."

"Open thesis 'A Special Theory of Telekinesis.' Add notes. [1] The maximum speed of transcription, and the light-speed limitation on movement, are one and the same. Prove it. [2] The apparent shortening of an object approaching the speed of light, from the point of view of an external observer, is due to the decrease of available bandwidth as the transcription approaches its maximum rate. Prove it. [3] Likewise the increased mass is due to the increased interaction with the singularity at the heart of subspace. Prove that, too. [4] The Uncertainty Principle of quantum mechanics is a reflection of the fuzziness of physical particles, spread over many information points. Can this be proved? Develop math to express it. [5] What is a tele, and how does it work? [6] How does a mind connect to a brain? [7] What is mindspace, and how does it fit into information-point theory? Save thesis 'Special'. Resume thesis 'General'."

"Paragraph. We may define Begin definition Indirect Action as Action that isn't mediated by telekinesis. End definition When two photons collide, it's because their movement has caused them to attempt to occupy the same, or some of the same photon-sized groups of information points. The interaction of the data causes them to rebound at an angle, and with the energy dictated by the data. In physical space, an observer sees them hit, and rebound, as a purely physical phenomenon whose predictability is limited only by the Uncertainty Principle."

"Paragraph. Another example occurs when I bend a finger. Once the thought is transmitted from the mind to the brain, the rest of the action is observable in purely physical terms. Neurons in the brain fire, nerves transmit the signal to the finger muscles, the muscles contract, and the finger bends. All of this occurs in the information points containing my brain, my nerves, and my fingers, but the results are seen in the physical universe and can be described in purely physical terms."

"Paragraph. Indirect action has limits imposed by the laws of the physical universe. Nerve signals can't move faster than the speed of electricity through nerve tissue. Muscles can't contract faster than the time it takes for the muscle sheaths to break and slide past each other, causing the muscle fibers to contract. Besides speed, the force drawing a finger down is proportional to how much muscle is attached to the finger bone, which varies from individual to individual, and can be increased by exercise. But all muscles have limits, however well developed."

"Paragraph. Begin definition Direct Action is Action that has no cause in the physical universe. End definition Telekinesis is the proof that there is more than the physical universe. Whether it's a bird using telekinesis to reduce its weight to half of what an invertebrate feels, or a Krahos to one fifth, or a Verē flying through the air with a flight harness, these effects have no physical cause. The bird, the ancestral human, and the Verē are using telekinesis to change the data in information points: the bird without rational thought, the ancestral human without knowing he has telekinesis, and the Verē without understanding how the flight harness enables flight. Despite that, the bird flies, the Krahos stands upright, and the Verē soars without wings."

Borai Lapo stopped there and added notes about duplicating something at a remote location, and the implications of that—try that on an expendable planet!—inertia; potential and kinetic energy. Then he put it away for now.

"End of text. Generate section and paragraph numbers. Generate index. Generate glossary. Save file. Print draft."

Imperial Guard headquarters,
Teřańa,
4 Numestô Karθao,
Year 10,040 (First History)

The anti-matter man:

"I'm called Negative Man," said the half-visible manlike shape. "Or you can call me Mika, if you like." It was the fifth day of the month, four days since Mara had been attacked by the Absorbing Men.

"But you're Verē!" Mara said. "Aren't you?"

"The Powergiver bless you, child," said Negative Man. "I used to be. Now I'm not much of anything. I'd introduce myself properly, but my House doesn't want me using their Name any more."

"How awful!" said Mara, who couldn't imagine a worse fate. "What did you do that was so bad? If it's all right to ask!" she said hastily.

"Oh, it's all right," Mika said. "I committed the worst crime of all—I survived. If I'd been blown to bits, I'd've been a hero, but the way I am now, I'm just an embarassment!"

"I'm so sorry. What happened?"

"Well, it's hard to explain, unless you're a keen student of modern physics?" The blurry features on the wavering face somehow contrived to look hopeful; or else Mara was learning to "see" him.

"I'm afraid not," she said.

"Well, do you know about subspace, with its alpha bands, beta bands, and so forth to the singularity at the heart of everything?"

"Oh yes," Mara said. "Where everything is identical to everything else."

"Very good! We were testing what 'identical' means."

"Huh?" Mara said. "Also, how?"

"And let's not forget 'why'," Mika agreed. "Long story short, and with all the math left out, we thought we could keep the atoms of a test subject non-identical to each other, while lowering it further and further into subspace. If we could get it even to the epsilon bands and back without damage, we could offer aliens another indispensable service: faster transportation than anything they have, available only from us."

"On the other hand," he continued, "if we could force a test subject into the theta bands or deeper, and didn't care whether they came back all smeared around"—Did he shrug? It was hard to tell—"then we had a new weapon."

"Oh," said Mara, with a sinking feeling. Talk in the labs where she'd been raised—a weapon to throw an enemy into the theta bands—that was an Ekirvai project, wasn't it?

House Ekirvai almost killed this man, and then wouldn't let him keep the name? Her Ekirvai?

"So what happened?" she asked Mika.

This time she was sure he shrugged. "The official story is, I was standing where I shouldn't have been, and got caught in the, uh, mechanism. I came back, but I'd been converted to anti-matter."

"Anti-matter? But how did you survive? For that matter, a man-sized hunk of anti-matter, how did Heki survive?"

"Oh, we weren't on Eoverai," he said. "We were in deep space, where the gravitational stresses were minimal. Good thing, too. I lost my legs right away, because they were touching the floor. But that explosion blew the roof off, which let the air escape, which kept the rest of me from blowing up. Then they shoved me into a force-field room with no air in it, using the remote-control pressor/tractor grabs of the project, so they could study my body."

"Only, as it happened, the body was alive. As soon as they realized that, they cauterized the blood vessels and so forth with a laser, and pressurized the room with anti-matter air. Later they supplied a pressor-field floor and furniture."

Now that Mara was learning how to see him, it was clear that Mika was a regular Verē male, from the waist up. Below the waist he simply dwindled away. With no private parts to hide, and no House colors to display, he didn't bother with clothes, except a large bag covering what was left of his lower body, belted at the waist.

"So how do you keep from blowing up now, out here surrounded by normal matter?" she asked.

"They made me a tøska amplifier out of anti-matter. It took a while to assemble it anti-matter atom by anti-matter atom in the right shape. Then they gave it to me, and I strapped it on. Now I have a telekinetic field all around me, between me and all normal matter, recycling anti-matter air by tele. The amplifier serves me as a flight harness, too."

Mara was puzzled. "Strapped on where?" she blurted out; nothing was visible anywhere on his torso.

"I'm sitting on it," Mika said, with a mock-solemn expression.

"Oh!" said Mara, and blushed.

He laughed. "You're so cute!" he said. "That must be your super-power! For myself, the bonds of my body are much looser than when I was made of normal matter. With a little concentration, I can send a little bit of myself, a few molecules, flying at a target."

"But doesn't it blow up as soon as it leaves your shield?"

"Yes. Even in the 'vacuum' of space, there are plenty of molecules between me and what I'm shooting at. So I fire a stream of particles, which blows up everything in the way until it hits the target. Think of me as a living particle-beam weapon."

"So you lose part of yourself whenever you use your power?"

"Yes," Mika smiled. "But don't make me out a self-sacrificing hero! I absorb energy like any other Verē, and I convert it to anti-matter the way an ordinary man converts it to ordinary matter. And I can move it around my body at will. So don't worry about me, all right?"

"I'll try not to," she said shyly.

She was a nice kid, he thought after she left. He had seen the moment when she realized it was House Ekirvai that had nearly killed him with indifference and incompetence, and then wouldn't even admit the mistake was theirs. Good! Maybe the shock would open her little blue Krahos eyes.

She hadn't realized—or maybe she hasn't devoted all the hours of thought to your plight that you have, you self-pitying monster!—that he could take in lots of energy, and build himself new legs, a little bit at a time, instead of leaving it as a blob of flesh inside his bag. He hadn't bothered to do so for two reasons. First, because his present state repelled most people, so they didn't hassle him with disgust or pity, but simply left him alone. Second, the undifferentiated blob was easier to use for ammunition than legs and other specialized structure would be.

For that matter, if they could build an amplifier from anti-matter, surely they could convert his body back to normal matter. But could they keep him alive for the whole procedure? Or would they just get a converted corpse? The operation was a success, but the patient died. He'd never heard of a telekineticist with the necessary fine control and speed.

Anyway, being an anti-matter freak without legs got him out of the clutches of Ekirvai. If he were a normal-matter whole man again, wouldn't they demand he return, if only so they could debrief him? He didn't want to go back. Their actions had shown him the huge gap between their noble words and their immoral behavior.

It surely wouldn't be worth living under Kaitempē protection just for the sake of a pair of melting blue eyes. She isn't even Verē, he told himself. So what? himself replied, as himself so often does.

Shivering with horror (she'd never met a maimed person before), Mara was thinking how attractive Mika must have been before the accident that made him Negative Man.

"Don't you think so?" she asked her ring, then laughed at herself for the silliness of the question.

"Verē, but OK," the ring replied in her head.

Mara stopped in shock, right in the middle of a corridor. "Ring! Those were words! Actual words!

The ring said nothing more, so after waiting a moment, Mara walked on.

It was clear that Verē science was advancing on all fronts: making her, creating the absorbing men, penetrating deeper into subspace than anyone else had ever done.

She shivered again. All in all, she thought she preferred genetic research. For all the perils of it, at least it didn't convert people into anti-matter, or create monsters!

Imorai Place,
Teřańa,
Numestē Karθao,
Year 10,040 (First History)

Beast in an iron cage:

The beast stirred in his cage. He had no name, as he had no species: he was the only one of his kind. He had no language, for he had no one to talk to, and his keepers didn't talk to him. He had no education and no training; the keepers didn't care what he knew, or what he could be taught, only what they could learn from his body. Most of the learning had been done in making him, but from time to time they took fresh tissue samples. This was nothing but torture for a beast who had no concept of time, and saw every sample as a wound inflicted on his body for no reason he could understand.

The beast waited, and his keepers grew sloppy. Originally they'd caged him with impenetrable pressor fields, with an electric charge to teach him where the invisible boundaries were. When he quit testing its limits, they turned off the electricity. Still later they installed metal bars in place of the pressor fields, and charged those with electricity. When he didn't even test the bars, they turned off the current.

More than sloppy, the keepers became incautious. At first, the frenzied attacks he made on his food, due to the demands of his growing body, terrified them. They saw the long predatory teeth rip the raw meat to shreds, and they imagined those daggers ripping them. Over time, however, as the beast offered no violence to them, they ceased to fear, and reverted to the disgust that their kind felt towards any being that devoured other life forms, instead of absorbing radiant energy.

The beast's keepers grew complacent. At first, the exercise of his supple boneless limbs had amazed and appalled them. Every time he tossed a large bone into the air, and shattered it with a whip crack of his long ropey upper limbs, they had winced and jerked back. Now they watched the display with amusement, when they bothered to watch at all.

When the beast swarmed up the bars limb over limb, after ignoring them for so long, the keepers nearly pushed the panic button to turn the current back on. But one of them said, "Wait, let's see what he does."

What the beast did was launch itself from high off the sides, curling its long arms around the bars of the top, to traverse the cage from one end to the other, arm-tip over arm-tip, over and over. The keepers relaxed again. When he descended a bit and began swinging around and around his cage, they decided he just wanted some exercise. They dropped some ropes through the top of the cage, with rods and balls and rings on the dangling ends, to give the beast toys to play with as he exercised.

At this point the beast had trained his keepers to think of him as a tame animal, content to stay in his cage, eating, sleeping, and playing. He cracked a marrow bone thoughtfully in his powerful jaws, and considered the next stage in his campaign.

Continued next issue!

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