Carrie slept lightly, on the edge of wakefulness as always when Elise was working at Geshader, the Alien Pleasure City. Despite the sleeping pill and her sister’s mental block, vague images from Elise drifted through her sleeping mind, interweaving themselves with her dreams.
Once more dwarfed by the size of her parents, she tossed and turned in a sweat-soaked bed, moaning in agony as they and the doctor probed and pressed the livid bruises on her back and arm, looking for a more serious injury that didn’t exist… for her. Then they thought to check her twin.
They found Elise sitting placidly with her right arm at an impossible angle and blood from the lacerations on her back slowly seeping through her clothes into the sofa. She had been the one who had fallen out of a tree.
Carrie had hardly felt the sting of the hypodermic amidst the fire in her back and arm.
“It’s the damnedest thing. Her sister has no sense of pain,” she’d heard the doctor’s voice boom as she began to slip into unconsciousness.
“It hurts,” she whimpered, stirring fretfully in her bed.
Monsters lurked in the fever dream, lizards of gray-green on two legs, lumbering slowly after her with a ponderous determination as, utterly terrified, she fled down echoing corridors.
“Stop!” The voice was low and sibilant, the English distorted by a tongue not made to form the words.
She hesitated, every muscle still poised for flight, staring back to where her pursuers waited for her.
“Tell us where they are hiding,” one demanded.
An invisible hand closed viciously on Carrie’s wrist, non-retractable claws pressing into her flesh. She jerked free, her other hand pressed to her mouth as the scene blurred.
“Valtegans,” she moaned, drops of blood pearling on her wrist and dropping to the coverlet.
She dreamed again of standing shivering in her underwear as she stowed her clothes in the small locker beside the coffin-shaped sleep pod, the chill caused by more than the lack of heating in the cryo level. Then lying down on the form-shaped interior, waiting for the medic to come and attach her to the life-support and cryogenic systems.
Carrie glanced at her brother Richard before turning to grin nervously at Elise through the clear perspex sides as sensor pads were attached. Their parents hovered at the ends of their pods, anxiously waiting until all three children were safely asleep.
She jumped as a hand touched her.
“Don’t worry. It’s only a sedative to help you relax,” smiled the crew woman, fixing the small adhesive patch to her arm. “Next thing you know, you’ll be waking up in orbit around our new home.”
“Just to remind you, the system is automatic so there is very little you have to do. If you turn your head to the right, you’ll see it’s printed on the plaque there.”
“The main thing to remember when you wake up is to press that red button to release the pod cover, then take off the sensors. After that, you’ll hear the instructions on the speakers.”
Already she could barely make out the woman’s voice.
“Sleep soundly, children. I love you,” was the last thing she heard her mother say.
The cover slid into place over her and she began to drift gently, imagining herself surrounded by a soft, warm, gray mist.
Suddenly she was jolted to awareness by the sting of the hypo on her sister’s arm. The drug swept through Carrie’s system, burning its way along her nerves, setting them on fire until her whole body was convulsed with spasms. She tried to fight it, to open her eyes, but all she could see were colors swirling around her until her stomach was heaving with vertigo. She felt herself slipping . . . slipping . . .
“Mother!” she had screamed, her mind and body trapped in the slow time cold hell of cryogenics, unable to do anything as she felt at last her mother’s blind terror at waking too soon.
She could sense her beating futilely at the walls of the cryo pod, trapped like a butterfly transfixed by a pin as she tried desperately to activate the release mechanisms that were locked in stasis.
Her mother’s movements quickly grew sluggish, finally stopping as the limited air supply in the pod ran out.
“Mother! Don’t leave me!” Carrie screamed, desperately fighting the effects of the drug that this time dragged her down into darkness.
Carrie felt herself pushed and pulled in every direction. Scaled faces loomed at her out of the dim light, clawed hands grasped at her, pawed at her, making her flesh recoil from their sharp, cool touch. She stumbled against bodies that thrust her away to fall to the ground, only to be dragged to her feet again. Noise surrounded her, loud, sibilant voices shouting. Like the images, the sounds faded in and out with her consciousness.
“We have to fight them, Carrie. I can’t do it passively like Dad. I’m leaving to join the guerrillas. The Valtegans are soldiers, not civilians, and they’re Alien. We can’t appeal to their better nature because they haven’t got one.”
“I’m leaving now, tonight, for Geshader.”
“Don’t try to change my mind, Carrie,” Elise warned quickly, “it’s made up. As one of the women in their pleasure city, I can get close to the officers, a thing no man can do. And once I’m with them, I’m sure I can get access to all sorts of useful information.”
“But to become one of the prostitutes… and with them! How could you?”
Elise gave her a wry grin. “Come off it, Carrie. It’s the oldest profession going, and the women from Geshader that I’ve talked to say it isn’t that bad.”
“It isn’t as if we can’t keep in touch. There’s our link after all.”
“You just take care, for both our sakes!”
“Do you mind too much? You know the risks we face, don’t you?”
“I know,” Carrie nodded, “but you’re the one taking the real risks. I’ll cope somehow. Jack Reynolds is used to us by now.”
“At least you didn’t pick up much when I was with that lad from Seaport this spring,” her twin grinned, “so with any luck you’ll be spared my ‘working experiences.'”
Her voice faded, leaving only the impression of the grin behind.
“It’s the only way I could fight them, Carrie.”
Figures jostled her again, dark red light on pallid skins, rough claws digging into her arms, drawing blood. Again, every nerve flared with excruciating pain and she tried to arch her body away from it, but she only succeeded in cracking her head against the wall. Stunned, she heard her own scream as if from far away as her hands tried to grasp for something concrete anything to help her hold onto reality. She was aware of a sudden warmth running down her right arm. Blood.
Shock and fear brought her briefly out of her twin’s world of pain. Blood. Dear God, there had never been blood before!
Footsteps pounded along the landing and her door burst open. Dimly she saw her father and brother standing there, their faces blanching when they saw the state she was in.
She lifted her head up from the floor and tried to disentangle herself from her bedding but only succeeded in slipping in her own blood.
“They’ve got Elise,” she said, her voice made blurry by drugs and pain.
While the pain continued, she knew that Elise was still alive. When that stopped, her sister would probably be dead. Carrie began to whimper again, a low-pitched animal sound. Pain flickered through her body, but it no longer seemed to burn so fiercely. She lay there unthinking for the moment, thankful for the brief respite, while knowing the worst was not yet over.
Two days before, the Valtegans had seized Elise; two days and nights of torment for Carrie. Her one comfort had been the knowledge that nothing they could do would make her sister reveal anything about the Terrans’ resistance movement on Keiss.
Elise was not particularly brave, it was more that she possessed no sense of pain. Born the stronger of the two, she had never had to suffer the hurts of childhood. Instead, in some strange way, it was Carrie who had suffered the agonies of her twin’s broken arm, or the fever of some illness. As in the past, Carrie was the one suffering now.
She could feel Elise, a faint but unmistakable presence in the depths of her mind.
If I want to survive, I must remain detached, Carrie thought. Blank. I must keep my mind blank.
Slowly, she tried to edge out the consciousness that was Elise, pushing her sister down from the surface of her own thoughts. The response was immediate. Waves of fear began spreading upward, catching her unaware and pulling her back into that other life.
She cried out, flinging herself from side to side in an effort to escape the welter of pain that began to course through her fever-wracked body. Would they never stop questioning Elise?
Strong hands grasped her, pressing her down, but still she thrashed from side to side.
“My God, she’s got some strength!”
“I’m afraid we might lose her, Peter. Even if she doesn’t go catatonic as she did after the death of her mother, her system can’t take much more.”
The voice sounded faint and far away, receding farther until all the reality she knew was the awful shriek that echoed inside her head.
Abruptly, it stopped, and the terrible emptiness rushed in. That part of her mind where Elise lived was a void. There was no more pain or fear, just emptiness. Total panic overwhelmed her and she began to scream.
“She’s dead! Elise is dead!”
All reason left her. She ignored the feelings of disintegration as mentally she stretched herself thinly in every direction, searching frantically for something to hold on to. Never since the moment of her birth had her mind been hers alone. Elise had always been there. Racing through every part of her mind, she checked over and over again, unable to believe her sister was gone, but there was nothing. Not a trace remained.
She opened her mouth to scream her disbelief then stopped in astonishment. Like a faint glow from a dying candle, she could feel something in the corner of her mind. She reached for it, nursing it carefully, hardly daring to hope, but the thoughts were totally alien to her. Mentally she drew back, feeling the blind terror surging in once more, but the new personality clung to her, refusing to be ignored. Against her will, she felt herself being held and examined. In return, she could sense its surprise at the contact.
As if it understood her fears and terror, it began to reassure her, sending only thoughts of comfort and friendship.
Exhausted, Carrie began to relax, letting a sweet lassitude steal over her. Within moments she was asleep.
A shaft of sunlight pierced the dirty broken window and crept along the rubble-strewn floor until it reached him.
In the sunbeam, motes of pollen and dust flickered and danced along its length. At first, from the depths of sleep, he was only aware of a vague discomfort around his face. This feeling grew until finally, brought to the threshold of wakefulness, he sneezed violently. Now fully aroused, he breathed deeply and began to stretch every muscle, trying to rid himself of the stiffness and tension caused by several days of living rough. He winced, almost crying out with pain as he tried to move his wounded leg.
Extending his fingers, he began to explore the injured flank. Several pieces of metal from the explosion had ploughed a deep furrow in his flesh, and the surrounding skin was angry and swollen. Gingerly he touched it, feeling the heat of the swelling. He knew the wound needed to be properly cleaned because despite his ministrations he could see bits of black fur sticking out of the congealed blood. He was also fairly certain that there was some metal still lodged within, but there was nothing he could do about it. Without anything to use as a bandage, he dare not even attempt to clean away the dried blood. At least it gave him some protection against any new infection.
Clenching his teeth, he sat up and began to work the leg gently, praying that the wound would not start to bleed again. Moving it loosened the stiff muscles and soon he was ready to try standing. He decided to play it safe and went down into a four-legged stance first, cautiously easing his hindquarters off the ground. The leg held, and he took a few tentative steps. Each one was agony, but after persevering for several minutes the pain became bearable. Light-headed and panting, he sank to the ground again. There was no way that he could travel upright, but perhaps that was all to the good.
There were several indigenous feline species on this planet and, moving four-legged like them, he was less likely to attract any undue attention. Normally he would make better speed that way, but with his wounded leg, speed was out of the question: it was endurance that counted now. He had to reach the girl before the fever took hold of him. Surely she would help him now that she had recovered.
His stomach began to rumble emptily, reminding him of more immediate problems. He needed to find food. For the past four days he had stayed in the ruined hut, hiding from the Aliens who had shot down his craft. Only five of them had survived the crash and subsequent explosion. Five out of a crew of eight!
He sighed and turned his mind back to the problem of food, trying to remember all that he had been taught about living off the land. A wise person, his father: he tried to see that his son was prepared for the worst contingencies of life.
By birthright you are a hunter, never forget that. Have pride in yourself and that fact. Only in extreme emergency, when you are too weak to hunt, should you beg or scavenge for food. No one should have to rely on charity or theft to keep alive. Either you survive on your own hunting, or you work for your food. Never use your Talent; it would be a misuse of a sacred gift.
Sound principles, but not very useful at the present time. Even if he had wanted to use his Talent, there had been no opportunity to do so. It was autumn here, a mild one so far, with plenty of berries and nuts for the wild creatures. Consequently they were taking no risks for stray tidbits. When he had been free of his vigil over the girl for any length of time the only food he had been able to find had been the occasional birds’ eggs and edible berries that were readily available.
Squinting at the gleaming yellow orb in the sky, he determined it was not far past dawn. Slowly he got to his feet and limped carefully through the jumble of broken glass, earthenware, and bricks to the doorway of the cottage. Once outside, the air was chilly despite the bright sunshine. He shivered slightly, sweeping the surrounding area with his gaze, searching not only for any sign of the Aliens but also for the slightest movement of any animals suitable for breakfast.
Today the landscape looked even more dismal. The grass was low and sparse, growing in clumps among the springy heather. The moorland stretched for kilometers in every direction, offering him no cover at all. Overhead, the sky was a sharp blue, with the clarity that only a cold day can give. Clouds were gathering in the north, clouds dark with snow.
There was no real food in this area. What might live there in the warmer seasons had either burrowed deep into the ground for winter or moved down to the gentler lowlands. Kusac was faced with a choice. He needed food, water, and treatment. To get those, he had to reach a settlement in the foothills. If he left the comparative safety of the hut, he would have to run the risk of being caught in a blizzard. The alternative was to stay there and pray that he could cope with his septic leg and imminent fever. In his weakened condition, neither option offered a high rate of survival.
When none of the choices open to you offers more than extinction, choose the one that prolongs life the most. Always allow the unexpected time to intervene.
Well, nothing could happen here, so, trusting his telepathic link with the girl, he headed east. Perhaps he might come across some animal out for a short airing, or dig for some unappetizing but nourishing grubs.
He loped off across the moors, eyes and ears alert for any sign of danger or food, however unlikely the prospect. The heather was not an easy surface on which to walk; at one moment stiff, the next yielding, so that despite his cautious tread, he was often sent reeling as his feet caught in the hidden webs of branches. Every now and then he would glance at the sky, checking to see how much of it had been obscured by dark clouds.
Gradually the terrain began to change. Instead of being completely flat, the ground now had the remains of runnels cut into it, running in the opposite direction to the one Kusac was taking. The sharp branches of heather began claiming their toll; his legs were oozing small drops of blood from many minor cuts and scratches, and he had limped the last few hundred meters on only three legs.
Staggering to a halt, he squatted on his haunches and peered at the sky. It was now completely overcast and he could feel snow in the air. Things were not going well. At this rate, all his energy would be spent just trying to reach the settlement, and he could not be sure that he would make it.
Suddenly he heard a distant roaring coming rapidly in his direction. He flung himself into a ditch, crouching low until the groundcar had gone, its cushion of air buffeting him. Kusac crawled out, his breathing ragged as he sat panting for several moments before forcing himself to continue.
If you wish to remain free, be circumspect in all you do. Knowledge gives you power: let none have knowledge of you and what you can do, his father’s voice reminded him.
We were circumspect, thought Kusac, but our maneuver- ability and speed were just not enough. If we had been given a battleship instead of a light patrol craft, I would not be making this journey, and our people would now know we had found the Others.
After your life, your freedom and pride are your most precious possessions, the voice continued, as Kusac wearily lifted one foot after the other. What other wise tenets will he have to impart? he wondered miserably as the first light flakes of snow began to fall.
I must keep on, he thought. There is no shelter here. If I am caught in a snowstorm now, I shall die.
This knowledge urged him on, making him force the injured leg to keep moving. Around him the snowflakes fluttered faster, landing on his nose and eyelashes. He darted his tongue out briefly to capture the moisture, but his mouth still felt thick and swollen with thirst.
“One snowflake won’t do much good,” he muttered to himself. “Soon there will be enough to drink.”
The snow was heavier now, being puffed into his face as a wind sprang up. Within a few minutes he was in the midst of a blizzard, slipping and slithering on the mushy ground and blinded by the driving snow. His foot caught on a heather root, felling him with unexpected force and making him yowl with pain as he landed on his wounded side.
He lay there for several minutes, too weak to get up, until he realized that enough snow had collected for him to quench his thirst. Scrabbling frantically with his hands, he began to lap up clumps of snow from where he lay.
The warning voice spoke again. Too much cold water when you are suffering from thirst, can kill as easily as the thirst itself.
Kusac stopped and picked himself up. Though still thirsty, he knew he could take no more at present, and he had revived himself enough to press on. He lurched to his feet. Pain was a thing of the past, he was only aware of feeling curiously disembodied. Though he was thoroughly soaked by this time, his wet fur clinging sleekly to his skin, he was totally unaware of it and the fact that he was shivering violently.
Time and time again, the force of the wind flattened him to the ground. Each time it was that bit harder to get up.
Survival depends on the will to survive, he heard his father say.
“I’ve plenty of will, just not enough strength,” growled Kusac, doggedly dragging one foot after the other through the deepening snow.
A shape loomed grayly up ahead of him, but his eyes were on the ground and he failed to see it. Blindly, he walked straight into the object, giving himself such a crack on the head that he was almost knocked unconscious. Lying there with his senses spinning, it was some time before he understood that it was a tree he had struck. Furthermore, that some recent storm had uprooted it, leaving a cavity deep enough for him to curl up in, sheltered from the snow. He squirmed and wriggled, forcing himself into the opening. It was cramped, but at least it was dry. Clawing and scratching, he deepened the hole slightly, using the loose earth to block up the opening until there was only enough space left for an adequate supply of air to enter. The exercise in the close confines of his lair had warmed him up sufficiently to stop the worst of his shivering. The pain in his leg had returned, but exhaustion was too great for that to keep him from a sleep which was nearer a coma.
He awoke many hours later, stiff, cold, and with a head pounded by a thousand angry demons. His limbs ached in every joint as he tried to pull himself toward the entrance. Through the tiny gap he had left, he could see that although it had stopped snowing, the sky remained an ominous slate color.
Shivering, he pushed back his blockade and crawled out into the snow. The light was fading and he judged it to be close to night. Tentatively he probed the depth of the icy white mass with his good leg: it was not going to be easy, the drifts were almost up to his knees. Sighing, he crouched carefully down onto the ground. Perhaps the snow would numb the wound’s fire. He was reluctant to look at it for fear of what he might see.
Your Talent will be useful to you in many different ways, so start experimenting with it. No one knows the range of another’s Talent, its limits may only be the ones set by you. Always keep testing your capabilities.
Father? thought Kusac incredulously. No. It can’t be him, he’s too far away to reach me. I’m just imagining things. “Still,” he said aloud, “it isn’t a bad idea. I have never tried using my Talent to control pain.”
He shuffled his feet in the snow, trying to balance comfortably on all fours. Taking a few deep breaths and stilling his mind, he reached, trying to locate the pain centers in his brain. Several odd sensations coursed through him as he searched, but when all the myriad aches began to slowly fade, he knew he had found the right area. How blessed was that release! Until that moment, he had not realized how much he had been suffering. He opened his eyes and staggered slightly before regaining his balance.
“I might just make the settlement now,” he murmured, starting to plod onward, his legs dragging furrows behind him.
Try to avoid extremes in all things. Extreme eating or drinking can kill you just as effectively as extreme weather. Snow will cling to your body, increasing its weight, making you sweat. Then you will lose body heat. Desiring to rest, your body will force you to continue. Either way, you will soon die unless someone aids you, his father’s voice droned pedantically.
Great, thought Kusac wryly. So what do I do about it? Why can’t you give me some more sensible advice? I haven’t got the time to chat!
He was suddenly jarred back to reality as his feet scrabbled for a hold before sliding from under him. He was catapulted downhill, tumbling faster and faster, the sky and snow whizzing about him until he was brought to an abrupt and sickening halt by a large concrete slab projecting upright out of the snow.
Kusac groaned and lay slumped where he had come to rest. He was losing control; pain waves began to swamp him. Grimly, he reached out again, strengthening his hold until the pain receded once more. Something wet and sticky was running into his eyes. Putting his hand up, he brought it down covered with blood.
Ice will stop a wound from bleeding, came the cool reminder, and Kusac obediently laid his head on the freezing ground that was at once his enemy and his friend.
Despite the nausea that rippled through him, he had to rise eventually. Although he could not feel it, he knew that the snow was draining him of all warmth. The ground beside the concrete slab felt harder and firmer than that over which he had been traveling. His vision still blurred, he peered at it. There was writing.
Lifting his head, he saw that this flatter ground wove downhill to a cluster of faint lights in the valley below. He was on the road to the settlement.
Vartra be praised, he thought, lurching away from the stone and onto the roadway. Great was the danger of being seen, but greater still was a repetition of his fall.
Now the going was easier. Instead of having to pick his way across unseen and uneven ground, he knew that he had a continuous flat surface beneath him. The downhill slope, though fairly steep, was actually an advantage. He could intermix sliding cautiously with walking, thus making better headway.
Use the terrain to your advantage. Make it work for you, not against you. When walking on sand, your feet will not sink into the surface if you are on the damp area near the water’s edge. Rocky ground? Then jump from rock to rock. Water? Then look for stones above the surface or just under it. Don’t give yourself extra trouble. Accept the land’s conditions.
“Yes, Father,” said Kusac dryly. He knew all about these things, had since early childhood. Why did his father keep lecturing him on the obvious?
Behind him he heard the mechanical screeching and whining of another groundcar. Instantly he bunched his muscles and leapt for the cover of the bushes growing at the roadside, trying to stifle his cry of pain at the sudden movement. The car passed and he emerged again to continue his painful slithering walk.
The settlement was a collection of some twenty or so houses facing one another across a broad roadway. Behind each was a fairly large area of cultivated ground. As yet he had no idea which house he wanted: the girl’s mind had been in too much turmoil for him to find the information he required. It had been difficult maintaining contact with her at all throughout his journey. The link was strong enough for him to trace her to the settlement, but not for him to pinpoint her home. He had to call her to him.
Pushing his way into one of the gardens, he spotted a small wooden hut far enough away from the house for him to investigate without being seen. He limped over and, leaning against the door, pulled himself upright. With fingers so numb he could hardly move them, he pulled at the restraining bolt. It slid back with a bang. Quickly he slipped inside, pulling the door closed and securing the latch. It was a toolshed, smelling of dried onions, rows of them hung from hooks set into the wall. In the far corner he could see a pile of rags and a large wooden box. Gratefully he limped across and sat down. On closer inspection the rags turned out to be sacks woven from thick vegetable fibers.
He could feel the pain beginning to steal back into his body. Already his head was aching with the effort of trying to maintain his control. Time was running out quickly now.
Rolling a couple of sacks into a wad, he placed it under his injured leg, propping it up slightly. Pulling some more free, he wrapped them round his shoulders to cushion his back against the crate. He also figured out that the tantalizingly familiar odor he had been smelling for the last few minutes originated from the box. Easing himself up slightly, he thrust his hand inside, grasping hold of one of the round, hard objects it contained. An apple! Ravenously he bit into it, aware as he did so how dry his mouth had become.
His eyes refused to stay open any longer and reluctantly he decided not to have a fourth apple. This was the part he was dreading. To be sure of reaching the girl, he had to utilize all his Talent, relinquishing his control over the pain. He was exhausted beyond endurance and knew he could not have made it this far without the control. Whether or not he could remain conscious long enough to make contact he had no idea, but he had to try now. That he’d managed to make it this far was a miracle. He’d come within a whisker of being found by those Alien soldiers. Why they hadn’t seen him, he’d never know.
Shutting his eyes, he lay down, making sure that he was well covered. Cautiously, he allowed his mind to relax, trying not to shock himself into unconsciousness with the influx of pain. He was pleasantly surprised: it was not as awful as he had imagined. Oh, there were aches in every limb and joint and he could hardly move his pounding head, but there was no pain at all from his leg. That was bad.
My leg must be worse than I thought. He pressed a hand to his face, feeling how hot he was. Almost immediately he started to shudder again.
The fever, he thought. No wonder I was so thirsty! I must reach the girl. Hurriedly he strengthened the link between them, making it narrower until he knew that he had penetrated her mind. Her thoughts were flooded with confused images slowly meandering through her subconscious and he had almost begun to panic when he realized she was deeply asleep. A drug induced sleep, if her slow alpha rhythms were anything to go by. There was no way of reaching her until she awoke. Too utterly spent to even curse fate, he withdrew, leaving her to sleep on in peace.