A novel by Greg Swann
Part I. Opportunities
It was no accident that I saw the Sallyship's lander in its first approach to Bath. First, all of Bath was heady with the possibilities of the long-prophesied pilgrim from the stars, the promised reward for the piety of the Janioists--or so said the black-robed Janioist priests. Second, I had been watching the enormous ship, by telescope, orbiting 40,000 miles out from Bath. I had spotted the pale green aura of the drive flame when the lander blasted away. Third, I'm about as space happy as a kid can get. My Uncle Hugh says he expects me to be the father of Bath's conquest of space. So you can bet your life that I wouldn't miss that landing, no matter when or where, fair weather or foul: if it was possible for me to see it, I was going to see it.
I was standing by the lift platform at the North Point on North Chain, overlooking Crandall's Shelf. I had my field glasses, and I had been following the lander down for more than an hour. It seemed to be shedding velocity by some combination of jet power and its main rockets, or, rather, by sometimes augmenting what looked like a pair of reversed jets--atmosphere rockets--with its main rockets. The ship was built very like pictures I have seen of jet fliers, but as it slowed itself to enter Bath's rich atmosphere, it 'flew' tail down. At first, the green glow of the space drive was only occasionally accented by puffed smoke from the reversed jets. But as the lander slowed itself, the jets kicked in full time, marking their path with two white streaks against the azure sky. The green bursts of diffuse light became intermittent, then stopped entirely. Soon after, the reversed jets stopped also, and the lander flipped over and fell into a slow glide. Almost immediately, another set of jets kicked in, these facing in the expected direction. The plane flew off in a streak of looping contrails.
I've read the books from Earth: I know what a hot pilot is, even though I had never before seen flight first-hand. Whoever was controlling that re-entry vehicle was a hot pilot. And a half...
Believe me, it was something to see! Because of my uncle, I get to see a lot of things others don't. But for me, seeing an indisputable proof that space is conquerable--a viable means of transportation to Bath, if not yet from it--that was worth all the plant tours and special conferences I could dream of, and then some.
The North Point was a gamble that paid off. I had spent the whole morning trying to calculate where the lander would make its approach. I was as far as I could be from the second-likeliest possibility, the far end of the South Chain, but I had reasoned that the visitor would be most interested in Bath's industry, which is in the North Chain, and in a safe place to land, which is nowhere on Bath, but at which the 'continental shelf' off of Crandall's Shelf is my world's closest approach. I had stayed at the top of the rock, both for better seeing and to get to the Powderway, if I needed to race to South Chain. When I saw that the lander would certainly try to approach from the North, I jumped on the elevator, waited for the loads to balance, then sped the 1,500 feet to sea level. I watched the lander all the way down. The pilot took an obvious joy in flight, losing altitude slowly in a series of flawlessly executed maneuvers. The plane dropped to about 5,000 feet in a sequence of looping rollovers, then plummeted toward Bath in a gracefully sloping dive.
Only then did the flier seem to notice that there is no place to land on Bath. That's why it's called Bath, because the surface area of my homeworld is effectively 100% water. The North and South Chains are the only land above water, and they're not really chains of anything, just the two tallest peaks of an enormous underwater mountain chain. The geologists at Crandall Labs say that the collision of undersea plates that resulted in the mountains was cataclysmic in force. They speculate that the heat of the collision is what brought our two peaks above the water line, that as much as a half-mile of Bath's hydrosphere was thrown out to space in the column of steam-cooled heat of the magma-crash. It's not hard to believe, considering that the peak I live on, North Chain, is 30,000 feet from the sea bottom just 50 miles north of Crandall's Shelf. And Uncle Hugh showed me spectroanalysis reports on Bulb, our moon, and on the only other planet in our system--Mr. Frosty. The stories about the naming of the Bath worlds are apocryphal--believe all you can swallow--but there seems to be a certain pattern of whimsy, a making of the best of bad things: Mr. Frosty is a smallish ice giant planet well out from the sun, with a gravity of 2.7 and a climate suited to people who don't mind eating their frozen food frozen. Anyway, what showed up in spectroanalysis is that both Bulb and Mr. Frosty are covered with giant caps of almost-pure water ice. Yards deep. It's hard to imagine how they could they could sweep so much water out of the sky... It's hard to imagine how that much water could get space-borne from Bath, with a surface-gravity of 1.18...
Anyway, the point is that the very limited land mass of Bath supplies no flat surfaces at all, just rough rock slopes that rise sharply, and rougher slopes that rise even more sharply. I had guessed that the lander would expect some kind of airfield. At the bottom of its glide it leveled off into a fast pass over both North and South Chains. The mountain hid it from me, of course, but I followed its course by sound as it thundered south, then watched it shoot back into the sky, into a high arcing loop that brought it back far to the north of the Shelf. It came back in low and slow, and I reasoned that it had some sort of gear for landing on water.
It had, but I wasn't at all prepared for the form it took. By then I was all the way out at the north end of the concrete platform called Crandall's Shelf, so I could see quite clearly: through some process I do not understand, the water in the lander's flight path became as hard as glass--or rock. No kidding, I assure you: where the water should have been lapping against the blocky wall of the shelf, it was rigid. It glowed in the sunlight with a buffed flatness. This impossible, impromptu runway had just formed in the water... out of the water. It was about forty feet wide; I walked to one edge and saw water--real water--slopping up over the top. It beaded up there, and sparkled, just as it would on tabletop. I jumped off the four foot concrete ledge and landed on a surface as sturdy as rock: it didn't give at all. It didn't even shimmy on the water! I felt as though I were standing on a foundation as solid as the North Chain. How...?
I didn't have time to think about it. At eye-level, that lander came down fast! I stood rapt, watching the enormous energies resolving, the force of falling counteracted by the invisible log of air rolled up under the downswept flaps. Even though I was prepared for it, I felt a surge of delight when I saw the wheels of the flier touch the 'water' runway it had made for itself. I thought of those stories that were sometimes whispered by the mad exiles of the Hegemony, about men of Earth who--allegedly--walked on water. Could those mythical beings top this? A space ship rolling across the water of Bath like a belt on talcum!
The plane taxied all the way in, close to the Shelf. I looked behind it, into the shimmering exhaust of the jet, and saw the water again splashing around, where the runway had been. As soon as the wheels had passed beyond a section of runway, that portion turned back into water. I saw no explanation, so I didn't torture myself looking for one. The plane pulled up close to me, and I spent my time examining it, trying to determine what purpose each component served.
I have to confess that I was startled when the pilot popped out through the small door I had surmised led into the life-support system. I won't say I was expecting a male pilot: I hadn't really imagined him--or her--at all. But on Bath dangerous jobs are most often done by males, even though in the North Chain we make a point of judging cases on their particular merits, not unquestionable imperatives that can send a brawny female to the sewing factory and a skimpy male to the stone quarry. Still, I was surprised when the slim figure of a young woman emerged from the lander. She was shapely, and the reflective fabric of her form-fit pressure-suit did nothing to hide her assets. She was no more than two inches shorter than me, and I'm tall--almost six feet--and though her frame was small, she was obviously in good shape; I watched the muscles ripple under her suit as she kicked out a rope ladder, then bounded down it, hand over hand, without using her feet on the rungs at all.
She landed on the 'hard' water with a bounce, turning quickly to face me. Through her face mask I could see a gleefully impish face. She studied some sort of device on her wrist, then detached and shook free of her helmet. Her head was ablaze, a fiery pyre of long, wavy auburn hair. I'm not one of those males who goes into hysterics at the sight of a beautiful girl, but I confess that I felt my pulse quicken, and a sudden emptiness hit my stomach, like the 'free fall' of the elevator down to the Shelf. Her face was a stunning beacon, both from the tight planes of her features and from the sincere gaiety that lit her expression. Her bright blue eyes were tiny flames of an even brighter burning. She looked like a triple star system, twin blue dwarfs against a red giant...
I guess a gawked for a second or two. She giggled. I wondered what she'd say if she knew I had been comparing her to star systems...
Gulp, I said to myself. I've been in this situation before, so I know all the lines. Also: ahem.
"Hi," I said, overcoming my awe. That's never been easy for me, but I had to talk to her, not just because she was gorgeous, but because she was the hot pilot who had painted a white arrow across the sky, pointing toward the future I sought for myself. I pointed toward the lander. "Thank you!" I wanted her to know that I really meant it.
She shrugged. "All in a day's work." She looked beyond me to the bustle of the Shelf. I kicked myself twice: once for failing to dominate her attention, and again for wanting to anyway.
I said, "Forgive me. My name is Brenton Norris. Welcome to Bath."
"Howdy!," she said, her eyes returning to me, alight with the grin that seemed never to leave her face. "I'm Sally. Pleased to meet you, Brenton. Is your name common on Bath?"
"I'm the only one. My father named me after a contraction of a literary character his father had told him about, Brains Benton. He's told me of these stories, but I've never read them. Not even the Hegemony library has copies."
"I've read those stories," she replied.
"My father gave me the set as a present, when I was still quite small. I read them over and over." A devilish grin overtook her face. "So," she probed, "do you measure up to your father's expectations? Brains Benton was a brilliant reasoner: he would collect evidence inductively, then abstract from it the deductive principle that would unravel the whole puzzle. Is this your favored epistemological method?"
"Uh," I replied. "My what...?"
"I see." Her eyes trailed back to the Shelf. I turned to look with her.
"Crandall's Shelf," I said, straining against a strong urge to run away. "It's a giant concrete platform, fifteen hundred yards on a side--above the water. The surfside is a beach; the Shelf extends far out to sea in a warm-water basin. On the calm side is a sea farm; the Shelf reaches out in wide steps, gradually sinking deeper into the water. Nearest in are hydroponic vegetable farms. Further out are fish and shellfish farms. The front face is used for sea traffic--not much aside from pleasure craft--because the mountain chain we live on drops off drastically right at this edge."
"Impressive," she said, and I felt a little better. "Massive. What holds it up?
"The side wings for the beach and the sea farm are hung from the central mass. That's simply an enormous block of concrete form-fitted to the ragged edge of the mountain like a cap to a broken tooth. There used to be a small ledge here, a cliff just at sea level in the long descent down North Chain. Crandall capped it with the Shelf."
She had chucked her helmet through the open door of the lander. We walked back to the end of her runway. I lifted myself onto the Shelf, then turned to help her up. But she was already beside me. I didn't quite blush, but I was glad she spoke when she did.
"What would be the effect of a rapid rise in water level? Say your star went through a hot spell and melted the polar caps. What would that do to the Shelf?"
"Crandall built it to float," I replied. "There are giant drums of air embedded in the structure. In the unlikely event the water level ever did rise, the Shelf would rise with it. It's cabled to the mountain, so it can't drift away. The cables can be adjusted to the level of the water, then tightened to reposition the Shelf as the water goes down."
"Very impressive. This Crandall, is he still alive?"
"Uh," I said. "Sort of... He's my uncle."
"Well, now I am impressed. But I thought you said your name was Norris..."
"It is. Hugh Crandall is my mother's brother. He's more or less the father of the whole North Chain..."
"Oh? What does he own?"
I shuffled in my place. We were still standing at the edge of the shelf, and the beacon of her gaze was beginning to feel like a glare. "Well," I said, "not exactly anything, right now. He's sort of bankrupt..."
"Sort of bankrupt?"
I'll bite my tongue twice, but not a third time. "No, I don't think you do. My uncle fled the Hegemony with nothing. When he set foot on North Chain, there was nothing here but rock. He built the power systems and the transportation systems, and super-structures and accessways and utility fixtures. He built the lifts and the Powderways and the Shelf. The people of Bath call him the Master Builder, or the True Janioist."
"Well, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to offend. Did you say 'Janioist'?"
"And another thing," I surged onward heedlessly. I'd let her turn my crank one time too many, so I had a lot of unwinding to do. "I'm not stupid. In my school, the kids call me the Rocket Scientist, even if I don't know what pimestology is!"
"Epistemology. And I know you're quite intelligent. Few people dig deeply enough into a great structure to identify the physics that makes it possible. I know more than I expected to about this Shelf. Placated?"
I grinned. "Mollified."
"Fine. Now then, was it 'Janioist' you said before?"
I sighed. "It's a whole lot of stale, dry history. Sure you're interested?"
"Do you mind if I satisfy some minor curiosities first?" The habit of privacy runs deep in Bath; it has to on such a crowded world. But though I was technically in violation of privacy by even watching the lander and its stunning pilot, I could excuse it under the mantle of scientific observation. But the visitor had felt free to question me, and there were no other people present--privacy. I hoped she would not regard a direct question as the insult it would be to any Bather; information is offered or sold, never demanded.
But she grinned. "Fire away."
"First, are you from a Sallyship?"
"It's not the ship in orbit of Bath. It's not nearly the size predicted."
"No," she responded. "That's a transport vessel. The Sallyship is out in the cometary halo."
"...!," I said dumbfoundedly. "Then it's true...?"
"Then what's true?"
"Apocrypha, myth. Madness--or so I thought. Tales of sorcery and gods beyond the stars who would return one day to Bath."
"Aha!," Sally replied, shaking her head in silent laughter. "And would one of these gods be named Janio Valenta?"
"Janio is god. So say the priests of the Hegemony."
She laughed out loud, the cloudless laughter of a child, a sunburst of undiluted glee.
I fought to compose myself. In Bath, one does not laugh at anyone's faith. I said, "I agree there are good, scientific reasons to call the apocrypha of the Hegemony into question, but if you are from a Sallyship, then your visit was accurately prophesied by their doctrine."
She laughed again. "Was one of the gods named Felicity Helena Sally Valenta?"
"The youngest child of Janio. It is said she was born in transit to Bath. Devout Janioists still call this world Felicity."
"Devout Janioists!" She giggled delightfully. "I am Felicity Valenta. Do I look like a god to you?"
"No," I said, overcoming my desire to not say what I wanted to say most. "You look like a goddess to me!"
She blushed, and I almost joined her. But I felt good, too, like I always do when I've done what I really want. My fiery redhead--at least she was mine for now--was a bonus, on top of the inestimable value of seeing the lander come down.
I said, "Feel like walking?"
"Sure. Let's go."
"Okay. I'll give you that history lesson. Uh... Don't you want to secure your ship first?"
"Oh, yes!" She did something to the device on her wrist and the water nearest the Shelf turned back into... water. The lander sat out in the harbor on a slab of 'hard' water.
"That's another thing I wanted to ask you... How do you do that?"
"Sorcery!," she said, grasping at my ribs. I didn't draw away from her touch. "Whispered incantations! Magic potions!"
"Funny. Next you'll be trying to sell me water..."
Felicity Helena Sally Valenta looked out over drenched Bath, the ocean without end.
She said: "I think there's a lot of money to be made in water!" She tickled at me again, then tucked herself under my arm.
I couldn't think of a better place to put her!
I am not a floozy!
If I let a boy I just met put his arm around me--well, it was a long trip, and papa warned me I'd arrive just in time to get kissed. I didn't see any harm in hurrying things, and though Brenton's kind of goofy, I liked the way he stood up for himself.
And it felt good tucked up there against him. He still shows the last vestiges of a scrawny-kid body, but his long, thin frame is tightly muscled. I put my arm around him and he felt like Paula Robinson's boa constrictor. That sounds like a gross thing to say, but what I mean is that his body felt lean and pliable, yet enormously strong.
He pulled away from me, a look of concern in his deep brown eyes. He ploughed a hand through his dark hair, fixing me with a gaze that was part suspicion, part horror...
"If you're Felicity, daughter of Janio... Sally, how old are you?"
"...? Seventeen. How about you?"
"Same. But that's not what I mean! Felicity was born before Bath was settled! Nine hundred years ago!"
I couldn't stop myself: I laughed out loud. I stopped at once, but the damage was done: he was all steamed up again. "I'm sorry Brent. Is it all right if I call you Brent?" I snuggled back against him. "It's not right of me to laugh at you."
"Then you're not Felicity?"
"I am Felicity. But I'm not nine hundred, I'm seventeen. Our ships travel at very near the speed of light. When we're in transit, virtually no time passes for me, but many years pass at the destination. I set out for Bath 54 Bath years ago. It was two years ago for me."
I let that sink in. He just gaped.
"So," I went on. "I was born in Bath year minus 1, I return to it in--what year is it here?"
"I return in nine fourteen, and I've just turned seventeen. Does that make sense to you?"
"Well," he said, pulling me tighter. "At least as much as your runway..."
I giggled, tickling him. We walked along the wide road down the middle of the concrete shelf.
What a sight! The road was lined with shops and foodstalls, the bounty of the sea farms off-shore and the dry farms on the surface of the Shelf. It gave me the feeling of the special carnivals we sometimes hold on the ship, only this was a fair that never ends, a perpetual celebration of flatness on a world where there is no place to stand... We wandered along slowly, muttering like old friends. Some children tried to pester us, but Brenton said, "Privacy," and they scattered.
He told me all about the history of Bath. Which is involved. I knew some of it from shipside stories. Bath was spotted when Janio was developing Glory Road, about six light years from here. By every indication, it was a water-wet, Earth-like world, so Janio called it Felicity. On the trip over, a person I have come to admire enormously was born, and she was tagged Felicity, too. Of the two, I prefer the latter.
Pops had planned to land a large colony to Bath, and maybe plant a space culture as well. But when he got here, and saw that there is almost no land mass, and only two other worlds--a moon and an ice cube--he decided to go on to the next target. He planted a small colony on the South Chain, a toehold on this enormous expanse of water...
"Bath, huh?," I said. "Janio insists on calling it Felicity, just like your priests. What do you call the moon?"
I couldn't help myself: I giggled. "And the other planet? Is that Mr. Frosty?"
"How did you know?"
I smiled. "And the sun is Video?"
He nodded. His face was puzzled. "There are all kinds of stories about the names, but Video I understand: it means 'I see'."
"Uh," I said. "Not quite."
I sang for him a verse from 'The Miner's Lament':
"In the bulb and the bath, I'm a beast,I laughed, and he smiled weakly. I can't imagine is feels too good to learn that your home is named from a bawdy song. "There must have been some old rockhounds in the settlers to Bath. They've named everything after the facilities in a mining ship. Bath is obvious. Video is a means of storing and replaying two-dimensional images with sound."
"I've read about it. It's said that the Hegemony still possesses working video devices."
"Mister Frosty is the miner's name for the kitchen facilities," I went on.
I blushed. "A Bulb is a... sanitary fixture built for free-fall."
I looked up at him: he was mocking me. I tickled him. And he tickled back!
"Well, I'm glad there's a logical explanation for the names," he said. "Maybe there's a logical explanation for everything..."
Janio never came into the Bath system. The Sallyship stayed out among the comets, collecting Snowballs for raw material and boost mass while a fleet of cargo and life-support landers settled the small colony. On the ships it is sometimes whispered that a major portion of the Bath colony was composed of religious zealots, that Janio would not have left any colony at Bath had not these fanatics insisted. That gossip is always hastily followed with the disclaimer that, of course, some normal people also colonized on Bath, in part because Janio made it financially attractive. But still, on the six ships in Janio's space, the trader's harshest insult is to offer 'an estate on Bath'.
Funny: papa sent me here to strike it rich. By selling water.
It's a laugh, but it's not so funny to the people trying to settle dry worlds, like Glory Road or Gobi. If Bath's vast ocean could be moved, in icy chunks, to where it has more value, all would profit. Especially the Sallyship Felicity, Felicity Valenta, proprietor.
That much I knew from shipside. What Brent had to say was so comical it was possible at times to forget that the stupidities that seemed so funny were also deadly...
Bath doesn't have a lot of weather. Its spin is much slower than normal, so there's less of a coriolis effect. Hence, few major storms. Aside from the two peaks above water, there are no land masses to wring the atmosphere of water, so the weather is fairly constant: even rain when the air supersaturates, usually at night, and sunny, hazy days. But once in a while, Bath spins off a monster, a low, wide hurricane that moves slowly, but with an incredible mass.
The Bath colony was settled with power tools, the normal package of survival tools for an electrical technology, including communication and computation equipment. The Bath colony had been established nine years when the first hurricane hit South Chain. Swept away in the storm were all of the solar collectors, rendering the colony powerless.
Literally! The ability to sustain energy growth is based in prior energy accumulation: the more energy you already produce, the more energy you can add to your production. A nuclear or solar technology is built from components manufactured by harnessing fossil electricity, which is in turn dependent on fossil combustion, which is in turn based in wood- or moss-burning. If you have the power budget of a savage and you want to get rich, you have to start by building a fire.
Which is hard to do on a world that supports no native above-water vegetation.
I was able to guess what happened before Brent told me: mass starvation, followed by plagues of disease among the survivors, followed by a new order among a society much reduced in population. The new order was centered on what must have been the tool shed of the colony, only after the disaster it was called the Church of Janio, believe it or not. The 'Church' acquired its 'holy' status by being the only agency on Bath still able to produce the 'miracles' of the Janioist eden. I guessed that the tool shed must have had some kind of fall-back mechanism, possibly a Mitchellson generator. Over the course of generations, that could prove very impressive to awed, power-starved peasants...
The group that came to control the tool shed called itself 'the Hegemony'. Their followers were called Janioists. Within months after the disaster, they were firmly in control of the 'Church', able to act as choosers of the slain in dispensing the shed's limited resources. Over time, a doctrine of domination began to develop, based on the idea that the very precariousness of life on Bath prevented the improvement of conditions above the subsistence level. This dogma, called 'the Limitations', seems to originate mostly with a man known as Nathan the Seer, who also is attributed with 'miraculously' bringing the colony through the first winter after the storm by burning books for warmth... Or did he burn them for another reason...?
To be fair to the early Janioists, it was they who also discovered that the seaweed that proliferates off South Chain can be dried and burned for fuel, thus lifting Bath to at least the level of metal tooling.
But there it remained for centuries. The Church was the only source of knowledge on Bath, and the Church kept its information to itself.
Until a man named Creighton came along. Brent explained that he is known to Janioists as Creighton the Drunkard, but others call him Creighton the True Janioist. It seems he was a man who enjoyed the pleasures of the night more than a poor Janioist priest could afford. So he began to publish some of the sacred, secret Janioist texts, the last books remaining from the burnings. Creighton was evidently powerful enough in the Church to save his own neck, at least long enough to republish the complete Ego Encyclopedia.
Knowledge is knowing how to use the tools you have to make the tools you'll need to produce the energy you want. When the Hegemony interdiction on knowledge was lifted, all heaven broke loose: steam powered businesses erupted overnight, and a plan was discussed for harvesting as electricity the force of Bath's tides; study groups formed to pursue the Ego science; a college of maths was formed, along with a college of physics; for the long-suppressed minds of Bath, Creighton was the true miracle.
This all happened within the last one hundred years, and Brenton's excited voice did the era justice. Through a period of enormously increasing wealth, the Church grew steadily more suspicious. When Brent's Uncle Hugh had gone to them more than forty years ago, with the suggestion to build the freight elevator through North Chain, they had condemned his ambition. We must face the fact that life on Bath must be limited by force, they had said. Any development of North Chain would result in population growth, hastening the day of the next collapse. Hugh Crandall had pleaded that the only limitation on a society is the amount of energy it can produce, and that Bath could support one hundred times its present population, if it could develop the energy sources. The priests renewed their invective, threatening to imprison Crandall if he did not drop the plan.
Hugh Crandall left that night for North Chain. He lived alone among the rocks for many months before he was joined by anyone. Over time, the people who joined Crandall's exile built a steam turbine, using alcohol distilled from seaweed as fuel. The plant produced more power than the enclave needed, so much of it was sold over a cable stretched across the two-mile gap between the two mountain peaks. Crandall saw to it that the Hegemony was one of his plant's biggest customers. Evidently the priests had far more gadgets left over from the collapse than they had power to run, so the Church had a virtually unlimited demand. Crandall bided his time, and when the Church fell behind in its payments, he threatened to cut them off--unless they would permit him to copy what he desired from their library. The priests capitulated, perhaps doubting that Crandall could pull anything of value from those dusty old tomes.
But Crandall knew more than they. Within a year he had full backing to build a fifty megawatt fission plant on North Chain. At the same time, Crandall was using power from his steam turbine to hold back the water while he built the Shelf. By the time the Shelf was finished, he was personally bankrupt, but he owned the largest expanse of arable real estate on Bath, and he controlled an energy source that more than tripled Bath's energy budget when it came on-line.
Hugh Crandall had no money, and more energy than he could possibly sell, but he had vision. He used his energy to build a huge laser-bore, a device to drill tunnels through the core of North Chain. Over ten years and four bankruptcies, Crandall developed the basic structure for all of North Chain, the skyscraper foundations for the proud buildings rimming the peak, the power and utility systems, the accessways and transport systems. One of his most spectacular feats was the freight elevator that used the countervailing weights of its own cargo to move vast amounts of goods from the two ends of the island.
Brent explained the elevator to me as we were riding up it to the cliff that overlooks the Shelf. There are passenger elevators, but the operators let Brent ride with them as a special favor. The elevator works sort of like a cable car: the weights at the two ends offset each other, so the power system only has to be strong enough to overcome inertia and to move the weight of the cable. Ideally, there should be extra power to compensate for imperfect balances, but even so, it's a very power-cheap way to move enormous loads.
The car that goes down to the Shelf terminates at the cliff. When it is fully down, its companion is docked at the cliff. This car goes back down through the mountain at an angle, emerging at a bank of smaller elevators to carry freight down for ferrying to South Chain.
Brent explained that while the Hegemony still claims dominance over Bath, North Chain goes its own way. Trade with South Chain is limited to those things on which the priests assess no duties. The Church retains the Sallyship artifacts, with the ironic result that the electric culture of North Chain has nothing but self-developed power tools, while the still-animal-driven (human-driven) South Chain has power tools it can't power...
I admit it: I had come to Bath prepared to sneer. When you live in a Sallyship, the highest state of known technology, all colony worlds tend to look helpless and comical. But Crandall and the others who had tamed North Chain--they were nothing to sneer at. I still wasn't clear on the discrimination of the Janioists from the True Janioists, but standing at the highest point on Bath, overlooking both of the tight peaks, I could tell which were the true Egoists in practice: The north peak looked like a mound of earth supporting a proud family of tall trees, the skyscrapers that gripped tight to the rock to extend a firm challenge to the sun. By contrast, the southern island looked very primitive: ledge farms blasted out of the rock with dynamite, and men in black robes leading groups of small children up and down perilous stairways.
Brenton led me into one of the cavernous corridors of North Chain, and only then did I understand the true power of what the Bathers, especially Brent's uncle, have built from nothing. It was enormous, a forty foot square slashed through the rock as if it were no more than wet sand...
"Wow!," I said. Brent smiled at me, proud for his world.
He led me over to a conveyor belt he called the Powderway, and we rode together down the wide slash. I'm still not a floozy, but it felt really good when he stood behind me and put both arms around me...
The hallway was like something from a ship, or those shopping centers I've heard about from Earth: the walls were lined with stores of all description. Occasionally there was a break in the wall, a corridor leading back to the mountainside; Brent explained that these are the accessways leading to the skyscrapers outside. The stores fronted on a broad walkway, and the center of the tunnel was occupied by the Powderways, one following the gentle grade down and south, the other climbing serenely northward.
"Why do they call it the Powderway," I asked.
"When people heard that my uncle intended to lubricate the belt with talcum, they laughed and called it 'the baby-powder highway'. Uncle Hugh liked it so much he shortened it to Powderway."
"Your uncle sounds like he has a lot of spirit."
"You can say that again! Would you like to meet him?"
He pulled me tighter, and I certainly didn't resist. When he spoke again, his voice was softer. "Uh, if it's a violation of privacy, please say so. But may I ask what purpose you came here to pursue...?"
I turned to face him, pulling free of his embrace, but following his arms down to hold his hands. "I told you, I came here to make money on water!" I giggled.
He tugged at my hands, pulling me back into his arms. This time I was facing him, so when he hugged my tight, my chest was buried in his. Mmm! Also: hmmmm... He was laughing as he held me, and when he pulled his head back, I saw that his eyes were beaming.
"Well," he said, "if you need any help, let me know. I don't think there's any money in water, but it would be profit enough just to work beside you."
I hugged him back to me so tightly. It felt just... just dreamy! Mmm! Papa was right!
Hey, look: I'm not a great womanizer or anything. Figuring in terms of standard distributions, it's probable I had a day like this coming, but nothing in my experience led me to expect it anytime soon.
I'm not a total wallflower, but the girls I can get to go out with me are usually too shy even to talk to themselves... Part of it is the school I go to: it's sort of like a university, and it's attended mostly by adults, who work hard all day to pay a hefty tuition. There are only 27 kids, distributed in age from 11 to 18. As you might guess, it's not much of a party environment. We older kids get invited to the mixers at the Manning School, but not even those outings are much fun. Not when your date is a brilliant micro-biologist-to-be who has never volunteered three consecutive words in her life. I remember being told by a former friend that, "it's not that you people are so scholastically bright, it's just that you're so socially retarded." He was a half-wit, as is obvious from this remark, so he had only half a point: to be socially adept at the expense of practical knowledge would be a slow suicide of the exact type practiced by him, and by his brothers-in-spirit on South Chain. But the other half is true: all of the bright kids are pretty shy, except about the one subject that fascinates them. Even me.
I try to watch myself about it. There's being quiet, comfortably wordless. And then there's being stupid, cheating yourself out of something you want just because you're too scared of the sound of your own voice. What I think is, if you got all dressed up, you might as well have a good time. You can make it as rotten as you like, just by letting every little thing get to you, but you won't have a good time that way.
Maybe it's because I'm interested in everything, but I think that when you set out to get something, you ought to do everything you can to make sure you do get it. The other kids can be that way about their one special passion, but so much of the rest of the time they're giving up what they want left and right... Sort of like they feel they have to pay for having a good brain...
So, anyway, the point is, though I don't have too much experience with frisky redheads, I have set no impediment before new knowledge. There were a couple of times when she was almost too forward, and I felt that urge to race away. I analyzed it, and decided it was mostly overload, not fear. I let myself feel the way Sally was tickling me, feel both her touch and intent... And then... Then you couldn't have pulled me away with a winch!
But, also: why?
I'll admit to being a dreamer and a romantic, but I try not to confuse myself: there's a difference between the desired and the expected. Desire alone gives you no good reason to expect anything. A reasonable expectation is a prediction based on prior experience, especially prior effort.
So, what did I do?
Hmmm... Escort, maybe? That made better sense than anything else. I'm not putting myself down, but I do try to be fact-conscious: being touched at all by girls is rare to my experience, and being touched first is totally new.
Also: different customs? Plausible. All I know about the Sallyships I discount elsewhere as myth: can I regard it here as truth? The customs on a Sallyship could be anything. Yuck! This tickling I interpret so personally might be nothing more than play.
A larger question: is Sally the Felicity Valenta? I concluded she was, by least elements. The contraries were that she is a base charlatan or a madwoman. I had no idea how free a Sallyship could be with re-entry vehicles, but I have to draw upon the Janioists to price such an artifact in any terms I can understand: 'the life's labor of many rich men'. It didn't make any sense at all for the ship to entrust such a valuable tool to someone not competent to use it. Hence, Sally is the daughter of Janio.
Which left open the God question, but that was much to big to deal with at once. And, besides, standing on the Powderway wrapped up in redhead was much too interesting to think about anything else...
Resolved: be wary, but also be grateful. This might not last forever...
We cuddled together all the way down the Powderway. We had to part to walk when we got to the terrace that overlooks South Chain, but she held onto my hand. I led her around the walkway to the broad concrete stairway that leads up to and through the Bath Estates. These are the only private homes on Bath, each hung into the sheer mountain wall by steel beams. Some are astoundingly beautiful, like brightly colored gems sparkling in the sun. They are isolated vertically, so the stairway switches back on itself frequently. At a wide landing, I suggested a short rest.
She took that as her cue to slip back into my arms. I steeled myself: there wouldn't be a better opportunity. I put my hand on her forehead, pushing back gently to raise her face to mine. I kissed her so tenderly, barely brushing my lips against hers. I expected her to push me away, but instead she pulled me tighter, and then her mouth was open and... oh! No one had ever let me do that before. Not that I hadn't tried, but I never got anywhere...
Her mouth felt wonderful, so warm and delicious to taste. I felt her tongue writhing against mine and I just wanted to melt...
We stayed like that for what seemed an eternal instant, then she broke away. "That's enough," she said. "I just wanted to find out."
"Find out what?"
"Uh..., a lot of things, I guess."
We were still cuddled up tight, looking out over the ocean, so I had every reason to be easy about things. "Okay," I said. "No hurry."
"No, it's my fault. Call it hormones: I've had to spend the last two years being Captain Genderless while all kinds of things were going on in my body. You can tell me you know what I mean, can't you? You can be that honest with me."
"I know what you're talking about."
"So I guess I hit dirt like a Snowballer with a year's back-pay. Rough and ready." She giggled. "Don't get the wrong idea; I'll give you no cause to suppose you can have your will with me. But that was fun." She smiled impishly. "It paid handsomely for the investment in time I spent imagining it." She tickled all around my waist, the hugged me so tight.
"Hey!," she said. "What's that?" She was pointing to something over my shoulder.
I turned to look: the elevator pod on the other edge of the landing.
"That's the elevator from inside, isn't it?"
"Yes," I admitted.
"Then we didn't have to come up these stairs at all, did we? But if we came up the elevator, then we wouldn't have to stop to rest, and you wouldn't have a chance to steal a kiss. Is that the way you planned it, mister?"
"Well..., not exactly."
"'Sort of', 'almost', 'not exactly'. Isn't there any precision in what you have to say?"
She was teasing me: her voice was mock invective, but her arms remained locked around me.
"I'll say this," I replied. "If you continue to ask difficult questions without giving me the least chance to answer, you'll have precisely one kiss from me and not another more."
"Hah!," she returned. "You're just trying to weasel out of admitting that you deliberately calculated how best to take advantage of my weak and impassioned state!"
I sighed. "If you must know, I did plan this. But not just today: it's something I've thought about for a long time. I didn't imagine any particular girl, but I always knew that someday there would be a girl I'd want to bring here..."
"Uh..., I see. Brenton, how serious do you want to be?"
"How serious do you want me to be?"
"You know I live in the ship..."
"Yeah," I said. "I guess I do..."
Then she pulled my head down and kissed me slowly, thoroughly. By the time we parted, my heart was racing faster than it had all the way up the stairs.
"Come on," she said, "take me to your leader. Isn't that what visitors from outer space are supposed to say?"
"It's either that, or 'Kiss me, quick! My head's on fire!'"
"Hah, hah, hah!," she said, digging her knuckles into my ribs. We walked arm in arm up the stairs.
Uncle Hugh's house tells you a lot about him: it's two perfect cubes, one stone, one glass. The stone house perches over North Point; it holds all the living accommodations, including his office. The glass house sits atop it, an immense park, with real Earth-seed grass that Uncle Hugh got from the Hegemony, and small trees, and a fish pond and a vegetable garden. Of the time Uncle Hugh spends at home, he spends most of it in his garden. He even sleeps there, in a lounger by the pond. Sometimes I think the only reason my uncle works at all is to pay for his park.
I banged around downstairs, but I knew I wouldn't find him there. I led Sally to the elevator to the upper cube.
He was there all right, lying on his back in the grass, watching the sky through a pair of binoculars. Sally jumped gleefully out into the man-made meadow, and Uncle Hugh turned, startled.
"Oh, hi! Come on over!" Uncle Hugh is over sixty, but he looks about forty-five. His hair is white, but he keeps it short and brushed-up high. His skin is clear and unlined, and I know from working with him that he's as strong as one of his own structures. I remember thinking as a child that is was his character that was the force before which rock crumbled...
He had sat up in the grass, and I flopped down near him. Sally was making a joyously careful inspection of everything, and I watched Uncle Hugh watch her.
He stood up when she came bounding over. "Allow me to introduce myself," he said. "I am Hugh Crandall. And you are Felicity Helena Sally Valenta."
Her jaw just dropped, but not before mine! He just does things like that; I'm never sure how. He always explains his reasoning, that he's not making an unwarranted leap. But still...
"How?," he asked himself. "One: all known reports of Sallyships derive either from Janio Valenta, Helena Valenta, or their children. Has Brenton told you that I'm a student of ancient Bath history?"
"No, but he's told me a lot of history on his own."
"We have copies of many of the books that were left with the Bath colonists. Our records show that we have every book left by Janio, but, if this is so, then there must be some teachings he withheld from us."
"Oh," she said.
"I'll come back to it. In addition to that, we have a strong oral tradition dating back centuries. Creighton transcribed some of these tales, as did others."
"Hmmph!," I said.
"Hmmph!, back," he replied. "If we're not having a discussion, we might as well both not have it." He turned back to Sally. "There are reports that there may have been as many as six original Sallyships. We know that they came from Earth, and we have a lot of information about Earth. We know that this planet was settled by Janio and Helena, and it is reported that some of the people who settled here were present when earlier groups migrated to other stars. At one of these a blonde girlchild was born, called Helena. They stayed there, while they built a third ship, and this ship was called Helena. And as everyone knows, on the way to Bath, a child named Felicity was born, an angelic being with auburn hair and blue eyes."
"I don't know if Janio had any children after he left here, but I do know that the reason he left Bath system so quickly was that there were not enough materials here to build another ship. Which I presume is the Sallyship Felicity, orbiting us, somewhere unseen. Furthermore, it's reasonable to conclude that if any Sallyship were to come to Bath, it would be the one that bears our planet's original name."
"Sir," said Sally, nodding.
"Does that mean we can sit down?" He chuckled and plopped back down on the grass. "Did Brenton tell you what a con-man I am?"
"Uh..., he mentioned some financial troubles..." She sat down next to me.
"Funny. Not troubles, catastrophes. I engineer financial disasters on which people get rich."
She just gave him a quizzical look.
"I take ordinary, cautious investors, who are no threat of ever having more than funeral expenses, and I swindle them in such a fashion that they end up enormously wealthy!" He laughed heartily. "I'll go to them and say 'All we need is fifty thousand grams to lay the foundation for immense profits'. They'll take the bait, and I'll do just what I said I'd do: I'll lay a foundation, on the largest scale I think I'll be able to get them to swallow. Then I'll go back to them and say, 'Now that we've got a foundation, all we need is seventy-five thousand to put the structure together, and then will we get rich'. They swallow hard, then pay."
"But you can only go back to that well so many times," Sally said.
"So true, but that's part of the swindle. Eventually we get to a point where they won't commit more cash until I pledge all my personal assets."
"So then I go bankrupt, but by then my investors are sunk in so deep they don't dare pull out. They toss me out of management, replace me with my own hand-picked successor. By then they're panicked, so they'll do anything he says. He finishes the job, and then they all get rich!"
Sally laughed delightedly.
"The truly comical thing is," Uncle Hugh went on, "they consider it 'investment savvy' to debate about when to fire me. I engineer that as much as the rest, but let them think as they do. If they do."
"But what's in it for you?"
Uncle Hugh swept his hand around him. "This, among other things. When I was born, this house was impossible on Bath. If I had sought only to add to my own wealth, I would not have achieved this much. Of the men who have invested in my projects, I have profited least, especially because I have built things for their use that they could not have built for mine. But in another way, I have profited most: I get to have the world my way, with them paying the bills. Have I cheated myself?"
"I think not. You have done well for yourself, both in your work and in your home."
"I thank you, my lady."
"Uncle Hugh," I piped up. "You'll never guess why she came!"
"Water," he said, and my jaw dropped again. "Come now, Brent. Why else would anyone come to Bath?"
"Uh..., you have a point."
"What I don't get," he continued, turning to Sally, "is what that has to do with Mr. Frosty..."
"What!," I yelped.
"A fleet of ships using drives like the one on your lander has boosted away in an orbit that will take them to Mr. Frosty."
"We're doing a little prospecting," she said. "To see if we can get the materials to build a space station."
"Hear that, boy? You ought to be pitching the lady for a job. For one thing, it's likely her finances are more certain than mine."
"The fact is," Sally put in, "I could use somebody. We're going to be here for two months at least, and we'll be planting a lot of new industry. It would help if we had someone who knows about Bath technology, what you have, what you need."
"Jump on it, boy," Uncle Hugh admonished. "This is your ticket to space!"
"It sure is... I was just thinking about what mom would say..."
"Don't let that sister of mine hold you back. Your only limitations are the ones you strap on yourself."
"I guess you're right..."
"Tell you what, Brent," Sally said. "Let's call it a done deal, subject to your parents approval. Does that appeal to you?"
"You said it!"
"Not so fast, kid," said Uncle Hugh, suddenly alert. "What do you offer in return? The boy's got his future to consider. He'll get a good education on Bath. Can you offer the same?"
The two got to haggling and I wandered off to the pond. If I knew Uncle Hugh, he'd take her to the well until she demanded that he pledge his personal assets against any further concessions... I sat looking at Sally across the distance. She was a match for any three Uncle Hugh's, and it was fun to watch the flash in her eyes as she emphasized her points. In my arms, she felt like giggling girl-fluff, but while she argued with Uncle Hugh, I sat in awe, admiring the woman who ran a starship...
My woman... That tasted pretty good. But wasn't that what she had offered, a way for us to stay together?
After a while she came over and lay down in the grass beside me. We nuzzled, content to say nothing. It seemed like a very long time before she propped herself up on an elbow.
"Do you think your parents will let you go?"
"...I don't know."
"If they will, do you want to?"
"I think so."
"Okay," she said. "No hurry."
She pressed me flat against the grass and kissed me until I thought my heart would stop. There is a heaven! Her name is Sally!
Food! When Brent's uncle came back up the elevator he carried a tray of food. I didn't have every confidence that Bath food would suit my digestion, but I was wearing just a shipside suit, so I wasn't carrying anything.
Thank heavens! I 'fuge, but somehow an hour at two gravities doesn't seem like nearly as much work as four hours at one and a fifth.
Brent and his uncle got to talking about some of the design features of my lander. I stayed with them for a while, but then my thoughts drifted away...
Perhaps it was the food: everything that lives must prosper. The problem of survival for a Sallyship is not different from that of any other being. Just bigger.
Maybe it's foolish of me to even try to talk about it: Helena knows, and my brothers, but nobody else I know can even imagine it. You grow up knowing that you'll be the ship, that you're not just child-girl-student-playmate-date, but that you're those things plus the ship. You grow up as the ship; its problems are your problems, as soon as you're able to handle them. When I finally earned my wings, it seemed almost anticlimactic: I'd already been doing the whole job for years.
But the training was necessary: everything that lives must prosper. A ship is very like a person's body. The people on it are all individuals, of course, but the ship has a physical nature that has to be satisfied for any of the passengers to achieve their ends. Sometimes colonists don't understand that a ship is a sort of colony as well. Even a ship's boat has to keep its passengers alive long enough to get somewhere to breed. A Sallyship is a living colony, a complete, closed ecosystem capable of supporting a limited population almost indefinitely.
'Limited' and 'almost' are equivocations, but the truth is that the same terms would have to be applied to a planetary ecology, first because changed-state chemicals may have no value, and second because planets habitable by humans must shed mass constantly by losing gases to space. The difference is that a Sallyship doesn't have anything like the margins of a planet. Papa calls the ships 'the flying nests', and that's a good way to think of them: the job of a ship is to maintain its own internal economy such that it can serve its external purpose, to establish colonies and to trade with them. Sounds a lot like your body, right? You eat so you can work so you can shop so you can eat. That's what I have to do. It's the same thing, just bigger.
When I'd get ahead of myself in my studies, papa would 'reward' me with a special problem, some horror-story based on grossly improbable circumstances compounded by on-going errors. For instance: I've jumped through three stars without finding so much as a loose rock. I haven't spawned in years, and my population is dreadfully high, while my supply of boost mass is critically low. There is one star remaining in this pocket, about eight light years away, and I am fifty-eight light years from a potential rescuer. No matter what I do, I can make no more than .8 lights, and no more than .5 if I want to leave mass for deceleration and a reserve. That means no significant time dilation, so the trip to the rescuer will take about one hundred twenty years, while I can make it to the next star within twenty. The solution may be non-obvious, but it must be viable (that is, the ship must survive intact and without the initiation of violence).
A real brain-bender, right? We'd get about six of these groaners a year, and I never solved one in less than month. For that problem, I tried calling for help by laser, then converting the remaining boost mass to survival values. I exchanged these for voluntary sterilizations, to keep the population down, then waited the hundred and fifty or so years for another ship to track me down. So Sallyship Felicity got to live.
That time. Other times I didn't do so well, so papa made his point: there's nothing automatic in life, not for a person, and not for a ship. I have to juggle my eggs just right, or my flying nest will fall...
Call it a result of that training that my ears perked up when they did: "...what I'm saying is," Hugh Crandall posed, "suppose there were a way to reorganize compounds to exhibit different characteristics...?"
"Oh, come on, Uncle Hugh! That's the basis of every magic act, the thing that is what it isn't and does what it doesn't do."
"Then how do you account for all these reports?"
"Myths. Child's tales."
"But some of those myths have been borne out in new technology."
"I'm not saying that none of the recollections are based on good science. I'm just saying those wild yarns aren't."
"Oh?," Mr. Crandall asked. "And what constitutes good science?"
"Good science starts with the proposition that an object is what it is and does what it does."
I clapped. "Hear, hear!"
Mr. Crandall tugged at his chin. "I see... And an object cannot be observed to be doing other than it does, because, if it were, it wouldn't be doing something it couldn't do, only something we have never before observed it to do. Is that right?"
"Then that leaves my objection open. You have no basis for saying the folk tales cannot be explained in science. All you are saying is that, if such a science exists, you have no knowledge of it. Generally, I applaud your tenacity at remaining skeptical about phenomena of which you have no reliable evidence, but I've built a model from some of the recollections that may change your mind."
"Uh..., actually, I got some evidence today that's better than any I had before."
"Oh, yes?! What is it?"
Brenton turned to me. "Your waiver, my lady?"
I said: "...?"
"He wants to know if he's free to report things he's observed in your company," Mr. Crandall put in. "The habit of privacy runs deep in Bath."
"Say what you wish, Brent. I'm interested, too." Darned interested!
"Well..., the runway. It's not land... I mean, it's not water... When the lander came down, there was just water out there, nothing else. Then suddenly there was land, a hard bluish-white surface, just as hard and sturdy as rock. The ship's still sitting on a piece of it. Go look out the window and you'll see it."
Mr. Crandall walked over to the glass wall. He stood there looking for a long time before he returned. "Hmmm... I wonder how it's done...?"
I was beginning to understand 'privacy': I said nothing.
"See there, Brent," Crandall continued. "Now you have a direct evidence of the exact sort of thing described in the recollections, objects that suddenly respond differently than we expect them to. Air that you can walk on, structural members with the weight and resilience of rubber but the strength of steel, water that turns into rock... I've been thinking about this a long time. Brent, you know this from school: an isotope is stable under what conditions?"
"When it achieves a state of complementary valences."
"That's right. And the nature of any particular isotope is such that it can achieve stability in only one way, by shedding particular components and not others. Such that at the end, it can only be that isotope, and not another."
"So suppose you could induce stability in another way?"
"Sure. What if you could build a stairway to Bulb? What if you could breed pink elephants and trade them for purple cows?"
"I admit that I'm speculating," Hugh Crandall replied, pointing to the window, "but something is happening out there. I call it the X factor, just to give it a name..."
"Hmm...," Brent returned. "I wonder how it's done..."
"Perhaps Felicity will tell us..."
"Call me Sally," I said. "I can tell you that the name for what you call the X factor is Mitchellson Mechanics."
"...nothing else?," Mr. Crandall asked.
"Is it permissible to ask why?"
"'Too much like welfare'," I muttered.
"What was that?"
"'Too much like welfare'. It's something my father says. We have to be careful that we don't give a colony more technology than it can keep."
"'More than it can keep'?," Brent repeated.
"Yes. We have to give them some survival tools, but if we give them more than they can hang onto, they'll lose it all and perish. I don't really know what 'welfare' was, but from what papa says, it was a scheme for paying people to fail to provide for themselves. With a colony, it's not exactly the same thing, but if we give people survival tools that they're not foresighted enough to look after, then we're sending them to their deaths. Please don't take offense, but the colonists to Bath are a perfect example of the wisdom of this policy: Janio gave them only an electrical technology, but they couldn't keep even that..."
"But we got it back," Mr. Crandall asserted.
"Yes, but if Janio hadn't given the colonists more than they could look after, you need never have lost anything. Anyway, the point is, the maths behind Mitchellson Mechanics are protected."
"Protected?," Crandall asked.
Brent said, "What does that mean?"
"It means private property," Crandall replied. "Well, Sally, I guess you've told me I can't push you any farther."
I grinned. "I was hoping you'd catch on."
The cunning old fart was headed back to the well again!: "Is this Mitchellson Mechanics something Brenton can expect to learn while he's on your ship?"
"If Brent elects to stay with the Sallyship, he'll learn physics. Among other things."
"What does that mean, 'elects to stay'?"
"It means, if he stays aboard the ship when it leaves Bath system." I wasn't sure I'd made myself clear. "Do you want the whole answer?"
Hugh Crandall nodded.
"It means, if he goes on with us to the next star, and the next, and the next, and the next. In order to maintain a space culture at all, we have to take advantage of relativistic time dilation. What I'm saying is, if Brent leaves with us, it will be many Bath centuries before he returns, if ever."
Crandall said nothing for a long moment. Then he turned absently to Brent. "Be sure to leave out that part when you talk to your mother. For now, it's a temporary job, right, Sally?"
My voice spoke to the old man, but my eyes spoke to Brenton: "That's up to Brent."
He smiled weakly. At first I didn't understand what he was so overlapped about, but then I switched places: what if it was him asking me to move planetside? I'm not sure it was exactly the same thing for him, but anything in that neighborhood would be pretty tough to take...
"Mr. Crandall, may I please ask you some questions?"
"Go right ahead."
"Brent told me about something called the Hegemony that calls itself the planetary government. What is their actual status?"
"Hmm.. I'm not sure. What would you say, Brent? Operators of the penitentiary for the penitent?"
"Sure," Brenton returned. "Or maybe the head ghouls at the no-fun house."
"...I don't get it."
"The Hegemony is a dead issue," said Mr. Crandall. "Since they recruit their priests exclusively on their faith, their ignorance of facts, the priests of the Hegemony are the only people on Bath who don't know that the Hegemony is a dead issue. It's likely they'll approach you. If so, you have my leave to declare yourself under my justice."
"What does that mean?"
"It means that if you lodge a complaint, my attorneys will make statements and publish notices and do other things that rob poor tyrants of their sleep. Don't you worry, Sally. We have a free justice system on North Chain, not one that insists that you 'volunteer' to chop off your own head. The dark ones know our courts give good justice, so they behave themselves over here."
"I see." I wondered if the people who call this man a 'True Janioist' know that he is a true Egoist...
We left not long after that. When we came out on the stairs, the sun was just an orange shimmer in the clouds to the west. The sky above us was velvety and sprinkled with stars. Brent was still being quiet, but it was very nice to walk down the stairs so slowly, letting hands speak where tongues could not.
At the elevator landing I stopped him, grinning. "Mind if we take a rest?"
He smiled back. "Not a bit."
We snuggled up tight against the railing and he kissed me a long time. I could have stopped him. Maybe I should have. But it tasted so good. It tasted good twice, like soup after a day out in vacuum, once when it warmed my mouth, and again when it warmed my body. Except that kissing Brent is more like soup to the soupth, if anyone feels like calculating that.
To be honest, I think he liked it, too.
When he pulled away, he was smiling, and his eyes were bright, almost glassy. "Admit it," he said. "You planned this. Didn't you?"
I tickled up his back until my palms were on his shoulders. I pulled him forward until he was pressed tightly to me. Putting on my best video-villain voice, I growled, "Yeah!? So what if I did? Do you think you can resist me?"
He laughed. "I not sure I want to!"
And then he did kiss me. Soup to the soupth to the soupth! I knew I'd want to analyze the experience by reflection, so I employed a redundancy algorithm to flatten out the distribution in the sampling. Translation: I kissed him back. Again and again and again. Mmmm...
When he pulled away, his brow was troubled. "Sally, what does this mean?"
I shrugged. "It means I like you.
"Like me, or like kissing me?"
"...? I don't see a distinction. I wouldn't kiss someone I didn't like."
"Stipulated," he said. "Like me today, or like me with an eye toward a relationship?"
"I'm not really sure... I think I like you a lot. But, still, I just met you. What are you asking?"
He sighed. "I guess I'm saying, was it just a job you offered me back there, or was it something more?"
I sighed in return. "That's something we'll have to wait to find out. Don't worry, the ship won't be moving on for a while. Four months, at least."
"How long will you be here on Bath?"
"Just today and tomorrow, this trip. I have to get out to Mr. Frosty. I'd like you to come along, if you could."
"...I'll try." He pulled me closer, and I felt the answer he would not permit himself to put into words. We stood there nuzzling until the sun was long gone and the sky was a thick blanket of stars...
I'm not like this, usually. I'm really not. I mean, I have the ups and downs of a normal guy's life, but nothing like this...
I was in a tizz, a reeling headspin, like a bag of potatoes dumped off the North Point, flailing madly into the ocean. Splash...
I didn't know what to do. Did you ever feel that way? Where you have to make a choice, and you don't know which option to choose, and there are people pressuring you from all sides, and they all want an answer right now, and you know it's too important to make a mistake, but it all just seems to crush in around you and you just can't think. You just have so many thoughts bashing into each other at tangents that all you can do is race around with the mental rescue squad and pile up the casualties... Do you know what I mean?
I was a shivering wreck of sizzling short-circuits by the time I got home. Felicity-fevered, Sally-slaved, a kiss-palsied specimen of the 'evil' of transgressing beyond the Limitations.
It was dreamy.
Seriously: post-analysis reveals a significant loss of performance, substantially below optimum. But it was worth it! I shuffled home with my hands in my pockets and my mind in the stars, my spirit singing for the love of Sally.
I'd never felt anything like this before. Sure, I'd gotten pretty excited about the idea of kissing a girl, but it was always just any girl, an imaginary person, and the fun was the kissing, not the kissed. Do you see what I mean?: I knew love-stuff could be good, but I never knew the person you do it with could make it infinitely better.
No basis for comparison. Kissing is just something new you can do, maybe a little extra thrill because it's something you couldn't always do. But kissing Sally is an experience of a different order, an eternal paradise of glowing warmth, enveloping softness, painfully beautiful harmonies of mind and motion. Mmm! I was a wreck...
My mother jerked the door open before I had the key half in. Her hair was pulled back tight, like always, and she wore an apron over her floral house-dress. Her face was tight with that grimace of bitter forbearance that always reminds me of the way the sky looks just before a storm.
I knew she'd be there: she's always prepared to punish me for finding more valuable things to do than listen to her chatter mindlessly over dinner. I guess I can't blame her for being the way she is: my father pretty much ignores her, which seems to follow some perverse reciprocity. So I'm about all the company she gets. But she puts my company to such poor use that even I don't want anything to do with her. I know that the Fifth Limitation is 'honor thy mother', but how can I honor someone who never stops screaming? I'm serious: I've felt bad about this for a long time, but it just doesn't make any sense to me: how can I honor someone who insists on treating me as an object of dishonor? I think it was my mother who first got me to question the reasoning behind the Limitations: how can they be good, when they result in so much pain? Not just pain for the zealots on the South Chain, but pain for me, right here in my own life. How can that be good?
"Where have you been all this time?!?," she demanded. My mother really knows how to jump right into a conversation.
"Uncle Hugh's." Least effort. Technically a lie. I didn't care: the glow was too good to let her ruin it.
"Well, do you know that your mother has been waiting for you for hours?!?"
I couldn't stop myself. I said: "Waiting to do this?"
"I don't know what you mean, young man! I never know what you mean! Every time you talk to that brother of mine, he fills your head so full of nonsense that I don't know what to do with you!"
I don't know why I kept picking at her. I almost had the feeling that I finally understood the things she says, but I wasn't sure. "Do you think that I'm yours, like a slide rule or a garden hoe?"
"You're my son!"
"But does that make me your property?" Somehow, I just had the feeling that she was trying to take something from me, not so much the pleasure I got from Sally, but the thing in me that embraced that pleasure.
"I don't know what you mean! Listen to you! I've tried to teach you why you cannot transgress, and look at what I've gotten for my trouble!"
"Transgress what, mom? The Limitations, or your readiness to pitch a fit?"
She gave me one of those smoky glares that says 'we'll see about this!', then stormed off to her kitchen.
The kitchen is like my mother's last redoubt, her cache and ammo dump, to which she can always repair for confirmation of her viewpoint. As I walked past on my way to my room, she was slamming pans around in a cabinet she 'rearranges' at least four times a week. I think it gives her satisfaction to beat up on things that don't resist, don't run away, like my father, or fight back, like me. She looked up at me frozenly, her lips pursed in a tight circle about an inch across. "Did you eat?!?"
Not eating is even worse than not listening. I muttered, "Can't go to hell on an empty stomach..."
"I didn't hear that. What I asked you, Mister Rocket Scientist, is did your uncle feed you?! Or did he just stuff your head full of sinful notions?!"
Science is gathering evidence, organizing it logically, and testing the resulting questions against experience. "'Sinful notions'?," I asked. "Do you think it's sinful to think, mom? If so, while you are thinking so, are you not being sinful? How can something be sinful that you have to do, to recognize its sinfulness? That's crazy. It's just a quick way of declaring everyone guilty in advance, without charge, without trial, without evidence. Is it sinful for babies to grow up? Is it sinful to have blue eyes? How can it be sinful to do something you can't avoid doing?"
"It's sinful to talk that way to your own mother!"
"But not sinful for you to talk that way to me?"
"Oh, that Hugh!," she seethed. "That brother of mine always did have the devil in him!"
"The devil," I asked, "or the god? Since you disown every trait of his character, why do you call him your brother?"
"He's my brother!"
"Just as I'm your son?"
I couldn't help myself: I compared this experience to the other and smiled a reply. "I see."
"There is the Bond to Janio, the Bond to the Church, and the Bond to Family, in that order. Why have I slaved to raise you, even after the devil captured your soul?"
"...I don't know. Because there is no Bond to Self?"
There was raw horror in her eyes. "The Bond to Self is a transgression! The Unlimited Self will be the end of Bath!"
"The end? Or the beginning?"
"I will not hear you speak this way!!"
"So don't hear it. That's what I do with you..."
She turned back to her cabinet, clatter-thrashing the pans furiously.
Do you see what happened? It just made it all worse. When I got to my room I lay down and sweated things over, staring without concentration at the blankness of my ceiling.
I was angry with mother and angry with myself for being angry and almost even angry with Sally for giving me the reason to indulge all these angers. That's pretty stupid, isn't it? I mean, anger gets you nowhere anyway, but it's really stupid to get angry at someone for offering you something you want, but aren't sure you can take. Am I wrong?
So I just said: Cool down, Brent, buddy. One step at a time, prove it as you go along, then do the overall check when you're finished. No rush, no pressure, no correct answer except the one that proves true all the way through: no guesses accepted.
In a way, I really was kind of angry with Sally, not so much for offering me the chance to space, which was glorious, but for tempting me with a compensation not intimately related to my performance. Or perhaps too intimately related! What I'm saying is that I didn't like the influence my tingling mouth was having on my overloaded brain. I guess it's not her fault that I reacted to her that way, but it would have been easier to decide if the question were just Her or The Job, but not this weird amalgam of both. Do you see? If I let myself go, would I be letting my desire to be kissed some more tempt me into a choice that's wrong, in the full context of doing what I want with my life? To hell with the Limitations: if somebody wants to limit my life, I invite him to come and try! But if I let something ephemeral like a kiss cheat me out of the most I could do with my own brain, how have I acted to my interest?
And the other hand is just as mangled: the worst thing about the torture my mother puts everyone through is that it just makes you want to get away, like my father does. It's impossible to move far on Bath, but it's easy to move inward, to just not react to people when you want to be 'alone'. But I didn't want to end up like my father, working feverishly not as a celebration of life, but an escape from it. I always thought that the work you do should be the source of your highest pride, that using your mind to overcome the limitations nature placed on your body is the highest achievement possible to man. I was pretty young when I found out that this view is frowned-upon, to put it 'diplomatically', but I never stopped resenting the contradiction that one mind can try to artificially limit another.
Do you see? You can't jump much higher than half-again your height. That's your nature, and nothing you can do will change it. You can practice and get really good, but at some point you will achieve a limit to your performance, beyond which you won't improve. The same is true for your brain, but you really have to push it to find your limit. But isn't it foul to have people attempting to stop you before you come even close to that natural limit? Isn't that just somebody setting up his say-so as a law of nature? That doesn't change the real laws of nature, does it? If I say, 'I forbid you to have blue eyes!', what will be changed by my action? If Nathan the Seer says I am 'forbidden' to think beyond his level of failure, has he imposed a real limitation on me, or just pitched a fit?
And more importantly, is any part of my good served where people think they have the right--not just the power, but the right--to forbid my brain to function?
I was just spinning. Not really getting anywhere, just stumbling over the same ground again and again. I heard my father let himself in and went out to speak with him.
My mother rarely leaves me alone, but what she wastes on me, she totally withholds from him. She began to set the table as soon as she saw him, but she didn't say a word. My father sat at the table with his newspaper, staring down at the black blotches as though he was staring into a universe of tar, where everything was still and trapped and quiet. I don't know why they stay married. For me, I guess. For loving, homey warmth like this...
And because divorce transgresses the Limitations. The ones that say you're forbidden to be anything except the property of somebody else...
I feel angriest at my mother when I look at my father: he never did anything to deserve this. He's a good man, incredibly bright. There are deep-cut lines of pain in his face, but every once in a while he can look you right in the eye, a look that lays down a challenge: I don't say much, mister, but I stand behind everything I say; can you say the same?
He looked up when he saw me, smiling weakly. "Hi, Brent. Make it to space today?"
He's not toying with me by saying that: he's giving me what encouragement he can. "Uh," I said. "Almost..."
He seemed almost startled, almost totally alert. "All, most? Some, too, I suppose." He grinned.
"Better than nothing," I returned. "Infinitely."
"Sounds better to me."
"Does it, dad? Does it sound better to you?"
He knew I was being serious. "What are you talking about, Brenton?"
I looked over my shoulder: my mother was back in the kitchen, banging around again. I don't think she likes for him to speak to anyone...
"If you had a chance to do something you always wanted to do, would you stop yourself just because somebody else says it's wrong. Not because it is wrong, in physics or science or because it just can't be made to work, no matter what. But because someone says he'll be emotionally upset if you do it. Is that any reason to not do something, because somebody else says it makes them unhappy? Whose happiness is whose responsibility? If the price of somebody else's happiness is my unhappiness, how have I acted toward the good?"
He stared at me a long time. I couldn't decide if it was pain or pride written on his face. His eyes were as bright as Video, surging beacons of emotion. I always knew there was a volcano under all that rock, but I never knew how hot it was.
When he finally spoke, I thought he was changing the subject. "That ship is playing hell with the markets," he said. "'When the seers foretell fearsome change...'"
I returned the next line of the supplication: "'And the sky is black with angry clouds...'"
"'Then will the ocean rise to swallow the Unlimited Self...'"
"Do you really believe that, Dad?"
"Do I?," he asked himself. "I used to. Or I thought I did. But now...? You're asking about that ship, aren't you?" He didn't wait for me to interrupt. "Haven't I been asking myself the same things? It's easy enough to talk about a ship when it's just the pie in the sky set up by the priests. But when it's a real object, in the real sky? I never believed gods needed spaceships. Why would they? So if what's out there is both the god of the Church and the not-god that needs a spaceship to get around, then what is it?"
I looked over my shoulder again. Very old habit. "It's a redhead."
He laughed out loud. When my father laughs, I can see all that I saw of him as a boy, the young, strong vibrancy of a challenging, challenged mind. "Now I understand you better."
"Do you? Then which would you do?"
Just then my mother came bustling into the room to serve him his dinner. I don't think she listens in, she just has an instinct about when it's important for her to make an obstacle of herself. My father gave me a direct look: to be continued.
I went back to my room and went over everything in my mind. I threw out every emotional reaction, including my hopes to reap the riches of Felicity, because an emotion is not a proof by itself. How you feel about something is important, but it's not as important as being right, and your life is something you can only be wrong about once.
What it boiled down to was this: if I stay on Bath, I can get Dad and Uncle Hugh and their friends to back me in some space development and some space industry, but if I go with Sally, I can join a fully established space culture. The backside of that is that I'd be joining that culture near the bottom, but that seemed like an emotional reaction, too. If you personally end up doing more of what you want to do, who cares what anybody else gets to do?
From there it was pretty simple: if I go with Sally, no matter what I go to space, and I may even get to keep Sally. If I stay home, I lose both.
So I'm going.
I was much calmer after I made up my mind. Did you ever notice that, that the choice that seems so enormous from the front seems so tiny from the back? I felt pretty good about myself, like I'd pushed myself and pushed myself until I could jump another inch higher, another inch closer to glory...
Just then my father walked in. He sat down on the edge of the bed, just looking at me. "You've made up your mind, haven't you?"
"I'm glad. I don't know if you'll go to hell for the transgression of self love, but I know that if you ever do act against your own happiness, you may never stop..."
"I understand, Dad."
"I know it, Brent. You always have..."
I'm not the emotional type, but just then I felt a burning knot in my throat. "Dad? Thanks."
He squirmed a little on the bed.
"I mean it," I said. "I know you don't feel comfortable hearing it, but take it from me just this once, to keep forever. Thank you--for everything." I sat up beside him and just gave him a big hug, a hug to speak for all the words left unsaid between us.
It's funny how it doesn't really feel like a home until you're leaving it. A lot of things are funny that way...
Brent doesn't know quite what to expect when he joins Sally. At first it seems like a great opportunity, with the exciting technology of the lander to learn about, plus a whole world of information by video. Plus Sally. But as the two make their way out to Mr. Frosty, Brent overhears Sally giving orders to the prospecting crew that don't make much sense: "Proceed with Operation Cantaloupe," she says. He doesn't have time to wonder about it, because she offers him the opportunity to put his newly-won piloting skills to the test: would he like to man one of the ships in the formation that will catch a load of supplies hurled from the Sallyship? Brent jumps on the chance to prove himself, and, thus, is absent when Sally uses the Mitchellson technology to slice Mr. Frosty like a melon. As we exit, the Bathers, both North and South Chains, are incensed by Sally's 'unlimited' gall, and Brent is wondering how wise the choice he made in Part I has turned out to be.
They start out fighting by tele-communications, and it seems like things are all over when Sally hurls a Snowball at Brent's ship. Brent throws himself into his studies as an escape--he thinks. But when he discovers how to use the Mitchellson technique to make a Faster-Than-Light space drive, he realizes that he is what he has called Sally: 'the Unlimited Self'... He joins his Uncle Hugh in denouncing the Janioists and their creed of Limitations, and he and Sally have a tender reconciliation. There are rough spots when Brent learns what it means to be a Sallyship. But as we leave them, both have matured to their full stature, and they are joyously planning the next generation of the star-roving Egoists.