23 May 2840 G.
My dear Kathy,
First of all please forgive me for taking so long to write. I wrote you a short letter soon after I left, but even for its length it left out a lot of what happened. I held back on giving a full explanation because I for a long time planned to return to Moncamp someday, and I didn't want a full account passing through New Colorado. You'll see why when you read this.
Forgive me also for writing in Modern English. It has been my primary tongue ever since I left, and I'm not sure if I could write nearly as well in Moncampian these days.
As you probably remember, I used to take a vacation to New Denver every autumn around Thanksgiving. Back then mid-autumn on northern Moncamp was early summer on southern New Colorado, which is where New Denver is. It was on the shuttle going down to the planet from the station that holds the New Colorado side of the port where I first met So Minnibee. So Minnibee has long blonde hair, which was at the time in a plain braid, and green eyes with flecks of gold in them. She usually gives the impression of being totally at ease with her surroundings; even when on a planet for the first time you would think to look at her that whatever she's doing has been her daily routine for years. When I first met her she was wearing loose brown shirt and pants, which looked to me like laborer's clothes except that their material and tailoring seemed expensive. It was, in any case, a style I didn't recognize, even though having gone to New Denver every year for some time I had become familiar with the styles from many different planets.
Anyway, the shuttle was crowded and I had to sit next to somebody so I sat next to her. As soon as I did she turned to me and said, in Modern English, "Hi, I'm So Minnibee."
I spoke Modern English fairly well even then, so I said, "Hi, I'm Massill Weiss."
"Are you from New Colorado?"
"No, I'm from Moncamp. It's just one port away."
"Where are you from?"
"Havversun?" It sounded familiar, as any human planet would have, but beyond that I drew a blank.
"It's one port away from Paradise."
"Oh, you're a long ways from home."
"Yes, I am." She smiled at me, but then the conversation died. She looked out the window and I tried to think of how to best revive the conversation, because, to be honest, striking up a friendship with an attractive woman from a distant planet was just the sort of thing I hoped for from a vacation.
Soon after the shuttle left the station and started down to the planet I was just about to say something, I don't remember what, when she turned to me and asked, "Are you going to New Denver?"
"Where are you staying?"
"Where am I staying? At the hotel, the Republic Hotel."
"Is it any good?"
"Uh, yes. It's right on the beach."
"Good, you can show me the way."
Even though that was a fairly straightforward statement it took me a second to understand what she meant.
I said, "You don't have a reservation?"
"No, should I?"
"Well, this is not yet the real busy season, but you never know." She did not look worried. I added, "You could do it from here."
So I showed her how to call the hotel and they did have a room. She made a reservation for two weeks.
We talked most of the rest of the trip down. We talked about what strangers from different planets always talk about, what things are like back home. Havversun is a gift planet; besides its port to Paradise it has a port to a gladifer world. It's one of the few planets where Modern English is still used in ordinary conversation. The planet as a whole is mostly desert but the area So comes from is fairly wet and verdant. I had the impression that So was wealthy. When I asked her why she was on New Colorado she said she was just traveling through the galaxy with no real destination in mind.
After we landed we took the train to the hotel together and both registered. Then she said, "Well, thanks. Give me a call sometime. Maybe we could do something together," and went off to her room.
We had landed early afternoon New Denver time and I spent the rest of the afternoon wondering how early I could call her without seeming too anxious, and what I should say. I finally decided to invite her to dinner but when I called she wasn't there, so I left a message to call me. I waited for a return call as long as I could without eating and then ate in my room. Soon after I went to sleep, it being late at night Purplefield time.
She called me the next morning after I had woken up but before I had gotten out of bed. She was already dressed, in white pants and a long white shirt that could have been worn as a short dress. Her hair was loose and she was wearing a gold chain belt. She didn't look like she was just starting the day.
She said, "Hi, you called me yesterday?"
"Yes, I was going to ask you to join me for dinner."
"Oh, sorry, I didn't get back 'til real late."
"That's OK. I ..."
"What about breakfast?"
"Breakfast, the morning meal."
"Of course, sure, that would be fine. Where would you like to go?"
She laughed, "I thought you knew New Denver."
"Of course. Let me see ..." Even today I can think of several good places I could have mentioned but at the time I couldn't think of one. All I said was, "I usually just eat breakfast in my room."
"OK. How soon?"
"Should I come over right now?"
"Uh, no. I have to get dressed. What about in a half hour?"
She said, "OK. See you then," and broke the call.
I got dressed and spent some time trying to decide whether or not she expected me to order for her. I finally decided not to but when she came in she said, "What are we having?"
"I don't know. I haven't ordered yet."
She called a seat under her and asked, "What do New Coloradans eat for breakfast?"
I asked, "Have you ever had flatcakes with tree syrup?"
"No. Let's have that."
The service there always heard its name. "Yes, Mr. Weiss?"
"Order two plates of flatcakes with tree syrup on the side."
While we were waiting for the food I asked her what she had done the night before and she said she had been at some dance halls on North Street.
I said, "These are some rough places."
She said, "Yeah, I know."
When our food came she said, "Oh, you mean pancakes." It turned out that flatcakes, which I had thought were a New Coloradan invention, are actually fairly common, although usually called pancakes. So had eaten them before but although she had heard of tree syrup she had never had it before. In any case, she seemed to enjoy it.
When she had finished she asked, "What are we going to do today? Is the Gaffney Museum any good?"
"Sure, how do you know about the Gaffney?"
"From the New Coloradan Tourist Bureau."
We went to the Gaffney that morning. The Gaffney is a museum dedicated to static visual art, mostly paintings, housed in an imposing marble building which was once the governor's mansion.
One of the first things we saw was the Krissn collection, which contains most of the known portraits of the model Krissn Galler by Peer Coe, as well as his statue of her Venus Pregnant with Cupid, which is shown in practically every newsbit or book on pregnancy I've ever seen.
I explained, "Coe first met Krissn Galler before he was famous, while working in a clothing store where she was a salesman. He continued to paint her fairly regularly throughout his career, until he died in a groundcar accident in his forties. It's been a running debate among art historians ever since whether or not they were lovers. They both always denied it, but they were each married to someone else. It is known that her children were her husband's."
She asked, "What do you think?"
"Oh, I think they were. I mean, look at this." I pointed to Afternoon, which shows Krissn wet, naked, and laughing amid a profusion of weeds.
"Hm, I don't know." She looked around a little more. "I don't think so. I think he was infatuated with her, certainly when he painted this." She pointed to Venus Dining, which shows her seated at a table in 28th century dress, picking up a glass of wine and looking at the viewer.
"But can't you be infatuated with your lover?"
"Oh, no. Sex is death to infatuation. It either blossoms into love or devolves into disappointment, but it doesn't remain infatuation." She studied the painting some more. "And the man who painted this was infatuated. Look at the eyes."
I did, but they looked to me like they could have easily been a lover's eyes.
I said, "I don't see it."
She looked at me and asked, "Have you ever been infatuated?"
"I guess." She smiled at this.
I asked her, "have you?"
"Oh yes." She looked back at the painting and added, "in my younger days."
Later we came to the centerpiece of the Gaffney's collection, Ginevra di Benci, a portrait of a woman by the ancient Italian Leonardo.
When we got to it I said, "That's one of only two Leonardos known to exist."
She said, "I know. I've seen the other."
"On Left Ear Thirty-seven."
"It's a gladifer world."
"You've been to a gladifer world?"
"Yes, I just said that. It's not too unusual for a Havversunner."
"Have you met any other sentients?"
"I had lunch with a tsi once."
She then proceeded to tell me how tsis eat and how that was adapted for a human guest. It came out to twelve different kinds of drink with the only solid food being bananas and mustard.
We ate lunch at the Gaffney and that afternoon we went to Trivedi Plaza and East River Park, both of which are standard sightseeing places which I hadn't been to in years.
At East River Park we were walking along a stone slab path through a lawn of grass with clumps of devil's brooms growing here and there when I saw both of New Colorado's moons just above the eastern horizon, both white and gibbous and almost in conjunction.
I pointed them out, saying, "There's the moons, Alpha and Beta."
"What do you mean?"
"Half the human planets in the galaxy have moons named after Greek letters, just like every gas giant with large rings is called New Saturn."
"How many planets have you been on?"
"Have you ever been to Earth?"
"What's it like?"
"It's teeming with life. You wouldn't believe it. Colonial planets show off gardens like this but this is someone's backyard on Earth. Even its Arctic regions have carnivores larger than you or me."
I looked up at the dark blue New Coloradan sky and said, "Some people on Moncamp say you should always know in which direction Earth sits."
She pivoted around, pointed about 30 degrees up, and said, "There."
She then pointed up and a little behind her and said, "and there's Havversun."
"Are you sure?"
She laughed. "Yeah, I always know my place in the galactic map."
The sun went down soon after and I showed So the night sky of New Colorado. She was impressed with the Tiger Nebula, which can be seen as a small glow on Moncamp, but which on New Colorado is overlapping sheets of reddish white light stretching 32 degrees across their southern sky.
We ate supper at a place called Fisherman's Haven, which had tables looking out on the moonlit bay where flickerfish begged for food.
I had fried clockfish and So had boiled lobster, which she enjoyed, saying it tasted better than Terrestrial lobster.
As we were finishing she said, "Let's go dancing."
"Well, I thought we'd go to the beach shows ..."
"No. I'm going dancing. Come with me. You'll like it."
"What kind of dancing?"
"The Callial. Do you know it?"
The Callial is a New Coloradan dance; I'd seen it done but I'd never done it. I said, "no".
"I'll teach you."
"How do you know it?"
"I learned it yesterday."
"It's easy. Don't worry."
You know me, Kathy. More to the point, you know what I was like back then. Even though dancing is not one of my favorite ways to spend an evening there was no way I was going to refuse. I remember once I told you that I enjoy a woman's attention even more than her touch and you replied that I shouldn't make superficial distinctions. When So asked me to go dancing I was greatly enjoying her attention and anticipating her touch and going to a rowdy dance hall in New Denver was a small price to pay for either.
Before we went So had me braid her hair. I knew how to do a plain braid but she wanted a Julian braid. I didn't know how to do one so she called up a simulation and taught me on the spot. Her hair did not look as good as the simulation's, but she was happy with it.
As we were walking from the citycar to the dance hall So took my hand in hers. It was the sort of thing which should probably be of no great importance and which I of course treated as of no great importance but which nonetheless gave me a rush, not so much because I enjoyed holding hands with her but because it meant things were progressing as I'd hoped they would.
The place we went to was The Early Harvest, on a narrow alley off of North Street. The inside was mostly one large room, with fake wood floors and walls. About a third of it was covered with long tables and benches and the rest was the dance floor. At one edge of the dance floor was a raised platform where the band played. All along the walls were deer antlers.
The band consisted of two percussionists, a pianist, and about four men playing the varion, a string instrument similar to the guitar. They were all amplified and quite loud. Whenever So and I talked while the band was playing we had to lean over close to one another's ear. The place was crowded, and most of the crowd was dancing the Callial. The Callial is one of those dances where the dancers line up rank and file all doing the same steps, some of which switch the ranks and the files. So showed me the steps off to the side and then we joined the dance.
I never really learnt all the steps, not to the point where I could do them without keeping a close eye on the dancers around me. Still, I got familiar enough with them that I found myself getting caught up in the rhythm of the music and the flow of the dance. So looked like she had been dancing the Callial all her life.
In between dances we would go to the tables and have some beer. I didn't drink very much, but I had enough to feel it, which would help my dancing the next time out. I did end up having a good time there, although it was those interludes at the tables, not the dancing, which I really liked. So was a joy to be with. Even though we had known each other less than a day she showed none of the hesitancy or uneasiness which usually goes along with that. She treated me with the casual intimacy which one would expect of a lover of many years, even when asking such questions as whether I'd ever been married.
During one of these breaks in the music a thin man with thick black hair and a Devonian clan tattoo with the figure of a turtle on his forehead came over and sat down across from So.
He said, "Havversunner Minnibee?"
"You talked to Citizen Troyanne yesterday?" He glanced at me. "About finding someone?"
"Yes, do you know where he is?"
He chose his words slowly. "He is known to the Melon Bay Clan. I may be able to get a message to him."
So said, "great", and took a pen and a piece of paper from her pocket. On the paper she wrote:
11 July 468
I'm at the Republic Hotel in New Denver. Come see me.
I give you 126 kisses.
She folded the paper, wrote, "Ge'rree Minnibee" on it, and gave it to the man.
He said, "I'll see what I can do."
She said, "Thank you."
The man got up and left. So looked at me sideways, waiting for me to ask a question, which I did.
"Who's Ge'rree Minnibee?"
"He's my brother."
"I thought ..."
"Let's go outside." She stood up, took my hand, and led me out, as the band struck up another song.
When we got outside we started walking hand in hand back towards the citycar port. So looked down at the street and did not say anything for a little while.
Then she stopped and faced me and said, "Massill, there's a great deal about me I haven't told you, including a great deal I probably never will. But I should have told you why I'm on New Colorado. I don't go places without a purpose. I'm on New Colorado to find my brother."
"But why the secrecy? Why did you lie to me?"
"What do you know about Devonian politics?"
"Only that they're a mess. A couple years ago some Devonians blew up a building in New Denver."
"Right, and ever since then the New Coloradan government has been very touchy about Devonians on the planet, and I'm still not sure whether Ge'rree is here legally."
"But isn't he a Havversunner?"
"He was born and raised on Havversun but he's been living on Devon for years. He is officially a citizen of the Melon Bay Clan."
We stood a little while in silence. I asked, "Hasn't he kept in touch with you?"
"No, he used to, but we haven't heard from him in over two years. My sister Venner went to Devon to look for him."
She looked down without saying more, so I asked, "and?"
"And she couldn't find him. The best she could tell was that he'd died in Kent." She looked back up at me. "Where all the fighting was."
I'd heard of Kent, but I didn't know much about it. I'd never followed Devonian politics, with its shifting alliances and its eruptions of bloodshed followed by mutual recriminations.
"Anyway," she continued, "word got to us that he was in New Denver. I was the closest so I came to check it out."
She gave a little smile, "and it looks like I may have found him."
We didn't say too much until we got most of the way back to the hotel. So's mood had changed, she was more quiet and pensive than I had yet seen her. On the way back, however, she asked what the Primary Anicentric Expressionary Site was and we got into a discussion of Anicentric religious practices, which improved her mood, as it got her mind off her brother.
Back at the hotel I walked her to her room and was getting ready for the ever tricky business of the goodnight kiss and its possible aftermaths when she asked, "coming in?"
I said, "sure."
I was for some reason surprised to see that her room looked like a hotel room. I had I guess expected her to have personalized it in some way, but it looked like she had just walked in and dumped her bags beside the bed.
She asked if I wanted something to drink. I said no but she ordered some Tauran Comfort, a liqueur.
I said, "You should be careful, drinking that after all that beer."
She smiled, "Don't worry. I never get sick."
"I wouldn't want you to fall asleep on me either."
"You don't have to worry about that. I'm a long ways from sleep." She in fact showed few effects of the drink she'd had, even though she'd had more than me and I could feel what I'd had.
Her drink arrived soon and we sat close to each other on the couch while I told her some of my flood stories and she sipped her liqueur. Our heads were tilted down and towards each other and our shoulders drew together as we unhurriedly approached that moment when talk would stop and the intimacy of the day would be fulfilled.
Then so suddenly that it startled me the door opened and there stood a tall man with short black hair and a Melon Bay Clan tattoo on his forehead. Even though he looked nothing like So I immediately knew by So's expression that this was Ge'rree Minnibee.
She seemed surprised that he had actually appeared. She stood up and said, "Ge'rree!"
He said, "So, I never thought I'd see us again."
"We never thought we'd see you again. Why did you stop writing?"
"If I'd written I would have had to say what's happened. I'd have ..." He stopped and neither one said anything for what seemed like minutes. They just stared at each other as if they were both amazed at what they saw.
Then So said, "We were all so worried, Ge'rree. We thought you were dead."
"I might as well have been. I would have been better off."
"Oh, Ge'rree, don't ..."
"It was terrible, So. You have no idea. It was worse than the plague years. It ..."
"Ge'rree," She walked up to him and held his head in her hands. "It's OK. We've found you."
"You have no idea, I mean that literally. You have no idea, and you shouldn't."
"Ge'rree, you're with Minnibee again. It's all over."
"No, it's not." He suddenly started crying and put his arms around her. "It's a long way from over. It's to go on for years to come."
"It's OK," she said, holding him tightly and burying her head in his neck. "It's OK now; you're with Minnibee."
Then she started kissing him, and not with sisterly kisses, with passion and more abandon than I would have thought in her character. I had been feeling more and more out of place as it was and when this started I felt I'd better just leave.
I said, "I'll talk to you tomorrow," but she didn't answer. I walked out as they sank to the floor and closed the door behind me as his hand reached up to her breast.
That was a hard night to get through. It was not so much the sexual frustration as it was the anger at how So had totally ignored me once Ge'rree showed up. She had not even told me to leave. And after getting good and worked up about that I would get upset with myself for giving more importance to a vacation romance than what was obviously a major event in So's life, which made me feel worse. I ended up going down to a nearby arcade and venting my anger in one of those virtual games which respectable men like myself are never supposed to enter, and that just made me feel even worse.
The next morning I wasn't sure what I should do. I kept being tempted to call So but I always ended up telling myself that she should call me. I finally decided I should do something so I left to take a walk along the beach. However, as soon as I got to the courtyard there was So sitting on a bench. She was wearing pale blue pants and shirt and her hair was still in my Julian braid.
"Massill," she said, "come walk with me."
Neither of us said anything more until we got to the beach. Then she said, "Massill, I'm sorry. I didn't treat you very well last night."
"No, you didn't."
"I hope you understand why."
She sighed. "Havversunner families are hard to explain, and the Minnibees hardest of all. We sometimes act like the rest of the world doesn't matter; that's always been our failing."
We walked for a while in silence. Then she said, "But you have to realize ... I don't know how much you could sense but I've never seen a Minnibee look like that before. It was devastating to me to realize what could happen to us."
"You got that just by looking at him?"
"Oh, yes. Minnibees know each other well. We're a very closeknit family."
"I could tell."
The sarcasm in that last remark was not lost on So, but all she said was, "He needed comfort."
"Is he really your brother?"
"What does that mean?"
"We have the same parents and we grew up together."
"Then how could he not be your brother?"
"Things on Havversun are not the same as most places."
"Yes, I've noticed a great difference in the incest taboo."
I was sorry I'd said that as soon as it came out. I knew I'd only said it because I thought it might upset So.
I said, "I'm sorry, that's not what's really bothering me."
"I know. I know what's bothering you."
"You want to fuck me."
I stopped walking; the bluntness of that statement had caught me off guard. No Moncampian woman would have said that, at least not the ones I associated with. Still, I couldn't deny its truth.
I said, "Is that so surprising?"
"No, no. In fact, it's quite predictable. It probably would have happened last night if Ge'rree hadn't shown up."
"But he did, and that was the end of that."
She looked at me quizzically, and then said, "Massill, there is more variety to human culture throughout the galaxy than you can imagine, and some of the greatest variations are in courtship. You seem to assume that I made some sort of commitment yesterday ..."
I started to say, "No, it's ..." but she cut me off.
"... and in your culture I probably did. But that's not true everywhere; there are places where a man in that situation would be shocked to find out that I was willing to go to bed with him. I can't keep track of what means what where. I usually just follow the man's lead; one thing which is fairly constant is that the man takes the initiative. Even then I get in trouble by not knowing when I'm supposed to resist."
I said, "You seem to do this a lot."
"Oh, yes. I travel a great deal, and whenever I have to spend some time somewhere I try to find someone to spend it with."
"So that's what I am, a diversion?"
"Yes, exactly. I'm sorry if that upsets you, but you're right. You're a diversion. Ge'rree is my brother. He's the reason I came to New Colorado."
"Well," I said, looking out to a hawk flying high over the ocean. "I'm sorry that things didn't work out. I had a great time yesterday, at least."
"You're not leaving me, are you?"
"I thought you were leaving me."
"Why, because I'm now with Ge'rree?" She said that like she wasn't at all sure she was right.
She took hold of my arm and came closer. "Massill, Minnibees are a lot closer than most families, but even among ourselves last night was unusual. We are not each other's lovers, although we might act that way sometimes."
She came closer, with her face before mine, and added, "I want to spend tonight with you."
"I swear by the soil of Earth."
She then kissed me twice, once on my mouth and once on the side of my neck.
We spent the rest of the morning and most of the afternoon along the beach of New Denver and Glastonbury, which is the next town south. Once you get past the hotels you get to the snowshopper communities. New Colorado has a number of factories, the snowshops, which only operate during the cold months. During the rest of the year most of the workers farm, but some of them spend at least part of the summer on the beach, working the tourist trade or just taking it easy. They live in long one story buildings which have common kitchens and bathrooms in back and a single room facing the beach for each snowshopper. These buildings have the most extensively decorated exteriors I've ever seen, painted with scenes from the legends of dozens of worlds in vivid colors, or covered with patterns of sea shells, or hung with thousands of beads.
So was impressed, although not with the excitement that first time tourists usually greet the snowshopper dorms. She identified almost every scene represented, and when she saw a portrait of Julius Caesar she recited from memory Mark Anthony's monologue upon seeing Caesar's body, from Shakespeare's play, the one that starts, "O mighty Caesar! dost thou lie so low?"
Later in the afternoon I was talking about various things we might do when So said, "I'm going to see Ge'rree again this afternoon. Come with me."
"Why not? Don't blame Ge'rree 'cause I was rude to you. I think you'd like him, if you'd allow yourself to. Besides, I want to show you off."
"Show me off?"
"Sure, he didn't really get a chance to meet you last night."
I ended up going, I think mostly because I was afraid if she went alone she might not come back. I thought as we went that I was making a mistake, but it turned out good that I went.
Ge'rree lived in Kerrville, a neighborhood populated mostly by offworlders, including a lot of Devonians. It is not a particularly well-to-do neighborhood, but it is far from the worst you could find in New Denver. The houses are mostly three story row houses but Ge'rree lived in what looked like a former factory which had been converted to apartments.
Ge'rree's place was on the first floor with an entrance on the street. When he answered the door he seemed surprised to see me, but he didn't say anything. The place was fairly big, it turned out he lived there with several other men, although he was the only one there then. It also turned out that So had already been there, she had taken him home the night before.
Ge'rree led us into the dining room, which had a kitchen, and asked me if I wanted anything to drink. I asked for some coffee which he made by boiling water in a metal container which sat over a flame of some burning gas, and pouring it into a cup containing powdered coffee. I had heard of cooking machines which use burning gasses before and I supposed they must be safe, but it still made me a little uneasy.
Ge'rree also made tea for both himself and So, although he hadn't asked her what she wanted, or even if she wanted anything.
When it was all ready and served he sat down across from So, who was next to me, and asked me, "How is Moncamp these days?"
"Have you been there?"
"No, but I've heard you've had trouble with your terraforming."
"Well, that was some time ago. Things are pretty stable now. The Cappa Ocean is at peak and we have grasslands stretching thousands of kilometers to the west of Purplefield."
"Do you worry about it, though?"
"A collapse of the terraformation."
"Well, no. We're well on our way. We've been at it for over two hundred years, after all."
So and Ge'rree gave what seemed like identical smiles at this statement. For the first time they looked like they were brother and sister.
"It must be different on a gift planet," I said, "You don't have to worry about it."
"Sure we do," said So, "gift planets weren't given terraformed, they were given gladilatiformed."
"Still," said Ge'rree, "It's not the same. A lot of the work was done by the gladifers. Having lived on Dover I know what could happen."
So said, "But that can make it harder. A terraformed world has a blank slate; it doesn't have to worry about Gladilatian microbes. Have you forgotten the blue plague?"
"No, of course not." He turned to me. "How are things perceived on Moncamp?"
"In what way?"
"How is it taught in the schools, for instance? Are you taught that it's an eternal struggle to keep your planet livable, or that it is an inevitable process which pretty much takes care of itself?"
"More towards the latter, I guess." I hadn't really thought of this before. "I certainly never worry about it. Even when we lost all that grassland twelve years ago it was seen as an annoyance and an expense more than anything. Why, has Dover had trouble with its terraformation?"
"Oh, sure. We have famines every couple of years. Of course, the political situation prevents any coordinated solution to the crises and the crises worsen the political situation. That's life on Dover."
"So why don't you leave?"
He looked at me without saying anything for a while. I was worried that I had somehow insulted him. But then he answered, "Because I'm a member of the Melon Bay Clan."
I was about to ask about Devonian clans when So said, "You're a Minnibee. You're a Minnibee first and always, which means you're a Havversunner, and no matter how long and how far you travel you will return to Havversun to soak your feet in the Snake's River."
"Oh, So," he said, "don't get sentimental. It's not like us."
"But I don't understand," she said, and I heard a desperation in her voice which surprised me. This conversation was apparently a continuation of an earlier one. "Why don't you come home with me? How can you stay in that place when you have Havversun waiting for you?"
"Because I am a Devonian. I am a Devonian in a way you could never understand."
This statement touched a nerve in So which surprised me even more. She stood up and shouted at him, "How could I not understand? Explain that to me, Minnibee. How could I possibly not understand what you think?"
His answer was low but hard, "Because you have not spent fifty-five years on Devon, dear So. When you have, you'll understand."
So said, calmer, "I'll understand now, Ge'rree. You know I will."
Ge'rree turned away without saying anything. In the pause that followed I said, "Fifty-five years? How old are you?" In Modern English years means Terrestrial years.
Ge'rree and So looked at me with identical expressions of surprise. Ge'rree then gave So a look which I took to mean, "Explaining this is your job."
So sat back down and said, "Massill, let me give you a little Havversunner history. Very soon after colonization a Blue Catholic university was founded in Hemlerberg, which quickly became one of the galaxy's foremost centers for medical research. They eventually came to specialize in artificial body parts, and not just limbs and organs, but blood and bone and nervous systems. Eventually they got to the point where they could replace the whole body except the brain, because the brain is you, and if you replace the brain you're dead and you've just got a pseudohominid. Well, they did eventually learn how to reproduce the components of the brain and the interactions of those so they could make something which acts just like a brain and in fact was used in pseudohominids to make the first true artificial humans."
"Was this gladifer technology?" I asked.
"Well, gladifer technology was certainly used, but most of it was developed on Havversun. In fact, we export body parts to the gladifers. Anyway, it was realized that if you could take a human brain apart and put it back together neuron by neuron you could replace human tissue with something a lot more durable and still have what was for all intents and purposes the same brain, with the same memories, the same skills, the same perceptions, the same mind."
"And that's what Ge'rree did?"
"That's what we both did. Massill," she leaned forward and took one of my hands in hers, "I'm a hundred and thirty-seven years old, ninety in my first body and forty-seven in this one. I am ..." She hesitated. "On some planets I am legally a robot, but the only real difference between me and other women you've met is that in many ways I am very, very old."
As you can readily imagine, this came as quite a surprise. Even so, I did not for a moment doubt its truth, although looking back on it I probably should have.
I said, "Well, So, you are a wonder I never thought I'd meet. You are such a wonder it never would have occurred to me that there would never be one to be met."
"Does it bother you?"
"What, that you're old or that your body isn't human?"
"Well, I wouldn't say it bothers me, but it is a little ..."
"So, you've been intimidating from the start."
Ge'rree laughed. "Yes, she is that, even for a Minnibee."
So said, to me, "I'm sorry, I don't mean to be. And I didn't mean to tell you so much of my history so soon. I probably shouldn't have brought you here. I just wanted you to meet Ge'rree."
"Why?" asked Ge'rree. When she didn't answer immediately he continued, "I think I know. You wanted him as contrast. A non-Minnibee among the Minnibees. Except that he turned out to be another person who has not known Devon."
"And you have still not told me," said So, "in any way that a Minnibee could understand, how being a Devonian can be more important than being Minnibee."
"More important? Well, perhaps important is the correct word." He and So sat staring at each other for what seemed like a long time. I couldn't see much happening but I nonetheless got the impression that a lot was being communicated.
"Let me tell you a story then," he continued. "This took place three Devonian summers ago. Out and out war had come to Kent; there was no pretense of killing for evens anymore. I was living in Richardtown, in the mountains of South Kent, far enough south that it hadn't seen any fighting yet. I was away from town tending a field I had, some corn, when I got a call that the town was under attack, from the Old River Clan. I had gone on foot so it took a while to get back and when I did it was all over. I had enough sense to scan the place from a hill, and they had taken it. The men were hung from their wrists in the plaza, left there to dehydrate. The ... well, war on Devon is in the end killing for evens, and what the Treaty of Caracas calls the mistreatment of prisoners is the whole point.
"So I fled. I was lucky they weren't better equipped, or else they would have detected me and I'd be dead. As it was I fled down the Finid River valley, which is kind of rough country, but the only way out without crossing the mountains or going through Old River Clan territory.
"The next day I came to a farm. Just a house and a small barn and some fields, wheat mostly. I, uh, I went up to the front door and knocked. A man answered, a young man, with the Old River Clan mark on his forehead. I later found out the whole valley had changed hands that spring and I'd never heard.
"Anyway, there he was, unarmed. I don't know why he answered the door unarmed. I guess they were far enough from the fighting that they thought they didn't have to worry. I was armed, with a pulse gun, and I pulled it as soon as I saw his mark. There were three of him, the man, his wife, and an eight year old boy."
His voice started sounding more desperate as he continued but he did not slow down or hesitate. "They were my prisoners then, but there was not a lot I could do with them. If they got a message off to the militia I was dead. There was no way I could fight or outrun or hide from an airboat. And Devonians do not make deals for hostages. What I should have done, I guess, I should have taken them with me as far as I could and then released them and hoped I could make it over the mountains before they got back to where they could call the militia. I might have made it too; I don't know."
He was starting to cry at this point. "What I did do is what any Devonian would have done there. I killed the three of them and crossed the mountains into Melon Bay territory. And that's why I'm alive now."
He turned to So. "At the time it seemed ... it seemed obvious."
So had been listening to this with a look of surprise on her face but otherwise, or so I thought, fairly calm. Now, however, she went nuts. She started screaming, "no!" at the top of her lungs and picked up her chair and threw it at Ge'rree. It was not just sent in his direction, it was thrown hard right at him. She then picked up a glass jar of some kind of grain and threw that at his head. He managed to block the chair and duck the glass, but it was clear So was not just showing her anger; she was trying to hurt him.
Ge'rree kept saying, "So! So!" while he dodged her attack, and then ran out the door. So tried to run after him, but he'd locked the door behind him.
I was too taken by surprise to do anything at first, but as she beat on the door I went over to her, held her shoulders, and said, "So, calm down."
She spun around and said, "Massill, stay out of this."
I said, "So, I know he's your brother and I know you're close, but he's been on Devon for fifty-five years ..."
She grabbed my shirt with both her hands, and said in a voice that started low and rose to a yell, "How can you be so stupid? How can you be so stupid?"
Then she let go and began crying. She put her head by my neck and said, in a softer voice, "How can you be so stupid, Massill? Don't you know who we are?"
I had no idea, until she continued, "Anything you can make one copy of you can make two copies of."
I knew then what she meant. I said, "You're the same person. Your brain and Ge'rree's brain are both copies of the same original brain. There's two of you. I mean, two of you."
"Actually," she said, "there's more than two of us."
"How many are there?"
"Two hundred and thirty-one, last I heard."
I pulled away from her. "Two hundred and thirty-one? What kind of person would make two hundred and thirty-one copies of herself?"
"Airrick Minnibee. When I was a young man I thought I would never replace my body. I thought I would die gracefully when my time came. But by the time I was eighty I knew I wanted to live forever. And you don't live forever just by replacing your body. You live forever by creating bodies faster than you lose them. So far I've created over two hundred and I've only lost three."
"And you're number one hundred twenty-six."
She smiled a little, "That's right, and Ge'rree's seventy-five."
"And you got so upset because it's like you killed those people."
"But Ge'rree's not you, not anymore. You've been separated for decades. You're no longer the same person."
"Massill, when you listened to Ge'rree's story you could tell yourself, 'Well, if it had been me I wouldn't have done that,' but I can't say that. I would have done that. I know for a fact that if I'd gone through what he'd gone through I would have done the same thing. Airrick Minnibee killed that family. I am Airrick Minnibee."
I was going to continue, but before I could think of what to say next she suddenly walked away, out the room's other door. I followed, saying, "So, wait. Where're you going?" but she didn't answer.
She went down the hall to a door which she tried to open, but it was locked. Ge'rree was nowhere to be seen. So then started kicking the door, hard. I asked her what she was doing, but she still didn't answer. On the third kick the jamb splintered and the door flew open. There was a small storeroom beyond it, full of weapons. I never did find out why Devonians would have so many arms on New Colorado, but they were well stocked. So grabbed a bullet gun, checked it, I guess to make sure it was loaded, and started walking back down the hall.
I followed her, saying, "So, what are you doing?"
She answered, "I'm going to commit suicide."
It took me a second to realize what she meant. I said, "No, So, wait ..."
She stopped, looked at me, and said, "Massill, if anything happens to me, save my head."
"Save my head."
"Well, OK, but ..." She resumed walking. I followed, saying, "But, So ..." and then Ge'rree turned the corner.
What happened next will take longer to describe than it took to happen. Ge'rree had gotten a shrapnel gun, which he was holding next to himself, pointed at the floor. I was standing to the left of So, who had the bullet gun in her right hand. When she saw Ge'rree she aimed her gun at him but did not fire. Ge'rree aimed his gun at her and did fire. A shrapnel gun is a crude weapon, throwing a spray of sharp metal pieces. So was hit in at least a dozen places, from her thighs to her neck. She was immediately covered with blood. The force of the hit would have thrown her down on the floor but I reached out and grabbed her arm. She steadied herself, shot Ge'rree, and then slumped down. She said something I couldn't make out and then went totally limp. Ge'rree was hit in the forehead, right in his tattoo. He fell back, and was still.
I have never been more scared than I was at that point. I had never seen anyone die before, or even get seriously hurt, and suddenly I was standing in a pool of blood with two corpses. What made it especially frightening, I think, was the silence, the stillness. After all of the shouting and the fighting and the shooting all that I could hear was the hum of the air processor. I was all alone, and that just emphasized it.
I did not acquit myself very well, at first. I paced back and forth, blubbering, whimpering, "So!" and imagining what would happen if Ge'rree's fellow clan members walked in. I kept telling myself I should just get away. I didn't have but a few drops of blood on me and I knew the Devonians wouldn't be reporting this to the police, if they could help it.
I did not run away, though. I went back to the storeroom and got a streamgun, eyeshades for the gun, and a rigid black carrying case whose contents I dumped on the floor. I then went back to So and cut off her head. That was easier said than done; I'll spare you the details. I put her head in the case and left.
By this time I had calmed down and was acting deliberately and methodically, because I was too frightened to do otherwise. The thought of trying to explain to the police what I was doing carrying around a severed head was more than enough to keep my emotions in check.
I returned to my hotel room, changed my shoes and pants, which both had some blood on them, put the bloody spotted clothes in the case, and rented an airboat. I flew out into the wilderness west of New Denver, into the forests in the foothills of the Cadence Mountains. I picked a spot which looked fairly inaccessible by foot and worked the boat between the trees down to the forest floor. I didn't try to bury the case; I just wedged it between two rocks, wrote down the site's coordinates, and went back to the hotel. When I got back to my room I lay on my bed and cried for hours.
I spent most of the rest of my stay by the ocean, either sitting on the rocks north of the beaches or standing knee deep in the surf, looking out to sea. I knew I had not covered my tracks nearly well enough to evade the police, but I also knew that the last thing Ge'rree's housemates wanted was police involvement. What I didn't know was how much they knew, or could find out, about So or the Minnibees or me. Nothing happened, though. I forced myself to ask the hotel if So had left any messages for me, pretending that she had dumped me, and when the week was over I went home.
I don't know if you remember, but you sensed that something was wrong when I got back. I told you I had met a woman but it didn't work out. I'm not sure you believed me; I never could fool you.
Soon after I sent a message to Havversun, to an address I found for Airrick Minnibee. I sent, "I have met your sister So and your brother Ge'rree, although they are no longer with me. So has given me 126 kisses, and I will remember each of them forever."
Soon after that I got a request from the New Denver police for information about So Minnibee, who had disappeared. It was only when I got this that I was finally able to relax, for it meant they considered it just a missing person case, or else they would have at least hooked up a live interview.
Just after the new year I was working in the office when I got a call from the front desk, "Mir Weiss? Have a visitor, a Mim Minnibee."
"Yes, please upsender."
I half expected So to show up, but the woman who appeared looked nothing like her. She was short, with long soft brown hair and a short yellow dress. She had eyes to match her hair and soft light skin that made her look about eighteen.
She said, "Mr. Weiss? I'm Lillee Minnibee. I believe you know some of my family."
"Yes. Come in."
She came in and sat down. She looked less sure of herself than So had, but I later figured out that was just an illusion due to her apparent youth.
She said, "We got your message, on Havversun, and, well ..."
"And you were wondering how much I know?"
I then told her everything, not in the detail I've just told you, but in all the essentials. Except for asking me to describe Ge'rree's wound in more detail she didn't say anything til I was done.
Then she asked, "Why did you do it? Why did you risk so much to save her head?"
"I don't know. I've wondered that myself. The best answer I've come up with is 'because I promised her I would.'"
"Massill, you did well. You did very well. How soon can you be ready to go?"
"Go? Go where?"
"Back to New Colorado. We have to fetch So's brain."
"I was kind of hoping I could give you the airboat coordinates and you could do the rest."
"Airboat coordinates have a resolution of a hundred meters. I can't search that large an area." I had somehow assumed the coordinates would guide someone to the exact spot. I was wrong.
Lillee leaned forward. "You can find the case if you're in the general area, can't you?"
"Well, I think so." The terrain where I'd dumped it was uneven and I had a mental picture of the spot.
She didn't say anything; she just sat there looking expectant until I said, "OK, if you'll pay my portage I'll go."
Lillee was all prepared. She was traveling as a pseudohominid salesman under the name of Lillee Orn. She planned to bring out So's brain disguised as a spare pseudo brain. I went as her lover. We crossed the port the next day and checked into the Republic Hotel. Lillee paid for everything.
It was late summer on New Colorado by this time. We didn't waste time seeing the sights. Lillee wanted to get off planet as soon as possible. I was too nervous to enjoy myself anyway. Not only about getting in trouble on New Colorado but also about finding some way to explain this trip to you and everybody else back home.
We rented an airboat the next day and flew out to the coordinates I'd written down. I recognized the place where I'd left the case, or so I thought, and we worked our way down to the forest floor. Once down there, however, it was not how I'd remembered it and I started panicking. Lillee, however, began a systematic search and within five minutes she'd found it, still wedged between the rocks where I'd left it.
When she opened the case it was just as I'd left it, except that the blood had dried. There was no decomposition of So's head, and I realized as I saw it that this was the first evidence I'd had that So was telling the truth, that her body wasn't really human. Lillee cut out her brain right there, and put it in a case she had brought for that purpose. It did not look like a human brain; it looked like a pseudohominid brain, dark and hard. It had written on it, in surprisingly crude red lettering, the letters, "CXXVI."
Lillee said, "Well, it looks OK, but I'll have to get it back to Havversun before I know if she can be revived."
"Let me know, OK? Either way."
"Oh, yes, we will. Hopefully she'll be sending you a message herself."
"What about Ge'rree? Are you going to try to find his brain?"
"No, with a bullet in his forehead there's no chance for revival even if we could find it. He's dead."
I was surprised, although I shouldn't have been, to see her eyes tear up as she said this.
We went back to the hotel and prepared to leave that evening. We were in the middle of packing when the door said, "Detectives John Maldie and Deck Havlick of the New Denver Police Force request entrance."
Lillee hesitated a moment and then said, "Let them enter."
Two short men, bald and wearing the spare black uniform of the New Denver police, came in. One said, "I, Detective John Maldie of N'Denver Policity, oncontrol this room."
The room answered, "Control granted."
"Set four chairs, two facing two."
He looked at us, smiled a policeman's smile, and said, "Please, downsit."
When we had all sat he said, "I will do my best with Modern English. Mr. Weiss, a pleasure to see you. I hadn't actually expected to do so until next summer. I have questions you might be able to answer. Last month we raided house in Kerrville which was being used as a base by Devonian terrorists. We found something we never expected. Buried in the basement were two pseudoes, a male who'd been shot in the head and a female who'd been hit with shrapnel gun, and whose head was missing.
"These were very high quality pseudoes, in fact we found out they'd been passing as humans, Havversunners named Ge'rree and So Minnibee. We also found out that you'd likely been at the scene when they were shot. We also know that right afterward you rented an airboat and outflew it to the wilderness.
"Now, it seems obvious to me that you went out there to hide the female pseudo's head. What is not clear is why? What is so valuable about this pseudo? And how did the pseudoes get shot up? Unfortunately, by the time we raided the house the trail was cold enough that we couldn't find out where in the wilderness you'd gone, and we didn't have enough evidence to ask for extradition from Moncamp. So we decided to wait, hoping you'd come back for your yearly vacation the next summer. But here you are, a month later, and with Havversunner, or leastly someone who passes for one.
"We know where you were today, Mr. Weiss, and we know what you did there; we scanned you when you returned. Let's see this brain. I'm very curious."
Lillee answered, "Just a moment, dear sir, by what authority do you demand this search?"
"By the authority her honor Alicia Mall Mayor New Denver."
"But is that authority incertifent, or is it ..."
"Ma'am," he interrupted, "I know the powers of a New Denver police. You can file whatever complaints you want later; it won't do you any good. Any case, I will have that pseudo brain now."
"You will have it with much less trouble if you show a little more patience. We are going nowhere. I just want to make sure the rights of Havversunners are preserved."
"Look, on New Colorado it's assumed that lacking proof to the otherwise no search is with permission. Your Havversunner rights are defaultedly preserved."
Lillee said, "very well," and quickly got up and went toward the bedroom. Both policemen got up just as quickly. Detective Maldie followed her and Detective Havlick stayed with me as I got up. Detective Maldie then stumbled and fell to the ground. Detective Havlick drew a gun as my vision contracted and I felt myself falling. I was then on the floor with Lillee leaning over me, saying, "Massill?"
It took me a couple seconds to realize I had blacked out and revived. I sat up and saw both policemen still lying unconscious.
Before I had a chance to say anything Lillee asked, "Ever hear of fur gas?"
"Sure, they use it in spy shows all the time. Is that what just happened?"
"How did you release it?"
"I had a dispenser rigged to release it on voice cue. 'Dear sir' was one of the cues."
"I never knew it was really that effective."
Lillee stood up and went back to packing, as she said, "Oh, yes. They'll be out for about four hours. We'd best be through the port by then."
"How come I'm awake."
"Didn't your spy shows have antidotes?"
"Let's just hope this interview wasn't being monitored. If it wasn't we should be able to make it."
"But the port. Wouldn't the police have barred us from getting leave passes?"
"That's been taken care of."
"The time to bribe port officials in the event of a quick getaway is not when the getaway is made. Our leave passes should be issued with no problem."
"You seem to have thought of everything."
"Let's hope so."
She apparently had. We had no more problems getting off New Colorado. We had to cross five ports in all to get from New Colorado to Havversun. There was no question of my going back to Moncamp; the police would have no trouble getting extradition now.
Lillee had sent a message ahead when we were two ports away from New Colorado, and they had a new body waiting for So when we got there, an exact duplicate of her last one. I was not allowed in the lab where the revival was attempted, and was made to wait in a bare gray room. It had no chairs, but, in the Havversunner style, there was a long bench along each wall.
I was sitting there, worried, without having heard anything, when So entered the room. She was dressed in a long shimmering white robe, and her hair was loose and thick.
I said, "So, you're ..."
And she said, "Yes, I am."
She came and sat down next to me and said, "They told me what you did. Thank you. I'm not really sure why you did it, but I appreciate it. We all do."
I said, "You're welcome. I'm not really sure why I did it, either."
Neither of us said anything for a few seconds. Then I turned to her and asked, "What happens now?"
She said, "I give you a hundred twenty-six kisses," and then she gave me the first of what has since long surpassed that number.
And that is the story of why I left Moncamp. I have finally given up all pretense of returning someday, but I felt you deserved to know why I abandoned you so suddenly. I will probably never see you again, but I will never forget you.
- Dennis Paul Himes