Healer by F. Paul Wilson - 1976

    Heal thy Neighbour


YEAR 218


IT IS difficult in these times to appreciate the devastating effect of “the horrors.” It was not a plague in the true sense: it struck singly, randomly, wantonly. It jumped between planets, from one end of Occupied Space to the other, closing off the minds of victim after victim. To date we remain ignorant of the nature of the malady. An effective prophylaxis was never devised. And there was only one known cure - a man called The Healer.

The Healer made his initial public appearance at the Chesney Institute for Psycho-physiologic Disorders on Largo IV under the auspices of the Interstellar Medical Corps. Intense investigative reporting by the vid services at the time revealed that a man of similar appearance (and there could have been only one then) was seen frequently about the IMC research centre on Tolive.

IMC, however, has been steadfastly and frustratingly recalcitrant about releasing any information concerning its relationship with The Healer, saying only that they gave him “logistical support” as he went from planet to planet. As to whether they discovered his talent, developed his talent, or actually imbued him with his remarkable psionic powers, only IMC knows.

from The Healer: Man & Myth

by Emmerz Fent







The man strolls slowly along one of Chesney’s wide thoroughfares, enjoying the sun. His view of the street ahead of him is suddenly blotted out by the vision of a huge, contorted face leering horribly at him. For an instant he thinks he can feel the brush of its breath on his face. Then it is gone.

He stops and blinks. Nothing like this has ever happened to him before. He tentatively scrapes a foot forward to start walking again and kicks up a cloud of –

- dust. An arid wasteland surrounds him and the sun regards him cruelly, reddening and blistering his skin. And when he feels that his blood is about to boil, the sky is suddenly darkened by the wings of a huge featherless bird which circles twice and then dives in his direction at a speed which will certainly smash them both. Closer, the cavernous beaked mouth is open and hungry. Closer, until he is –

- back on the street. The man leans against the comforting solidity of a nearby building. He is bathed in sweat and his respiration is ragged, gulping. He is afraid ... must find a doctor. He pushes away from the building and –

- falls into a black void. But it is not a peaceful blackness. There’s hunger there. He falls, tumbling in eternity. A light below. As he falls nearer, the light takes shape ... an albino worm, blind, fanged and miles long, awaits him with gaping jaws.

A scream is torn from him, yet there is no sound.

And still he falls. [45]





Pard was playing games again. The shuttle from Tarvodet had docked against the orbiting liner and as the passengers were making the transfer, he attempted to psionically influence their choice of seats.

(“The guy in blue is going to sit in the third recess on the left. )

Are you reading him? Dalt asked.

(“No, nudging him.”)

You never give up, do you? You’ve been trying to work this trick for as long as I can remember.

(“Yeah, but this time I think I’ve got it down. Watch.”)

Dalt watched as the man in blue suddenly stopped before the third recess on the left, hesitated, then entered and seated himself.

“Well, congratulations,” Dalt whispered aloud.

(“Thank you, sir. Now watch the teenager sit in the same recess.”)

The lanky young man in question ambled by the third recess on the left without so much as a glance and settled himself in the fifth on the right.


What happened?

(“Ah, the kid probably had his mind already made up that he wanted to sit there... probably does a lot of travelling and likes that seat.”)

Possible. It’s also possible that the guy in blue does a lot of travelling, too, and that he just so happens to like to sit in the third recess on the left.

(“Cynicism doesn’t become you, Steve.”)

Well, it’s hard to be a genie after a couple of centuries with you.

(“Then let me explain. You see, I can’t make a person part his hair on the left if he prefers it parted on the right. However, if he doesn’t give a damn where it’s parted, I can probably get him to do it my way.”) [46]

A slim, blond beauty in an opalescent cling-suit strolled through the port.

(“Okay, where should we make her sit?”)

I don’t care.

(“Oh, yes you do. Your heart rate just increased four beats per minute and your groin is tingling.”)

I’ll admit she’s attractive –

(“She’s more than that. She bears a remarkable resemblance to Jean, doesn’t she?”)

I really hadn’t noticed.

(“Come now, Steve. You know you can’t lie to me. You saw the likeness immediately... you’ve never forgotten that woman.”)

And he probably never would. It was over 140 standard years since he’d left her. What started as a casual shipboard romance during the Kwashi expedition had stretched into an incredible idyll. She accepted him completely, though it had puzzled her that he’d refused disability compensation for the loss of his left hand on Kwashi. Her puzzlement was short-lived, however, and was soon replaced by astonishment when it became evident that her lover’s hand was growing back. She’d heard of alien creatures who could regenerate limbs and there was talk that the Interstellar Medical Corps was experimenting with induced regeneration, but this was spontaneous!

And if the fact that the hand was regenerating was not bizarre enough, the manner in which it regenerated bordered on the surreal. No finger buds appeared; no initial primitive structures heralded the reconstruction of the severed hand. Instead, the wrist was repaired first, then the thenar and hypothenar eminences and the palm started to appear. The palm and the five metacarpals were completed before work was begun on the thumb phalanges; and the thumb, nail and all, was completed before the fingers were started. It was similar to watching a building being constructed floor by floor but with every floor completely furnished before the next one above is started. It took four standard months.

Jean accepted that - was glad, in fact, that her man had been made whole again. And then Dalt explained to her that he was no longer entirely human, that a new factor had been added, had entered [47] through that patch of silver hair on the top of his head. He was a dual entity: one brain but two minds, and that second mind was conscious down to the cellular level.

And Jean accepted that. She might not have if it weren’t for the hand which had grown back where the old one had been sliced off. No question about it: the hand was there - discoloured, yes, but there nonetheless. And since that was true, then whatever else Dalt told her might also be true. So she accepted it. He was her man and she loved him and that was enough...

... until the years began to show and she watched her hair begin to thin and her skin begin to dry. The youth treatments were new then and only minimally effective. Yet all the while the man she loved remained in his prime, appearing to be not a day older than when they had met. This she could not accept. And so slowly her love began to thin, began to dry, began to crumble into resentment. And from there it was not far to desperate hatred.

So Dalt left Jean – for her sake, for the sake of her sanity. And never returned.

(“I think I’ll have her sit right here next to you.”)

Don’t bother.

(“I think I should bother. You’ve avoided a close male-female relationship ever since you left Jean. I don’t think that’s -”)

I really don’t care what you think. Just don’t play matchmaker!


The girl paused by Dalt’s shoulder. Her voice was liquid. “Saving that seat for anyone?”

Dalt sighed resignedly. “No.” He watched her as she settled herself across from him. She certainly did justice to the cling-suit: slim enough to keep the suit from bulging in the wrong places, full enough to fill it out and make it live up to its name. He idly wondered how Jean would have looked in one and then quickly cut off that train of thought.

“My name’s Ellen Lettre.”

“Steven Dalt,” he replied with a mechanical nod.

A pause, then: “Where’re you from, Steve?”

“Derby.” Another pause, this one slightly more awkward than the first. [48]

(“Have mercy on the girl! She’s just trying to make friendly conversation. Just because she looks like Jean is no reason to treat her as if she’s got Nolevatol Rot!”)

You’re right, he thought, then spoke. “I was doing some microbial research at the university there.”

She smiled and that was nice to see. “Really? That means you were connected with the bioscience department. I took Dr. Chamler’s course there last year.”

“Ah! The Chemistry of Schizophrenia. A classic course. Are you in psychochem?”

She nodded. “Coming back from a little field trip right now, as a matter of fact. But I don’t remember seeing you around the bioscience department.”

“I sort of kept pretty much to myself – very involved in the work.” And this was true. Dalt and Pard had developed a joint interest in the myriad microbial life-forms being found on the explorable planets of the human sector of the galaxy. Some of the metabolic pathways and enzyme systems were incredible and the “laws” of biological science were constantly being revamped. Alien microbiology had become a huge field requiring years to make a beginning and decades to make a dent. Dalt and Pard had made notable contributions and published a number of respected papers.

“Dalt... Dalt,” the girl was saying. “Yes, I believe I did hear your name mentioned around the department a few times. Funny, I’d have thought you’d be older than you are.”

So would his fellow members of the bioscience department if he hadn’t quit when he did. Men who had looked his age when he first came to the university were now becoming large in the waist and gray in the hair and it was time to move. Already two colleagues had asked him where he was taking his youth treatments. Fortunately, IMC Central had offered him an important research fellowship in antimicrobial therapy and he had accepted eagerly.

“You on a sabbatical from Derby?” she was asking.

“No, I quit. I’m on my way to Tolive now.”

“Oh, then you’re going to be working for the Interstellar Medical Corps.”

“How did you know?” [49]

“Tolive is the main research-and-development headquarters for IMC. Any scientist is assumed to be working for the group if he’s headed for Tolive.”

“I don’t consider myself a scientist, really. Just a vagabond student of sorts, going from place to place and picking up what I can.” So far, Dalt and his partner had served as an engineer on a peristellar freighter, a prospector on Tandem, a chispen fisher on Gelc, and so on, in a leisurely but determined search for knowledge and experience that spanned the human sector of the galaxy.

“Well, I’m certain you’ll pick up a lot with IMC.”

“You’ve worked for them?”

“I’m head of a psychiatric unit. My spesh is really behaviour mod, but I’m trying to develop an overview of the entire field; that’s why I took Chamler’s course.”

Dalt nodded. “Tell me something, Ellen –”

“El -”

“Okay, then: El. What’s IMC like to work for? I must confess that I’m taking this job rather blindly; the offer came and I accepted with only minimal research.”

“I wouldn’t work anywhere else,” she stated flatly, and Dalt believed her. “IMC has gathered some of the finest minds in the human galaxy together for one purpose: knowledge.”

“Knowledge for knowledge’s sake has never had that much appeal for me; and frankly, that’s not quite the image I’d been given about IMC. It has a rather mercenary reputation in academic circles.”

“The practical scientist and the practicing physician have limited regard for the opinions of most academicians. And I’m no exception. The IMC was started with private funds - loans, not grants - by a group of rather adventurous physicians who -”

“It was a sort of emergency squad, wasn’t it?”

“At first, yes. There was always a plague of some sort somewhere and the group hopped from place to place on a fee-for-service basis. Mostly, they could render only supportive care; the pathogens and toxins encountered on the distressed planets had already been found resistant to current therapeutic measures and there was not much the group could do on such short notice, other [50] than lend a helping hand. They came up with some innovations which they patented, but it became clear that much basic research was needed. So they set up a permanent base on Tolive and started digging.”

“With quite a bit of success, I believe. IMC is reputedly wealthy - extremely so.”

“Nobody’s starving; I can say that. IMC pays well in hopes of attracting the best minds. It offers an incredible array of research resources and gives the individua1 a good share of the profits from his marketable discoveries. As a matter of fact, we’ve just leased to Teblinko Pharmaceuticals rights for production of the antitoxin far the famous Nolevatol Rot.”

Dalt was impressed. The Nolevatol Rot was the scourge of the interstellar traveller. Superficially, it resembled a mild case of tinea and was self-limiting; however, the fungus produced a neurotoxin with invariably fatal central-nervous-system effects. It was highly contagious and curable only by early discovery and immediate excision of the affected area of skin... until now.

“That product alone would finance the entire operation of IMC, I imagine.”

El shook her head. “Not a chance. I can see you have no idea of the scope of the group. For every trail that pays off, a thousand are followed to a dead end. And they all cost money. One of our most costly fiascos was Nathan Sebitow.”

“Yes, I’d heard he’d quit.”

“He was asked to quit. He may be the galaxy’s greatest biophysicist but he’s dangerous - complete disregard of safety precautions for both himself and his fellow workers. IMC gave him countless warnings but he ignored them all. He was working with some fairly dangerous radiation and so finally his funds were cut off.”

“Well, it didn’t take him long to find a new home, I imagine.”

“No, Kamedon offered him everything he needed to continue his work within days after he supposedly ‘quit’ IMC.”

“Kamedon ... that’s the model planet the Restructurists are pouring so much money into.”

She nodded. “And Nathan Sebitow is quite a feather in its cap. [51] He should come up with something very exciting – I just hope he doesn’t kill anybody with that hard radiation he’s fooling around with.” She paused, then, “But getting back to the question of knowledge for knowledge’s sake: I find the concept unappealing, too. IMC, however, works on the assumption that all knowledge - at least scientific knowledge – will eventually work its way into some scheme of practical value. Existence consists of intra and extra-corporeal phenomena; the more we know about those two groups, the more effective our efforts will be when we wish to remedy certain interactions between them which prove to be detrimental to a given human.”

“Spoken like a true behaviourist,” Dalt said with a laugh.

“Sorry.” She flushed. “I do get carried away now and again. Anyway, you see the distinction I was trying to make.”

“I see and agree. It’s good to know that I’m not headed for an oversized ivory tower. But why Tolive? I mean, I’ve –”

“Tolive was chosen for its political and economic climate: a non-coercive government and a large, young work force The presence of IMC and the ensuing prosperity have stabilized both the government – and I use that term only because you’re an outsider – and the economy.”

“But I’ve heard stories about Tolive.”

“You mean that it’s run by a group of sadists and fascists and anarchists and whatever other unpleasant terms you can dig up, and that if it weren’t for the presence of the IMC the planet would quickly degenerate into a hell-hole, right?”

“Well, not quite so bluntly put, perhaps, but that’s the impression I’ve been given. No specific horror stories, just vague warnings. Any of it true?”

“Don’t ask me. I was born there and I’m prejudiced. But guess who else was born there, and I think you’ll know what’s behind the smear campaign.”

Dalt pondered a moment baffled. Pard, with his absolute recall, came to the rescue. (“Peter LaNague was born on Tolive.”)

“LaNague!” Dalt blurted in surprise. “Of course!”

El raised her eyebrows. “Good for you. Not too many people remember that fact.” [52]

“But you’re implying that someone is trying to smear LaNague by smearing his homeworld. That’s ridiculous. Who would want to smear the author of the Federation Charter?”

“Why, the people who are trying to alter that charter: the Restructurists, of course. Tolive has been pretty much the way it is today for centuries, long before LaNague’s birth and long since his death. Only since the Restructurist movement gained momentum have the rumours and whispers started. It’s the beginning of a long-range campaign; you watch - it’ll get dirtier. The idea is to smear LaNague’s background and thus taint his ideas, thereby casting doubt upon the integrity of his life-work: the Federation Charter.”

“You must be mistaken. Besides, lies can easily be exposed.”

Lies, yes. But not rumours and inference. We of Tolive have a rather unique way of viewing existence, a view that can easily be twisted and distorted into something repulsive.”

“If you’re trying to worry me, you’re doing an excellent job. You’d better tell me what I’ve gotten myself into.”

Her smile was frosty. “Nobody twisted your arm, I assume? You’re on your way to Tolive of your own free choice, and I think you should learn about it firsthand. And speaking of hands...”

Dalt noticed her gaze directed at his left hand. “Oh, you’ve noticed the colour.”

“It’s hard to miss.”

He examined the hand, pronating and supinating it slowly as he raised it from his lap; a yellow hand, deepening to gold in the nail beds and somewhat mottled in the palms. At the wrist, normal flesh tone resumed along a sharp line of demarcation. Anthon’s sword had been sharp and had cut clean.

“I had a chemical accident a few years back which left my hand permanently stained.”

El’s brow furrowed as she considered this. (“Careful, Steve,”) Pard warned. (“This gal’s connected with the medical profession and may not fall for that old story.”)

“That can easily be remedied,” El said after a pause. “I know a few cosmetic surgeons on Tolive -”

Dalt shook his head and cut her off. “Thanks. No. I leave it this [53] colour to remind me to be more careful in the future. I could have been killed.”

(“Go on! Persist in your stubbornness! For almost two centuries now you’ve refused to allow me to correct that unsightly pigmentation. It was my fault, I admit. I’d never overseen the reconstruction of an appendage before and I –”)

I know, I know. You made an error in the melanin deposition. We’ve been over this more times than I care to remember.

(“And I can correct it if you’ll just let me! You know I can’t stand the thought of our having one yellow hand. It grates on me.”)

That’s because you’re an obsessive-compulsive personality.

(“Hah! That’s merely a term used by slobs to denigrate perfectionists!”)

El was now eyeing the gray patch of hair on the top of his head. “Is that, too, the result of an accident?”

“A terrible accident.” He nodded gravely.

(“No fair! I can’t defend myself!”)

She leaned back and appraised him. “A golden hand, a crown of silver hair, and a rather large flamestone hanging from your neck - you cut quite a figure, Steven Dalt.” El was frankly interested.

Dalt fingered the jewel at his throat and pretended not to notice. “This little rock is a memento of a previous and far more hazardous form of employment, I keep it far sentimental reasons only.”

“You have lots of colour for a microbiologist,” she was saying, and her smile was very warm now, “and I think you’ll make a few waves at IMC.”

A few days later they sat in the lounge of the orbit station and watched Tolive swirl below them as they sipped drinks and waited for the shuttle to arrive. A portly man in a blue jumper drifted by and paused to share the view with them.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” he said, and they replied with nods. “I don’t know what it is, but every time I get in font of a view like this, I feel so insignificant. Don’t you?”

El ignored the question and posed one of her own. “You aren’t from Tolive, are you?” It was actually a statement.

“No, I’m on my way to Neeka. Have to lay over in orbit here to [54] make a connecting jump. Never been down there,” he said, nodding at the globe below. “But how come you sound so sure?”

“Because no one from ‘down there’ would ever say what you said.” El replied, and promptly lost interest in the conversation. The portly man paused, shrugged, and then drifted off.

“What was that all about?” Dalt asked. “What did he say that was so un-Tolivian?”

“As I told you before, we have a different way of looking at things. The human race developed on a tiny planet a good many light-years away and devised a technology that allows us to sit in orbit above a once-alien planet and comfortably sip intoxicants while awaiting a ship to take us down. As a member of that race, I assure you, I feel anything but insignificant.”

Dalt glanced after the man who had initiated the discussion and noticed him stagger as he walked away. He widened his stance as if to steady himself and stood blinking at nothing, beads of sweat dropping from his face and darkening the blue of his jumper. Suddenly he spun with outstretched arms, and with a face contorted with horror, began to scream incoherently.

El bolted from her seat without a word and dug a micro-syringe from her hip pouch as she strode toward the man, who had by now collapsed into a blubbering, whimpering puddle of fear. She placed the ovoid device on the skin on the lateral aspect of his neck and squeezed.

“He’ll quiet down in a minute,” she told a concerned steward as he rushed up. “Send him down to IMC Central on the next shuttle for emergency admission to Section Blue.”

The steward nodded obediently, relieved that someone seemed to feel that things were under control. And sure enough, by the time two fellow workers had arrived, the portly man was quiet, although still racked with sobs.

“What the hell happened to him?” Dalt asked over El’s shoulder as the man was carried to a berth in the rear.

“A bad case of the horrors,” she replied.

No, I’m serious.”

“So am I. It’s been happening all over the human sector of the [55] galaxy, Just like that: men, women, all ages; they go into an acute, unremitting psychotic state. They are biochemically normal and usually have unremarkable premorbid medical histories. They’ve been popping up for the past decade in a completely random fashion and there doesn’t seem to be a damn thing we can do about them,” she said with a set jaw, and it was obvious that she resented being helpless in any situation, especially a medical one.

Dalt gazed at El and felt the heaviness begin. She was a remarkable woman, very intelligent, very opinionated, and so very much like Jean in appearance; but she was also very mortal. Dalt had resisted the relationship she was obviously trying to initiate and every time he weakened he merely had to recall Jean’s hate-contorted face when he had deserted her.

I think we ought to get out of microbiology, he told Pard as his eyes lingered on El.

(“And into what?”)

How about life prolongation?

(“Not that again!”)

Yes! Only this time we’ll be working at IMC Central with some of the greatest scientific minds in the galaxy.

(“The greatest minds in the galaxy have always worked on that problem, and every ‘major breakthrough’ and ‘new hope’ has turned out to be a dead end. Human cells reach a certain level of specialization and then lose their ability to reproduce. Under optimum conditions, a century is all they’ll last; after that the DNA gets sloppy and consequently the RNA gets even sloppier. What follows is enzyme breakdown, toxic overload, and finally death. Why this happens, no one knows – and that includes me, since my consciousness doesn’t reach to the molecular level – and from recent literature, it doesn’t seem likely that anyone’ll know in the near future.”)

But we have a unique contribution to make –

(“You think I haven’t investigated it on my own, if not for any other reason than to provide you with a human companion of some permanence? It’s no fun, you know, when you go into those periods of black despair.”)

I guess not. He paused. I think one’s on its way. [56]

(“I know. The metabolic warning flags are already up. Look: why not take up with this woman? You both find each other attractive and I think it will be good for you.”)

Will it be good for me when she grows into a bitter old woman while I stay young?

(“What makes you think she’ll want you around that long?”) Pard jibed.

Dalt had no answer for that one.



The shuttle trip was uneventful and when El offered to drive him from the spaceport to his hotel, Dalt reluctantly accepted. His feelings were in a turmoil, wanting to be simultaneously as close to and as far from this woman as possible. So to keep the conversation safe and light, he made a comment about the lack of flitters in the air.

“We’re still pretty much in the ground-car stage, although one of the car factories is reportedly gearing for flitter production. It’ll be nice to get one at a reasonable price; the only ones on Tolive now were shipped via interstellar freight and that is expensive!”

She pulled her car alongside a booth outside the spaceport perimeter, fished out a card, and stuck it into a slot. The card disappeared for a second or two and then the booth spit it out. El retrieved it, sealed her bubble, and pulled away.

“What was that all about?”


Dalt was incredulous. “You mean you actually have toll roads on this planet?”

She nodded. “But not for long ... not if we get a good supply of flitters.”

“Even so, the roads belong to everybody –”

“No, they belong to those who built them.”

“But taxes –”

“You think roads should be built with tax money?” El asked with a penetrating glance. “I use this road maybe once or twice a year; why should I pay anything for it the rest of the time? A group of men got together and built this road and they charge me every time I use it. What’s wrong with that?” [57]

“Nothing, except you’ve got to fork over money every time you make a turn.”

“Not necessarily. Members of a given community usually get together and pool their money for local streets, build them, and leave them at that; and business areas provide roads gratis for the obvious reason. As a matter of fact, a couple of our big corporations have built roads and donated them to the public – the roads are, of course, named after the companies and thus act as continuous publicity agents.”

“Sounds like a lot of trouble to me. It’d be a lot simpler if you just made everyone ante up and –”

“Not on this planet it wouldn’t be. You don’t make Tolivians do anything. It would take a physical threat to make me pay for a road that I’ll never use. And we tend to frown on the use of physical force here.”

“A pacifist society, huh?”

“Pacifist may not be –” she began, and then swerved sharply to make an exit ramp. “Sorry,” she said with a quick, wry grin. “I forgot I was dropping you off at the hotel.”

Dalt let the conversation lapse and stared out his side of the bubble at the Tolivian landscape. Nothing remarkable there: a few squat trees resembling conifers scattered in clumps here and there around the plain, coarse grass, a mountain range rising in the distance.

“Not exactly a lush garden-world,” he muttered after a while.

“No, this is the arid zone. Tolive’s axis has little deviation relative to its primary, and its orbit is only mildly ellipsoid. So whatever the weather is wherever you happen to be, that’s probably what it’ll be like for most of the year. Most of our agriculture is in the northern hemisphere; industry keeps pretty much to the south and usually within short call of the spaceports.”

“You sound like a chamber-of-commerce report,” Dalt remarked with a smile.

“I’m proud of my world.” El did not smile.

Suddenly, there was a city crouched on the road ahead, waiting for them. Dalt had spent too much time on Derby of late and had become accustomed to cities with soaring profiles. And that’s how [58] the cities on his homeworld of Friendly had been. But this pancake of one and two-story buildings was apparently the Tolivian idea of a city.


SPOONERVILLE said a sign in Inter-world characters. POP: 78,000. They sped by rows of gaily coloured houses, most standing alone, some interconnected. And then there were warehouses and shops and restaurants and such. The hotel stood out among its neighbouring buildings, stretching a full four stories into the air.

“Not exactly the Centauri Hilton,” Dalt remarked as the car jolted to a halt before the front entrance.

“Tolive doesn’t have much to offer in the way of tourism. This place obviously serves Spoonerville’s needs, ’cause if there was much of an overflow somebody’d have built another.” She paused, caught his eyes, and held them. “I’ve got a lovely little place out on the plain that’ll accommodate two very nicely, and the sunsets are incredible.”

Dalt tried to smile. He liked this woman, and the invitation, which promised more than sunsets, was his for the taking. “Thanks, El. I’d like to take you up on that offer sometime, but not now. I’ll try to see you at IMC tomorrow after my meeting with Dr. Webst.”

“Okay.” She sighed as he stepped out of the car. “Good luck.” Without another word she sealed the bubble and was off.

(“You know what they say about hell and fury and scorned women.”) Pard remarked.

Yeah, I know, but I don’t think she’s like that... got too good a head on her shoulders to react so primitively.

Dalt’s reserved room was ready for him and his luggage was expected to arrive momentarily from the spaceport. He walked over to the window which had been left opaque, flipped a switch, and made the entire outer wall transparent. It was 18.75 in a twenty-seven-hour day – that would take some getting used to after years of living with Derby’s twenty-two-hour day – and the sunset was an orange explosion behind the hills. It probably looked even better from El’s place on the plains.

(“But you turned her down,”) Pard said, catching the thought (“Well, what are we going to do with ourselves tonight? Shall we [59] go out and see what the members of this throbbing metropolis do to entertain themselves?”)

Dalt squatted down by the window with his back against the wall. “I think I’ll just stay here and watch for a while. Why don’t you just go away,” he muttered aloud.

(“I can’t very well leave...”)

“You know what I mean!”

(“Yes, I know what you mean. We go through this every time we have to uproot ourselves because your associates start giving you funny looks. You start mooning over Jean–”)

“I do not moon over her!”

(“Call it what you will, you mope around like a Lentemian crench that’s lost its calf. But it’s really not Jean. She’s got nothing to do with these mood swings; she’s dead and gone and you’ve long since accepted that. What’s really bothering you is your own immortality. You refuse to let people know that you will not grow old with the years as they do –”)

“I don’t want to be a freak and I don’t want that kind of notoriety. Before you know it, someone will come looking for the ‘secret’ of my longevity and will stop at nothing to get it. I can do very well without that, thank you.”

(“Fine. Those are good reasons, excellent reasons for wanting to pass yourself off as a mortal among mortals. That’s the only way we’ll ever really get to do what we want to do. But that’s only on the surface. Inside you must come to grips with the fact that you cannot live as a mortal. You haven’t the luxury of ascribing an infinite span to a relationship, as do many mortals, for ‘the end of time’ to them is the same as the end of life, which is all too finite. In your case, however, ‘the end of time’ may occur with you there watching it. So, until you can find yourself another immortal as a companion, you’ll just have to be satisfied with relatively short-term relationships and cease acting so resentful of the fact that you won’t be dying in a few decades like all your friends.”)

“Sometimes I wish I could die.”

(“Now, we both know that you don’t mean that, and even if you were sincere, I wouldn’t allow it.”)

Go away, Pard!

(“I’m gone.”) [60]

And he was. With Pard tucked away in some far corner of his brain – probably working on some obscure philosophical problem or remote mathematical abstraction – Dalt was finally alone.

Alone. That was the key to these periodic black depressions. He was all right once he had established an identity on a new world, made a few friends, and put himself to work on whatever it was he wanted to do at that particular time in his life. He could thus delude himself into a sense of belonging that lasted a few decades, and then it began to happen: the curious stares, the probing questions. Soon he’d find himself on an interstellar liner again, between worlds, between lives. The sense of rootlessness would begin to weigh heavily upon him.

Culturally, too, he was an outsider. There was no interstellar human culture as yet to speak of; each planet was developing its own traditions and becoming proud of them. No one could really feel at home on any world except one’s own, and so the faux pas of an off-worlder was well tolerated in the hope of receiving the same consideration after a similar blunder on his homeworld. Dalt was thus unconcerned about any anachronisms in his behaviour, and with the bits and pieces he was taking with him from every world he lived on, he was fast becoming the only representative of a true interstellar human culture.

Which meant that no world was actually home only on interstellar liners did he feel even the slightest hint of belonging. Even Friendly, his birth world, had treated him as an off-worlder, and only with great difficulty did he manage to find a trace or two of the familiar in his own hometown during a recent and very discouraging sentimental journey.

Pard was right, of course. He was almost always right. Dalt couldn’t have it both ways, couldn’t be an immortal and retain a mortal’s scope. He’d have to broaden his view of existence and learn to think on a grander scale. He was still a man and would have to live among other men, but he would have to develop an immortal’s perspective with regard to time; something he had as yet been unable and/or remained unwilling to do. Time set him apart from other men and had to he reckoned with. Until now he had been living a lot of little lives, one after the other, separate, distinct. Yet they [61] were all his, and he had to find a way to fuse them into a single entity. He’d work on it. No hurry... there was plenty of time –

There was that word again. He wondered when he would end. Or if he would end. Would the moment ever come when he’d want to stop living? And would he be allowed to do so? Pard’s earlier statement had made him uneasy. They shared a body and thus an existence, as the result of an accident. What if one partner decided he wanted out? It would never be Pard – his intellectual appetite was insatiable. No, if anyone would ever want to call it quits, it would be Dalt. And Pard would forbid it. Such a situation appeared ludicrous on the surface but might very well come to be, millennia hence.

How would they resolve it? Would Pard find a way to grant Dalt’s wish by somehow strangling his mind, thereby granting his death wish – for in Pard’s philosophy, the mind is life and life is the mind – this would then result in leaving Pard as sole tenant of the body!

Dalt shuddered. Pard’s ethics would, of course, prevent him from doing such a thing unless Dalt absolutely demanded it. But still, it was hardly a comforting thought. Even in the dark fog of depression that enveloped him tonight, Dalt realized that he loved life and living very much. Planning to make the most of tomorrow and every subsequent tomorrow, he drifted off to sleep as the second of Tolive’s three moons bobbed above the horizon.



A somewhat harried Steven Dalt managed to arrive at the administrative offices of IMC in time for his 09.5 appointment with Dr. Webst. His back ached as he took a seat in the waiting room, and he realized he was hungry.

A bad morning so far – if this was any indication of how the rest of the day was going to be, he decided he’d be better off returning to the hotel, crawling into bed, and spending it in the foetal position. He’d awakened late and cramped in that corner by the window, with his baggage sitting inside the door. He’d had to rummage through it to find a presentable outfit and then rush down to the lobby and find a taxi to take him to the IMC administration building. [62] He did not want to keep Dr. Webst waiting. Dalt seemed to be placing greater and greater importance on punctuality lately. Perhaps, he mused, the more aware he became of his own timelessness, the more conscious he became of the value of another man’s time.

(“Well, what’ll it be?”) Pard asked suddenly.

Welcome back.

(“I should he saying that to you. Once again: What’ll it be?”)

What are you talking about?

(“Us. Are we sticking with the microbes or do we go into gerontology or what?”)

I’m not sure. Maybe we won’t stay here at all. They hired us for antimicrobial research and may not want us for anything else. But I think I’ve had enough of microbes for now.

(“I must agree. But what shall we try next?”)

I haven’t given it too much thought yet –

(“Well, get thinking. We’ll be seeing Dr. Webst in a moment and we’d better have something to tell him.”)

Why don’t we just improvise?

Pard seemed to hesitate, then, (“Okay, but let’s be as honest as possible with him, ’cause we start getting paid as of this morning.”)

So, a few credits won’t break IMC.

(“It would be unethical to accept payment for nothing.”)

Your rigidity wears on me after a while, Pard.

(“Value received for value given – don’t forget it.”)

Okay, okay, okay.

The door to Dr. Webst’s office dilated and a tall, fair young man with an aquiline profile, stepped through. He glanced at Dalt, who was the room’s only occupant, paused, then walked over and extended his hand. “Dr. Dalt?”

“The ‘Dalt’ part is correct, but I have no doctorate.” Actually, this was untrue; he held two doctorates in separate fields but both had been granted a number of lives ago.

Mister Dalt, then. I’m Dr. Webst” They performed the ancient human ritual known as the handshake and Dalt liked Webst’s firm grip.

“I thought you’d be older, Doctor,” Dalt said as they entered Webst’s sparsely appointed office. [63]

Webst smiled. “That’s funny... I was expecting an older man, too. That paper you published a year ago on Dasein II fever and the multiple pathogens involved was a brilliant piece of work; there was an aura of age and experience about it.”

“Are you in infectious diseases?” Dalt asked quickly, anxious to change the subject.

“No, psych is my field.”

“Really? I made part of the trip from Derby in the company of Ellen Lettre. Know her?”

“Of course. Our department has high hopes for Dr. Lettre – an extremely intelligent woman.” He paused at his desk and Hashed a rapid series of memos across his viewer. “Before I forget, I got a note from personnel about your forms. Most of them are incomplete and they’d like to see you sometime today.”

Dalt nodded. “Okay, I’ll see if I can make it this afternoon.” This was often a problem – personal history. He had changed his name a couple of times but preferred to be known as Steven Dalt. Usually he went from one field of endeavour to another, totally unrelated to the first, and thus obviated the need for references; he would start at the bottom as he had at the university on Derby, and with Pard as his partner, it wouldn’t be long before the higher-ups realized they had a boy genius among them. Or, he’d go into a risky field such as chispen fishing on Gelc, where the only requirement for employment was the guts to go out on the nets ... and no questions asked.

As for the IMC personnel department – he had paid a records official on Derby a handsome bribe to rig some documents to make him appear to be a native of the planet. He’d been purposely vague and careless with the IMC applications in order to stall off any inquiries until all was ready. All he could do now was hope.

“Question,” Dalt said. Webst looked up. “Why a psychiatrist to meet me rather than someone from the microbiology department?”

“Protocol, I guess. Dr. Hyne is head of the micro department but he’s on vacation. It’s customary to have an important new man – and you fall into that category – welcomed by a departmental head. And I’m head of psych.”

“I see,” Dalt nodded. “But when do I –” [64]

Webst’s phone buzzed. “Yes?” The word activated the screen and a technician’s face appeared.

“Private message, Doctor.”

Webst picked up the earpiece and swung the screen face away from Dalt. “Go ahead.” He listened, nodded, said, “I’ll be right over,” and hung up.

“Have you had breakfast yet?” he asked Dalt, whose headshake left little doubt about the current, state of his stomach. “Okay, why don’t you make yourself at home at that table behind you and punch in an order. I’ve got to go check out some equipment – should only take me a few minutes. Relax and enjoy the meal; we have an excellent commissary and the local hens lay delicious eggs.” He gave a short wave and was gone.

(“May the god of empty stomachs bless and keep him!”) Pard remarked as Dalt punched in an order. (“No dinner last night and no breakfast this morning – very careless.”)

Dalt waited hungrily. Couldn’t be helped.

(“I like Webst,”) Pard said as a steaming tray popped out of a slot in the wall. (“He seems rather unpretentious and it would be easy for a young man in such a high position to be otherwise.”)

I didn’t notice either way. Dalt began to eat with gusto.

(“That’s the nice part – he doesn’t make a show of his unpretentiousness. It seemed very natural for him to personally bring you in from the waiting room, didn’t it? But think: Most departmental heads would prefer to have the receptionist open the door and let you come to them. This man made an effort to make you feel at home.”)

Maybe he just hasn’t been a head long enough and doesn’t know how to act like one.

 (“I have a feeling, Steve, that Dr. Webst is at the top of his field and knows it and can act any way he damn well pleases.”)

Webst returned then, appearing preoccupied. He went directly to his desk, seated himself, and stared at Dalt for a long moment with a puzzled expression playing over his face.

“What’s the matter?” Dalt asked, finally.

 “Hmmm? He shook himself. “Oh, nothing. a technical problem ... I think.” He paused. “Tell you what: Everybody over in [65] microbiology is rather tied up today – why don’t you come with me over to psychiatry and I’ll show you around. I know you’re anxious to get to see micro –”

(“Not really,”) Pard interjected.

“– but at least this way you can start to get a feel for IMC.”

Dalt shrugged. “Fine with me. Lead the way.”

Webst seemed very pleased with Dalt’s acquiescence and ushered him out a rear door to a small carport.

(“He’s lying to us, Steve.”)

I had that feeling, too. You think we’re in trouble?

(“I doubt it. He’s such a terrible liar, it’s unlikely that he’s had much practice at it. He just wants to get us over to the psych department, so let’s play along and see what he has in mind. This just may lead to a chance to get out of microbes and into another field. Can you dredge up any interest in mental illness?” )

Not a particularly overwhelming amount.

(“Well, start asking questions anyway. Show a little interest!”)


“– nice weather, so I think we’ll take the scenic tour,” Webst was saying. “When it rains, which isn’t that often, we have a tunnel system you can use. A dome was planned initially, but the weather proved to be so uniform that no one could justify the expense.”

The small ground car glided out over the path and the combination of warm sunlight, a cool breeze through the open cab, and a full belly threatened to put Dalt to sleep. At a leisurely pace they passed formations of low buildings, clean and graceful, with intricate gardens scattered among them.

(“Questions, Steve,”) Pard prompted.

Right. “Tell me, Doctor – if I may be so bold – what sort of astronomical sum did IMC have to pay for such a huge tract of land so close to the centre of town?”

Webst smiled. “You forget that IMC was here before you and I were born –”

(“Speak for yourself, sir.”)

“– and the town was only a village at the time Central was started. Spoonerville, in fact, grew up around IMC.”

“Well, it’s beautiful, I must say.” [66]

Thank you. We’re proud of it.”

Dalt drank in a passing garden, then asked, “What’s going on in psychiatry these days? I thought mental illness was virtually a thing of the past. You have the enzymes and –”

“The enzymes only control schizophrenia – much the same as insulin controlled diabetics before beta-cell grafts. There’s no cure as yet and I don’t foresee one for quite some time.” His voice lapsed unconsciously into a lecture tone. “Everyone thought a cure was imminent when Schimmelpenninck isolated the enzyme-substrate chains in the limbic system of the brain. But that was only the beginning. Different types and degrees of schizophrenia occur with breaks at different loci along the chains; but environmental history appears to be equally important.”

Webst paused as the car rounded a corner and had to wait for an automatic gate to slide open. Then they were in an octagonal courtyard with people scattered here and there, in groups or alone, talking or soaking up the sun.

“These are our ambulatory patients,” he replied to Dalt’s questioning glance. “We give them’ as much freedom as possible, but we also try to keep them from wandering off. They’re all harmless and they’re all here voluntarily.” He cleared his throat. “But where was I?... Oh, yes. So it all boils down to a delicate balance between chemistry, intellect, and environment. If the individual has learned how to handle stress, he can often minimize the psychotic effects of a major break in the enzyme chains. If he hasn’t, however, even a minor break at the terminus of a chain can throw his mind off the deep end.”

He gave a short laugh. “But we still really don’t know what we’re talking about when we say mind. We can improve its function and grasp of reality with our drugs and teaching techniques, but it remains a construct that defies quantitative analysis.”

He guided the vehicle into a slot next to a large blue building and stepped out. “And then, of course, there are the chemonegative psychotics – all their enzyme chains seem to be intact but they are completely divorced from reality. Victims of the so-called ‘horrors.’ They’re the one’s we’re working on here in Big Blue, where we keep our intractable patients.” Webst said as he passed his hand over a [67] plate set in the doorframe. Silently, the first of the double doors slid open and waited for them to eater, and it was not until the first was completely secure in its closed position, that the second began to move.

“Are they dangerous in here?” Dalt asked uneasily.

“Only to themselves. These patients are totally cut off from reality and anything could happen to them if they got loose.”

“But what’s wrong with them? I saw a man go into one of these fits on the orbit station.”

Webst twisted his mouth to the side. “Unfortunately, these aren’t ‘fits’ that come and go. The victim gets hit with whatever it is that hits him, screams hysterically, and spends the rest of his life – at least we assume so, although the first recorded case was only ten years ago – cut off from the rest of the world. Cases are popping up on every planet in the Federation. It’s even rumoured that the Tarks are having problems with it. We need a breakthrough.”

Webst paused, then said, “Let’s look in here.” He opened a door marked 12 and allowed Dalt to precede him into the room. It was a nicely appointed affair with a bed, two chairs, and indirect lighting. And it was empty, or at least Dalt thought it was until Webst directed his attention to a corner behind one of the chairs. A young girl of no more than eighteen years crouched there in a shivering state of abject terror.

“First name: Sally,” Webst intoned. “We dubbed her that. Last name: Ragna – that’s the planet on which she was found. A typical ‘horrors’ case. We’ve had her for one and a half standard years and we haven’t been able to put even a chink into that wall of terror.”

Webst went to a plate in the wall by the door and waved his hand across it. “This is Dr. Webst. I’m in room twelve with Mr. Dalt.”

Thank you, Doctor, said a male voice.Would you mind stepping down the hall a minute?

“Not at all,” he replied, and turned to Dalt. “Why don’t you stay here and try to talk to Sally while I see what they want. She’s perfectly harmless, wouldn’t – couldn’t – hurt anyone or anything, and that’s the crux of her problem. We’ve normalized her enzymes and have tried every psychotropic agent known to break her shell, with [68] no results. We’ve even gone so far as to reinstitute the ancient methods of electroconvulsive therapy and insulin shock.” He sighed. “Nothing. So try to talk to her and see what we’re up against”

With Webst gone, Dalt turned his attention to the girl.

(“Pitiful, isn’t it?) Pard said.

Dalt did not reply. He was staring at a girl who must have been attractive once; her face now wore a ravaged, hunted expression that had caused seemingly permanent furrows in her skin; her eyes, when not squeezed shut, were opened wide and darting in all directions. Her arms were clasped around her knees, which were drawn up to her chest, and her hands gripped each other with white-knuckled intensity.

This could be very interesting. Dalt told Pard at last.

(“It certainly could. I think it could also be interesting to know what Dr. Webst is up to. He was obviously stalling for time when he left us here.”)

Maybe he wants us for his department.

(“Highly unlikely. To the best of his knowledge, we are eminently unqualified in this field.”)

“Hello, Sally,” Dalt said.

No reaction.

“Do you hear me, Sally?”

No reaction.

He waved his hand before her eyes.

No reaction.

He clapped his hands loudly and without warning by her left ear.

No reaction.

He put his hands on her shoulders and shook her gently but firmly.

No reaction. Not an extra blink, not a change in expression, not a sound, not the slightest hint of voluntary movement.

Dalt rose to his feet and turned to find Dr. Webst standing in the doorway staring at him.

“Something wrong, Doctor?” Again, he wore the preoccupied, puzzled expression that did not seem to be at home on his face “I don’t think so,” he replied slowly. “Something may be very [69] right, as a matter of fact. But I’ll have to look into it a little more.” He looked frustrated. “Would you mind going over to personnel for now and straightening out your papers while I try to straighten out a few things over here? I know what you’re thinking ... but IMC is really much better organized than I’ve demonstrated it to be. It’s just that we’ve had some strange occurrences this morning that I’ll explain to you later. For the moment, however, I’m going to be tied up.”

Dalt had no desire to talk to the personnel department. On an impulse, he asked, “Is Ellen around?”

Webst brightened immediately. “Dr. Lettre? Yes, she’s in the next building.” He guided Dalt back to the entrance and pointed to a red building on the other side of the garden, perhaps twenty meters away. “Her office is right inside the far door. I’m sure she’ll be glad to show you around her section, and I’ll contact you there later.” He passed his hand over the doorplate and the inner door began to move.

 (“Nice security system,”) Pard said as they strolled past the lolling patients. (“The intercoms and the door-locks are all cued to the palms of authorized personnel. Patients stay where you put them.”)

Unless of course someone gets violent and decides that the quickest way to freedom is to cut of someone’s authorized hand and waltz right out of the complex.

(“Your sense of humour eludes me at times ... but let’s get to more pressing matters.”)

Such as?

(“Such as Webst. At first he lied to get us over to the psychiatry units; now he seems anxious to get rid of us and made up some lame excuses to do so. I’d very much like to know what he’s up to.”)

Maybe he’s just inefficient and disorganized.

(“I assure you, Steve, that man is anything but inefficient. He’s obviously puzzled by something and we seem to be implicated”)

He did, however, promise to explain it all to us later.

(“Correct. Hopefully, he’ll keep that promise.”)

The door Webst had pointed out opened easily at Dalt’s touch [70] and did not lock after him. He concluded that there must not be any patients quartered in this area of the building. On a door to his left was a brass plate engraved DR ELLEN LETTRE. He knocked.

“Come in,” said a familiar voice. El looked almost as beautiful in a gray smock as she had in her clingsuit aboard ship.

“Hasn’t that dictation come through yet?” she asked without looking up. “It’s been almost ten minutes.”

“I’m sure it’ll be along soon,” Dalt said.

El’s head snapped up and she gave him a smile that he didn’t feel he deserved after his cool treatment of her the night before.

“How’d you get here?” she asked brightly.

“Dr. Webst showed me the way.”

“You know him?”

“Since this morning.”

“Oh? I thought you were going to be with the microbe–”

Dalt held up his hand. “It’s a long story which I don’t fully understand myself, but I’m here and you said you’d show me around your unit someday. So?”

“Okay. I was about to take a break anyway. She took him on a leisurely tour of her wing of the building where various behaviourist principles were being put to work on the rehabilitation of schizophrenics who had successfully responded to medical management. Dalt’s stomach was starting to rumble again as they returned to her office.

“Can I buy you lunch?”

“You sure you want to get that involved?” she said with a sidelong glance.

“Okay,” Dalt laughed, “I deserved that. But how about it? You’ve got to eat somewhere.”

She smiled. “I’d love to have you buy me lunch, but first I’ve got to catch up on a few things – that ‘break’ I just took was well over an hour long.” She thought for a minute. “There’s a place on the square –”

“You actually have a town square?” Dalt exclaimed.

“It’s a tradition on Tolive; just about every town has one. The town square is one of the very few instances of common ownership [71] on the planet. It is used for public discussion and ... uh ... other matters of public concern.”

“Sounds like a quaint locale for a restaurant. Should be nice.”

“It is. Why don’t you meet me there at 13.0. You can familiarize yourself with the square and maybe catch a little of the flavour of Tolive.” The square was near the IMC complex and she told him how to get there, then called an orderly to drive him out of the maze of buildings to the front entrance.

A cool breeze offset the warmth of the sun as he walked and when he compared the vaguely remembered cab trip of the morning to the route El had given him, he realized that his hotel was right off the square. He scrutinized his fellow pedestrians in an effort to discern a fashion trend but couldn’t find one. Men wore everything from briefs to business jumpers; women could be seen in everything from saris through clingsuits to near-nude.

Shops began to proliferate along the street and Dalt sensed he was nearing the square. A sign caught his eye: LIN’S LIT in large letters, and below, at about a quarter of the size above, For the Discerning Viewer.

(“There’s plenty of time before your lunch date. Let’s see what they sell on Tolive – you can learn a lot about a culture’s intellectual climate from its literature.”)

All right. Let’s see.

They should have been prepared for what was inside by the card on the door: “Please be advised that the material sold within is considered by certain people to be obscene –you might be one of those people.”

Inside they found a huge collection of photos, holos, telestories, vid cassettes, etc., most devoted to sexual activity. Categories ranged from human & human, through human & alien animal, to human & alien plant. And then the material took a sick turn.

I’m leaving. Dalt told Pard.

(“Wait a minute. It’s just starting to get interesting.”)

Not for me. I’ve had enough.

(“Immortals aren’t supposed to be squeamish.”)

Well, it’ll be a couple more centuries before I can stomach some of this junk. So much for Tolive’s cultural climate! [72]

And out they went to the street again. Half a block on, they came to the square, which was actually round. It was more like a huge traffic circle with the circumference rimmed by shops and small business offices; inside the circle was a park with grass and trees and amusement areas for children. A large white structure was set at its hub; from Dalt’s vantage point it appeared to be some sort of monument or oversized art object in the ancient abstract mode.

He wandered into a clothing store and was tempted to make some purchases until he remembered that he had no credit on Tolive as yet, so he contented himself with watching others do the buying. He watched a grossly overweight woman step onto a fitting platform, punch in a style, fabric weight and colour code, and then wait for the measuring sensors to rise out of the floor. A beep announced that her order was being processed and she stepped down and took a seat by the wall to wait for the piece she had ordered to be custom-made to her specifications.

A neighbouring shop sold pharmaceuticals and Dalt browsed through aimlessly until he heard a fellow shopper ask for five hundred-milligram doses of Zemmelar, the trade name for a powerful hallucinogenic narcotic.

“You sure you know what you’re getting into?” the man behind the counter asked. The customer nodded.

“I use it regularly.”

The counterman sighed, took the customer’s credit slips, and punched out the order. Five cylindrical packages popped onto the counter. “You’re on your own,” he told the man who pocketed the order and hurried away.

Glancing at Dalt, the counterman burst out laughing, then held up his hand as Dalt turned to leave.

“I’m sorry, sir, but by the expression on your face a moment ago, you must be an off-worlder.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means that you think you just witnessed a very bold illegal transaction.”

“Well, didn’t I? That drug is reserved for terminal cases, is it not?”

“That’s what it was developed for,” the man replied. “Supposed to block out all bodily sensations and accentuate the patient’s most [73] pleasant fantasies. When I’m ready to go, I hope somebody will have the good sense to shoot some of it into me.”

“But that man said he uses it regularly.”

“Yeah. He’s an addict I guess. Probably new in town... never seen him before.”

“But that drug is illegal!”

“That’s how I know you’re an off-worlder. You see – there are no illegal drugs on Tolive.”

“That can’t be true!”

“I assure you, sir, it is. Anything in particular you’d like to order?”

“No,” Dalt said, turning slowly and walking away. “Nothing, thanks.”

This place will take some getting used to, he told Pard as they crossed the street to the park and took a seat on the grass beneath one of the native conifers.

(“Yes. Apparently they do not have the usual taboos that most of humanity carried with it from Earth during the splinter-world period.”)

I think I like some of those taboos. Some of the stuff in that first shop was positively degrading. And as for making it possible for anybody with a few credits to become a Zem addict ... I don’t like it.

(“But you must admit that this appears to be a rather genteel populace. Despite the lack of a few taboos traditional to human culture, they all seem quite civilized so far. Admit it.”)

All right, I admit it.

Dalt glanced across the park and noticed that there were a number of people on the white monument. Letters, illegible from this distance, had been illuminated on a dark patch near the monument’s apex. As he watched, a cylinder arose from the platform and extended what appeared to be a stiff, single-jointed appendage with some sort of thong streaming from the end. A shirtless young man was brought to the platform. There was some milling around, and then his arms were fastened to an abutment.

The one-armed machine began to whip him across his bare back. [74]





“Finish that drink before we talk,” EI said.

“There’s really not much to talk about,” Dalt replied curtly. “I’m getting off this planet as soon as I can find a ship to take me.”

They drank in silence amid the clatter and chatter of a busy restaurant, and Dalt’s thoughts were irresistibly drawn back to that incredible scene in the park just as he himself had been irresistibly drawn across the grass for a closer look, to try to find some evidence that it was all a hoax. But the man’s cries of pain and the rising welts on his back left little doubt. No one else in the park appeared to take much notice; some paused to look at the sign that overhung the tableau, then idly strolled on.

Dalt, too, looked at the sign:


A. Nelso
Accused of theft of
private ground car on 6-9.
of same on 20-9.
Appeal denied.

Sentence of public punishment to
o.6 Gomler units to be

Administered on 24-9.


The whipping stopped and the sign flashed blank. The man was released from the pillory and helped from the platform. Dalt was trying to decide whether the tears in the youth’s eyes were from pain or humiliation, when a young, auburn-haired woman of about thirty years ascended the platform. She wore a harness of sorts that covered her breasts and abdomen but left her back exposed. As attendants locked her to the pillory, the sign came to life again: [75-76]


H. T. Hammet
Accused of theft of
miniature vid set from
retail store on 8-9.

Convicted of same on 22-9.
Appeal denied.
Sentence of public punishment to
0.2 Gomler units to be

Administered on 24-9.


The cylinder raised the lash, swung its arm, and the woman winced and bit her lower lip. Dalt spun and lurched away.

(“Barbaric!”) Pard said when they had crossed the street and were back among the storefronts.

What? No remarks about being squeamish?

(“Holograms of deviant sexual behaviour posed for by volunteers are quite different from public floggings. How can supposedly civilized people allow such stone-age brutality to go on?” )

I don’t know and I don’t care. Tolive has just lost a prospective citizen.

A familiar figure suddenly caught his eye. It was El.

“Hi!” she said breathlessly. “Sorry I’m late.”

“I didn’t notice,” he said coldly. “I was too busy watching that atavistic display in the park.”

She grabbed his arm. “C’mon. Let’s eat.”

“I assure you, I’m not hungry.”

“Then at least have a drink and we’ll talk.” She tugged on his arm.

(“Might as well, Steve. I’d be interested in hearing how she’s going to defend public floggings.”)

Noting a restaurant sign behind him, Dalt shrugged and started for the entrance.

“Not there,” El said. “They lost their sticker last week. We’ll go to Logue’s – it’s about a quarter-way around,”

El made no attempt at conversation as she led him around to the restaurant she wanted. During the walk, Dalt allowed his eyes to stray toward the park only once. Not a word was spoken between them until they were seated inside with drinks before them. [76]

Logue’s modest furnishings and low lighting were offset by its extravagant employment of human waiters.

It was not until the waiter had brought Dalt his second drink that he finally broke the silence.

“You wanted me to see those floggings, didn’t you, he said, holding her eyes. “That’s what you meant about catching ‘a little of the flavour of Tolive.’ Well, I caught more than a little, I caught a bellyful!”

Maddeningly patient, El sipped her drink, then said, “Just what did you see that so offended you?”

“I saw floggings!” Dalt sputtered. “Public floggings! The kind of thing that had been abandoned on Earth long before we ever left there!”

“Would you prefer private floggings?” There was a trace of a smile about her mouth.

“I would prefer no floggings; and I don’t appreciate your sense of humour. I got a look at that woman’s face and she was in pain.”

“You seem especially concerned over the fact that women as well as men were pilloried today.”

“Maybe I’m Just old-fashioned, but I don’t like to see a woman beaten like that.”

El eyed him over her glass. There are a lot of old-fashioned things about you ... do you know that you lapse into an archaic speech pattern when you get excited?” She shook herself abruptly. “But we’ll go into that another time; right now I want to explore your high-handed attitude toward woman.”

“Please –” Dalt began, but she pushed on.

I happen to be as mature, as responsible, as rational as any man I know, and if I commit a crime, I want you to assume that I knew exactly what I was doing. I’d take anything less as a personal insult.”

“Okay. Let’s not get sidetracked on that age-old debate. The subject at hand is corporal punishment in a public place.”

“Was the flogging being done for sport?” El asked. “Were people standing around and cheering?”

“The answers are ‘no’ and ‘no’ – and don’t start playing Socrates with me.” [77]

El persisted. “Did the lash slice deeply into their backs? Were they bleeding? Were they screaming with pain?”

“Stop the questions! No, they weren’t screaming and they weren’t bleeding, but they were most definitely in pain!”

“Why was this being done to these people?”

Dalt glared at her calm face for a long moment. “Why are you doing this?”

“Because I have this feeling that you’re going to be very important to IMC and I didn’t want you to quietly slip away after you read the Contract.”

“The IMC contract? I read that and there’s nothing –”

“Not that one. The Tolive Contract.”

“I don’t understand,” Dalt said with a quick shake of his head.

“I didn’t think you would, I mean,” she added quickly, “that Dr. Webst was very excited about something this morning and I figured he never gave you your copy or explained anything about it.”

“Well, you’re right on that account. I haven’t the vaguest idea of what you’re talking about.”

“Okay, then I’ll take it upon myself to give you an outline of what you can expect from Tolive and what Tolive expects from you. The Contract sounds rather cold and terrible unless you know the background of the planet and understand the rationale for some of the clauses.”

“I don’t think you should waste your breath.”

“Yes, you do. You’re interested now, though you won’t admit it.”

Dalt sighed reluctantly. “I admit it. But I can’t think of anything you can say that’ll make public floggings look good.”

“Just listen.” She finished her drink and signalled for another. “Like most of the Federation member planets, Tolive was once s splinter world. It was settled by a very large group of anarchists who left Earth as one of the first splinter colonies. They bore no resemblance to the bearded, bomb-throwing stereotype from the old days of Earth, nor to the modern-day Broohnins. They merely held that no man has the right to rule another. A noble philosophy, wouldn’t you say?”

Dalt gave a noncommitta1 shrug.

“Good. Like most anarchists of their day, however, they were [78] anti-institutionalists. This eventually caused some major problems. They wanted no government at all: no police, no courts, no jails, no public works. Everything was to be handled by private firms. It took a couple of generations to set things up, and it worked quite well ... at first. Then the private police forces got out of hand; they’d band together and take over a town and try to set up some sort of neofeudal state. Other police forces had to be hired to come in and roust them out, and there’d be a lot of bloodshed and property destruction.” She paused briefly as the waiter brought a fresh drink and El recommended that they order the vegetable platter.

“So,” she continued, “after this happened a few too many times, we – my ancestors, that is – decided that something had to be done to deal with the barbarians in our midst. After much debate, it was finally decided to create a bare minimum of public institutions: police, judiciary, penal, and administration.”

“No legislature?”

“No. They balked at creating posts for men who like to make rules to control other men; the very concept of a legislature was suspect – and still is, as far as I’m concerned. I mean, what kind of a man is it who wants to spend his life making plans and rules to alter or channel lives other than his own? There’s a basic flaw in that kind of man.”

“It’s not so much a desire to rule,” Dalt said. “With many it’s merely a desire to be at the centre of things, to be in on the big decisions.”

“And those decisions mean power. They feel they are far better suited to make decisions about your life than you are. An ancient Earthman said it best: ‘In every generation there are those who want to rule well – but they mean to rule. They promise to be good masters – but they mean to be masters.’ His name was Daniel Webster.”

“Never heard of him. But tell me: how can you have a judiciary if you have no law?”

“Oh, there’s law – Just no legislature. The minimum necessary legal code was formulated and incorporated into the Contract. Local police apprehend those who break the Contract and local Judges determine to what extent it has been broken. The penal authority [79] carries out the sentence, which is either public flogging or imprisonment.”

 “What?” Dalt said mockingly. “No public executions?”

El found no amusement in his attitude. “We don’t kill people – someone just may be innocent.”

“But you flog them! A person could die on that pillory!”

“That pillory is actually a highly sophisticated physiological monitor that measures physical pain in Gomler units. The judge decides how many Gomler units should be administered and the machine decides when that level has been reached relative to the individual in the pillory. If there are any signs of danger, the sentence is immediately terminated.” They paused as the waiter placed the cold vegetable platters before them.

“He goes to prison then, I guess,” Dalt said, eagerly biting into a mushroom-shaped tomato. Delicious.

“No. If he’s undergone that much stress, he’s considered a paid-up customer. Only our violent criminals go to jail.”

Dalt looked bewildered. “Let me get this straight: Nonviolent criminals receive corporal punishment while violent criminals are merely locked away? That’s a ridiculous paradox!”

“Not really. Is it better to take a young man such as the car thief out there today and lock him up with armed robbers, killers, and kidnappers? Why force a sneak thief to consort with barbarians and learn how to commit bigger and better crimes? We decided to break that old cycle. We prefer to put him through a little physical pain and a lot of public humiliation for a few minutes, and then let him go. His life is his own again, with no pieces missing. Our system is apparently working because our crime rate is incredibly low compared to other planets. Not out of fear, either, but because we’ve broken the crime-imprisonment-crime-imprisonment cycle. Recidivism is extremely low here!”

“But your violent criminals are merely sent to prison?”

“Right, but they’re not allowed to consort with one another. The prison has historically acted as a nexus for the criminal subculture and so we decided to dodge that pitfall. We make no attempt at rehabilitation – that’s the individual’s job. The purpose of the prison [80] on Tolive is to isolate the violent criminal from peaceful citizens and to punish him by temporarily or permanently depriving him of his freedom. He has a choice of either solitary confinement or of being blocked and put to work on a farm.”

Dalt’s eyes were wide “A work farm! This sounds like the Dart Ages!”

“It’s preferable to reconditioning him into a socially acceptable little robot, as is done on other, more ‘enlightened’ planets. We don’t believe in tampering with a man’s mind against his will; if he requests a mind block to make subjective time move more quickly, that’s his decision.”

“But work farms!”

“They have to help earn their keep some way. A blocked prisoner has almost no volition; consequently, the farm overhead is low. He’s put to work at simple agrarian tasks that are better done by machine, but this manages to defray some of the cost of housing and clothing him. When the block is finally removed – as is done once a year to give him the option of remaining blocked or returning to solitary – he is usually in better physical condition than when he started. However, there’s a piece of his life missing and he knows it ... and he doesn’t soon forget. Of course, he may never request a block if he wishes to press his case before the court – but he spends his time in solitary, away from other criminals.”

“Seems awful harsh,” Dalt muttered with a slow shake of his head.

El shrugged. “They’re harsh men. They’ve used physical force or the threat of it to get what they want and we don’t take kindly to that on Tolive. We insist that all relationships be devoid of physical coercion. We are totally free and therefore totally responsible for our actions – and we hold each other very close to that responsibility. It’s in the Contract.”

“But who is this Contract with?”

(“It’s ‘whom’.”) Pard interjected.


Tolive.” El replied.

“You mean the Tolivian government?” [81]

“No, the planet itself. We declared our planet a person; just as corporations were declared legal entities many centuries ago.”

“But why the planet?”

“For the sake of immutability. In brief: All humans of sound mind must sign the Contract within six months of their twentieth birthday – an arbitrary age; they can sign beforehand if they wish – or on their arrival on the planet. The Contract affirms the signer’s right to pursue his own goals without interference from the government or other individuals. In return for a sum not to exceed more than five per cent of his annual income, this right will be protected by the agents of the planet – the police, courts, et cetera. But if the signer should inject physical coercion or the threat of it into any relationship, be must submit to the customary punishments; which we’ve already discussed. The Contract cannot be changed by future generations, thus we safeguard human rights from the tamperings of the fools, do-gooders, and power-mongers who have destroyed every free society that has ever dared to rear its head along the course of human history.”

Dalt paused. “It all sounds so noble, yet you make a dangerous drug like Zemmelar freely available and you have stores that sell the most prurient, sick material I’ve ever seen.”

“It’s sold because there are people who want to buy it.” El replied with another shrug. “If a signer wants to pollute his body with chemicals in order to visit an artificial Nirvana, that’s his business. The drugs are available at competitive prices, so he doesn’t have to steal to feed his habit; and he either learns how to handle his craving or he takes a cure, or he winds up dead from an overdose. And as for prurience, I suppose you stopped in at Lin’s – he’s our local pornographer. All I’ll say about that is that I’m not for telling another individual how to enjoy himself … but didn’t you hunt up any other lit shops? There’s a big one on the square that sells nothing but classics: from The Republic to No Treason to The Rigrod Chronicles; from Aristotle to Hugo to Heinlein to Borjay. And down on Ben Tucker Drive is a shop specializing in new Tolivian works. But you never bothered to look for them.”

“The scene in the park cut short my window shopping,” Dalt replied [82] tersely. They ate in silence for a moment and Pard took the opportunity to intrude.

(“What’re you thinking?”)

I’m thinking that I don’t know what to think.

(“Well, in the meantime, ask her about that tax.”)

Good idea! Dalt swallowed a mouthful and cleared his throat “How do you justify a tax in a voluntary society?”

“It’s in the Contract. A ceiling of five per cent was put on it because; if a government spends much more than that, it’s doing more than it should.”

“But you don’t even have any government to speak of; how does it spend even that much?”

“Federation dues, mostly: We have no army so we have to depend on the Fed Patrol for protection from external threat. The rest of the expenses go to the police, judiciary, and so on. We’ve never reached five per cent, by the way.”

“So it’s not a completely voluntary society, then.” Dalt stated.

“Signing the Contract is voluntary, and that’s what counts.” She ran her napkin across her mouth. “And now I’ve got to run. Finish your meal and take your time and think about what we’ve discussed. If you want to stay, Webst will probably be waiting back at the complex. And don’t worry about the bill ... it’s on me today.” She leaned over, brushed her lips against his cheek, and was gone before Dalt could say a word.

(“Quite an exit.”) Pard said with admiration.

Quite a woman. Dalt replied, and went back to eating.

(“Still ready to take the first shuttle out of here?”)

I don’t know. Everything seems to fit together in some weirdly logical way.

(“Nothing weird about it at all. It works on the principle that humans will act responsibly if you hold them responsible for their actions. I find it rather interesting and want to spend some time here; and unless you want to start the fiercest argument of our partnership, you’ll agree.”)

Okay. We’ll stay.

(“No argument?”) [83]

None. I want to get to know El a little – a lot! – better.

(“Glad to hear it.”)

And the funny thing is: the more time I spend with her, the less she reminds me of Jean.

(“That’s because she’s really nothing at all like Jean; she’s far more mature, far more intelligent. As a matter of fact, Ellen Lettre is one of the more fascinating things on this fascinating planet.”)

Dalt’s lack of response as he cleared his plate was tacit agreement. On the way out, his eye was caught by a golden seal on the door. It read: “Premises, kitchen, and food quality graded Class I by Nauch & Co., Inc.” The date of the most recent inspection was posted below.

(“I guess that’s the Tolivian equivalent of a department of public health,”) Pard said. (“Only this Nauch is probably a private company that works on a subscription basis. When you think about – “)

Pard paused as a ground car whined to a halt before the restaurant and Dr. Webst leaped out. He looked relieved at the sight of Dalt.

“Glad I found you,” he said as he approached. “I met Dr. Lettre back at the complex and asked her when you were coming back; she said she wasn’t sure if you were coming back at all.”

“That was a possibility.”

“Well, look, I don’t know what this is all about, but you must come back to the complex with me immediately.”

Dalt stiffened. “You’re not trying to make an order out of that, I hope.”

“No, of course not. It’s just that I’ve made some startling discoveries about you that may have great medical significance. I’ve doubled-checked everything.”

“What are you talking about?” Dalt had a sudden uneasy feeling.

Webst grabbed Dalt’s arm and guided him toward the car. “I’m babbling, I know, but I’ll explain everything on the way over to the complex.” He paused in midstride. “Then again, maybe it’s you who should do the explaining.”

“Me?” Dalt was genuinely puzzled.

“Yes. Just who or what are you, Mr. Dalt?” [84]




“This is my psi pattern,” Webst said, pointing to an irregular red line undulating across the viewscreen in his office. “It shows the low level of activity found in the average human – nothing special about my psi abilities. Now, when we focus the detector on you, look what happens.” He touched a panel and two green lines appeared on the screen. The one at the lower end was very similar to Webst’s and occasionally superimposed itself on it at certain points.

“That’s what I expected from you: another normal pattern. And I got it ... but what the hell is that?” He was pointing to the large, smoothly flowing sine-wave configuration in the upper part of the screen. “We have tried this out on thousands of individuals and I have never once seen a pattern that even vaguely approximates that, neither in configuration nor in amplitude.

“Whatever it is,” Webst continued as he blanked the screen, “it seems to like you, ’cause it goes where you go. At first I thought it was a malfunction, that’s why I brought you over to Big Blue, where we have another model. But the same pattern appeared as soon as you walked into the building – and disappeared as soon as you left. So, what have you got to say for yourself, Mr. Dalt?”

Dalt shrugged with convincing bafflement. “I really don’t know what to say.” Which was true. His mind raced in an attempt to give Webst, obviously an expert in psionics, a plausible but fictitious explanation. The machine in question was a fairly recent development of IMC research – it detected levels of psionic capacity, even in the nascent stage, and was planned for interplanetary marketing to the psi schools which were springing up on every planet. The current thrust of Webst’s research was in the field of psionics and psycho-therapy, so he took the liberty of screening for psi ability everyone who entered his office. He felt he had hit pay dirt with Dalt.

“You mean to say that you’ve never had any inkling of psi ability?” Webst asked. Dalt shook his head. “Well then, are there any blank spots in your memory ... do you ever find yourself somewhere and can’t recall how you got there?” [85]

“What are you driving at?”

“I’m looking for a dissociative reaction or a second personality – something, anything, to explain that second level of activity. I don’t want to alarm you,” he said gently, “but you’re only allowed one: one mind, one psi level. The only conclusion I can draw is that you either have two minds or the most unusual single mind in the galaxy.”

(“He was right the first time.”)

I know, but what do we do?

(“Play dumb, of course. We wanted to get out of microbiology and into psych – this may be our chance.”)

Dalt mulled this over. Finally, “This is all very interesting, Dr. Webst, but quite meaningless as far as my professional life is concerned.” That should put the conversation on the track we want.

“That’s what I’d like to discuss with you,” Webst replied. “If I can get a release from Dr. Hyne, would you be interested in spending some time with my department assisting us with some experiments?”

“Just what kind of experiments?”

Webst came around his desk to stand before Dalt. “I’ve been trying to find a use for psionics in psychotherapy. We are daily trying to probe the minds of these so-called horrors cases in an effort to find out why they don’t respond to conventional therapy. I have no doubt that it’s the path of the future – all we need is the right technology and the right psi talents.

“Remember Sally Ragna? The girl who hides in the corner and no known psychotherapy can reach? That’s the kind of patient I’m after. We’ve developed an instrument to magnify psi powers, and right now a man with one per cent of your aptitude is trying to get a look inside her mind.”

Webst suddenly stiffened and his eyes burned into Dalt. “Right now! Would you come over to Big Blue right now and give it a try? All I want you to do is take a quick look – just go in and out, no more!”

(“This is our chance,”) Pard urged. (“Take it!”) He was obviously anxious to give it a try.

“All right,” said Dalt, who had a few reservations lurking in the back of his mind. “Might as well give it a try and see if anything at all can be done.” [86]

In Big Blue they seated him before Sally Ragna, who wasn’t cringing now, due to heavy sedation. The psi booster Webst had mentioned, a gleaming silver disk, was slung above them.

This is a waste of time, Dalt told Pard.

(“I don’t think so. I’ve learned one thing, anyway: That machine of Webst’s isn’t worth a damn – I’m not getting a bit of boost from it. But I don’t think I’ll need it. I’ve made a few probes using the same technique I played with on the liner and I’m meeting with very little resistance. I’m sure I can get in. One thing, though ... I’m going to have to take you with me.”)

I don’t know if I like that.

(“It’s necessary, I’m afraid. I’ll need every ounce of reserve function to stay oriented once I get in there, and I may even have to draw on your meagre psi power.”)

Dalt hesitated. The thought of confronting madness on its own ground was deeply frightening. His stomach lurched as he replied, Okay, let’s do it. But be careful!

(“I’m frightened too, friend.”)

The thought flashed across Dalt’s mind that he had never before considered the possibility of Pard being frightened of anything. Concerned, yes ... but frightened –

The thought disappeared as his view of Sally Ragna and the room around them swirled away and he entered the place where Sally was spending her life:


/countless scintillating pinpoints of light that somehow gave off no illumination poured into treelike shapes/
/a sky of violet shot
through with crimson flashes that throw shadows in paradoxical directions/
/an overall dimness that half obscures living
fungus forms that crawl and leap and hang from the pointillistic trees/
/moving forward now/
/past a cube of water with schools of fish each made of two opposing tails swimming forever in stasis/
/mountains crumble to the right/
/breach-born ahead is a similar range/
/which disappears
as they step off a sudden precipice and float through a dank forest and are surrounded by peering, glowing, unblinking yellow eyes/
/to a desert road stretching emptily and limitlessly ahead/
suddenly a town has sprung up around them, its buildings built at impossible [87] angles/
/a stick man walks up and smiles as his form fills
out and then swells, bloats, and ruptures, spewing mounds of writhing maggots upon the ground/
/the face and body begin to dissolve but the mouth remains, growing larger and nearer/
/it opens to show its double rows of curved teeth/
/and growing still larger it moves
upon them, enveloping them, closing upon them with a SNAP/


Dalt next found himself on the floor with Webst and a technician bending over him. But it was Pard who awakened him.

(“Get up, Steve! Now! We’ve got to go back in there as soon as possible!” )

Dalt rose slowly to his feet and brushed his palms. “I’m all right,” he told Webst. “Just slipped out of the chair.” And to Pard: You must be kidding!

(“I assure you, I am not. That was a jolting experience, and if we don’t go back immediately; that constructed reality in there will probably build up a reflex resistance that will keep us out in the future.”)

That’s fine with me.

(“But we can do something for this girl; I’m sure of it,”)

Dalt waved Webst and his technician away. “I’m going to try again,” he muttered, and repositioned himself before the girl. Okay, Pard. I’m trusting you.


/and then they were in a green-fogged bog as ochre hands reached up for them from the rank marsh grasses to try to poll them into the quicksand/
/the sun suddenly
appeared overhead but am quickly muffled by the fog/
/it persisted, however, and
slowly the fog began to thin and burn away/
/the land tilted then and the marsh began to drain/
/the rank
grasses began to wither and die in the sun/
a green carpet of neatly trimmed grass unrolled about them, covering and smothering the ever-clutching hands/
giant, spheroid boulder rolled in from the horizon at dazzling speed and threatened to overrun them until a chasm yawned suddenly before it and swallowed it/
things crept toward them from all ’sides, trailing dusk behind them/
a high, smooth, safe wall encircled them and sunlight prevailed/ [88]


Dalt was suddenly back in the room again with Sally Ragna, only this time he was seated on the chair instead of the floor.

(“We’ll leave her in that sanctuary by herself for a few minutes while I get the lay of the land here.”)

You made all those changes, then?

(“Yes, and it was easier than I thought it would be. I met a lot of resistance at first when I tried to bring the sun out, but once I accomplished that, I seemed to be in full control. There were a couple of attempts to get at her again, but they were easily repulsed.”)

What now?

(“Now that we’ve made her comfortable in her sylvan nunnery – which is as unreal as the horror show she’s lived in all these years, but completely unthreatening – we’ll bring her back to reality.”)

Ah, but what is reality?

(“Please, Steve. I haven’t time for such a sophomoric question. Just go along with me, and for a working definition we’ll just say that reality is what trips you up when you walk around with your eyes closed. But no more talk ... now comes the hard part. Up until now we’ve been seeing what she sees; the task at hand is to reverse that situation. Here goes.”)


They were back in again as Pard’s apparent benign reconstruction had held – but change began almost immediately:


/The sunlit high, smooth, wall encircled them/
the wall dissolved into a smooth grassy sward that stretched to the far horizon/
/a bare green panel first appeared to the left;/
/then three more panels formed to box them in/
/... a lighted ceiling with an odd piece of metallic machinery appeared to overhung them/
/… and there, just a short distance before them, sat a man with a golden hand and a flamestone slung at his throat, whose dark hair was interrupted by a patch of silver at the crown/


 A sudden blurring and they were looking at Sally again. Only this time she was looking back – and smiling. As tears slid down her cheeks, the smile faded and she collapsed into unconsciousness. [89]




“You’ve done something,” Webst said later at the office after Sally had been examined and returned to her bed, “something beneficial. Can’t be sure just yet, but I can smell it! Did you see her smile at you? She’s never smiled before. Never!”

Webst’s enthusiasm whirled past Dalt without the slightest effect. He was tired, tired as he’d never been before. There was a vague feeling of dissociation, too; he’d visited the mind of another and had returned home to find himself subtly altered by the experience.

“Well, I certainly hope I didn’t go through all that for nothing.”

“I’m sure you didn’t.” said a voice behind him. He turned to see El walking across the room. “She’s sleeping now,” she said, sliding easily into a chair, “and without a hypnotic. You’ve gotten through to her, no question about it.”

Webst leaned forward on his desk. “But just what is it you’ve done?” he asked intently. “What did you see in there?”

Dalt opened his mouth to protest, to put off all explanations and descriptions until tomorrow, but Pard cut him off.

(“Tell them something. They’re hungry for information.”)

How can I describe all ... that?

(“Try. Just skim the details.”)

Dalt gave a halting summary of what they had seen and done, then: “In conclusion, it’s my contention that the girl’s underlying lesion was not organic but conceptual. Her sense of reality was completely aberrant, but as to how this came to be, I do not know.” He hesitated and El thought she saw him shudder ever so slightly. “For a moment I got the feeling that I was working against something ... something dark and very alien, just over the horizon. At one point I thought I actually touched it, or it reached for me, or –” He shook himself. “I don’t know. Maybe it was part of her fantasy complex. Anyway, what matters is that she was a very sick girl and I think I’ve helped her.”

“I take it, then,” Webst said, “that we can assume that these [90] acute, unremitting, chemonegative schizophrenics are actually only conceptually deranged. Okay, I’ll buy that. But why are they deranged?”

Dalt remembered the dark thing he had sensed in Sally’s mind and the word “imposed” rushed into his thoughts, but he pushed it away. “Can’t help you there as yet. But let’s get her back on her feet and worry about why it happened later on. Chemotherapy was no good because her enzyme chains are normal; and psychotherapy has been useless because, as far as this patient was concerned, the psychotherapist didn’t exist. Apparently, only a strong psionic thrust and subsequent reconstruction of the fantasy world is of any value. And by the way, her mind was extremely easy to enter. Perhaps in erecting an impenetrable barrier against reality, it left itself completely open to psionics.”

EI and Webst were virtually glowing with the exhilaration of discovery. “This is incredible!” Webst declared. “A whole new direction in psychotherapy! Mr. Dalt, I don’t know how we can repay you!”

(“Tell him what he can pay you.”)

We can’t take money for helping that poor girl!

(“He’s going to ask you to do it again ... and again. That was no sylvan picnic in there – it’s risky business. I won’t allow us to enter another mind unless we’re compensated for it. Value given for value received, remember?”)

That’s crass.

(“That’s life. Something that costs nothing is usually worth the price.”)

That’s trite.

(“But true. Quote him a figure.”)

Dalt thought for a moment, then said, “I’ll require a fee for Sally ... and any others you want me to try.” He named a sum.

“That sounds reasonable.” Webst nodded. “I won’t dicker with you.”

El’s face reflected amusement tinged with amazement. “You’re full of surprises, aren’t you?”

Webst smiled too. “He’s welcome to every credit we can spare if he can bring those horrors patients around. We’ll even try to get a [91] bigger budget. I’ll talk to Dr. Hyne and have you transferred to this department; meanwhile, there’s an ethical question you should consider. You are in effect performing an experimental procedure on mentally incompetent patients who are incapable of giving their consent.”

“What about their guardians?”

“These patients have no guardians, no identity. And a guardian would be irrelevant as far as the ethical question is concerned – that is up to you. In the physician role, you’ve got to decide whether an experimental procedure – or even an established procedure – will have a greater chance of benefiting the patient than doing harm to him, and whether the possible benefits are worth the risk. And the patient must come first; not humanity, not science, but the patient. Only you can decide.”

“I made that decision before I invaded Sally,” Dalt replied with a touch of acid. “The gains were mutual: I would learn something, she would, hopefully, receive therapeutic value. The risks, as far as I could foresee, would all be mine.”

Webst considered this. “Mr. Dalt,” he said finally, “I think you and I are going to get along just fine.” He extended his hand and Dalt grasped it firmly.

EI came to his side and hooked her arm around his. “Welcome to the department,” she said with a half smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. “This is quite a turnaround from the man who swore a few hours ago that he was taking the next shuttle out.”

“I haven’t forgotten that episode, believe me. I can’t quite accept the code you Tolivians live by as yet, but I think I’d like to stick around and see if it works as well as you say it does.”

The viewphone had beeped again while they were talking. Webst took the call, then suddenly headed for the door. “That was Big Blue – Sally just woke up and asked for a drink of water!” Nothing more needed to be said; El and Dalt immediately fell in behind him as he made his way to the carport.

The last sanguine rays of the sun slipping into the plaza found the ambulatory patients clustered in hushed, muttering knots. And all eyes suddenly became riveted on the car that held Webst, Dalt, and El as it pulled up beside Big Blue. An elderly woman broke [92] away from a small group and came forward, squinting at the trio in the waning light.

“It’s him!” she cried hoarsely as she reached the car. “He’s got the silver patch of hair, the flamestone, and the golden hand that heals!” She clutched the back of Dalt’s suit as he turned away. “Touch me with your healing hand!” she cried. “My mind is sick and only you can help me! Please! I’m not as sick as Sally was!”

“No, wait!” Dalt said, whirling and shrinking away. “It doesn’t work that way!”

But the woman seemed not to hear him, repeating, “Heal me! Heal me!” And over her shoulder he could see the other patients in the plaza crowding forward.

Webst was suddenly at his side, his face close, his eyes shining in the fading darkness. “Go ahead,” he whispered excitedly, “touch her. You don’t have to do anything else, just reach out that left hand and lay it on her head.”

Dalt hesitated; then, feeling foolish, pressed the heel of his palm against her forehead. The woman covered her face at his touch and scurried away, muttering, “Thank you, thank you,” through her hands.

With that, it was as if a dam had burst. The patients were suddenly swirling all around him and Dalt found himself engulfed by a torrent of outstretched hands and cries of, “Heal me! Heal me! Heal me! Heal me!” He was pushed, pulled, his clothes and limbs were plucked at, and it was only with great dif8culty that El and Webst managed to squeeze him through the press of supplicants and into the quiet of Big Blue.

“Now you know why he’s at the top of his profession, El said softly, nodding her head toward Webst as she pressed a drink into Dalt’s hand, a hand that even now, in the security of Big Blue, betrayed a slight but unmistakable tremor. The experience in the plaza had unnerved him – the hands, the voices, reaching and crying for him in the twilight, seeking relief from the psychological and physiological afflictions burdening them; the incident, though only moments past, was becoming increasingly surreal in retrospect.

He shook himself and took a deep gulp of the drink “I don’t follow.” [93]

“The way he sized up the situation immediately as mass hysteria and put it to good use: the enormity of placebo effect in medicine has never been fully appreciated, even to this day. There were a lot of chronically ill patients in that plaza who had heard of a man who performed a miraculous cure and they all wanted a piece of that miracle for themselves.”

“But how did they find out?”

El laughed. “The grapevine through these wards could challenge a subspace laser for speed of transmission!”

Webst flicked off the viewphone from which he had been receiving a number of hurried reports, and turned to them, grinning. “Well, the blind see, the deaf hear, and the lame walk,” he announced, then burst out laughing at the horrified expression on Dalt’s face. “No, nothing as dramatic as that, I’m afraid, but we have had a few remarkable symptomatic remissions.”

“Not because of me!” Dalt snapped, his tone betraying annoyance. “I didn’t do a thing – those people only think I did.”

Exactly! You didn’t cure them per se, but you did act as a catalyst through which the minds of those people could gain some leverage on their bodies.”

“So I’m a faith-healer, in other words.”

“Out in the plaza, you were – and still are, now more than ever. We have a rare opportunity here to study the phenomenon of the psychosomatic cure, something which fascinates the student of behaviour more than anything else. It’s the power of the mind over the body in action ... we know almost nothing of the dynamics of the relationship.”

(“I could tell them a few things about that.”) Pard muttered.

You’ve said quite enough tonight, friend.

“And you’re a perfect focal point,” Webst added. “You have a genuine healing ability in a certain area, and this along with an undeniably unique appearance evidently works to give you an almost messianic aura in susceptible minds.”

(“Defensively worded in the best scientific tradition.”)

Webst continued in lowered tones, talking to himself more than to anyone else. “You know, I don’t see why the same phenomenon couldn’t be duplicated on any other planet in the human system, [94] and on a much larger scale. Every planet has its share of horrors cases and they’re all looking for a way to handle them. If we limit the amount of information we release – such as keeping your identity a secret – the inevitable magnification that occurs with word-of-mouth transmission will have you raising the dead by the time you finish your work here. And by then every human planet will be clamouring for your services. And while you’re reconstructing sick minds, Dr. Lettre and I will be carefully observing the epiphenomena.”

“Meaning the psychosomatic cures?”

El nodded, getting caught up in Webst’s vision. “Right. And it would be good for Tolive, too. He-Who-Heals-Minds – pardon the dramatic phrasing – will come from Tolive, and that should counteract some of the smears being spread around.”

“How does that sound, Mr. Dalt... or should I say, ‘Healer’?”

What do you think?

(“Sounds absolutely wonderful to me, as long as we don’t start to believe what people will be saying about us.”)

“Interesting,” Dalt replied slowly, “very interesting. But why don’t we see how things go here on Tolive before, we start star-hopping.” He had a lot of adjustments to make, physically and intellectually, if he was going to spend any time here.

“Right!” Webst said, and headed back to the viewphone. “And I’m sure it’s been a long day for you. I’ll have the plaza cleared and you can return to your hotel as soon as you like.”

“That’s not the place I had in mind,” Dalt muttered to El, “but I guess the sunset’s long gone by now out there on the plain.”

El shrugged warmly. “The sunrise is just as good.” [95]

A Soliloquy for Two


Can’t you do anything?

(“I’ve already tried ... a number of times. And failed.”)

I didn’t know that. Why didn’t you tell me?

(“I know how much she means to you, so I made the attempts on my own. The most recent was yesterday. When you entered her body, I entered her mind – that seems to be her most vulnerable moment.”)


(“The cells won’t respond. I’m unable to exert any influence over the components of another body. They simply will not respond.”)


A long pause, then an audible sigh.

All things must pass, eh?

(“Except us.”)

Yeah. Except us. [97]


  YEAR 271

 THE HEALER’S advent coincided with a period of political turmoil within the Federation. The Restructurist movement was agitating with steadily increasing influence for a more active role by the Federation in planetary and interplanetary affairs. This attitude directly contradicted the laissez-faire orientation of the organization’s character.

His departure from human affairs occurred as political friction was reaching its peak and was as abrupt as his arrival. Certain scholars claim that he was killed in a liner crash off Tarvodet, and there is some evidence to support this.

His more fanatical followers, however, insist that he is immortal and was driven from his calling by political forces. Their former premise is obviously ridiculous, but the latter may well have some basis in fact.

from  The Healer: Man & Myth

by Emmerz Fent





The Healer, the most recognizable figure in the human galaxy, stood gloved, cloaked, cowled, and unrecognized amid the small group of mourners as the woman’s body was tenderly placed within the machine that would reduce it to its component elements. He felt no need for tears. She had lived her life to the fullest, the letter half of it at his side. And when the youth treatments had finally become ineffective and she’d begun to notice a certain blurring on the perimeters of her intellectual function, she ended her life, calmly and quietly, to insure that she’d be remembered by her lover as the proud woman she had always been, not the lesser person she might become. And only The Healer, her lover, knew how she had died.

The wrinkled little man next to him suspected, of course. And approved. They and the others watched in silence as the machine swallowed her body, and all drank deeply of the air about them as it became filled with her molecules, each witness trying to incorporate into himself a tiny part of a cherished friend.

The old man looked at his companion, who had never deigned to show a year’s worth of aging in all the time he had known him – at least not on the surface. But there had been strain and fatigue growing behind the eyes during the past few years. A half century of sickness and deformity of mind and body, outstretched hands and blank eyes lay behind him and possibly endless years of the same awaited him.

“You look weary, my friend.”

“I am.” The others began to drift away. “It all seems so futile. For every mind I open, two more are reported newly closed. The pressure continually mounts – ‘come to us’ – ‘no, come to us, we need you more!’ Everywhere I go I’m preceded by arguments, threats, [99] and bribes between vying clinics and planets. I seem to have become a commodity.”

The old man nodded with understanding. “Where to now?”

“Into private practice of some sort, I suppose. I’ve stayed with IMC this long only because of you... and her. As a matter of fact, a certain sector representative is waiting for me now. DeBloise is the name.”

“A Restructurist. Be careful.”

“I will.” The Healer smiled. “But I’ll hear what he has to say. Stay well, friend,” he said and walked away.

The wrinkled man gazed wistfully after him. “Ah, if only I had your talent for that.”



Sector Representative DeBloise had for some time considered himself quite an important man, yet it took him a few minutes to adjust to the presence of the individual seated calmly across the desk from him, a man of unmistakable appearance who had gained almost mythical stature in the past few decades: The Healer.

“In brief, sir,” DeBloise said with the very best of his public smiles, “we of the Restructurist movement wish to encourage you to come to our worlds. You seem to have made a habit of avoiding us in the past.”

“That’s because I worked through the IMC network in which the Restructurist worlds refuse to participate ... something to do with the corps’ support of the LaNague charter, I’m told.”

“That’s part of it.” The smile became more ingratiating as he said, “Politics seems to work its way into everything, doesn’t it. But that’s irrelevant now, since it was the news that you’d no longer be with IMC that brought me here to Tolive. I want you to come to Jebinose; our Bureau of Medicine and Research will pay all your fees.”

“I’m sorry,” The Healer said slowly, “but I deal only with patients, not with governments.”

“Well, if you mean to come to Jebinose and practice independently of the Bureau, I’m afraid we couldn’t allow that. You see, we’ve set very high and very rigid standards for the practice of [100] medicine on our planet and I’m afraid allowing you such license, despite your reputation, would set a bad precedent.”

“If a patient wishes my services, he or his guardian should be free to engage them. Why should some bureau have anything to say in the matter?”

“What you ask is impossible,” DeBloise said with a shake of his head. “Our people must be protected from being duped by frauds.”

The Healer’s smile was rueful as he rose to his feet. “That is quite evident. And thus Jebinose is not for me.”

DeBloise’s face suddenly hardened, the smile forgotten “It’s quite evident to me, Healer” – he spat the word – “that you’ve spent too much time among these barbaric Tolivians. All right, play your game: but I think you should know that a change is in the wind and that we shall soon be running the entire Federation our way. And when we do, we’ll see to it that every planet gets its fair share of your services!”

“Perhaps there will be no Healer, then,” came the quiet reply.

“Don’t try to bluff me!” DeBloise laughed. “I know your type. You glory in the adulation that greets you everywhere you go. It’s more addicting than Zemmelar.” There was a trace of envy in his voice. “But Restructurists are not so easily awed. You are a man – a uniquely talented one, yes, but still just one man – and when the tide turns for us, you will join in the current or be swept under.”

The Healer’s eyes blazed but his voice was calm. “Thank you, Mr. DeBloise. You have just clarified a problem and prompted a decision that has been growing increasingly troublesome over the past decade or so.” He turned and strode from the room.

Nearly two and a half centuries passed before The Healer was seen again. [101]




YEAR 505


NOT long after the disappearance of The Healer, the so-called DeBloise scandal came to the fore. The subsequent Restructurist walk-out led to the Federation-Restructurist civil war (“war” is hardly a fitting term for those sporadic skirmishes) which was eventually transformed into a full-scale interracial war when the Tarks decided to interfere. It was during the height of the Terro-Tarkan conflict that the immortality myth of The Healer was born.

Oblivious to the wars, the horrors continued to appear at a steady rate and the psycho-sciences had gained little ground against the malady. For that reason, perhaps, a man with a stunning resemblance to The Healer appeared and began to cure the horrors with an efficacy that rivalled that of the original. Thus an historical figure became a legend.

Who he was and why he chose to appear at that particular moment remains a mystery.

from The Healer: Man & Myth

by Emmerz Fent





Dalt locked the flitter into the roof cradle, released the controls, and slumped into the seat.

(“There. Don’t you feel better now?”) Pard asked.

“No,” Dalt replied aloud. “I feel tired. I just want to go to bed.”

(“You’ll thank me in the morning. Your mental outlook will be better, and you won’t even be stiff because I’ve been putting you through isometrics in your sleep every night.”)

“No wonder I wake up tired in the morning!”

(“Mental fatigue, Steve. Mental. We’ve both gotten too involved in this project and the strain is starting to tell.”)

“Thanks a lot,” he muttered as he slid from the cab and shuffled to the door. “The centuries have not dulled your talent for stating the obvious.”

And it was obvious. After The Healer episode, Dalt and Pard had shifted interests from the life sciences to the physical sciences and pursued their studies amid the Federation-Restructurist war without ever noticing it. That muddled conflict had been about ready to die out after a century or so, due to lack of interest, when a new force injected itself into the picture. The Tarks, in an attempt at subterfuge as clumsy as their previous attempts at diplomacy, declared a unilateral alliance with the Restructurist coalition and promptly attacked a number of Federation bases along a disputed stretch of expansion border. Divide and conquer is a time-tested ploy, but the Tarks neglected to consider the racial variable. Humans have little compunction about killing each other over real or imagined differences, but there is an archetypical repugnance at the thought of an alien race taking such a liberty. And so the Feds and Restructurists promptly united and declared jihad on the Tarkan Empire. [103]

Naturally, weapons research blossomed and physicists became very popular. Dalt’s papers on field theory engendered numerous research offers from companies anxious to enter the weapons market. The Tarkan force shield was allowing their ships to penetrate deep into Terran territory with few losses, and thus became a prime target for big companies like Star Ways, whose offer Dalt accepted.

The grind of high-pressure research, however, was beginning to take its toll on Dalt; and Pard, ever the physiopsychological watch-dog, had finally prevailed in convincing Dalt to shorten his work-day and spend a few hours on the exercise courts.

Wearily, Dalt tapped out the proper code on the entry plate and the door slid open. Even now, drained as he was in body and mind, , he realized that his thoughts were starting to drift toward the field-negation problem back at Star Ways labs. He was about to try to shift his train of thought when a baritone voice did it for him.

“Do you often talk to yourself, Mr. Cheserak? Or should I call you Mr. Dalt? Or would you prefer Mr. Storgen?” The voice came from a dark, muscular man who had made himself comfortable in one of the living-room chairs; he was pointing a blaster at the centre of Dalt’s chest. “Or how about Mr. Quet?” he continued with a self-assured smile, and Dalt noticed two other men, partly in shadow, standing behind-him. “Come now! Don’t just stand there. Come in and sit down. After all, this is your home.”

Eyeing the weapon that followed his every move, Dalt chose a chair opposite the intruders. “What do you want?”

“Why, your secret, of course. We thought you’d be out longer and had hardly begun our search of the premises when we heard your flitter hit the dock. Very rude of you to interrupt us.”

Dalt shook his head grimly at the thought of humans conspiring against their own race. “Tell your Tark friends that we’re no closer to piercing their force shields than we were when the war started.”

The dark man laughed with genuine amusement. “No, my friend, I assure you that our sympathies concerning the Terro-Tarkan war are totally orthodox. Your work at Star Ways is of no interest to us.”

“Then what do you want?” he repeated, his eyes darting to the other two figures; one a huge, steadfast hulk, the other slight and [104] fidgety. All three, like Dalt, wore the baggy cover-suits with matching peaked skullcaps currently in fashion in this end of the human part of the galaxy. “I keep my money in a bank, so –”

“Yes, I know,” the seated man interrupted. “I know which bank and I know exactly how much. And I also have a list of all the other accounts you have spread among the planets of this sector.”

“How in the name of –” The stranger held up his free hand and smiled. “None of us has been properly introduced. What shall We call you, sir? Which of your many aliases do you prefer?”

Dalt hesitated, then said, “Dalt,” grudgingly.

“Excellent! Now, Mr. Dalt, allow me to introduce Mr. Hunter” – indicating the hulk – “and Mr. Giff” – the fidget. “I am Aaron Kanlos and up until two standard years ago I was a mere president of an Interstellar Brotherhood of Computer Technicians local on Ragna. Then one of our trouble shooters working for the Tellalung Banking Combine came to me with an interesting anomaly and my life changed. I became a man with a mission: to find you.”

As Dalt sat in silence, denying Kanlos the satisfaction of being told to go on, Pard said, (“I don’t like the way he said that.”)

“I was told,” Kanlos finally went on, “that a man named Marten Quet had deposited a check from Interstellar Business Advisers into an account he had just opened. The IBA check cleared but the man didn’t.”

Again he looked to Dalt for a reaction. Finding a blank stare, he continued: “The computer, it seems, was insisting that this Mr. Quet was really a certain Mr. Galdemar and duly filed an anomaly slip which one of our technicians picked up. These matters are routine on a planet such as Ragna, which is a centre for intrigue in the interstellar business community; keeping a number of accounts under different names is the rule rather than the exception in those circles. So, the usual override code was fed in, but the machine still would not accept the anomaly. After running a negative check for malfunction, the technician ordered a full printout on the two accounts.” Kanlos smiled at this. “That’s illegal, of course, but his curiosity was piqued. The pique became astonishment when he read [105] the listings, and so naturally he brought the problem to his superior.”

(“I’m sure he did!”) Pard interjected, (“Some of these computer-union bosses have a tidy little blackmail business on the side.”)

Be quiet! Dalt hissed mentally.

“There were amazing similarities,” Kanlos was saying. “Even in the handwriting, although one was right-handed and the other obviously left-handed. Secondly, their fingerprints were very much alike, one being merely a distortion of the other. Both were very crude methods of deception. Nothing unusual there. The retinal prints were, of course, identical; that was why the computer had filed an anomaly. So why was the technician so excited? And why had the computer ignored the override code? As I said, multiple accounts are hardly unusual.” Kanlos paused for dramatic effect, then: “The answer was to be found in the opening dates of the accounts. Mr. Quet’s account was only a few days old... Mr. Galdemar’s had been opened two hundred years ago!”

“I was sceptical at first, at least until I did some research on retinal prints and found that two identical sets cannot exist. Even clones have variations in the vessels of the eyegrounds. So, I was faced with two possibilities: either two men generations apart possessed identical retinal patterns, or one man has been alive much longer than any man should be. The former would be a mere scientific curiosity; the latter would be of monumental importance.”

Dalt shrugged. “The former possibility is certainly more likely than the latter.”

“Playing coy, eh?” Kanlos smiled. “Well, let me finish my tale so you’ll fully appreciate the efforts that brought me to your home. Oh, it wasn’t easy, my friend, but I knew there was a man roaming this galaxy who was well over two hundred years old and I was determined to find him. I sent out copies of the Quet/Galdemar retinal prints to all the other locals in our union, asking them to see if they could find accounts with matching patterns. It took time, but then the reports began to trickle back – different accounts on different planets with different names and fingerprints, but always the same retinal pattern. There was also a huge trust fund – a truly staggering amount of credits – on the planet Myrna in the name of [106]

Cilo Storgen, who also happens to have the Quet/Galdemar pattern.

“You may be interested to know that the earliest record found was that of a man known simply as ‘Dalt,’ who had funds transferred from an account on Tolive to a bank on Neeka about two and a quarter centuries ago. Unfortunately, we have no local on Tolive, so we couldn’t backtrack from there. The most recent record was, of course, the one on Ragna belonging to Mr. Galdemar. He left the planet and disappeared, it seems. However, shortly after his disappearance, a Mr. Cheserak – who had the same retinal prints as Mr. Galdemar and all of the others, I might add – opened an account here on Meltrin. According to the bank, Mr. Cheserak lives here... alone.” Kanlos’s smile took on a malicious twist “Care to comment on this, Mr. Dalt?”

Dalt was outwardly silent but an internal dispute was rapidly coming to a boil.

Congratulations, mastermind!

(“Don’t go putting the blame on me!”) Pard countered. (“If you’ll just think back, you’ll remember that I told you –”)

You told me – guaranteed me, in fact that nobody’d ever connect all those accounts. As it turns out, you might as well have left a trail of interstellar beacons!

(“Well, I just didn’t think it was necessary to go to the trouble of changing our retinal print. Not that it would have been difficult – neovascularisation of the retina is no problem – but I thought changing names and fingerprints would be enough. Multiple accounts are necessary due to shifting economic situations, and I con- tend that no one would have caught on if you hadn’t insisted on opening that account on Ragna. I warned you that we already had an account there, but you ignored me.”)

Dalt gave a mental snort. I ignored you only because you’re usually so overcautious. I was under the mistaken impression that you could handle a simple. little deception, but

The sound of Kanlos’s voice brought the argument to a halt. “I’m waiting for a reply, Mr Dalt. My research shows that you’ve been around for two and a half centuries. Any comment?”

“Yes.” Dalt sighed. “Your research is inaccurate.” [107]

“Oh, really?” Kanlos’s eyebrows lifted. “Please point out my error, if you can.”

Dalt spat out the words with reluctant regret. “I’m twice that age.”

Kanlos half started out of his chair. “Then it’s true!” His voice was hoarse. “Five centuries... incredible!”

Dalt shrugged with annoyance. “So what?”

“What do you mean, so what?’ You’ve found the secret of immortality, trite as that phrase may be, and I’ve found you. You appear to be about thirty five years old, so I assume that’s when you began using whatever it is you use. I’m forty now and don’t intend to get any older; Am I getting through to you, Mr. Dalt?”

Dalt nodded. “Loud and clear.” To Pard: Okay, what do I tell . him?

(“How about the truth? That’ll be just about as useful to him as any fantastic tale we can concoct on the spur of the moment.”)

Good idea. Dalt cleared his throat. “If one wishes to become immortal, Mr. Kanlos, one need only take a trip to the planet Kwashi and enter a cave there. Before long, a slug-like creature will drop off the cave ceiling onto your head; cells from the slug will invade your brain and set up an autonomous symbiotic mind with consciousness down to the cellular level. In its own self-interest, this mind will keep you from aging or even getting sick. There is a slight drawback, however: Legend on the planet Kwashi has it that only one in a thousand will survive the ordeal. I happen to be one who did.”

“I don’t consider this a joking matter,” Kanlos said with an angry frown.

“Neither do I!” Dalt replied, his eyes cold as be rose to his feet. “Now I think I’ve wasted just about enough time with this charade. Put your blaster away and get out of my house1 I keep no money here and no elixirs of immortality or whatever it is you hope to find. So take your two –”

“That will be enough, Mr. Dalt!”  Kanlos shouted. He gestured to Hinter. “Put the cuff on him!”

The big man lumbered forward carrying a sack in his right hand. From it he withdrew a metal globe with a shiny cobalt surface that was interrupted only by an oval aperture. Dalt’s hands were inserted [108] there as Giff came forward with a key. The aperture tightened around Dalt’s wrists as the key was turned and the sphere suddenly became stationary in space. Dalt tried to pull it towards him but it wouldn’t budge; nor could he push it away. It moved freely, however, along a vertical axis.

(“A gravity cuff,”) Pard remarked. (“I’ve read about them but never expected to be locked into one.”)

What does it do?

(“Keeps you in one spot. It’s favoured by many law enforcement agencies. When activated, it locks onto an axis through the planet’s centre of gravity. Motion along that axis is unrestricted, but that’s it; you can’t go anywhere else. This seems to be an old unit. The newer ones are supposedly much smaller.”)

In other words, we’re stuck.


“... and so that ought to keep you safe and sound while we search the premises,” Kanlos was saying, his veneer of civility restored. “But Just to make sure that nothing happens to you,” he smiled, “Mr. Giff will stay with you.”

“You won’t find anything,” Dalt said doggedly, “because there isn’t anything to find.”

Kanlos eyed him shrewdly. “Oh, we’ll find something, all right. And don’t think I was taken in by your claim of being five hundred years old. You’re two hundred fifty and that’s about it – but that’s longer than any man should live. I traced you back to Tolive, which happens to be the main research centre of the Interstellar Medical Corps. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the trail ends there. Something was done to you there and I intend to find out what.”

“I tell you, nothing was

Kanlos held up a hand. “Enough! The matter is too important to bandy words about. I’ve spent two years and a lot of money looking for you and I intend to make that investment pay off. Your secret is worth untold wealth and hundreds of years of life to the man who controls it. If we find no evidence of what we’re looking for on the premises, we’ll come back to you, Mr. Dalt. I deplore physical violence and shall refrain from using it until I have no other choice. Mr. Hinter here does not share my repugnance for violence. If our [109] search of the lower levels is fruitless, he will deal with you.” So saying, he turned and led Hinter below.

Giff watched them go, then strode quickly to Dalt’s side. He made a hurried check of the gravcuff, seemed satisfied, then stole off to one of the darker corners of the room. Seating himself on the floor, he reached into his pocket and removed a silvery disk; with his left hand he pushed back his skullcap and parted the hair atop his head. The disk was attached here as Gill leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes. Soon, a vague smile began to play around his lips.

(“A button-head!”) Pard exclaimed.

Looks that way. This is a real high class crew we’re mixed up with. Look at him! Must be one of those sexual recordings.

Gill had begun to writhe on the floor, his legs twisting, flexing, and extending with pleasure.

(“I’m surprised you don’t blame yourself for it”)

I do, in a way –

(“Knew it!”)

even if it is a perversion of the circuitry we devised for electronic learning.

(“Not quite true. If you remember, Tyrrell’s motives for modifying the circuits from cognitive to sensory were quite noble. He – ”)

I know all about it, Pard.... The learning circuit and its sensory variation both had noble beginnings The original, on which Dalt’s patent had only recently expired, had been intended for use by scientists, physicians, and technicians to help them keep abreast of the developments in their sub – or sub-sub-specialties. With the vast amount of research and experimentation taking place across the human sector of the galaxy, it was not humanly possible to keep up to date and still find time to put your knowledge to practical use. Dalt’s (and Pard’s) circuitry supplied the major breakthrough in transmitting information to the cognitive centres of the brain at a rapid rate.

Numerous variations and refinements followed, but Dr. Rico Tyrrell was the first to perfect the sensory mode of transmission. He used it in a drug rehabilitation program to duplicate the sensory effects of addictive drugs, thus weaning his patients psychologically [110] off drugs after their physiological dependence was gone. The idea was quickly pirated, of course, and cassettes were soon available with sensory recordings of fantastic sexual experiences of all varieties.

Giff was whimpering now and flopping around on the floor.

(“He’s got to be a far-gone button-head to have to tune-in at a time like this... and right in front of a stranger, at that.”)

I understand some of those cassettes are as addictive as Zemmelar, and chronic users become impotent in real sexual contexts.

(“How come we’ve never tried one?”)

Dalt gave a mental sniff. I’ve never felt the need. And when the time comes that I need my head wired so I can get a little

There was a groan in the corner: Giff had reached the peak of the recording. His body was arched so that only his palms, his heels, and the back of his skull were in contact with the floor. His teeth were clamped on his lower lip to keep him from crying out. Suddenly he slumped to the floor, limp and panting.

That must be quite a cassette!

(“Most likely one of those new numbers that combines simultaneous male and female orgasms – the ultimate in sexual sensation.”)

And that’s all it is: sensation. There’s no emotion involved.

(“Right. Superonanism.”) Pard paused as they watched their sated guard. (“Do you see what’s hanging from his neck?”)

Yeah. A flamestone. So?

(“So it looks exactly like yours – a cheap imitation, no doubt, but the resemblance is remarkable. Ask him about it”)

Dalt shrugged with disinterest, then noticed Giff starring. “are you quite finished?”

The man groggily lifted his slight frame into a sitting position. “I disgust you, don’t I,” he stated with a low voice, keeping his eyes averted to the floor as he disconnected the cassette from his scalp.

“Not really, Dalt replied, and sincerity was evident in his voice. A few centuries ago he would have been shocked, but he had learned in the interim to view humanity from a more aloof vantage point – a frame of mind he had consciously striven for since his days as The Healer. It had been difficult to maintain at first, but as [111] the years slid by, that frame of mind had become a natural and necessary component of his psyche.

He didn’t despise Giff, nor did he pity him. Giff was merely one expression of the myriad possibilities open to human existence.

Dalt moved the gravcuffs downward and seated himself cross-legged on the floor. When Giff had stowed the cassette in a sealed compartment in his overalls, Dalt said, “That’s quite a gem you have tied around your neck. Where’d you steal it?”

The fidgety man’s eyes flashed uncharacteristically. “It’s mine! It may not be real but it’s mine. My father gave one to all his children, just as his own mother gave one to him.” He held out the stone and gazed at its inner glow.

“Hm!” Dalt grunted. “Looks just like mine.”

Giff rose to his feet and approached Dalt. “So you’re a Son of The Healer, too?”


“The stone... it’s a replica of the one The Healer wore centuries ago. All Children of The Healer wear one.” He was standing over Dalt now and as he reached for the cord around his neck, Dalt idly considered ramming the gravcuff upward into Giff’s face.

(“That won’t work,”) Pard warned. (“Even if you did manage to knock him unconscious, what good would it do us? Just play along; I want to hear more about these Children of The Healer.”)

So Dalt allowed Giff to inspect his flamestone as he sat motionless. “I’m no Son of The Healer. As a matter of fact, I wasn’t aware that The Healer ever had children.”

Giff let go of Dalt’s gem and let it dangle from its cord again. “Just a figure of speech. We call ourselves his children – great-great-great-grandchildren would be more accurate – because none of us would have been born if it hadn’t been for him.”

Dalt gave him a blank stare and Giff replied in an exasperated tone, “I’m a descendant of one of the people he cured a couple of hundred years ago. She was a victim of the horrors. And if The Healer hadn’t come along and straightened her out, she’d have been institutionalized for all her life; her two sons would never have been born, would never have had children of their own, and so on.” [112]

(“And you wouldn’t be here standing guard over us, idiot!”) Pard muttered.

“The first generation of Children of The Healer,” Giff went on, “was a social club of sorts, but the group soon became too large and too spread out. We have no organization now, just people who keep his name alive through their families and wear these imitation flamestones. The horrors still strikes everywhere and some say The Healer will return.”

“You believe that?” Dalt asked.

Giff shrugged. “I’d like to.” His eyes studied Dalt’s flamestone. “Your’s is real, isn’t it?”

Dalt hesitated for an instant, engaged in a lightning conference. Should I tell him?

(“I think it’s our only chance. It certainly won’t worsen our situation.”)

Neither Pard nor Dalt was afraid of physical violence or torture. With Pard in control of all physical systems, Dalt would feel no pain and could at any time assume a deathlike state – with a skin temperature cooled by intense vasoconstriction and cardiopulmonary activity slowed to minimal support levels.

Yeah. And I’d much prefer getting out of these cuffs and turning a few tables; to rolling over and playing dead.

(“That would gall me, too. Okay – play it to the hilt.”)

“It’s real, all right,” Dalt told Giff “It’s the original.”

Giff’s mouth twisted with scepticism. “And I’m president of the Federation.”

Dalt rose to his feet, lifting the gravcuff with him. “Your boss is looking for a man who’s been alive for two or three centuries, isn’t he? Well, I’m the man.”

“We know that.”

“I’m a man who never sickens, never ages... now what kind of a healer would The Healer be if be couldn’t heal himself. After all, death is merely the culmination of a number of degenerative disease processes.”

Giff mulled this over, accepting the logic but resisting the conclusion. “What about the patch of silver hair and the golden hand?” [113]

“Pull this skullcap off and take a look. Then get some liquor from the cabinet over there and rub it on my left wrist.”

After a full minute’s hesitation, wherein doubt struggled in the mire of the afterglow of the cassette, Giff accepted the challenge and cautiously pulled the skullcap from Dalt’s head. “Nothing! What are you trying –”

“Look at the roots,” Dalt told him. “You don’t think I can walk around with that patch un-dyed, do you?”

Giff looked. The roots in an oval patch at the top of Dalt’s head were a silvery gray. He jumped away from Dalt as if stung, then walked slowly around him, examining him as if he were an exhibit in a museum. Without a word, he went to the cabinet Dalt had indicated before and drew from it a flask of clear orange fluid.

“I... I’m almost afraid to try this,” he stammered, opening the container as he approached. He poised the bottle over Dalt’s wrists where they were inserted into the gravcuff, hesitated, then took a deep breath and poured the liquor. Most of it splashed on the floor, but a sufficient amount reached the target.

“Now rub,” Dalt told him.

Without looking up, Giff tucked the flask under his arm and began to massage the fluid into the skin of Dalt’s left wrist and forearm. The liquor suddenly became cloudy and flesh-coloured. Giff took a fold of his coveralls and wiped the solution away. From a sharp line of demarcation at the wrist on down over the back of the hand, the skin was a deep, golden yellow.

“You are The Healer!” he hissed, his eyes meeting Dalt’s squarely for the first time. “Forgive me! I’ll open the cuff right now.” In his frantic haste to retrieve the key from his coveralls, Giff allowed the liquor flask to slip from beneath his arm and it smashed on the floor.

“Hey! That was real glass!” Dalt said.

Giff ignored the crash and the protest. The key was in his hand and he was inserting it into its slot. The pressure around Dalt’s wrists was suddenly eased and as he pulled his hands free, Giff caught the now-deactivated cuff.

“Forgive me,” he repeated, shaking his head and fixing his eyes [114] on the floor. “If I’d had any idea that you might be The Healer, I would’ve had nothing to do with this, I swear! Forgive – ”

“Okay! Okay! I forgive you!” Dalt said hurriedly. “Now, do you have a blaster?”

Giff nodded eagerly, reached inside his coveralls, and handed over a small hand model, cheap but effective at close range.

“Good. Now all we’ve got to do –”

“Hey!” someone yelled from the other side of the room. “What’s going on?”

Dalt spun on reflex, his blaster raised. It was Hinter and he had his own blaster ready. There was a flash, then Dalt felt a searing pain as the beam from Hinter’s weapon burned a hole through his chest two centimetres to the left of his sternum. As his knees buckled, everything went black and silent.





Rushing to the upper level at the sound of Giff’s howl, Kanlos came upon a strange tableau: the prisoner – Dalt, or whatever his name was – was lying on his back with the front of his shirt soaked with blood and a neat round hole in his chest... very dead. Giff kneeled over him, sobbing and clutching the empty gravcuff to his abdomen; Hinter stood mutely to the side, blaster in hand.

“You fool!” he screamed, white-faced with rage. “How could you be so stupid!”

Hinter took an involuntary step backward. “He had a blaster! I don’t care how valuable a guy is, when he points a blaster in my direction, I shoot!”

Kanlos strode toward the body. “How’d he get a blaster?”

Hinter shrugged. “I heard something break up here and came to investigate. He was out of the cuff and holding the blaster when I came in.”

“Explain,” he said, nudging the sobbing Giff with his foot.

“He was The Healer!”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” [115]

“He was! He proved It to me.”

Kanlos considered this. “Well, maybe so. We traced him back to Tolive and that’s where The Healer first appeared. It all fits. But why did you let him loose?”

“Because I am a Son of The Healer!” Giff whispered. “And now I’ve helped kill him!”

Kanlos made a disgusted face. “Idiots! I’m surrounded by fools and incompetents! Now we may never find out how they kept him alive this long.” He sighed with exasperation. “All right. We’ve still got a few rooms left to search.”

Hinter turned to follow Kanlos. “What about him?” he said, indicating Giff.

“Useless button-head. Forget him.”

They went below, leaving Giff crouched over the body of The Healer.





(“C’mon. Wake up!”)

Wha’ happen?

(“Hinter burned a hole right through your heart, my friend.”)

Then how come I’m still alive?

(“Because the auxiliary heart I constructed in your pelvis a couple of hundred years ago has finally come in handy.”)

I never knew about that.

(“I never told you. You know how you get when I start making improvements.”)

I’ll never object again. But what prompted you to build another heart?

(“I’ve always been impressed by what happened to Anthon when you blasted a hole in his chest, and it occurred to me that it just wasn’t safe to have the entire circulatory system dependent on a single pump. So I attached the auxiliary organ to the abdominal aorta, grew a few bypass valves, and let it sit there... Just in case.”)

I repeat: I’ll never object again. [116]

(“Good. I’ve got a few ideas about the mineral composition of your bones that I – “)

Later. What do we do now?

(“We send the button-head home, then we take care of those two below. But no exertion; we’re working on only one lung.”

How about waiting for them with the blaster?

(“No. Better idea: Remember the sights we came across in the minds of all those people with the horrors?”)

I’ve never quite been able to forget.

(“Neither have I, and I believe I can recreate enough of them to fill this house with a concentrated dose of the horrors... concentrated enough to insure that those two never bother us or anyone else again.”)

Okay, but let’s get rid of Giff.





Without warning, the body in front of Giff suddenly rolled over and achieved a sitting position. “Stop that blubbering and get out of here,” it told him.

Giff’s mouth hung open as he looked at the obviously alive and alert man before him with the gory front and the hole in his chest where his heart should be. He looked torn between the urge to laugh with joy and scream with horror. He resolved the conflict by vomiting.

When his stomach had finally emptied itself, he was told to go to the roof, take the emergency chute down to the ground, and keep on going.

“Do not,” the body emphasized, “repeat: do not dally around the grounds if you value your sanity.”

“But how...” he began.

“No questions. If you don’t leave now I won’t be responsible for what happens to you.”

Without another word but with many a backward glance, Giff headed for the roof. At last look, he saw the body climb unsteadily to its feet and walk toward one of the chairs. [117]

Dalt sank into a chair and shook his head. “Dizzy!” He muttered.

(“Yeah. It’s a long way from the pelvis to the brain. Also, there’s some spasm in the aortic arch that I’m having trouble controlling. But we’ll be all right.”)

I’ll have to trust you on that. When do we start with the horrors?

(“Now. I’ll block you out because I’m not sure that even you can take this dose.”)

I was hoping you’d say that, Dalt thought with relief, and watched everything fade into formless greyness.

And from the bloody punctured body slumped in the chair, there began to radiate evil, terror, horror. A malignant trickle at first, then a steady stream, then a gushing torrent. The men below stopped their search and began to scream.





Dalt finished inspecting the lower rooms and was fully satisfied that the two gurgling, drooling, blank-eyed creatures that had once been Kanlos and Hinter were no longer a threat to his life and his secret. He walked outside into the cool night air in a vain attempt to soothe his labouring right lung and noticed a form slumped in the bushes.

It was Giff. From the contorted position of his body it was evident that he had fallen from the roof and broken his neck.

“Looks like this Son of The Healer couldn’t follow directions,” Dalt said. “Must’ve waited up on the roof and then went crazy when the horrors began and ran over the edge.”

(“Lot’s son.”)

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

(“Nothing. Just a distorted reference to an episode in an ancient religious book.”) Pard said, then switched the subject. (“You know, it’s amazing that there’s actually a cult of Healer-followers awaiting his return.”)

“Not really so amazing. We made quite an impression... and left a lot undone.”

(“Not because we wanted to. There was outside interference.”) [118]

“Right. But that won’t bother us now, with the war going on.”

(“You want to go back to it, don’t you?”)

“Yes, and so do you.”

(“Guess you’re right. I’d like to learn to probe a little deeper this time. And maybe find out whoever or whatever’s behind the horrors.”)

“You’ve hinted at that before. Care to explain?”

(“That’s all it is, I’m afraid: a hint... a glimpse of something moving behind the scenes. I’ve no theory, no evidence. Just a gnawing suspicion.”)

“Sounds a little farfetched to me.”

(“We’ll see. But first we’ll have to heal up this hole in the chest, get the original heart working again if I may quote you: ‘What kind of a healer would The Healer be if he couldn’t heal himself?’ and try to think up some dramatic way for The Healer to reappear.”)

After a quick change of clothes, they went to the roof and steered their flitter into the night, leaving it to the Meltrin authorities to puzzle out two babbling idiots, a broken button-head, and a respected physicist named Cheserak who had vanished without a trace. They blamed it on the Tarks, of course. [119]

END PART TWO: Heal thy Neighbour - Healer by F. Paul Wilson - 1976
eEd tobagojo@gmail.com - March to May 2011 - TT
20110325 - 20110601