Read Dreamfall Online

Authors: Joan D. Vinge

Dreamfall (page 25)

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Miya walked beside me, our bodies touching; I felt her keepingtrack of Joby’s pace and mine. There were doorways along the corridor. Most oftheir ancient, metal-bossed doors stood open, revealing small unadorned roomsthat reminded me of Grandmother.

I shied from her memory looking straight ahead as Miya ledus into another large chamber. ft was echoingly empty, like all the rest hadbeen. At its far end I saw a balcony opening on more reaches of sky.

It occurred to me then to be surprised I wasn’t colder,because I knew how cold it had been outside. As we stepped onto the balcony Ifelt the soft whisper of some kind of energy field and realized that somewherehere was centuries-old Hydran technology that still functioned, without theinput of Miya or anyone else.

And then I forgot even that as I reached the featurelesswall at the balcony’s edge. The sanctuary sat on a ledge halfway up the nearlysheer wall of a cliff in the same untouched reef the research team had come tostudy. I looked out and down, up aga1n, before the river-eaten depths below mehad time to really register. The walls of the monastery flowed into themountain wall above us; the incredible landscape of the eroded reef matrix layall around us. I sucked in a breath, inhaling beauty, even as I searched thehorizon for Tau Rivertor, for anything from the world we’d left behind.

(We’re two hundred kilometers from Riverton,) Miya thought.(Deep in the Homeland. The Humans never come out this far; even our own peoplehave almost abandoned the interior, since there ate so few of us now ... sincethe an lirr abandoned us.)

I took another deep breath; let it out in a sigh. At thelimits of my sight the reefs finally ended, their surreal topography flowingout onto a barren Plain.

I let my gaze drop again and saw a bridge spanning theravine. Below the monastery there was a narrow footpath worn into the sheerslope of the cliffside. I remembered Hanjen walking out from Freaktown to hismeeting with Grandmother. I wondered whether Hydrans had once made pilgrimagesall the way to this place on foot.

(I don’t knoW) Miya answered. (I only know that visitors approachedthe shue on foot if they were able to walk. And they left on foot when theywere healed.)

Joby hung on the balcony wall, doing his best to imitate thehigh skreeling of the taku that sailed in and out above our heads. I watchedhim watching them, watched him laugh and move in ways that I’d taken forgranted all my life. I felt sourceless wonder fill me again. (What’s happenedto us here ... does it last? If we leave this place, do we ... change back?)

She looked down, and I didn’t really need an answer. I sworesoftly under my breath. She touched my artn, anchoring me in the present. (Someof it lasts,) she thought gently. (The longer we can stay, the more the changeswill imprint. Your mind is free here; you’re free to heal your mind the way you’vehealed your body, if—)

(If—?) I thought, when she didn’t go on.

(If you have enough faith.)

(Faith?) I thought. The only thing I believed in was rhecosmic rule that said if anything could go wrong, it would. (It’s against myreligion.) I glanced away, ffiy mouth twisting.

(Faith in yourself is all the faith you need.) As I turnedback, she looked in through my eyes like I’d suddenly become transparent. (You’venever trusted yourself the way you’ve trusted me ....) Her mind filled with akind of wonder.

(What about Joby?) I glanced at him, suddenly needing an excuseto look away.

I felt her surprise turn to a pang of disappointment.(Freedom to heal is what I wanted this place to give him too,) she said evenly.But her thoughts had shifted, withdrawing. I felt seeds of panic sprout insideme as the fear of losing her, and losing my psi again, made my control slip asmy mind huddled down into the dark place where there was no pain, nobetrayal—nothing left to lose.

Miya kept her eyes on Joby, but I felt the effort it costher to let me retreat without following. (He wants this so much ....) She wenton like I couldn’t sense her strain, like I didn’t know that she knew exactlywhat was going on inside me. (But for him it’s a matter of patterning,imprinting. How well the patterning will last depends on how long he can stayhere—Jobyl)Her mind called out suddenly, sharply, as he scrambled upthe rough wall of the balcony to teeter near its top, reaching up. He swayed,startled, even as she disappeared from beside me with a thought, reappearedbeside him, holding out her arms as he toppled back into them. (Go slowly, myheart!) she thought, rocking him gently, kissing the top of his head. Hesquirmed, but he didn’t try to escape.

I wondered what Joby’s parents would think if they could seehi* now ... \ryondered what they were thinking right now. I rested against thecold stone beside the doorway, trying to forget my own mind and its problems,as a wave of dizziness warned me I was pushing my body too hard.

Miya glanced at me. She let Joby go again. A cold gust ofwind whipped her hair across her face; she brushed it away like tears as Jobymoved uncertainly toward me and caught at my anns.

I held on to him, barely, swallowing a grunt of pain as thecollision with his body seerned to jar every half-healed bone and ligament inmy owrl.

Joby sucked in his breath like he was the one in pain as Ilet him go, settling him on his feet.

(Catl) he cried, hanging on my pants leg. (You hurt! Youhurt—?)

“No, it’s all ri—” I broke off, staring down at him. Ilooked up at Miya, back at Joby again. “What ... what did you say?” (What didhe say? Miya—?)

“It’s okay?” Joby repeated, pulling at the ruins of my coat.

I kneeled down beside him, nodding, stroking his hair as Ilooked into his eyes—wide brown eyes with perfectly round Human pupils. (It’s okay.I’m okay.) I watched his face ease.He was reading my thoughts .... Ihadn’t just imagined before that his mind seemed as open to me as Miya’s. I satdown, because it was easier, and he sat down beside me, mimicking my everymove. Miya crossed the balcony to us, limned by brightness. (What’s going on?)I asked. (You can’t tell me the reefs made him a telepath—)

(Yes, I can,) she said quietly. (But not yesterday. Beforehe was born.)

I stared at her. (You’re saying—the accident, when hismother ... that changed him?)

She nodded.

(That’s im—) I broke off as another taku sailed over myhead, and Joby pulled himself up to follow it. (Do his parents know? Doesanyone?)

She shook her head. (I was afraid to tell them.) She gazedout across the reefs. (I didn’t know what they’d do ... what Tau would do.)

I grimaced. If Tau knew something in the reefs could do thatto a Human fetus—accidentally or otherwise—who knew how they’d react: whetherthey’d try to synthesize and exploit whatever had played shuffle-brain withJoby’s mind or whether they’d want to destroy all evidence of something theymight see as a threat that could panic their entire population. Either way, Ididn’t see it meaning anything but grief for Joby. (Is his being a psion whatlets you work with him like you did?)

She shook her head, squatting down beside me, out of thewind. Her eyes tracked Joby wherever he went. (Sometimes it makes it harder. Hecan resist me, resist himself, without meaning to, in ways he’s too young tounderstand. But if he can learn to control his Gift, it will rnake learning touse his body that much easier. He could have a normal life ....)

“Then you’d better teach him how to hide his psi too ....” Isaid out loud. I dropped back into telepathic speech, without being able tolose the bitterness, (If you really want him to have a nonnal life in a combineworld.)

She looked at me, her gaze both sharp and full of sympathy.She glanced away again.

“Hungry,” Joby announced, coming back to plop down betweenuS. “Momffiy, hungry—” He pointed at his stomach.

Miya’s face flickered, showing him a smile that wasn’t inher thoughts. “Come or, then.” She picked up a pot that sat stonelike in theshadows against the wall. I realized there were other bags and containers linedup on the balcony, bulging with supplies. Miya took Joby’s hand. She glancedback at me, waiting while I got my own feet under me.

“Where did you get the food?” I asked.

“In town.”

“How?”

“I had some money put away.”

“You accessed your credit line?” I said, incredulous. “They’llttace 5log—”

She held up her bare wrist, a silent rebuttal. “Markers. I’vebeen careful,” she murrnured, leading us back through the monastery. Wefollowed a curving, timeworn tunnel to a lower level of the building, to whatmust have been its kitchen once. She set the pot down on the surface ofsomething I didn’t recognize as a cook unit until a hinged metal door openedsilently in its side.

“Me!” Joby said. “I do it!”

“No,” Miya answered, like she’d said it too many timesbefore. “Too hard. When you’re older.” She reached in through the opening, palmout, interacting with a technology far older than the force screen we’d justleft behind us, but in a piece of hardware that looked much newer. I felt herbegin to gather energy, drawing it in, focusing it, directing it, her faceclenched with strain.

The air around us seemed to grow colder as I waited,watching like Joby did, both of us as still as if we were hypnotized. Finallythere was a sharpcrackand a blaze of lightlheat from inside the stove’sbelly. Miya jerked her hand back, slamming the grate, breathing hard. She wipedher forehead with a soot-covered hand, wiping away sweat, leaving a blacksmear. (It rnust get easier with practice,) she thought ruefully==I wiped thesmear of ash gently from her face and took her blackened hand in mind. Her handwas ice-cold; she shivered, standing close to the heat the stove was beginningto put out, like lighting it had drained her own body heat.

“What about your sister?” I asked, finally, as her hands warmedand color came back into her face. “Did you see her in town?”

She looked up at me. (No ...) she whispered, her reluctancealmost suffocating the word. There was fear inside her, but not fear of Naoh. Irealized suddenly that she was afraid of learning what had happened to me, whatNaoh had done after she’d taken Joby away ... after she’d abandoned lre, again.Because she knew how it had ended.

(Don’t,) I thought. (Don’t blame yourself. You made theright choice.)

(What did she do?) she asked at last, blinking too much==(She... they ...) Suddenly I was floundering out of my depth inrage/disgust/humiliation.They’d done to me exactly what Humans had alwaYs done.

“Nothing,” I mumbled. “I don’t remember. They just dumped mein the middle of nowhere.”

“Bian.” Miya caught at my afin; I moved out of reach.

“Hungry—” Joby began to chant impatiently, trying to drownout emotions he sensed but couldn’t understand. “Hungry. Hungry, hungry—”

Miya hushed him with a distracted thought, sent him away tofetch bowls. “Cat.” She used my Human name== more hesitantly, when I didn’tanswer. “Tell me.” Her hand closed over my arm this time, tightened, notletting me go.

My own hand closed over Wauno’s medicine pouch. Her glancewent to it; I saw her incomprehension. Looking down, I forced myself to open mymind, setting free the memories of how Naoh had used me to get what she wanted.

I felt Miya’s mind pull apart the nested layers of Naoh’s revengeuntil she found its heart: the betrayal that Naoh felt every time she looked atus and looked into my eyes. Hydran eyes in a too-Human face, in a too-Humanbody that was helpless against her ....

Miya lost control, slipped and fell through my memories intoher own:Memories of the things that Naoh had done, the choices she ‘d made,because of Navt,t ... of Hydrans and Humans, love and hate, nasheirtah, andnamaste—

(What about Naoh and Navu?) I demanded. (What about them—?)

Miya cried out; or maybe it was only what happened in myhead then that blistered my reeling thoughts.

I broke free, swearing, and left the room. I blunderedthrough the darkened halls of the empty monastery until my body couldn’t go on.It gave out, finally, tt the entrance to a room with no windows, no skylights,only that single opening, so low that I hit my head on it, swearing again as Ientered. I sat down with my back against a wall and covered my face with myhands.It was impossible—to live the way I’d lived, to have been Humanfor so long, and not have secrets you never wanted to see the light of day==Impossibleto share everything—evenif it meant losing everything. I wondered whetherit was really possible for anyone, even the Hydrans ....

I sat in the dark for a long time with all my senses onhold, letting need and futility play their circle game until they drained thelast of my strength.

And then someone touched my shoulder. I looked up, expectingMiya—found Joby staring back at me with something like awe. His grinning faceglowed with colored light. The abstract patterns shifted as he craned his neckto peer past me. “Look!” he said, pointing. “Look what you made.”

I looked over my shoulder, realiztng that the room wasn’tdark anymore; it was filled with eerie luminescence. My breath caught as I sawthe wall behind me—the multicolored imprint of my body shining in the dark,neon colors bleeding outward from the contact point. “Damn ...” r whispered, indisbelief.

Joby pressed his hands against the wall. Glowing handprintsset off colors that spread in all directions from his touch. He pressed

DKEAMF’ALL / 529

his whole body against the wall, giggling as he flung hisanns wide, flattening his nose as he set off more luminescence, sending hiscolors rippling outward until they collided with my own.

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