Whipping Star

Chapter Fifteen

Learning a language represents training in the delusions of that language.

- Gowachin Aphorism

Cheo, the ego-frozen PanSpechi, stared out across the forest toward sunset over the sea. It was good, he thought, that the Ideal World contained such a sea. This tower Mliss had ordered built in a city of lesser buildings and spires commanded a view which included also the distant plain and far away mountains of the interior.

A steady wind blew against his left cheek, stirred his yellow hair. He wore green trousers and an open-mesh shirt of dull gold and gray. The clothing gave a subtle accent to his humanoid appearance, revealing the odd ripples of alien muscles here and there about his body.

An amused smile occupied his mouth, but not his eyes. He had PanSpechi eyes, many-faceted, glistening - although the facets were edge-faded by his ego-surgery. The eyes watched the insect movements of various sentients on streets and bridgeways below him. At the same time, they reported on the sky overhead (a faraway flock of birds, streamers of sunset clouds) and told him of the view toward the sea and the nearby balustrade.

We're going to pull it off, he thought.

He glanced at the antique chronograph Mliss had given him. Crude thing, but it showed the sunset hour. They'd had to disengage from the Taprisiot mindclock system, though. This crude device showed two hours to go until the next contact. The S'eye controls would be more accurate, but he didn't want to move.

They can't stop us.

But maybe they can. . . .

He thought about McKie then. How had the BuSab agent found this place? And finding it, how had he come here? McKie sat in the Beachball with the Caleban right now - bait, obviously. Bait!

For what?

Cheo did not enjoy the contradictory emotions surging back and forth through him. He had broken the most basic PanSpechi law. He had captured his creche's ego and abandoned his four mates to a mindless existence terminating in mindless death. A renegade surgeon's instruments had excised the organ which united the pentarchal PanSpechi family across all space. The surgery had left a scar on Cheo's forehead and a scar on his soul, but he had never imagined he would find such delicate relish in the experience.

Nothing could take the ego from him!

But he was alone, too.

Death would end it, of course, but all creatures had that to face.

And thanks to Mliss, he had a retreat from which no other PanSpechi could extricate him . . . unless . . . but there'd be no other PanSpechi, very soon. There'd be no other organized sentients at all, except the handful Mliss had brought here to her Ark with its mad Boers and Blacks.

Abnethe came hurrying onto the observation deck behind him. His ears, as multiplanar in discrimination as his eyes, marked the emotions in her footsteps - boredom, worry, the constant fear which constricted her being.

Cheo turned.

She had been to a Beautybarber, he observed. Red hair now crowned her lovely face. McKie had red hair, too, Cheo reminded himself. She threw herself onto a reclining chairdog, stretched her legs.

"What's your hurry?" he asked.

"Those Beautybarbers!" she snapped. "They want to go home!"

"Send them."

"But where will I find others?"

"That is a proper problem, isn't it?"

"You're making fun of me, Cheo. Don't."

"Then tell them they can't go home."

"I did."

"Did you tell them why?"

"Of course not! What a thing to say!"

"You told Furuneo."

"I learned my lesson. Where are my legal people?"

"They've already gone."

"But I had other things to discuss with them!"

"Won't it wait?"

"You knew we had other business. Why'd you let them go?"

"Mliss, you don't really want to know the other matter on their minds."

"The Caleban's to blame," she said. "That's our story, and no one can disprove it. What was the other matter the legal numbheads wanted to discuss?"

"Mliss, drop it."


His PanSpechi eyes glittered suddenly. "As you wish. They conveyed a demand from BuSab. They have asked the Caleban for Furuneo's head."

"His . . ." She paled. "But how did they know we . . ."

"It was an obvious move under the circumstances."

"What did you tell them?" she whispered. She stared at his face.

"I told them the Caleban closed the S'eye jumpdoor just as Furuneo was entering it of his own volition."

"But they know we have a monopoly on that S'eye," she said, her voice stronger. "Damn them!"

"Ahhh," Cheo said, "but Fanny Mae has been moving McKie and his friends around. That says we have no monopoly."

"That's exactly what I said before. Isn't it?"

"It gives us the perfect delaying tactic," he said. "Fanny Mae sent the head somewhere, and we don't know where. I've told her, of course, to deny this request.

She swallowed. "Is that . . . what you told them?"

"Of course."

"But if they question the Caleban . . ."

"They're just as likely to get a confusing answer as a usable one."

"That was very clever of you, Cheo."

"Isn't that why you keep me around?"

"I keep you around for mysterious reasons of my own," she said, smiling.

"I depend on that," he said.

"You know," she said, "I'll miss them."

"Miss who?"

"The ones who hunt us."

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