Whipping Star

Chapter Twenty-Six

The most common use of abstraction is to conceal contradictions. It must be noted that the abstracting process has been demonstrated to be infinite.

- Culture Lag, an unpublished work by Jorj X. McKie

At some indeterminate moment, and that soon, the Caleban was going to be lashed by a whip, and it would die. The half-mad possibility was about to become apocalyptic reality, and their sentient universe would end.

McKie stood disconsolately in Tuluk's personal lab, intensely aware of the mob of enforcer guards around, them.

"Go with love."

The computer console above Tuluk's position at the bench flickered and chittered.

Even if they identified Fanny Mae's star, what could they do with that new knowledge? McKie asked himself. Cheo was going to win. They couldn't stop him.

"Is it possible," Tuluk asked, "that the Calebans created this universe? Is this their 'garden patch'? I keep remembering Fanny Mae saying it would uncreate us to be in her presence."

He leaned against his bench, mandibles withdrawn, face slit open just enough to permit him to speak.

"Why's the damn computer taking so long?" McKie demanded.

"The pulse problem's very complicated, McKie. The comparison required special programming. You haven't answered my question."

"I don't have an answer! I hope those numbies we left in the Beachball know what to do."

"They'll do what you told them to do," Tuluk chided. "You're a strange sentient, McKie. I'm told you've been married more than fifty times. Is it a breach of good manners to discuss this?"

"I never found a woman who could put up with a Saboteur Extraordinary," McKie muttered. "We're hard creatures to love."

"Yet the Caleban loves you."

"She doesn't know what we mean by love!" He shook his head. "I should've stayed at the Beachball."

"Our people will interpose their own bodies between the Caleban and any attacks," Tuluk said. "Would you call that love?"

"That's self-preservation," McKie snarled.

"It's a Wreave belief that all love is a form of self-preservation," Tuluk said. "Perhaps this is what our Caleban understands."


"It's a probability, McKie, that you've never been overly concerned about self-preservation, thus have never really loved."

"Look! Would you stop trying to distract me with your babbling nonsense?"

"Patience, McKie. Patience."

"Patience, he says!"

McKie jerked himself into motion, paced the length of the lab, the guardian enforcers dodging out of his way. He returned to Tuluk, stooped. "What do stars feed on?"

"Stars? Stars don't feed."

"She inhales something here, and she feeds here," McKie muttered. He nodded. "Hydrogen."

"What's this?"

"Hydrogen," McKie repeated. "If we opened a big enough jumpdoor. . . . Where's Bildoon?"

"He's conferring with the Consent representative over our high-handed actions in quarantining the Beautybarbers. It's also a distinct possibility that our dealings with the Taprisiots have leaked out. Governments do not like this sort of action, McKie. Bildoon is trying to save your skin and his own."

"But there's plenty of hydrogen," McKie said.

"What is this of jumpdoors and hydrogen?"

"Feed a cold and starve a fever," McKie said.

"You are not making sense, McKie! Did you take your angeret and normalizers?"

"I took 'em!"

The computer's readout chamber made a chewing sound, spewed forth a quadruple line of glowing characters which danced in the chamber and resolved themselves into legible arrangements. McKie read the message.

"Thyone," Tuluk said, reading over his shoulder.

"A star in the Pleiades," McKie said.

"We call it Drnlle," Tuluk said. "See the Wreave characters in the third row? Drnlle."

"Any doubt of this identification?"

"You joke."

"Bildoon!" McKie hissed. "We have to try it!"

He spun around, pounded out of the lab, dodged through Tuluk's assistants in the outer area. Tuluk darted in his wake, drawing their enforcer guardians into a thin line close behind.

"McKie!" Tuluk called. "Where are you going?"

"To Bildoon . . . then back to Fanny Mae."

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