Voyager in night, p.7
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       Voyager in Night, p.7

           C. J. Cherryh
 
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  Is it somewhere still inside you?

  Is it alive in me?

  "I've tried to get out," she said.

  "What do you mean, tried to get out?”

  She nodded toward the dark in general, or in a particular direction. "A few paces off-there's just

  a wall." She hugged her knees against her, tight, muscles rigid in her arms. "It's got us penned here. That's what.”

  He stood up and tried, all round, but it was like hitting some painless wall of force, insubstantial and absolute at once. He battered it with his fist, and his arm simply stopped short, impotent and forceless.

  "Aaaaaaiiiiiieeeeeee!" something wailed, just the other side.

  "God!" he said, and staggered back, crouched down in primate tuck, shoulders hunched, facing the barrier with Jillan at his back. He felt vulnerable so, deliberately kept staring into the dark, determined to believe in her, that it was Jillan behind him.

  Sister, he thought, sister. They had called him the Old Man, she had. Paul had. The thinker, captain, planner, head-of-family, for all he was only twenty-two. He had outright failed them, all down the line; and he saw it now, how they had looked to him, Paul in his way, Jillan in hers, because he told her he could do it all for her and Paul, and she trusted that he could. She handed her life and future to him-Here, brother, I've got what I need; I've got Paul: you take us, and do something, make something of yourself and us-

  -merchanter-man, who was nothing without his ship, his sister to give it children-

  He was not sure of Jillan now. He was not sure of Paul. If Jillan was truly gone nothing mattered, not even Paul.

  But he would, he discovered, go on fighting, as long as it was not Jillan herself who struck the blow. Being a merchanter brat, he had a certain stubbornness: that was all he could call it at this point, a certain rock-hardness at the center that did not know where to quit.

  Not revenge. That was nothing. It was Murray-stubbornness, that lasted through the War, the mines, Lindy's making, the Belt. He had always wondered if there was anything in him but Jillani

  Now he knew.

  And he was, he thought with a jolt that ached, only the merest shadow of the man. The real substance of him was back in the lighted corridor, waiting for him, depending on him.

  Two of us, he thought, and it occurred to him that, being Old Man, he still had one living crewman to protect. He was father to one at least. Himself.

  "Rafe's our business," he said to Jillan at his back. "You understand me. Not me-Rafe. The other one. They can still hurt him. We've got to do something.”

  "You got an idea?" she asked. No protest. That other Rafe was her brother too, the living one. "You got an idea?”

  "No," he said, "just a priority. Paul's no worse off than we are. No better either. But our brother” It was easier to think of Rafe that way. "They're going to some trouble in his case. They saw to it that we found him. Didn't they? That wasn't accident.”

  "There's still the outside chance, like Rafe says-they're not altogether hostile. Maybe we can't figure the way they think. Maybe they're too different."

  He twisted on his knees and looked back at her, snatching up a hope from that innocence of events. "I met one," he said. "It wore your shape.”

  Jillan blinked rapidly in shock, stared at him, seeming then to put things together.

  "I figure you'd better know that," he said, "so you don't trust everything you see. It hurt. Quite a bit. Like at the beginning. It's still got us here, wherever here is.”

  The shock was real in her eyes. He saw that.

  "Paul and Rafe," she said, putting that together too. "It can get at them that way.”

  <> was pleased in O's acquisition. It had been a question whether to shock Rafe Two with any kind of contact, any apprehension at all of his circumstances before securing his template, but <> had decided in the affirmative. The second Rafe-mind's difference was precisely, after all, its knowledge, its adjustment to the environment more extensive than Rafe One's. And the Jillan-face provided a certain insulation in the contact.

  <> tried out what <> had gained, this Rafe with a little bit of knowledge where he was and what he was. The flexibility was greater. <> had hoped for that.

  The solitude was worst, the long, gnawing away of expectations until the loss of the most dreadful fear seemed like the parting of a cherished possession, leaving increasingly remote and strange possibilities.

  One could only pace so much, eat so often, meddle with the few active circuits Lindy had left just so many hours, and bathe and sleep and bathe and sleep and make-work at the console, like the visual analysis of stars, the infinite working of infinite problems, calculation of space and acceleration and distances given things that would never, from his vantage, ever be true. But those hypotheses filled the mind and kept it focused, for a little while, on sane outcomes.

  Rafe worked at guesses, had pegged several high-magnitude stars, two of which were conspicuous, almost touching. He tried one and another theoretical perspective on them, tormented himself with hopeful and despairing suppositions.

  "Hey!" he shouted at the winding corridor more than once, frustrated and desperate. But no sound came back, from either direction.

  He called the others' names; he called his own, and had nothing but silence.

  "You can't take them away," he muttered to himself, to God, to whatever ran this place, and bowed his head on the console. Finally, which he had never yet done, he truly mourned his dead and sobbed hysterically.

  Even that wore thin. There was only so much grief, so much anger, not even so much as when he and Jillan were orphaned. Then there had been guilt-a child's kind of guilt-Maybe if I'd been good they'd be alive-

  It's my fault. I should have loved them more-^

  There was no guilt here. Not with Jillan and Paul. He sat there with the last of the tears still cold on his face and judged that whatever mistakes they had made, they were paying for all of it together; Jillan and Paul's being dead was not

  final but drawn-out, shared, a life-in-death which still could make jokes about its state, shed tears for itself, know fears for the future. The same thing waited for him, he reckoned, when whatever-it-was got around to his case.

  It's going to do that soon; they don't want to watch what happens to me.

  Or maybe they're just gone. Turned off, of no more use.

  No pain that way, at least.

  And at last, all but sobbing in self-pity, he thought: But Rafe's afraid to die.

  He shuddered away from that entanglement and wiped his face with both his hands until the tears went down.

  He thought of taking another long, long walk. His bruises had gone to livid green by now. He was stronger. He might take food, fill his pockets with it, use a plastic bag for a canteen--just walk, walk until he ran out of everything and those in charge had to do something about him, either meet him face to face or let him die.

  But: Come to the ship, he had told his doppel-ganger. Perhaps their time sense was different. Maybe for them it was only a little while. If he left they might come and he would never know.

  He flung himself down against the wall where he often sat and just stared at Lindy's remains, not looking down the corridors which led into the dark.

  "Rafe," his own voice said.

  He started half to his feet, braced against the wall, levered himself the rest of the way up. "Where have you been?" It came out harsh. He had not meant that. He was all but shaking, facing his naked self, which stood over against the dark of the corridor. "Did you find them?”

  "Were you worried?”

  "Was I worried? Don't joke with me, man. I'm not laughing. Where are they?”

  The doppelganger pointed, vaguely up and off beyond the walls. "There.”

  "They won't come?”

  "Paul's not coping well with this.”

  He let go his breath, found his hands shaking, walked over to the console and sat down, firmly, in a place he knew. "Not coping well.”
/>
  "Not at all.”

  "Jillan?”

  "Better. She's all right.”

  "She's with him.”

  The doppelganger shook his head. "No. She's not.”

  "Cut the riddles. Where's Jillan?”

  "You're upset.”

  "God, what's wrong-wrong with you?”

  "Nothing's wrong.”

  "I know what it's like-talking to myself; I do know; and you don't follow my lead, not half right” He put himself on his feet, leaning on Lindy's board. "What are you?”

  The doppelganger winked out.

  "What are you?" Rafe screamed after it. He hit the useless board. "Jil-lan!”

  And he sat down again, fell into his seat, trembling from head to foot.

  "Clever," said the doppelganger voice, off to his side.

  He spun the chair, faced it where he sat. It stood over by the EVApod, dimmer, for the light was brighter there.

  "You," he said to it, gathering up his mind, "you're the one I've been wanting to get in reach. Why don't you come in here in person?”

  "You want to kill me.”

  "Maybe." He sucked in a copper-edged breath and stood up. "Where's my sister? Where's Paul?”

  "The physical entities? Dead. I tried to hold them. They died.”

  "Dead. And their copies” He did not want to admit how much it meant, but his knees were weak. He held onto the counter. "Do they still exist?”

  "Oh, yes.”

  "Bring them here.”

  "I'll let them loose again. Soon. I came to talk with you.”

  "Why?" he asked, staring at the mirrored face before the blank visage of the EVApod. "To say what? What shape is Rafe going to be in? Do I get my own doppelganger back?”

  "Yes. He's safe. Is that a concern to you?”

  He did not answer. It already knew weaknesses enough in him; it wore his doppelganger like a skin. He straightened his back and moved back to the console, turned around again. "Why not your own shape?”

  "It would distress you.”

  "You think this doesn't?”

  "A question of degree.”

  "You're not very like us.”

  "No. I'm not." "You're fluent.”

  The image blinked. "It did take time.”

  "How did you do it? How did you learn?”

  "It would distress you. Say that I know you pretty well. From inside. I have a lot of your character right now.”

  "And my memories?”

  "That too.”

  Rafe sank again into the chair, wiped a hand across his mouth to still the tic that plagued him. "And the way I think about things. I don't suppose you've got that too.”

  "There is a great deal of congruency at present. I've walled off some of myself; that's the nearest analogue. I'm larger. Smarter. Far more educated.”

  "Modest too.”

  The doppelganger grinned.

  "God," Rafe said, "a sense of humor." It sent a chill up his back, lent him other thoughts. "You can feel anything I'd feel. Do you?”

  "Everything.”

  "Like-loving them. Like that.”

  "I do.”

  He sat silent a moment, trying not to shiver.

  "While I'm you," it said. "In my full mind there are other considerations, I assure you. But within this configuration, I do love them. I understand perfectly what you mean.”

  "You hurt us. Do you know that?”

  "You can assume I remember. You don't have to ask. You're concerned about your safety, about the others. Let me destroy your illusions”

  "Don't. Please. Don't."

  "Not those." The mouth twisted in a smile that left no residue of humor. "Not physically. . . .”

  had made a move. In the rest of <>'s mind, extended elsewhere in the ship, <> was well aware of this. gained access to apparatus could not otherwise have touched, and grew suddenly knowledgeable. It was the file on the intruders had gotten. gained sudden capability.

  "Help," (#) cried, rushing through the ship. "Help, help!”

  "I told you so," said <->.

  ". . . but I won't tell you any more than you really have to know, if you'd rather not. I do mean to take you back.”

  "Where?”

  "To the star where I found you.”

  "Is this a game?" Rafe's heart was beating hard. "Why? Why do that?”

  "A capsule with a beacon. They'll pick you up, so this mind believes.”

  "Why go to the trouble?”

  "Why not? Harm to me? I don't think they could.”

  "You're lying.”

  There was long silence. "I understand your caution. Believe me. I do understand.”

  "More humor.”

  The mouth-his own-quirked up in a touch of mirth. "It doesn't depend on your belief anyway.”

  "You mean you'll do what you like.”

  "Aaaaiimiiiii!" The sound began from far away; it roared closer and closer, speakers coming alive right overhead and fading away again, lightning-fast, blinding pain that hit and left: Rafe leaped up, trembling in its wake.

  "Is that for effect?”

  "That one's mad," the doppelganger said. "And a little upset right now. Don't let it trouble you.”

  "Sure. Sure I won't. Cheap trick, hear? Like all the rest. Real cheap.”

  "I'll leave now. Something wants my attention. A minor thing. But I'll put in somewhere soon at a human port and drop you off. Don't worry for the jump drugs. I don't know the composition of what you take. You don't. But I can make you sleep; that should be enough.”

  "Why does it matter? You've killed two people, damn you! Why does it matter now?”

  "Because it's easy," the doppelganger said, and faded out altogether.

  "Why?" he yelled after it until his voice cracked. He fell down into the chair, being alone again, in the silence. "Rafe?" he said aloud, querulously, hoping for the old one, the friendly one. "Jillan?" And last and with least hope: "Paul?”

  No one answered. No one came. He was scared finally, finally terrified for himself, sitting and staring at nothing at all.

  Going home, he thought. With human beings. Living ones. He did not believe it. He did not believe it loved. He did not believe it told the truth at all, or that it cared.

  But there remained the possibility.

  There remained the greater likelihood it had other motives. And it wore a human shape and used a human mind.

  * * *

  "Paul," said, having penetrated the barriers <> had imposed about the stranger, having, momentarily, seized control of that territory. "Paul."

  And took the Rafe-image on self.

  "You're awake," Paul said. "You're awake.”

  "Paul," said, getting to 's human feet. "Paul." had that word down pat. snatched Paul in 's borrowed arms and carried him rapidly out through barriers, along passages.

  Paul screamed, and stopped screaming, simply clinging to what he feared, a logic that , in Rafe's mind, understood with curious poignancy.

  <> was too late to prevent the theft.

  <> simply recreated the Paul-simulacrum of which <> had been robbed and left him asleep in a safer place, far inside <>'s boundaries.

  Paul was not a serious loss. Paul had never adjusted and likely never would, but <> was still nettled.

  "<> wish you success," <> taunted , for <> had shed the Rafe-mind and felt differently about many things.

  There was a division in Trishanamarandu-kepta. It had happened long ago. There was a place where did very much as pleased; and another where <> was the law. This was an agreement they had, one which made diversions, and <> cherished those.

  Slowly, as <>'s humor improved, <> found a sense of ironical amusement in the theft, for the Paul-entity was unstable; and the Rafe-one had been unwaked and was now vastly disturbed. One did not intrude into a simulacrum and leave it intact.

  "Do something," <•> mourned.

  "<> have," <> said, for <> was still controllin
g the moves: had, being flawed, acquired two flawed entities, one flawed by nature, the other by invasion.

  The important two were safe.

  <> was awake again. All the way.

  And the passengers scurried this way and that in panic, examining old alliances and likely advantage.

 
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