Patternmaster, p.1Octavia E. Butler
A Biography of Octavia Butler
RAYAL HAD HIS LEAD wife, Jansee, with him on that last night. He lay beside her in his huge bed, secure, lulled by the peacefulness of the Pattern as it flowed to him. The Pattern had been peaceful for over a year now. A year without a major Clayark attack on any sector of Patternist Territory. A luxury. Rayal had known enough years of fighting to be glad to relax and enjoy the respite. Only Jansee could still find reason for discontent. Her children, as usual.
“I think tomorrow I’ll send a mute to check on our sons,” she said.
Rayal yawned. He found her too much like a mute herself in her concern for her young. The two boys, aged twelve and two, were at school in Redhill Sector, 480 kilometers away. She would have gone against custom and kept them near her at the school in Forsyth, their birth sector, if he had let her. “Why bother?” he said. “You’re linked with them. If there was anything wrong with them, you would be the first to realize it. Why send a mute to find out what you already know?”
“Because I’ll be able to see them through the mute’s memory when he comes back. I haven’t seen either of them for over two years. Not since the youngest was born.”
Rayal shook his head. “Why do you want to see them?”
“I don’t know. There’s something … not wrong, but … I don’t know.” He could feel her uneasiness influencing the Pattern, rippling its vast interwoven surface. “Will you let me send a mute?”
“Send an outsider. He’ll be better able to defend himself if the Clayarks notice him.” Then he smiled. “You should have more children. Perhaps then you would be less concerned for these two.” She was used to his mocking. He had said such things to her before. But this time she seemed to take him seriously. He could feel her attention on him, focused, aware even of his smile, though she could not see him in the darkness.
“You want me to have children by one of your outsiders?” she asked.
He looked toward her in surprise, his mind tracing the solemnity of her expression. She was calling his bluff. She should have known better. “By a journeyman, perhaps.”
“Have them by a journeyman, or at least an apprentice. Not an outsider.”
“And which … journeyman or apprentice did you have in mind?”
He turned away from her in annoyance. She was continuing this nonsense to goad him. No other woman in his House would dare to bait him so. Perhaps, for a change, she should not be allowed to get away with it either.
“Michael will do,” he said quietly.
“Mich … Rayal!” He enjoyed the indignation in her voice. Michael was a young apprentice just out of school and about ten years Jansee’s junior.
“You asked me to choose someone for you. I’ve chosen Michael.”
She thought about that for a while, then retreated. But her pride did not allow her to retreat far. “Someday when you promote Michael to journeyman and he can hear me without embarrassment, I’m going to tell him about this.” She laid a hand alongside his face. “Then, husband, if you still insist that you will give me no more children, I will accept your choice.”
This was, he realized, as much a promise as a threat. She meant it. He reached for her, pulled her closer to him. “It’s for your own good that I refuse you. You’re really too much the mute-mother to have more children. You care too much what happens to them.”
“And they’re going to kill each other. You’re so strong that even your child by a weaker man might be able to compete with our two sons.”
“They wouldn’t have to kill each other.”
He gave a mental shrug. “Didn’t I have to kill two brothers and a sister to get where I am? Won’t at least some of my children and yours be as eager to inherit power as I was?” He felt her try to pull away from him and knew that he had won a point. He held her where she was. “Two brothers and a sister,” he repeated. “And it could easily have been two sisters if my strongest sister had not been wise enough to ally herself with me and become my lead wife.”
Now he let her go, but she lay still where she was. The Pattern rippled with her sorrow. It reflected her emotions almost as readily as it did his own. But unless he cooperated, it would not respond to her control. He spoke again to her gently.
“Even our sons will compete with each other. That will be difficult enough for you to watch, if it happens during your lifetime.”
“But what about your other children,” she said. “You have so many by other wives.”
“And I’ll have more. I don’t have your sensitivity. Those of my children who don’t compete to succeed me will live to contribute to the people’s strength.”
She was silent for a long while, her awareness focused on his face. “Would you really have tried to kill me if I had opposed you or refused you?”
“Of course. On your own, you might have become a threat to me.”
There was more silence, then, “Do you know why I allied with you instead of contesting?”
“Yes. Now I do.”
She went on as though she had not heard him. “I hate killing. We have to kill Clayarks just to survive. I can do that. But we don’t have to kill each other.”
Rayal jerked the Pattern sharply and Jansee jumped, gasping at the sudden disturbance. It was comparable physically to a painless but startling slap in the face.
“You see?” he said. “I’ve just awakened several thousand Patternists by exerting no more effort than another person might use to snap his fingers. Sister-wife, that is power worth killing for.”
Jansee radiated sudden anger. She thought of her sons fighting and her mind filled with bitter things to say about his power. But the pointlessness of verbalizing them to him, of all people, undermined her anger. “Not to me,” she said sadly, “and I hope not to my sons. Let them save their savagery, their power, for the Clayarks.” She paused. “Have you noticed the group of mutes outside in front of the House?”
This was not the change of subject that it seemed to be. He knew what she was leading up to but he let her go. “Yes.”
“They’ve come a long way,” she said.
“You can let them in if you like.”
“I will, later, when they’ve finished their prayers.” She shook her head. “Hajji mutes. Poor fools.”
“They’ve come here because they think you’re a god, and you won’t even bother to let them in out of the cold.”
“They get exactly what they expect from me, Jansee. The assurance of good health, long life, and protection from abuse by their Masters. Making a religion of their gratitude was their own idea.”
“Not that you mind,” she said softly. “Power. In fact, since you hold the Pattern, you’re even a kind of god to the Patternists, aren’t you? Shall I worship you, too, husband?”
“Not that you would.” He smiled. “But it doesn’t matter. There are times when I need someone around me who isn’t afraid of me.”
“Lest your own conceit destroy you,” she said bitterly.
The Clayarks chose that moment to end the year of peace. With an ancient gun of huge proportions, they stood on a hill just within sight of the lights of Rayal’s House. They had found the gun far south in territory that was exclusively their own. With rare patience and forethought, they had worked hard with it, cleaning it, coming to understand how it was s
Rayal’s sentries noticed them, but, lulled by the peace and unaware of the cannon, they paid no attention to Clayarks so far away. Thus the Clayarks had all the time their clumsy fingers needed to load their huge weapon, aim it, and fire.
Their aim was good and they were very lucky. The first shot smashed through the wall of the Patternmaster’s private apartment, beheading the Patternmaster’s lead wife and injuring the Patternmaster himself so severely about the head and shoulders that he was totally occupied for long important minutes with saving his own life. For all his power, he lay helpless. The people of his House were surprised enough, disoriented enough, to give the Clayarks time to fire again. But the destruction had excited the Clayarks. They abandoned the cannon to swarm down and finish the House in a more satisfying, personal way.
THE SUN HAD NOT been up long enough to burn off the cold dampness of morning when Teray and Iray left their dormitory room at Redhill School for the last time.
Iray was all eagerness and apprehension and her emotions were contagious. Teray had resigned himself to being caught up in them. The act of leaving the school together not only reinforced their status as adults, but made them husband and wife. Teray had waited four wearisome years for the chance to leave safely and begin working toward his dream of founding his own House.
Now, with Iray, he walked toward the main gate. There was no ceremony—not for their leaving school, nor for their marriage. Only two people paid any attention to their going. Teray sensed them both inside one of the dormitories, a Patternist girl who had been Iray’s friend and a middle-aged mute woman. They stood together at a dormitory window, looking down at Iray. The friend kept her feelings to herself, but the mute radiated such a mixture of sadness and excitement that Teray knew she and Iray must have been close.
Iray was too full of her own emotions to be aware of the pair. Teray flashed her a brief mental image and she reached back, contrite, to say her good-byes.
He sent back no parting thoughts of his own. He had had nothing to do with mutes for years. His maturing mental strength had made him too dangerous to them. For their sakes, he maintained only an impersonal master-servant relationship with them. And he had made few friends among his teachers and fellow students. They too were wary of his strength. He had been a power at the school, but except for Iray he had been much alone.
Outside the main gate, he and Iray met the two men who had been waiting for them. The older man was of medium height and hard, square build, a man of obvious physical strength. The younger man was built more like Teray—tall and lean. He was probably no older than Teray.
Joachim! Teray’s thought went out to the older man. I didn’t expect you to come yourself.
The man smiled faintly and spoke aloud: “It isn’t often that I take on such a promising apprentice. I wouldn’t want anything to happen to you on your way to my House.”
Teray transmitted surprise: There’s been trouble, then? Who was raided?
“Coransee. And vocalize. I’m spreading my perception as widely as I can just in case the raiders are still in the area.”
“Coransee?” said Teray obediently. “So close inside the sector?”
“And the most powerful one of us.” The man with Joachim spoke for the first time. “The raiders killed two of his outsiders and kidnaped a mute.”
“I hope to heaven they killed the mute too,” said Joachim. “Killed him quickly, I mean.”
Teray nodded, sharing the hope. Mutes who were not tortured to death and who did not die of the Clayark disease became the worst of their former-masters’ enemies. “You think there are still Clayarks inside the sector?” he asked Joachim.
“Yes. That’s why I brought Jer along.” Joachim gestured toward his companion. “He’s one of my strongest outsiders.”
Teray glanced at Jer with interest, wondering how the man’s strength measured up against his own. Through the Pattern, Teray had already sensed that Jer was strong. But how strong? It was not possible to make a definite determination guided only by the Pattern. No doubt Joachim knew, though. He had probably tested Jer as thoroughly as he had tested Teray. And after the testing, he had made Jer an outsider and accepted Teray as an apprentice.
Iray’s voice brought Teray out of his thoughts. “But, Joachim, with both you and Jer here, won’t your House be in danger?”
Joachim glanced at her, his grim expression softening. “Not likely. The Clayarks know my reputation. We’re all linked in my House. My lead wife can draw strength from everyone in the House for defense. If the Clayarks attack one of my people, the rest know, and they all respond. The Clayarks wouldn’t risk attacking them with less than an army, and I don’t think they’ve managed to smuggle an army into the sector.”
“We’d have more dead than the larger Houses,” said Jer, “because we don’t have their strength. But their people fight as individuals, and we fight as one. Their people always miss some Clayarks and let them escape. We kill them all.”
Teray noticed the pride in the man’s voice and wondered how Joachim could inspire pride even in an outsider. But then, Teray’s attitude toward outsider status was, he knew, colored by his desire never to occupy it. It was a permanently inferior servant position. The best that an outsider could hope for was to find a Housemaster like Joachim whom he could respect and serve with some semblance of pride. The worst he could get was slavery.
The horses waited for them a few steps away in a grove of trees, and Teray noticed that Iray walked the distance beside Joachim. She, who only a few moments before had been so excited about leaving the school with Teray. True, she had known Joachim before she met Teray. The Housemaster had been her second when she made the difficult transition from childhood to adulthood and membership in the Pattern. She would probably have gone into his House as one of his wives if she had not met Teray. Now Teray watched them together with suspicion. He would spend at least two years with Joachim, learning preparing to begin his own House. If only he did not lose his wife in the process.
He came up beside Iray as they reached the horses. He touched her mind lightly with a one-word reminder carefully screened from Joachim and Jer: Wife!
His caution was lost on her. She seized his thought carelessly like a happy child and magnified it to a mental shout. To it, she added enthusiastically, Husband!
A proclamation. Joachim and Jer could hardly have missed it. He could feel their amusement as keenly as he could feel his own embarrassment. But at least she had told him what he wanted to know. And, fortunately, she had completely missed his meaning. Of course there was a bond between Iray and Joachim. But it was no more than the bond between any man and a woman he had seconded. Affection. No more.
He cast around for a way to end the silence and focus Joachim’s and Jer’s attention elsewhere. It was then that he noticed the horse that Joachim had mounted. It was a show horse, of course, as were the three others. They were all as carefully bred and trained as most mutes. They were part of a project that Joachim had undertaken more for enjoyment than profit. But the one Joachim rode was something special.
“Joachim, your horse …”
The Housemaster smiled. “I wondered when Iray would let you notice.”
Teray let his curiosity be felt partly because he was actually curious, and partly in relief that Joachim too was ignorant of his foolish jealousy. But the horse … “You have no mental controls on it at all?”
“None,” said Joachim.
Gingerly, Teray felt the stallion out. Gingerly because animals, like mutes, were easily injured, easily killed. And too, uncontrolled animals unconsciously hit intruding Patternist minds with any emotions they felt. Especially violent emotions. But Teray received only calm from the horse. Unu
“An experiment of mine,” said Joachim. “This horse doesn’t need to be controlled any more than the average mute. In fact, you program it like a mute. And once it’s programmed, the Clayarks could fire a cannon next to it and the programming would hold. You wouldn’t have to waste time controlling the horse when you should be giving all your attention to the Clayarks.” Joachim grinned. “I’ll tell you more about it when we get home.”
Teray nodded. Home. Joachim could not know how good that word sounded. The school had been Teray’s home for far too long. He had made his transition to adulthood nearly four years before. Even then, there had been little more that the teachers could teach him. But he had stayed, learning what he could about his abilities on his own, getting occasional help from a visiting Housemaster, waiting and hoping for a Housemaster who would accept him as an apprentice.
Several had offered to take him on as an outsider. If he had not still been under the protection of the school, some of them might have been tempted to take him by force. Doubtless that would be possible now, while he was still young and unskilled. And if they took him now, they could prevent him from learning the skills that might make him a danger to them. But no one wanted to risk accepting him as an apprentice. An outsider was a permanent inferior. An apprentice was a potential superior. An apprentice was the young colt hanging around the edges of the herd, biding his time until he could kill off the old herd stallion and take over. Or at least that was the way the Housemasters he had met seemed to feel.
It was much to Joachim’s credit that he had not been afraid. In fact, when Iray had introduced Teray to Joachim, the Housemaster had mentioned the possibility of an apprenticeship before Teray even thought it wise to bring up the matter. It took a confident, powerful Housemaster to accept an apprentice with Teray’s potential. But Joachim had had the necessary confidence and power, and now, finally, Teray was going home.
Joachim had taken a lead position with Jer. Now he called back, “We’re going to have to stop at Coransee’s House first. He wants to see me—probably to get me to help him with his Clayark problem.”
Patternmaster by Octavia E. Butler / Science Fiction / Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes