Shadow on the Stars
was light where no light should be. In the depths
between the stars, where space should be dark and empty,
light blazed and moved; light produced by no physical
source, but born of the intertwining of a life-force
with the fabric of space-time.
the light was alive, in a way no human could ever hope
to understand. It was a member of a race that had
survived two billion years past its first venture into
space, a race not native to this galaxy or even this
time period. In fact, more than a billion Earth-years
would go by before the planet on which the light-being’s
race would evolve cooled enough to produce the first
proteins necessary for life.
light-being had come a long way on this mission; it had
much farther still to go.
was a planetary system just three light-years ahead, and
the light-being moved toward it. Eventually it reached
the outermost of the small yellow star’s five children,
but it ignored this world of frozen methane, as it also
ignored the next three worlds whose orbits it crossed.
Only when it arrived at the water covered innermost
planet did it pause and drop down to hover over what
little land was present, as though contemplating its
was life on the planet, but the light-being was not
interested. Other planets in other time periods had more
intriguing life forms. This was in no way a unique world
it soon would be.
light-being moved again, spreading out into a girdle of
fire to encircle the entire planet. It had finished
thinking; now was the time to act. Invisible forces
clawed dark rocks from the bowels of the mountains.
Invisible hands shaped the rocks, transformed them to a
chalky white and assembled them. The light-being worked
leisurely, and years went by before the structure was
completed. But one dark morning, while the yellow sun
still hid behind the eastern storm clouds, the last
stone was placed.
was not the end. Guardian forces had to be left to
prevent all but the two who were meant to come this way
from entering. That done, the light-being surveyed the
girdle of light coalesced into a sphere less than a
meter in diameter. Slowly it began to rise to the stars.
light-being had now completed the first part of its
mission—on this and another world two time-gates had
been built—but the hardest part was yet to come and
required another parsecs long journey.
light-being probed the nearby space. It was alone.
Nothing had seen. There were no shadows on the stars.
Someday, the shadows would come. In the not-too-distant
future. And then someday, far down the pathway of time,
the light-being’s race would battle those shadows for
all the worlds to come.
for now, the light-being could travel unmolested. It had
forty thousand years to reach its next destination, and
it would need much of that time to plan what it would do
when it got there.
was not the planet Krison Camarch would have picked to
die on. The entire world was eternally cold and damp.
This small cell was cold and damp. Probably his grave—if
anyone bothered to bury him—would also be cold and damp.
The damp weather was the only permanent thing about
Edgeworld. Everything built by man was certainly
temporary, for the two million miners who came here
briefly to make their fortunes and then leave cared
little or nothing about constructing anything to last.
was one exception: the jails. Camarch surveyed his cell
again, from the single small vent in the plascrete roof
to the solid titex door. The jails were undoubtedly the
sturdiest buildings on Edgeworld. This one looked as
though it might even outlast the ruins of C’hah Lai.
Escape from here was virtually impossible, and unless he
could escape, his future would be very short.
snort from the corner of the cell broke his
concentration. He glanced over at the scruffy old man
who lay sprawled across the cell’s only bed. As usual,
Edgeworld’s sturdy jails were overcrowded; so Camarch,
an accused murderer, had to share his
three-by-three-by-three-meter cube with a drunk miner
who was sleeping off the effects of his overdose of
pstilx, Edgeworld’s unique blend of poisons.
Camarch turned away from the old miner and reconsidered
his own problem. Captain Sanphan had certainly wasted no
time in having him arrested once the Sentinel
touched down. The warp chambers were still glowing when
the badges arrived in the warp room, blasters and
squealers in hand. The thing that angered Camarch the
most was Sanphan’s broken promise that Saldrator Dran’s
death—however it had occurred—would be forgotten if
Camarch would repair the warp drive.
Camarch scowled. Lady Justice was nowhere in sight when
he needed her. On a routine warp jump between Nonna’s
Planet and Edgeworld, the warp drive failed. That wasn’t
anything unusual: the warp drive on the starship
Sentinel had failed many times before and would probably
fail many times again; it was practically ready for a
museum. The fact it could function at all constantly
amazed Camarch. Repairing it wasn’t difficult, but
opening the warp chamber was always dangerous. Dran made
one mistake, and the warp field still lingering in the
chamber abstractly scattered his protoplasm around the
warp room. And somehow, after a brief investigation,
Camarch had been accused of murder. The reason, of
course, was because he was a Tel.
Sanphan, in charging him with the murder, had forgotten
one thing: Dran’s death made Camarch the only warp tech
left and, therefore, the only one aboard with the
knowledge necessary to complete the repairs. Sanphan had
been forced to promise Camarch clemency.
Camarch had never trusted Sanphan and was hardly
surprised when the promise was not kept. Now he would
die, because offenses occurring in space came under the
jurisdiction of the ship’s captain, if one of the few
overriding Federation laws was not broken. The only
thing keeping him alive this long was that once the ship
landed on Edgeworld, Sanphan was required to submit
Camarch to the Edgeworld authorities for a three day
imprisonment. If no one registered an objection during
that time, he would be turned back over to Sanphan for
whatever disposition the captain had in mind.
Camarch didn’t know anyone who might register an
objection on his behalf. And now the three days were
turned in the lock. A guard entered, heavy set, pale and
solid, like the plascrete room around him. As he moved
closer, Camarch could smell the pungent odor of one of
the cheap local brands of pressorb. It must have been a
new shift, because Camarch didn’t recognize this guard.
The man kept rubbing his eyes methodically, as though
someone had just jerked him from a deep, pleasant sleep.
“Which one of you is Dancot Bries?” he muttered.
snoring figure did not move.
am,” Camarch said.
guard’s bushy eyebrows twitched; then he shrugged and
motioned for Camarch to follow him. Camarch obeyed
without hesitation. Dancot Bries, Camarch had discovered
from talking to the drunk before he lapsed into
oblivion, was arrested only for public stupor. No one
considered him much of a threat, which was why only one
guard had been sent. Camarch wasn’t clairvoyant, but he
was beginning to realize tomorrow might exist for him
after all. He had only to shed this one sleepy guard.
Outside the cell, the hallway was constructed and
decorated in the same drab plascrete manner. They passed
only five more cells before the corridor ended at an
open doorway. The small chamber on the other side
contained a desk with a gray uniformed man sitting
behind it. Across the room was a counter with another
badge behind it. Talking to this man was someone Camarch
had hoped wouldn’t be present…yet. Camarch bowed his
head and tried to look as inconspicuous as possible;
perhaps Sanphan would be too busy to notice him.
“You’re Dancot Bries?” the officer behind the desk
Camarch nodded. A mistake.
officer popped out of his chair. “You’re a lucky man,
Mr. Bries. You’re lucky I don’t shoot you right now. You
don’t nod to me; you say yes sir or no sir.”
Camarch said nothing. Without looking, he could sense
that Captain Sanphan had turned around. It was only a
matter of seconds before the captain recognized him.
you understand?” the little officer bellowed.
Though Camarch was ten centimeters taller and ten kilos
heavier, the officer reached across the desk and grabbed
Camarch by the front of his shirt and pulled him over
the desk until Camarch was almost in the man’s oral
cavity. Then the man yelled, “What do you say?!”
sir,” Camarch replied meekly.
officer smiled, showing a set of implants made by a
Camarch relaxed, thinking he was safe for a few moments.
He was wrong. As the little officer sat down, he noticed
Camarch’s hands. Slowly he reached down and picked them
up, then turned them over.
is this?” he said. “These…they look like the hands of a
Camarch felt the gaze of everyone in the room turn on
him. He stared down at his own hands, the long, pale
fingers with no nails. Without them he could almost pass
for a normal human being. Few people would pay much
attention to his green eyes, his high forehead, his thin
lips and slender body—after all, none of those
characteristics was particularly unusual. Nor would
anyone see, under normal circumstances, that he had only
twenty-two teeth, twelve uppers and ten lowers, and
completely lacked a spleen. But people could see his
hands and fingers, and these alone were enough to reveal
he was a Tel. Being a Tel was enough to make people hate
him. As Saldrator Dran had hated him. As Captain Sanphan
frowned. To be hated all his life for such a useless
gift as his—there was something unfair about that.
are the hands of a Tel,” Camarch muttered, gazing
straight at the little badge.
Dancot Bries isn’t…”
Camarch could feel the impact of Captain Sanphan’s
surprise battering against his brain. Now was the time
few people knew about Tels was that their hands were far
stronger in fact than in appearance. The recessive genes
in Chromosome 18, which gave him the rest of his Tel
characteristics, also modified Camarch’s actin and
myosin filaments to increase the contractility potential
of his skeletal muscle. More often than not, his Tel
abilities were a curse rather than an attribute. But at
the moment, his strength would be useful.
one motion he seized the astonished little badge under
his arms and whirled, slinging the man against the
stocky guard. From that point on, Camarch ignored both
saw Captain Sanphan reach for the guard’s blaster, which
had landed in front of his feet, but Camarch knew he
could be out the side exit before Sanphan fired. But
there was something Camarch had to do before he left. He
took two steps and inflicted himself with two bruised
knuckles. The captain’s expression of pain and surprise
was well worth the bruises.
side exit led to the street.
Outside, it was night.
few stars. Compared to the view from space, the night
sky of every planet had few stars. Here, every quanta of
light had to fight through the thick filter of the
atmosphere to reach his retinas. Stars glowed alone, not
in ragged clumps of light.
half his mind was scanning the heavens, the other half
was deciding on a course of action. The problem on
Edgeworld was there were few places to hide. It was a
world built by and for miners. They came, made their
fortunes, and left for more habitable, warmer worlds.
Their time on Edgeworld was spent working, drinking and
sleeping, not necessarily in that order on any one day.
In fact, the only thing Edgeworld had plenty of, besides
mines, was bars. Temporarily, one of them might provide
some concealment. Down the street was an open door.
bar was dark and empty except for the bartender and two
patrons, both of whom were trying to keep the business
solvent by themselves. He wondered if he could hide in
the darkness until the badges gave up their search. If
more people were present, it might have been possible,
but with only two patrons, he would stand out like a
nova in a starless night sky.
Hearing soft footsteps behind him, he thought, for a
fleeting moment, that the badges had found him already.
He turned and saw a thin, dark man standing in the
doorway. Though he couldn’t see the man’s eyes, he
sensed they were staring at him. Without seeming to take
his eyes off Camarch, the man walked over to the bar and
leaned against it.
Concluding that the man did not represent the Edgeworld
authorities, Camarch momentarily ignored the stranger
and concentrated on the badges pursuing him.
Almost instantly, he regretted his mistake.
stranger was not a badge. If he had been, Camarch would
have been safer. The man was a Tel, and his mind struck
like a knife, narrow and sharp at first, then widening
as it gouged through Camarch’s consciousness, all the
while sucking, draining him, as if searching for
something, some fleck of information he couldn’t find.
Camarch felt his emotions, his very being, start to slip
from his grasp, and he clenched his teeth to force the
stranger out. But the penetration was too deep. By
diverting all his attention to his block, he was somehow
able to prevent the intruder from ripping in any
farther. A moment’s reprieve; that was all.
Behind him the footsteps of the badges pounded on the
street, then in his mind, echoing around in the crater
the stranger had made.
Camarch bore down harder, beyond what he had always
believed to be his limit. Every artery in his head
swelled as blood rushed toward arterioles and
capillaries. The stranger had to be alien…his mind was
so empty, so lacking in any emotion, so utterly void of
human qualities. No human Camarch had ever met could
even approach breaking his subconscious block. This
being—whoever, whatever it was—had almost shattered it.
Only sliver thin fragments held his block together, and
they would not last long.
alien struck again. Camarch’s body twitched; he released
the table he was clutching and tumbled to the floor. The
room blurred and filled with dark green and brown,
overwhelming him with nausea.
Camarch stared, seeing nothing.
you okay?” the voice repeated.
vision cleared and he felt the bartender helping him to
his feet. He glanced over at the stranger. The alien was
still at the bar; he hadn’t moved since the attack
poured down Camarch’s hands and face, and when he groped
for the table, he slipped to the floor again. The
bartender, however, was a sturdy fellow and he had
Camarch on his own two feet in a few seconds, even
without the latter’s help.
Camarch wanted to talk, to tell the bartender what was
happening, that he wasn’t a victim of some unclassified
extraterrestrial disease or having a drunken fit…but he
couldn’t spare the concentration. Already his weakened
state had allowed the stranger to pry open his mind a
little more, and he noticed his head had begun to ache.
It had never happened to him before, but he knew from
other Tels and his own reading that the headache implied
the imminent collapse of whatever mindblock remained. If
he didn’t do something to change the odds immediately,
his life-force would be sucked out by this dark,
Camarch watched the alien standing by the bar and
simultaneously felt the badges outside searching for
him, still unsure how he had temporarily evaded them…and
then Camarch felt fury, cold fury. He consciously
diverted some concentration to motor activity and shook
loose from the bartender.
rest of the bartender’s words were drowned in the roar
of fury in Camarch’s mind. All the anger and fear he had
kept under control for the past few minutes suddenly
surfaced. He stumbled toward the alien and found that he
had overestimated the stranger’s power. The alien’s
hands were clenched to the bar, his skin white and wet,
his eyes closed, his teeth locked and bared. The eyes
opened in surprise as Camarch approached, and his
assault wavered. He was about Camarch’s height and
weight, but at that point it wouldn’t have mattered if
he were two meters taller. A bruised fist struck the
attacker’s chin, and Camarch’s mind was silently alone
alien crumpled to the floor, and only by grabbing the
bar was Camarch able to prevent himself from following.
the hell do you think you’re doing?” the bartender
yelled. Two large hands seized Camarch’s shoulders and
spun him around. Even the two drunks, who had ignored
his assault on the alien, stopped drinking and stared.
Camarch was suddenly aware that the badges, by a process
of elimination, had figured out where he must be.
he couldn’t answer. The bartender wouldn’t believe.
Camarch wasn’t yet sure he believed. He had to get away
now. But where? The front exit led to a cemetery, and he
didn’t see a back door.
Camarch finally spotted one, leading off from behind the
bar. He jerked free of the bartender’s grip.
door led to a small hallway, which subsequently led to a
back exit. As he left the building he could hear the
bartender running in pursuit and sensed the first sparks
of consciousness in the alien’s mind.
Behind the bar an alley ran parallel to the street, and
another led off it, perpendicular to the bar.
Camarch took the latter.
first street was almost devoid of pedestrians, but this
one was crowded. Every store, bar and pstilx room
overflowed with drunks and shoppers. Several were aliens
busy on some indeterminable task. On the far side of the
street lay a body of phosphorescent water; whether
river, lake or ocean, Camarch couldn’t tell. He thought
he could see lights in the distance, however, far across
merged with the crowd and began to walk. Where on
Edgeworld was he?
wished he had been more attentive during the landing.
Obviously the city was near a starport but that wasn’t
much help. There were fifteen starports on Edgeworld,
since it was easier to bring the freighter to the mines
than to wrestle the ore through high mountains or float
it across the eternally raging seas.
else did he know about his location? Well, he was near
water, probably a river, since there seemed to be lights
on the far side and the water was relatively peaceful.
Only two of the cities he’d visited in the past were
coiled around a river. Dantyren and Hosnes. Though he
recognized nothing, he was probably in one of them. All
plans for escape must be postponed until he determined
his exact location.
lived that long.
thought back to the alien in the bar, shivering with the
memory of that dark mind, utterly void of any
compassion. He had never felt such emptiness; nor had he
felt such power. The stranger had to be an alien; no
human had a mind like that.
the stranger looked human. That alone eliminated both
known intelligent alien races. Neither the Rawellens nor
the Quertyuans could ever pass for human, even in a dark
where had he come from? And why, Camarch asked himself,
had the alien been waiting for an obscure warp tech at
the edge of human civilization? Not only waiting—the
alien had also come seeking information. And death.
Camarch knew nothing that would warrant his death.
People such as Dran had tried to kill him before, but
only because he was a Tel. He sensed the alien had a
different motive. Besides, from his brief contact, he
judged the alien was not capable of hatred. No, there
had to be another reason. Camarch was a Tel, but a
powerless one. The alien, possessing such superb mental
powers himself, would have seen the truth immediately:
all Camarch could do was put up a mindblock another Tel
could not penetrate, at least another human Tel, and he
could sense strong emotion. He could not read another
person’s thoughts; he could not control another person’s
mind—except in extremely unusual circumstances, and then
only slightly—nor did he have any telekinetic powers. He
was purely a defensive Tel, harmless to anyone who did
not try to harm him. How could he possibly represent a
threat to anyone?
badges were still following him. Camarch had been aware
of them for several hours now. Every few minutes a
lifter would buzz overhead. So far he had always heard
it coming and managed to fade into the shadows.
truth, he wasn’t worried about them. What bothered him
were the shredders, those scaly conglomerations of
teeth and clublike forelimbs, so named because of the
condition of their prey after they caught it. They had
the noses of bloodhounds and, worse yet, had the uncanny
ability to sense a Tel 100 kilometers away. Probably
they possessed some telepathic abilities of their own.
They were quite gentle to their handlers but merciless
to anyone the handler didn’t like.
Camarch was tired; the shredders were tireless, and the
badges no doubt worked in shifts. They would find him
soon, track him down and let the shredders have him for
a snack…unless the alien found him first.
the alien was there in the shadows of Camarch’s mind and
had been for some time. Camarch didn’t know exactly how
long, because his complete block was up and this
decreased his own sensitivity considerably. The alien’s
touch was light, like a dust mote, and present long
before Camarch noticed it.
the badges had been closer—at least, if the lifters had
been closer—Camarch might have surrendered to them. But
by now the alien was the closest, less than half a
kilometer away, able to track him far more accurately
than even the shredders. He could reach Camarch long
before Camarch could reach the badges. The alien
realized this, and Camarch sensed he was trying to stay
between him and the authorities. The alien wanted him
dead—with or without the information—and was afraid the
police might bungle the job again.
far Camarch had decided on no goal, a problem to be
solved quickly. Then he had a disconcerting thought.
Maybe the decision was being made for him. Maybe the
alien was directing his flight.
hour later no doubts remained. Camarch was being
directed. By then, he recognized the city and realized
where the alien was directing him.
city was Dantryen. One thing made Dantryen unique: on
its outskirts stood the silent ruins of C’hah Lai.
began to rain. Great sheets of water from the river blew
into his face, his nose, his mouth and, ultimately, his
lungs. It tasted like salty vinegar and burned his
throat. Camarch spat it out, but the pungent aftertaste
lingered. One thing was for sure. He wouldn’t want to
swim in that river. And the oceans were worse.
was no shelter now, just the open water on one side and
the silent, locked warehouses on the other. Camarch
veered toward the warehouses and away from the ruins
ahead. Between the buildings the rain swirled in under
the eaves, battering him against the slats. For a few
seconds his battered mind forgot where it was. When he
lifted his head the alien was there, not twenty meters
Camarch braced his mind for an attack that never came.
And when he searched, not even a whisper of the alien’s
mindtouch remained. But as the alien’s hand slid into
his coat, Camarch realized he probably had a blaster.
turned and ran, and almost immediately the warehouse
wall next to him quivered, then burst into flames and
collapsed, flinging burning remnants of the wall and
roof between Camarch and the alien. By that time,
Camarch was back in the street.
the distance, through the wailing storm, Camarch could
see the misty towers of C’hah Lai. The ruins no longer
looked as foreboding as they had even an hour ago.
Increasingly, they seemed to be his only chance.
wasn’t much of a hope. Thirty men had entered and never
returned, and now he was quite calmly considering
walking in there alone.
the ruins had been a city, they had been a strange and
lonely one, a city whose interior could not be seen from
the outside and whose picture could not be taken from
above. Since they were only a kilometer in diameter, the
ruins would have been a small city. Standing in the
darkness of the Edgeworld night, lit by the glow of a
pale moon far above the clouds, C’hah Lai seemed more
than a mere city—it had served some greater function. It
suddenly reminded Camarch of the alien’s mind—empty and
wide band of barren ground surrounded C’hah Lai, and the
rain had turned the sterile dirt to mud.
each step, Camarch had to shake off the clinging black
muck before proceeding. As he neared the opening that
passed for a gate into the ruins, he began to weave his
way around jagged chunks of stonelike rubble. Against
the white background of C’hah Lai he made a fair target
and the alien took the opportunity to get off another
shot. The beam slipped by Camarch’s head and splashed
against the rain streaked outer wall of the ruins. He
ducked to avoid the showering of rubble, but none came.
was strangely ironic to stand in the midst of rubble and
watch a blaster beam bounce off the same wall that
apparently had produced the rubble. It was as if the
embroidery of rubble were only for decoration.
Silence. The gateway was a mere hole in the wall,
wrinkled by time, but when he stepped through, Edgeworld
became as much a part of the distant past as the
builders of these ruins.
rain ceased. Outside, it was still storming; he could
see through the gateway. Here inside the walls, the sky
was dark, foreboding, as it had been before the storm
began. White dust lay on the ground, like dry snow.
There was no wind in here, but the dust gently swirled
around him, as if to protect him from whatever enemies
were three directions he could choose, now that he was
inside: along the outside wall either way, or down an
alley that arrowed away perpendicular to the wall. For
no particular reason Camarch chose the latter. He took a
few steps, then turned around to check the whereabouts
of the alien, but the outside gate was gone. He was
walked. There were no buildings in C’hah Lai, only
partitions and walls of white, stonelike blocks, five to
seven meters high. The channels between them divided and
merged, divided again, without a pattern, without making
any apparent sense at all. Sometimes the path Camarch
took came to a dead end and he was forced to retreat.
Sometimes only a pile of rubble would block his way.
Then he would scramble over it and go on.
sky had changed now. There were stars like milkdrops,
round and white. It made his head throb to look at them.
Always Camarch could feel the other’s presence. The
alien could not enter his mind enough to pose a threat,
just enough to locate him. Camarch began to fear he
would never escape. This fear tread far beyond where the
alien could go, deep within his mindblock, swirling
there just as the dry white dust swirled around him. As
he went on, however, he concentrated and managed to
block out most of the fear. It was one of the rare times
he used his unique talent for his own benefit.
Images formed in his head as he walked, wispy shadows of
events gone by—the alien was there, but so was Thria,
and Earth… He stopped and shivered. The images absorbed
memories from his mind and took on life as he watched.
His thoughts coalesced into substance on the street
shook his head and strengthened his mindblock. There was
no street in front of him, only the dusty labyrinth of
was alone again, except for the presence of the alien
was fatigue. That was the only way to explain such
hallucinations. Nothing else made sense. Thria had been
dead for seventeen years.
Camarch started walking again. Ahead lay another pile of
rubble. As he approached, it took on a different form.
The sharp, angular pattern of the blocks was gone; now
the edges were blurred. And the walls around him began
gazed up at a blurred river of starry milk across the
sky, splashing out a myriad of droplets toward the
that moment he noticed the first waver in the alien’s
Camarch scrambled up and over another pile of rubble.
Immediately he tried to stop, for below him on the far
side the waves of an angry ocean lashed against steaming
white rocks. But his momentum was too great and he slid
down toward the water. Instinctively he closed his
eyes…but there was no salt spray…and no water, no ocean,
no rocks. Merely dry, white, powdery dust.
was happening to his mind? It wasn’t only fatigue. The
alien? That was one possibility, but it didn’t explain
everything. Camarch had been able to block him this
long; there was no reason why he should be able to
Camarch regained his footing, reeling in confusion. His
mind began to sing as he walked. Visions came. The
street was here, then gone, dust replaced by a searing
sun and a deadly summer wind bearing thousands upon
thousands of poisonous insects. Falsaf. The crowded
jungles of the prison world Falsaf. A hundred kilometers
of fear, where a three meter square room was a luxury
few had time to build, and fewer still wanted because of
the danger of owning any luxury. Now the stinking smell
of hate permeated Camarch’s mindblock. Two men attacked
him ferociously. He seized one quickly and threw him
away, then remembered: it wasn’t real. He ignored the
one with the knife, ignored the deep, agonizing stabs,
ignored the warm, rich blood that trailed down his chest
Falsaf yielded to Earth—even more crowded. Earth, where
starports were being torn down to make room for the mobs
to live. Soon the planet’s only link with the rest of
the Federation would be gone, and Earth would be left to
smother in its own flesh.
saw a house to his left, rather a shack, made of slivers
of wood tacked together to provide a temporary, always
collapsing, shelter from the hot Yucatan summer. His
house, where he had grown up. Thria lived less than a
kilometer and five years away. He watched her die again,
slain by a collect because she was a Tel.
isn’t real. It isn’t real.
wiped sticky, coagulating blood off his shirt. It isn’t
Captain Sanphan staggered around the corner, his mouth
bleeding where Camarch had hit him. Hatred gleamed in
his eyes. Camarch sidestepped his swing and
instinctively started to lunge back at him.
Instinct succumbed to reason, and Camarch closed his
eyes and blocked the captain out of existence.
he opened his eyes a minute later, Sanphan was gone and
Camarch was standing at the edge of a fifteen meter deep
chasm, sharp, ragged stones lining the bottom. A cold
sweat oozed from his skin, and he realized he was
trembling. Had he tried to hit the captain he would be
dead now, perforated by the rocks below.
Camarch skirted the chasm, not trusting his eyes, gently
touching down with his toe to make sure there was
solidity before shifting his weight onto that foot. On
the far side of the chasm he stopped, gazing back over
the distance he had come.
was the ruins themselves. He realized that now. It was
the ruins attacking his mind. No wonder no one had
returned from C’hah Lai. Even with his mindblock,
Camarch had almost been lured to his death. C’hah Lai
was certainly no place for the non-Tel.
Camarch smiled. Or the Tel with a weak mindblock. He
recalled the waver in the alien’s touch.
searched for the alien’s mindtouch now and physically
retreated when he sensed its strength. It wasn’t
possible. The alien should be feeling the effects of the
concentration, Camarch found he could block out the
ruins completely. He sought the alien again and found
him. His touch was so strong and full, Camarch felt he
could open his mind and be filled with warmth. Which was
Camarch remembered the alien’s touch from the bar, so
cold, so empty, so void of emotion. A Tel’s mindtouch
reflected his personality; it could not be disguised.
No Tel could make fire from ice.
was only one conclusion possible: a third being was in
C’hah Lai, again an alien, but perhaps not hostile.
Camarch opened his mind and the new alien slipped in
just enough to let Camarch know he was a friend; then he
was gone, barely perceptible once more.
Camarch sat in the quiet by the chasm, completely
confused. It was as if an unseen alien had been waiting
for him. Why? The thought was incredible, but Camarch
realized that more incredible things had already
happened to him in the past few hours.
Camarch not been exhausted, he would have lunged deeper
into the ruins, toward the spot where some ancient
machine produced the field that twisted both his mind
and space-time. But now he felt his enemy closing in on
him, and he was content to await his adversary here,
beside the pit.
alien shortly came stumbling around a corner, eyes
flickering wildly about, glazed with confusion. He did
not seem to see Camarch as much as sense him. Camarch
saw him stop and then felt the faint mindtouch leave.
Camarch withdrew into himself, his mindblock wrapping
around him in anticipation of the forthcoming attack.
he remembered the alien’s blaster. But oddly enough, the
alien seemed to have forgotten he had a weapon. At least
he didn’t use it, but attacked only with his mind.
first assault left Camarch lying in the dust. But his
block held. He almost smiled, for his confidence was
remained lying where he was. The alien could not harm
him mentally—Camarch was convinced of that at last—but
he might be able to cause some kind of physical damage
if he could duplicate the first attack.
could and did. Even in the dust Camarch was stunned.
time the alien stayed, hammering away at Camarch’s mind.
The dust cycloned around him; above his head the stars
melted; to his left a stone tumbled down from the wall
and rolled dangerously near his head; beneath his back a
crack appeared in the ground, widened a few centimeters,
then stopped. Worlds never seen by man entered his mind,
worlds of cold and darkness, worlds empty of laughter,
tall, dark people…and then out of the blackest darkness
of all came a ship made of darkness, a hundred
kilometers long and silence filled.
his mindblock held; the alien could send only illusions.
Eventually the alien weakened; his strength dwindled,
his own hallucinations confusing his attacks. At first
it seemed as if the alien had been trying to pry
information from his mind, but now Camarch noticed the
original purpose had been forgotten; the alien’s touch
had changed; the alien wanted nothing but Camarch’s
the advantage had shifted, and Camarch knew the alien
would not like the outcome of this battle.
Camarch slowly groped to his feet, easing his way toward
the pit. The alien struck again, and Camarch staggered,
grabbing the wall nearby to steady himself. The alien
saw him and wobbled forward, his eyes wide open still,
not in fear, because he didn’t know that emotion, but in
surprise. Camarch wondered what he saw. His past,
perhaps? How could anyone ever know what transpired in
that alien mind?
alien began to strike again, over and over, a dying
rattler. Camarch fell to one knee. Still the alien came,
advancing with his feet as he attacked with his mind.
Abruptly he stopped, whirled about and swung randomly at
more steps, once more toward Camarch.
Camarch remained kneeling.
Behind the alien, Camarch saw light…brightness, and
ruins, tall spires and dreams…a planet unknown to man.
Then his eyes were blinded by a burst of even brighter
light. He felt dizzy, sensing the dissipation of time.
And there were more planets, burning like suns…but the
suns themselves were dying, their fires ebbing as
entropy increased. The planets joined, coalescing into a
parsecs long wall of flame. And the wall moved…toward a
wall of darkness, toward a shadow on the stars.
light vanished and he was back in the ruins of C’hah
Lai, watching the alien maunder forward: one step, two
steps. Time moved too slowly. He tottered on the brink
of the chasm, waving his arms in one last effort to
regain his lost balance, then toppled over the edge.
There was not a sound when he hit the bottom, but
Camarch’s mind was suddenly quiet and alone. He stared
down. His eyes closed; his own balance faltered; then he
shook himself awake and crawled away from the pit.
hadn’t the alien used his blaster?
Perhaps Camarch’s earlier hunch had been correct.
Perhaps the alien was primarily interested in
at the moment, Camarch no longer knew nor cared, for
suddenly he wasn’t alone anymore. Coming from the center
of the ruins was a wispy, golden furred alien of a race
Camarch had never seen before.
weary to feel fear, his Tel mind exploded with anger.
Chromosome 18 betrayed him again. Fury rose, unwanted,
unsummoned, as it always did, and he tried to regain his
feet to fight off this new intruder.
failed, falling back into the dust.
third means you no harm,” the alien said in easily
understood standard Federation Spanish. Then Camarch
felt the warmth of his mindtouch and his anger faded,
gone as quickly as it had come.
That was the last thing Camarch
(End of Sample Excerpt)
Barnes and Noble