DRINKING SAPPHIRE WINE (Special Edition) - Tanith Lee - ebook
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Four-BEE was an Utopian city. If you didn't mind being taken care of all your long long life, having a wild time as a "jang" teenager, able to do anything you wanted from killing yourself innumerable times, changing bodies, changing sex, and raising perpetual hell, it could be heaven.But for one inhabitant there was always something askew. He/she had tried everything and yet the taste always soured. And then he/she succeeded in committing the one illegal act—and was thrown out of heaven forever.But forever is not a term any native of that robotic utopia understood. And so he/she challenged the rules, declared independence, and set out to prove that a human was still smarter than the cleverest and most protective robot...You don't need to have read Tanith Lee's DON'T BITE THE SUN, which set the original scene, to find DRINKING SAPPHIRE WINE of the same high merit that distinguished this author's THE BIRTHGRAVE.

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TANITH LEE

Drinking Sapphire Wine

(Special Edition)

A Novel

Apex-Verlag

Index

The Book

The Author

TRANSCRIBER’S NOTE

Glossary of General Terms

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Epilogue

Glossary of Conventions, Institutions, and Devices

The Book

Four-BEE was an Utopian city. If you didn't mind being taken care of all your long long life, having a wild time as a “jang" teenager, able to do anything you wanted from killing yourself innumerable times, changing bodies, changing sex, and raising perpetual hell, it could be heaven.

But for one inhabitant there was always something askew. He/she had tried everything and yet the taste always soured. And then he/she succeeded in committing the one illegal act—and was thrown out of heaven forever.

But forever is not a term any native of that robotic utopia understood. And so he/she challenged the rules, declared independence, and set out to prove that a human was still smarter than the cleverest and most protective robot...

You don’t need to have read Tanith Lee's DON’T BITE THE SUN, which set the original scene, to find DRINKING SAPPHIRE WINE of the same high merit that distinguished this author’s THE BIRTHGRAVE.

The Author

Tanith Lee (* 19. September 1947, + 24. Mai 2015).

Tanith Lee was a British writer of science fiction, horror, and fantasy. She was the author of 77 novels, 14 collections, and almost 300 short stories. She also wrote four radio plays broadcast by the BBC and two scripts for the UK, science fiction, cult television series Blake's 7.

Before becoming a full time writer, Lee worked as a file clerk, an assistant librarian, a shop assistant, and a waitress.

Her first short story, Eustace, was published in 1968, and her first novel (for children) The Dragon Hoard was published in 1971.

Her career took off in 1975 with the acceptance by Daw Books USA of her adult fantasy epic The Birthgrave for publication as a mass-market paperback, and Lee has since maintained a prolific output in popular genre writing.

Lee twice won the World Fantasy Award: once in 1983 for best short fiction for The Gorgon and again in 1984 for best short fiction for Elle Est Trois (La Mort). She has been a Guest of Honour at numerous science fiction and fantasy conventions including the Boskone XVIII in Boston, USA in 1981, the 1984 World Fantasy Convention in Ottawa, Canada, and Orbital 2008 the British National Science Fiction convention (Eastercon) held in London, England in March 2008.

In 2009 she was awarded the prestigious title of Grand Master of Horror. Lee was the daughter of two ballroom dancers, Bernard and Hylda Lee. Despite a persistent rumor, she was not the daughter of the actor Bernard Lee who played M in the James Bond series of films of the 1960s.

Tanith Lee married author and artist John Kaiine in 1992.

Cover of the 1980 DAW-Books edition of DRINKING SAPPHIRE WINE

“Here I am!”

Shouted the desert, loud with life, for life there still was in it, waiting, stored, like seed.

“Here I am. Did you forget me? Forget me despite your dreams of me, your dreams of the sun and the rain and the antique tribes who roamed me once with their herds and their weird ways? You, who moaned and whined, covering metal-tape with cries and yearning, you, you effete thalldrap. Now’s your chance to prove you can do more than sit on your tail complaining and drinking sapphire wine with your tears of self-pity. Come, come and do battle with me, come and fight me. I am more than a match for you. I’ll devour you if I can, but will do it cleanly and openly, not with words and dark little tanks in Limbo. Don’t be afraid of human death and human age. I’ve seen it all, and I know it. It’s just dust blown over the rocks. Look at me, how dead and old I seem, and yet, watch me grow, watch me live. Come on. Come and find me. I’m waiting.”

TRANSCRIBER’S NOTE

Although I have put the Four BEE into equivalent modern English, the Jang slang vocabulary which the writer uses pales in translation. I have therefore left the twenty or so odd words she/he employs un- touched, and included a glossary, which provides an adequate if imperfect guide to what they mean. An additional glossary has also been added at the end of the book with reference to city and Jang customs and some other oddities, not explained in this second part of the autobiography.

Glossary of Jang Slang

attlevey Hello.

dalika Violent argument

derisann Lovely, beautiful.

droad Bored out of one’s mind.

drumdik Utterly horrible, the most ghastly thing.

farathoom Bloody, fucking hell.

floop Cunt. See also thalldrap.

graks Balls.

groshing Fabulous, marvelous.

insumatt Unsurpassable.

onk Mild ejaculation, e.g., “Bother.”

Ooma Darling, honey.

Ooma-kasma  Extreme term of affection, e.g., “love of my life,” not generally used.

promok Moron

seit Slow on the uptake, easy to fool.

soolka Well-groomed. Applied by Jang only to

non-Jang.

thalldrap See floop.

tosky Neurotic.

vixaxn  A word never written in full in the previous section of the autobiography. Though spelled fully here, the meaning—though obviously still pretty bad—is also still obscure.

zaradann Insane, nuts.

Glossary of General Terms

glar Early Four BEE title, similar to professor.

The term hung on as a polite name for Q-R teachers at the hypno-schools, but otherwise was extinct by this time.

mid-vrek Middle period of any vrek, lasting forty units.

rorl  Four BEE equivalent of a Century.

split Four BEE minute.

unit Four BEE day.

vrek Period of one hundred units.

Part One

1

“Hergal,” I said, “if you say that one more time I am personally going to knock you straight through that wall.”

Hergal looked at me in grave wonderment.

“All right.” he complied, and said it. He didn’t look surprised, either, when I got up and did exactly what I’d promised I’d do. Maybe he was only humoring me. As he lay there on the other side of the wall, surrounded by bits of shattered silk of crystal, I added:

“I suppose you’re too much of a damned ignoramus to know what comes next.”

“Absolutely,” said Hergal, removing glittering chips from his long orange hair and wringing spilled orange wine from his sleeves.

“Swords at dawn,” I said, “or pistols. Take your pick. My challenge, so it’s your choice.”

“You have been at the History Records again,” remarked Hergal, “and as I observed prior to our little dalika just now, being a male half the time is getting you all tangled up, old ooma. You’re predominantly female, so why don’t you— No chance to finish. I laid him flat on his back again.

He stared up at me woefully.

“Swords?” I inquired. “Or pistols?”

“Grak”, said Hergal. “If you want to play ancient grandeur, do it in the Adventure Palace like everyone else.”

And thus, rising to our gold-shod feet, we glared momentarily eye to eye, after which he strode out into the morning, whistling one of the current Jang favorites: “I only want to have love with you, for you are so derisann.”

About twenty robots and Q-Rs, of various descriptions but unanimously unfriendly, were bearing down on me, so I also strode out of the little restaurant on Crystal Terrace and made off along Crystal Walkway in the opposite direction to my friend, mate, and crony, Hergal the Turd.

To be quite frank, what really tied me up in a knot was the pure logic of Hergal’s deductions. True, I had been at the History Records—again. True, I, predominantly female as I was, had been male with no break for almost three vreks. There had, of course, been a variety of assorted bodies, but they were all much the same.

There were many like Zirk, who, when a male, tended to rangy heroic types with shoulders the width of Committee Hall doors, rippling bronze musculature, and a loud persona —for which Zirk made up, when female, by being about three feet tall, delicate as porcelain, and timid as a Four BOO sandrabbit. Then there were the ones like Kley, who, when male, was a quiet, well mannered nonentity, and became a raging bully when in girl shape. I, however, remained much the same either way. Always inclined to violence, chivalry, and general moodiness, the size of my breasts, or any alternative apparatus I happened to have about me, didn’t really color the situation to any vast degree—at least, I don’t think so. But my particular circle, which had enlarged itself, as most Jang circles do, over the last twelve vreks, had got sensitive about my “eternal maleness”—as Hergal was pleased to call it. I had come to the conclusion that Hergal, himself predominantly male, resented my intrusion on his preserves. He and I got on well enough when I was female and he male. But I had noticed, as time slithered by, that when we were both of one ilk, the fur flew. Another thing that troubled male Hergal in the male me was perhaps my superior success with the female portion of the group.

Thinta, in fact, was becoming a bit of a pain.

“You need looking after she would say. “Someone to keep an eye on you. You remember that business before. I haven’t forgotten. Neither has the Committee, you can be sure of that.” And then, glowing her cat’s eyes at me, “We’ll get married for mid-vrek, and you can come and live at home with me, and everything will be groshing. “

Thinta’s home was another of the ubiquitous palaces of Four BEE, with seven emerald towers, each one packed floor to roof with pale-green cats. Thinta had always had a cat fixation, which, unit by unit, seemed to be getting worse. Open a door in her place and a cat fell out; lie down on a couch in her place and a cat jumped on you. Having love there with Thinta could be an ordeal. The first time, I thought it was Thinta wailing and making those long, white-hot, silver-wire runnels down my back. But it wasn’t Thinta, it was three of Thinta’s cats.

“No thanks, Thinta,” I said. “We can marry for a unit, yes. But we’ll go to the floaters.”

But Thinta still liked to keep an eye on me. She would signal me in the center of night, and wake me out of deep slumber, and ask:

“How are you?”

She would arrive in her safe pink bird-plane at all the least convenient hours of sunlight, and say:

“Are you sure?”

Meanwhile, Zirk, when a sandrabbit, timorously appeared at the tables of restaurants where I was eating, or on the surface of water-skating pools, and whispered flutteringly: “Why, attlevey, ooma. Fancy meeting you!”

And Mirri, Hergal’s last love, the one he added to our circle personally, and with whom he spent so many secret hours, now pursued me up and down the movi-rails, walk-ways, and sky-lanes of Four BEE, her hair flapping like a rainbow flag, and her face alight with predatory instincts. Even Hergal I vaguely recall arriving at midnight in female form, and saying in a fascinated calculating fashion:

“You know, I think I begin to understand you at last.”

The scene with Hergal, however, in Crystal Air, had come about because we’d heard Danor was moving back from Four BAA.

Danor and I. That was distant history.

Danor and I and that silly chilly sequence those many vreks before, when she told me—he then, I she—that he couldn’t have love and like it. Danor jumping from a window in the floater clouds, and falling hundreds of feet into the city—pointless action, since the robots would be on him and have him removed to a new body inside the hour—yet just as if he meant it. ... To me, now, that event was somehow the beginning of what happened to me, all those things that happened to me back there, twelve vreks in my own past. My fight against the world, the biting and snapping of a wild animal at the sun. Look over my shoulder, and I’d see, in the wreckage, the struggle to find a challenge, the wild attempt to make a child and the fatal mistake that killed that child in its crystallize twilight; the nutty relationship—the only relationship that held anything for me—my love and my rapport with that pet I never named until it was too late. My pet who died. Death, death everywhere, death in this society where no one dies....

“I wonder what sex Danor is going to be for the homecoming,” said Hergal, looking at me obliquely through his apricot lashes.

“Female,” I said.

“Yes, she did stick at that for quite a while,” said Hergal.

Maybe he’d guessed why—because she said it was easier to pretend to passion that way. Lucky she never read the History Records as I had done, and found, among their other little horrors, the ironic essay on frigidity, some ten rorls old.

“Still,” said Hergal, “she’s been in BAA long enough to get over her perpetual girlhood. That’ll leave just you and Hatta as the circle freaks.”

I resented, I will admit, being classed with Hatta, whom we’d just seen trundle by outside, looking like a scarlet balloon on three legs that had been struck simultaneously by lightning and plague. Hatta had also thrown knives in my heart, but that was way back with the rest. Now he seemed to go about his compulsive ugliness in a spirit of inventive venom that was almost engaging. Each body was worse than the last, which should have been impossible. Maybe he hoped that we’d both throw up fourth meal at the sight of him when he leered in at the crystal window.

“Seen Mini lately?” I asked Hergal casually. I, too, had an armament.

“With you, I saw her,” said Hergal, “but don’t reckon on making Danor. Danor cracked up when you cracked up, and got out of BEE to get away from you. That’s why this is the first time she’s been back since.”

“How flattering,” I said, “to have such a profound effect.”

“Listen,” said Hergal, “you sit up there on your tail in the History Tower, in the dust with a couple of rusty robots that don’t know what rorl it is. You read about things that don’t exist anymore and won’t ever exist anymore. Adventures, wars, illness, obsolete social behavior patterns—poets." This last was a knock at my appearance, modeled by me from a sort of amalgam of the romantic pale young men who, with masses of loosely curling dark hair, slight and graceful builds, aquilinity of feature, and large shadow-smudged blue opals for eyes, were conjured three-dimensionally on the history walls from long-ago drawings of a vanished intellectual world. All these beings traditionally died young—of ancient, unheard-of diseases of the lungs, at sea, in battles, in burning planes and unexpected accidents. It seemed required of them, and I won’t say I never laughed in their pretty and tragic faces. Death of that kind was a hard thing to realize, even for me, in this place where death never permanently threatened human life. Imagine those poets’ expressions, rescued by the robots of Four BEE. and emerging newly clothed in flesh from the Limbo Tub. “Do you mean I have to write more verses of my bloody poem after all? How utterly drumdik.”

“Listen,” reiterated Hergal slyly, “you haven’t had a body change for ages. Go to Limbo and have one, and I’ll meet you. Do you remember that body of yours with the cinnamon skin and the lemon hair? That was really insumatt."

“You mean the female body?”

“Oh, yes,” said Hergal. “Why not get them to look it up and Order it again? Then you and I can make a couple of units of it.”

“So you know for certain,” I said, “that Danor is coming back female.” Hergal looked at me. I added: “Danor and I have a longstanding agreement. I shouldn’t like to let her down. Perhaps you could persuade Mirri. I’ll tell her I’ve got something else on.”

“You only get them,” said Hergal, “because you’re still seven-eighths one of them. It’s cannibalism.”

“What erudition,” I said. “Can it be you’ve been to the History Tower too? With so much time on your hands these days...”

“You’re a misfit,” said Hergal. “You always were. You don’t go to the Dream Rooms because you can’t even get through a dream any more without messing it up. You’re trying to live eighty rorls back in the past because you can’t come to terms with things as they are.”

“You can,” I said. “You’ve stopped crashing onto the Zeefahr Monument, and last mid-vrek you hanged yourself in Ilex Park off a jade tree, where all the kids from hypno-school could see you. How well adjusted.”

“At least,” said Hergal, “when I get out of Jang I’ll be able to make a little kid go to hypno-school, since I didn’t manage to annihilate the last one.”

Definitely he had been snuffling about in the History Tower. The words were archaic, as half of mine were now. But no matter. This was the moment when I swatted him right through the wall, and we presently parted company.

I’d known, however, despite my challenge, that he was a safe dead loss for a duel, even if he had read about them. Picture Hergal firing from the shoulder at ten paces in the dawn. Yawning would spoil his aim.

2

“Attlevey,” said a sharp metallic voice. I detected who it was before I looked round.

“Well, if it isn’t Kley,” I said.

Kley was female right now, which meant watch out, but, when I glanced about, in a new body. Dazzling. Hair like lava, eyes like raw gold, skin like polished brass, and dressed to kill in see-through patterned with gold daggers, and with a brazen skull—of all antique masterpieces—grinning on her groin shield.

“I must say,” she said, “you’re looking pale.”

“That’s the idea, Kley. My body’s designed to look pale.” “Oh, yes. You’re being a consummated poet, aren’t you?”

“Consumptive, ooma, consumptive,” I said.

“Filthy,” she said. “Your ideas are absolutely sick.”

“Sick as anything,” I agreed. “Sick as three Jang in an angelfood factory.”

“And your vocabulary!” she bawled. “Those words! Factory? What’s that?”

“A place where they make audio plugs,” I said.

We were on the old, non-moving walkway that trails up from behind Third Sector Committee Hall, and leads eventually to the History Tower. It was a remote route, not much favored, for the Tower itself was rarely visited, and so Kley’s arrival on my heels was as unexpected as it was unwelcome.

“You ought to pull yourself together,” she now bellowed, her voice striking and bouncing back off the steel statues lining the walk. “It’s all over the city about your dalika with Hergal. Even the flashes reported it.”

“Whoopee,” I said. I had turned and was walking on, but she kept after me and even grasped my arm firmly with a gold-gloved hand.

“Danor’s coming back on the sky-boat at sunset.”

“Yes, I know.”

“And you’re going to meet her?”

“Kley,” I said, “right now I’m on my way to the History Tower.”

“Oh no,” she said, “you’re coming with me. I’ve been reading the latest Jang love manual, the Purple Summit. You’re going to many me for the afternoon and we’re going to do everything it says together, including the Trapezium with the red-hot Star-Whip, and—”

“Kley,” I said, “look at me. Do I look strong enough to go through anything like that?”

“Of course you don’t,” she snapped. “That’s how you had the body made, isn’t it? But if I know you—”

“Kley,” I said, “you don’t.”

Unlike the bright and burnished History Museum—where a couple of rorls worth of Flash Records and similar junk were kept—the History Tower, Harbinger of the Arcane, was suitably black, old, grim, and uninviting.

And the facade worked pretty well. How many people went there? Twice, when I was pouring over some vis-plates, I heard the distant puttering of somebody else in another part of the building, the hiss of a flying floor going up and down. And once an Older Person, female and disapproving, came marching in to look up the origins of some committee motto for a treatise she was writing—or said she was. I wasn’t in my poetic body then, and she scowled at me as I slouched there robustly. I heard her later mutter something to one of the elderly robots that clanked about the Tower that Jang should not be allowed in.

And when did I first enter those portals? About twenty units after I got out of Limbo that time, twelve vreks gone, when I made history myself by passing out cold, and was compulsorily refitted with flesh. Thinta had visited me, oh yes, I well recall. Thinta, clothed by innuendo: “Do you remember that funny word ...” I had uttered it, apparently, on my way down. The funny word had turned out to be “God.” Thinta said she’d looked it up in the History Records. She said it sounded like a kind of very large special computer. She said it worried her, so she’d come along and worried me with it so she could feel better. In the end I arrived at the Tower to investigate for myself. I never really unraveled the mystery. The farther back you went, the more fragmentary the Records—and it was something to do, I believe, with the days when uncertainty was everywhere. However, I began to like the privacy of the Tower, and I began to delve into the Records, fragmentary or not, for their own sake. The things they teach you at hypno-school are barely a scratch on the surface.

It was a substitute, too, let’s face it, for the activities I’d given up, like the Dream Rooms, since even the most meticulously programmed dreams—awash with swords, dragons, and so on—invariably turned into nightmares of the unprogrammed sort. The very last time I went I woke up screaming, and created history once again in Four BEE. I’d dreamed I was fighting a great monster of fire that burned flesh from bone, and it wouldn’t die however often I severed its head or pierced its heart. That was a dream I’d grown used to since, but at least I didn’t pay a Dream Room any more to saddle me with it.

In the Tower, a crotchety robot came wheezing up. It looked quite pleased to see me, and its lights did a little display. The rooms smelled of metal and dust and a sort of incense smell, too, from some of the very ancient books which were kept in special vacuum containers and turned over by air jets rather than machine, to keep them from crumbling into bits.

Actually I didn’t delve much on this particular visit. I sat in my alcove with some old (about ten rorls) music playing at me, and began to entertain rather romantic thoughts about Danor. Of course, she might be the disappointment of the vrek. Or she might have turned into a Hatta-horror, though it seemed unlikely. Poor frigid Danor. My reading up here had given me a few ideas. Looked at calmly, Danor was in the nature of a scientific experiment, but dress yourself in a poet’s skin and you find you’ve reached for a machine, and started to compose poetry to go with it. A Jang love poem for Danor, as elegant, charming, and empty as an unfilled room.

She must have left Four BEE about the same moment I emerged from Limbo, carrying a cask of metal tape under my arm—that depressing saga of events I’d authored there. Possibly Hergal’s mouthings were true; she’d lied in fear of me, since our individual descents into misery occurred about jointly. But why come back?

Finally I switched off the music and abandoned the alcove. Beyond the transparalyzed windows, the Four BEE sun was trudging down the sky.

And there, on a Steel bench, lolled Kley, smoking a hilarious golden cigar.

“Paler than ever,” she remarked acidly. She flipped open an armband and offered me an energy pill, which I declined. “Going to faint at Danor’s feet, are you?”

Yes, someone would always dig that up.

“That shouldn’t be necessary,” I said.

“Well, come on,” she vociferated. Her finger-long nails flashed in the sunset. “The whole circle’s going to the lock to welcome her in. Probably a few other circles, too, recollecting that old thing she had about playing hard to get.”

“Go on, Kley,” I said. “Strain yourself; play hard to get.” She nearly got me with a sideswipe of those nails, and five robots came over and hustled us out with disapproving creaks.

3

Bells rang. A soft explosion marked the closing of the dome locks, and Danor’s sky-boat sailed down out of Four BEE’s turgidly perfect sunset like a large silver bird.

You could tell the boat came from BAA, city of the fabulous. Rubies flashed on the covered window spaces, which protected the passengers, as ever, from glimpses of the wild desert that reigns and rampages about beyond the domes. And when the exit ports opened, they spilled a crowd in trailing cloaks of noncombustible fire and similar finery, and with alarming android pet animals and crates of extraordinary luggage, not to mention a flock of baas, now bees. No longer did I use a bee. I carried things about on my person when I bothered to carry anything. The old bee, which always fell on me, more than partly with my own connivance, now lay among that heap of forgotten detritus that cluttered the upper rooms of home.

Hergal was loitering at the edge of the Arrival Stretch with Zirk-as-hero. Both gave me sidelong apprehensive looks, and Zirk flexed a bicep or two in obvious warning. Of Hatta there was, fortunately, no sign, and Mim had not come either. Thinta, however, materializing in a mild frenzy, darted up and glared at Kley with one of those unique Thinta-glares that convey as much menace as a lollipop.

“Attlevey,” said Kley, poking me in the ribs by way of a comma. “She here yet? Or do I finally say ‘he’?"

“Are you all right?” Thinta asked me. “You look so washed-out. (Danor? No, at least, we don’t know.) Did you remember to have a meal injection?”

Nobody knew what body Danor was going to be in. Zirk was having a bet with a Jang male from some other circle that it was that nice little thing in pink, and the Jang male— Doval, by name—was saying he thought it was the other, nicer little thing in red.

“Yes, Thinta,” I said.

“But are you sure?” Thinta persisted. “Because I’ve brought some nutrition pills with me in case.”

Just then I saw Danor. It was quite easy to spot her—yes, her. The dashing quality and the poignancy were still there, and you could see them clearly, shining up like light through colored glass. If you really looked. The others were still jostling and haggling and waving at the four points of the com pass. And Kley suddenly yelled out that maybe Danor had graduated to Older Person status, and slapped on the back a dignified woman, who promptly began to complain about it to the nearest robot. Amid the confusion I slipped my guards —Kley, Thinta—strolled across to the reception area, and reached it at the very split Danor came away.

Hair like a blue raincloud, and a BAA dress of transparent lightnings. She was leading by a chain of sapphires a sort of swan animal, elegantly stepping on very stiff legs, its plumage just the shade of her own lavender eyes.

“Hallo, Danor.”

She glanced up and at me, quizzically.

“You know me? How derisann. And you?”

I told her.

“Oh—” she said, as if she were going on to say something else, and then hesitated. But her eyes, those lavender eyes, were open as two doors on a sort of turmoil—alarm, pleasure, cowardice, memory. She’d gone right back to the time she/ he jumped off the floater, I could tell right back to the Secret. No one else knew, surely? No one but me.

“You sealed my lips with a kiss, remember?” I said.

“Did I? Oh, yes,” she said. Then a troubled frown. She had apparently progressed beyond that kiss now, beyond the Archaeological Expedition, to the part when I, uttering incomprehensible moans about God and boredom, fell prone upon the floor of the Robotics Museum. Returning afterward from Limbo, I had found her gone, or would have had I been thinking of Danor then. “Are you happy?” she said to me, blatantly, gently.

“I’m noted for it,” I said. She looked away. “And you? How was BAA all these vreks?”

"Insumatt,” she said, “of course.”

Her swan meanwhile had lifted one stiff immaculate leg and was peeing up the side of a reception pillar, a thing which surprised me, since the android animals of BAA are generally without bodily functions. Two Q-Rs were spraying disinfectant over all of us except, maybe, missing the swan.

Zirk had come bounding up too, and was staring nonplussed at the scene, his Herculean face going magenta with explosive emotion. Finally he got out:

“You must be Danor!”

“Danor?” I said. ‘This isn’t Danor. Danor is the nice little thing in pink.”

Danor remained silent.

Zirk floundered and his pectorals deflated uncertainly.

“Well, I did reckon the one in pink was ... But then, who’s this?”

“Does it matter?” I said. “You look after your interests and I take care of mine.” I craned to his ear. “After all, I gave up the Danor idea when I saw you and Hergal getting to work. I should watch Hergal,” I added.

Zirk spun round, registered Hergal’s position, and then galloped boat-ward to envelope the pink girl with Four BEE gallantry. How surprised she was going to be. Kley and Thinta were gawping at me, and Kley’s golden eyes had a leopardine gleam.

“Danor,” I said, “there is a robot bird-plane for hire about ten paces to our left. You didn’t protest a moment ago, so I assume you won’t now.” And I took her hand, and she, I, and the swan ran for the plane and leaped inside. The swan landed on the dashboard, its beak making a merry rattling sound and its wings smiting left and right. I depressed the “PAY ON LANDING” button, closed the ignition switch, and we were sailing into the velvet upper air of the city. The swan also erupted into flight and whizzed about our heads.

Danor giggled, hauling on the sapphire chain. The swan settled abruptly and the birdplane plunged to port.

“How silly,” said Danor. “Be calm,” she murmured to the swan, and to me: “It was a genetic mistake. The flashes in BAA reported it. It came out of the tank wrong and they were going to dismantle it. But I asked Kam if I couldn’t have it, and he said yes and arranged it.”

“How splendid of Kam,” I said.

“Kam was an Older Person,” said Danor. She folded her hands in her lap on top of the swan. Very serenely she said: “We lived together for eight vreks. Yes, ooma, a Jang girl with an older male. Watch the buttons,” she said softly as I inadvertently spun us into a Hergal-type dive—the old Hergal. “The Committee finally got around to suggesting we part company. They told us, very kindly, that it was not one, not good for us, not healthy. They told Kam that he was ruining my life, so he made me go.”

The swan began to sing in a high-pitched inappropriate voice:

“I only want to have love with you, for you are so derisann.”

We changed to a bubble, and got along Peridot Waterway and so home. I didn’t pay for the birdplane—I seldom did when I could avoid it—but I felt I had to for the bubble, since the swan, obviously a creature of irregular habits, crapped lethargically all over it. Danor did not apologize for the swan, for which I admired her.

At home, we went into the suite of rooms I still occasionally used. An immediate machine came crawling out of the wall and sidled up to Danor, imploring her to let it get her some topaz meringue or crushed fire-apple. Danor declined, which intrigued me; once she had adored food at any hour of night or day. She inquired instead if the swan could have some syntho fruit juice. I acquiesced with mixed feelings.

We sat together in the garden by the pool under the huge artificial stars of Four BEE—Danor, the swan, and I.

“Can it swim at all?” I asked.

“Oh, no,” said Danor. The swan was apparently a total failure, which was why she loved it.

We had said no more about Kam. At least, I had asked nothing and Danor had volunteered no more. But now, reflectively, she began to talk again. I could tell from her voice, so level and unbitter, that the story caused her great pain, but it was a pain she had mastered. She was informing me, not because she needed to, but out of a sense of fairness. Because to her, as to me, the brief weird trouble between us in the past had achieved importance over the vreks which followed. Danor and I had never been close. In those days Hergal was nearer to me, even Thinta, in her irritating way. But now, under the monotonous starlight, we might have been the offspring of the same makers, brother and sister.