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He was standing under a white-gold sky, with brown shale under his feet.
Russell's image smiled. His red hair was a mane of curls around his white face. Emerald earrings matched the bright green of his eyes. He was holding out a hand in welcome. The illusion was perfect. Jimson's heartbeat quickened. He curled his fingers around the cold hard visicube until the edges bit into his palm. When he opened the fist, the image had not changed. It looked at him from arm's length, clear and small, as far away as the past.
He heard Raina's step outside the cubicle and shoved the cube into a pocket. She came through the sliding door, her dark hair set off by her white Senior's smock.
"Well?" he asked, impatient to be gone.
"All negative. I don't know, why you think you're sick." She always made the same joke.
"Same prescription?" he asked. Not that it mattered. He'd been on the damn drugs all his life without knowing even their names.
"Exactly the same. It's holding you well." She flipped the drug disc to him; he picked it from the air. It was round, like his old one, but red instead of sky-blue.
Shoving it in the pocket, too, he felt it click against the visicube.
"You'll be glad to get home," Raina said.
He shrugged. Clinic depressed him. No one got cancer anymore. Genetic predisposition to it could be detected in utero by the Kim test and treated at birth. There had been no false negatives on the test in twenty-five years. He hated being the freak, a body with a rare disease, to be needled and probed and lectured about to awed, gawking medical students.
"You don't have enough pictures on the walls," he said.
"There's a print of yours on the wall outside this office!" Raina pointed out indignantly.
Her black eyes seemed to sharpen. "Famous artist in a slump?"
"It's lasted a little long to be a slump," he said grimly. "More like a slough."
"I saw your show four months ago. I liked it."
The praise made him angry. "There wasn't a new line in it," he said. "It was stale as old beer, and boring. My agent tells me it did very well, really well." He mimicked Samson's over-enthusiastic tones. Ah, it was no good raging at Raina. None of it was her fault. It was just—ah, stars, he was so bored!
Once Las Flores had been a place of magic, of escape. An artists' town! It had opened up the world to him at sixteen. From it he had traveled to every city on New Terrain. Now he was thirty, with nowhere to go, and the weight of time piling up behind him like the rubble of an old building made him want to gag.
He rubbed his hands together, caught himself doing it, and looked for something else to do with them. He fished the drug disc out of his pocket and snapped it into his bracelet.
"You know," he said, trying to sound casual about it, "my best friend left New Terrain before I left the town I was born in."
"Your name is known all over the galaxy," she said.
"In places I've never seen. And never will see." He held up the bracelet around his wrist. It was fashioned of alternating clear and gold links. The clear links opened to hold I-discs. "See this? A friend made it for me. She's a goldsmith. She copied this from necklaces on Chabad. She spent a year there studying their work and techniques. Another place I'll never get to see." He wondered sometimes if she understood, could understand, his anger. Most of the people she saw and treated went home cured, and would live to be a hundred, and more. His cancer could be controlled—so far, Alleca, so far—but not cured. One day it would kill him.
Maybe Raina understands, he thought. She's known me a long time.
Raina said compassionately, "You must have a long list, Jim."
A long list, yes, and early begun. Always he pushed it out of his mind, and went back to his work. Plenty of people never saw a starship, never went into the Hype, their whole lives. But they had the choice, the chance. Lying alone at night, watching Epsilon Moon, the big moon, turning and turning in the sky, the notion of space gnawed at him, sharper than the ache in his bones.
"I'd like to go to Pellin," he said. "Yamaguchi is there, one hundred fifty years old, sitting with his brushes and ink as if he were two thousand years old, doing sumi-e. And Dakar. I have a friend on Dakar." He smiled with the pleasure of that memory. The sculptor Chudra, that great man, had come from Dakar to see him, Jimson Alleca, on the occasion of his second show. Jimson could still feel, round his shoulders, the hug that had swept him off his feet. "I know you do not leave New Terrain. I come to you." He'd warmed himself at that fire of praise. "You are a scribbler," Chudra had said, beaming at him. "Someday you must come and see our stone." Dakar had the finest marble quarries in the Living Worlds. Jimson had dreams about Dakar.
"Tell me about the research," he asked.
"Nothing's changed. The mutation rate of cancers sent through Hyperspace is still 96%. Jim—why can't you forget it? There's a whole world for you here."
"Because I've stopped working." He tried to be precise. "I'm a rat in a cage: an illustrious rat, and it's a plush cage, but I can still see bars." His left leg began to ache and he cursed it silently. "I think the bars would dissolve in my head if I could get off New Terrain. See something new. I'm tired of what I can see. I want to see something different. And it's been fourteen years since I've wanted anything as badly."
"You can go," Raina said evenly. "You can go off-world as soon as you get a renewable drug disc. And you can go through the Hype, and it will kill you."
Knowing the answer, he said: "Issue me the disc."
"I can't. Not without the examination. You know the law."
Yes. I know the law. He could not get an indefinitely renewable drug disc without telepathic examination. He could leave Las Flores, use up his present drug disc, walk into a clinic anywhere on New Terrain, and get another disc. But these discs would only function on New Terrain. Illegal drug traffic was still a problem as wide as the galaxy. It was curtailed, but not controlled, by the vigilance of the Hype cops and the motive-probing telepaths.
But everyone had heard, had grown up with, terrible stories about the examinations. His fear seemed as old as birth. He exhaled.
"It's not that bad," Raina said. "I've had one. Seniors must. So has every Hyper who's gone into space. They must. The Hype can drive you crazy if you don't start out very, very sane."
"I know that," Jimson said. He remembered the afternoon he had waited for Russell to come back from the examination. Not knowing if Russell would pass or fail, not knowing if he wanted Russell to pass and leave, or fail and stay.... But he had passed. Passed, and never talked about it. "No."
"Other places, other worlds—they just aren't all that different."
"Where have you been, Raina, besides New Terrain?"
"Well, I was born on Haven. I did my fieldwork on China III."
"What color is the sun on China III?"
"The sun?" She thought. "It's yellow, I suppose."
"Like New Terrain?"
"Not exactly. It's brighter, I think. Maybe a whiter yellow. I remember we wore sunshades a lot. It must have been a different light."
"I want to see a different light."
It was no good giving Raina a hard time, he thought, as he walked out of the clinic. She was just the bearer of tidings he didn't want to hear. Nothing's changed. Damn the research! He rubbed his hands together, feeling the hard thick knuckles, the calluses on his middle right finger that his pens had made; the one on his thumb from the brush. At least his hands were free. His leg ached sometimes, but he had been living with that ache most of his life. It was not true, though, what he had once read, that pain became like an old friend. Pain was never a friend.
Three years back it had struck him down; agonizing, bone-deep pain that had made him feel like raw meat, hung on a rack of jolting, diseased bones. Alone in his studio he had rolled on the floor, hands between his knees, knees to his belly, rolled without the strength to scream. They had raked him with tests, and changed the medication. That drug—a synthetic from Mira— had held him, so far. What would it be like the day that no drug, no treatment, could stop the pain? Let me get out of here before then. To see another sun, just once....
It was a short walk to his home. The walls were covered with his favorite prints; a relief to his eyes after the smooth pastels of the clinic. He threw his pack onto the bed. It held a change of clothes, his notebook, pens—he drew from it the small print of the Polish Rider that he had brought with him to the clinic and tacked to the wall. During the nights, light seeping like water through the opalescent door had illuminated it enough so that, cheek on pillow, he could see it. Young man on horseback, pausing a moment in his journey, clothed in fur, his hat and tight pants a slash of red, ruins behind him fading into a brown and formless hillside.... Jimson looked over at the larger print on his wall. The pale rider seemed to smile. Had Death come to the artist so, as a beautiful redheaded youth? It was a gentle death to contemplate.
Easier than the nightmare that woke him, of a cancerous deformed skeleton that reached out its fingerbones to him, and spoke in his own voice....
The doorchime sounded.
He went to look. It was Dina. He opened the door. She came in wearing a long cloak that looked like gold snakeskin. Bracelets jangling, she swung in a graceful circle for his admiration. "Nice, huh. I'm a goldsmith, so I wear gold!"
"I like it." She looked splendid, with her crown of ebony hair, and skin which was the color—but exactly!—of old polished bronze.
"I'm glad. You missed a party. We gave one yesterday for Kas, to celebrate his new pots.
We drank wine and got potted."
"Got what?" he asked.
"Potted. It's a word from Old Terra. It means drunk."
"You made it up."
When she had gone he went to his desk and took out a fresh sketchbook. He played around the edges of the paper. What might a potted person look like? He drew a little picture of Kas the potter in one of his own tall pots, up to his knees in earth. He made a squiggle round the outside, like lace. He drew a small umbrella over Kas's head, and rain falling from a watering can over the umbrella. He set that sheet aside and took another one. There were some faces at the clinic that he'd itched to draw on the spot. That young medic who'd taken the first set of X-rays had looked a little bit like Russ....
It was dark out when he pulled away from the desk. His bones ached; not only from weariness but because he was late for his pill. Shaking out a capsule from the bottle, he walked to the wall fountain that he had designed and Kas had made for him. Fresh water bubbled continuously from its hollows, making a soft alive sound that was background to his working hours. He tossed the pill back and bent for a mouthful of water. It splashed across his face like a cool blessing. He left his clothes on the floor and dropped to the bed, reaching up for the light. As the ache subsided, sleep came on like a sweet drenching wave.
In the morning he went first, naked, to the desk. He went through the sketchbook. He set the cartoon of Kas aside: he would redo it, and give it to the potter as a gift. The rest of the sheets—he gathered them up to stuff them in the disposal, but at the last moment changed his mind and piled them into a corner. They were not bad, just mediocre, BORING. There was not a line in them that he couldn't have drawn six months ago.
The sky through his window was a deep ultramarine. Through his windows he could see the vines with their many-hued flowers that gave Las Flores its name pouring over terraces and walls of houses. His hands twisted and rubbed together, a gesture he had carried with him from childhood when it had seemed to relieve the ache in his leg. Putting sketchbook and pens into his bag, he slung it onto his shoulder. There was nowhere in Las Flores he much wanted to go, but he could not wholly waste the brilliant light. He went out to look at it.CHAPTER 2
When he walked through the clinic door three days later, the medic on morning duty pretended tactfully not to know him. "Alleca, isn't it?"
"Is Senior Ramoz here today? I need to talk to her."
The medic asked no questions. Raina's chime sounded over the call system. "Would you care to wait for her in a cubicle?"
Jimson paced impatiently in the pastel box, waiting for the door to slide back. The sharp edge of the visicube, still in his pocket, rubbed against his thigh.
Raina came in. "What is it, Jim?"
He paced, and talked. She sat at the desk, straightening the papers.
He finished, and waited for her response.
"You're sure?" she asked.
"I'm sure," Jimson said. "I'm scared shitless—but I need a drug disc to go offplanet, and if that's the only way to get one, that's how I'll have to do it."
"All right," she said. "As it happens, I think Ensel is not very busy this morning. Have you the time? If he's willing, it can all be over in a little while."
There was challenge in her voice. Put up or shut up. Fear tightened Jimson's throat. Now? So soon? But he managed a nod. Raina went out the door and came back very quickly. "Come with me."
Jimson followed her. She brought him to a door and held it for him. "Here?" At her nod, he went in. He saw a bed with high sides, almost like a crib. There was someone in it, and a chair beside it. Automatically he sat down. Supported on pillows within the crib was a spindly-limbed boy, too big to be a child, with a grotesquely big head on a skinny neck. His eyes were black and shiny and the skin around them was puffy.
Had Raina led him to the wrong room?
"I'm sorry," Jimson said gently, "I didn't mean to disturb you."
"You have not," said the boy, and he tilted his heavy head forward and up to look into Jimson's eyes.
Eyes, crib slats, walls whirled back, away. Vertigo possessed him. His senses disengaged; there was a terrifying mélange in his mind. He felt as if his arms and legs were stretching far away from his torso; he fragmented, he disconnected. There was an otherness within him, a steady, purposeful sentience not his own inside his skull, sliding through the boundaries of his mind like a drill through slippery sand. It was a violation so complete and alien that he could not even name it as pain.
When the other withdrew and he could again recognize himself, arms and legs and head, he discovered that he was slumped in the chair, unable to move. He was so nauseated that it took all his minute control to swallow and not be instantly sick. Through the slats, black eyes watched him coolly. Savagely he thought at them: "I'd love to puke in your bed!"
The telepath's lips curved in a smile.
Then there were people around him, and he felt a needle prick his arm. Nausea lessened, and then surged back as he was lifted onto a cart. Thankfully he noticed a basin beneath his chin and vomited. His insides were heaving as if they were trying to get out. "So go," he muttered. Another needle.
As if he were falling down a long dark tunnel, he collapsed.
When he woke up he wondered if his body had been eviscerated and then reconstructed.
Stars! But at least he was no longer sick. He tried to sit up, but his muscles refused to respond. His arms barely moved an inch. Raina leaned over him, fingers around his wrist.
"How are you feeling?" she asked. "Not so sick, eh?"
"No," Jimson said. "Better." The words slurred.
"I thought I'd give you a chance to curse at me."
Jimson tried to shrug. "Tired."
"I know. I remember."
Jimson looked his question.
"I've been through it three times," said the Senior Medic. "Ensel and I are old friends now."
Three times! Jimson forced himself to sustain speech. "You must have wanted something very badly," he said.
Excerpted from A Different Light by Elizabeth A. Lynn. Copyright © 1978 Elizabeth A. Lynn. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted November 25, 2006
Elizabeth A. Lynn's 'A different light' is a spectacular achievement in the world of science fiction. It is a novel of love. It is a novel of uncertainty. It is a novel of passion. It is a novel of 'deep space'. The work is embellished with rich and robust characters such as Russell O'Neill. The story's sick protagonist teaches the reader's a lesson about taking risks, exploring the universe, and living life to the fullest. With beautiful diction and superb imagery, Lynn has written a masterpiece.
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