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The Dosadi Experiment
By Herbert, Frank
Tor BooksCopyright © 2002 Herbert, Frank
All right reserved.
Why are you so cold and mechanical in your Human relationships?"
Jorj X. McKie was to reflect on that Caleban question later. Had she been trying to alert him to the Dosadi Experiment and to what his investigation of that experiment might do to him? He hadn't even known about Dosadi at the time and the pressures of the Caleban communications trance, the accusatory tone she took, had precluded other considerations.
Still, it rankled. He didn't like the feeling that he might be a subject of her research into Humans. He'd always thought of that particular Caleban as his friend--if one could consider being friendly with a creature whose visible manifestation in this universe was a fourth-magnitude yellow sun visible from Central Central where the Bureau of Sabotage maintained its headquarters. And there was inevitable discomfort in Caleban communication. You sank into a trembling, jerking trance while they made their words appear in your consciousness.
But his uncertainty remained: had she tried to tell him something beyond the plain content of her words?
When the weather makers kept the evening rain period short, McKie liked to go outdoors immediately afterward and stroll in the parkenclosure which BuSab provided for its employees on Central Central. As a Saboteur Extraordinary, McKie had free run of the enclosure and he liked the fresh smells of the place after a rain.
The park covered about thirty hectares, deep in a well of Bureau buildings. It was a scrambling hodgepodge of plantings cut by wide paths which circled and twisted through specimens from every inhabited planet of the known universe. No care had been taken to provide a particular area for any sentient species. If there was any plan to the park it was a maintenance plan with plants requiring similar conditions and care held in their own sectors. Giant Spear Pines from Sasak occupied a knoll near one corner surrounded by mounds of Flame Briar from Rudiria. There were bold stretches of lawn and hidden scraps of lawn, and some flat stretches of greenery which were not lawns at all but mobile sheets of predatory leaf imprisoned behind thin moats of caustic water.
Rain-jeweled flowers often held McKie's attention to the exclusion of all else. There was a single planting of Lilium Grossa, its red blossoms twice his height casting long shadows over a wriggling carpet of blue Syringa, each miniature bloom opening and closing at random like tiny mouths gasping for air.
Sometimes, floral perfumes stopped his progress and held him in a momentary olfactory thralldom while his eyes searched out the source. As often as not, the plant would be a dangerous one--a flesh eater or poison-sweat variety. Warning signs in flashing Galach guarded such plantings. Sonabarriers, moats, and force fields edged the winding paths in many areas.
McKie had a favorite spot in the park, a bench with its back to a fountain where he could sit and watch the shadows collect across fat yellow bushes from the floating islands of Tandaloor. The yellow bushes thrived because their roots were washed in running water hidden beneath the soil and renewed by the fountain. Beneath the yellow bushes there were faint gleams of phosphorescent silver enclosed by a force field and identified by a low sign:
"Sangeet Mobilus, a blood-sucking perennial from Bisaj. Extreme danger to all sentient species. Do not intrude any portion of your body beyond the force field."
As he sat on the bench, McKie thought about that sign. The universe often mixed the beautiful and the dangerous. This was a deliberate mixture in the park. The yellow bushes, the fragrant and benign Golden Iridens, had been mingled with Sangeet Mobilus. The two supported each other and both thrived. The ConSentient government which McKie served often made such mixtures...sometimes by accident.
Sometimes by design.
He listened to the splashing of the fountain while the shadows thickened and the tiny border lights came on along the paths. The tops of the buildings beyond the park became a palette where the sunset laid out its final display of the day.
In that instant, the Caleban contact caught him and he felt his body slip into the helpless communications trance. The mental tendrils were immediately identified--Fannie Mae. And he thought, as he often had, what an improbable name that was for a star entity. He heard no sounds, but his hearing centers responded as to spoken words, and the inward glow was unmistakable. It was Fannie Mae, her syntax far more sophisticated than during their earliest encounters.
"You admire one of us," she said, indicating his attention on the sun which had just set beyond the buildings.
"I try not to think of any star as a Caleban," he responded. "It interferes with my awareness of the natural beauty."
"Natural? McKie, you don't understand your own awareness, nor even how you employ it!"
That was her beginning--accusatory, attacking, unlike any previous contact with this Caleban he'd thought of as friend. And she employed her verb forms with new deftness, almost as though showing off, parading her understanding of his language.
"What do you want, Fannie Mae?"
"I consider your relationships with females of your species. You have entered marriage relationships which number more than fifty. Not so?"
"That's right. Yes. Why do you..."
"I am your friend, McKie. What is your feeling toward me?"
He thought about that. There was a demanding intensity in her question. He owed his life to this Caleban with an improbable name. For that matter, she owed her life to him. Together, they'd resolved the Whipping Star threat. Now, many Calebans provided the jumpdoors by which other beings moved in a single step from planet to planet, but once Fannie Mae had held all of those jumpdoor threads, her life threatened through the odd honor code by which Calebans maintained their contractual obligations. And McKie had saved her life. He had but to think about their past interdependence and a warm sense of camaraderie suffused him.
Fannie Mae sensed this.
"Yes, McKie, that is friendship, is love. Do you possess this feeling toward Human female companions?"
Her question angered him. Why was she prying? His private sexual relationships were no concern of hers!
"Your love turns easily to anger," she chided.
"There are limits to how deeply a Saboteur Extraordinary can allow himself to be involved with anyone."
"Which came first, McKie--the Saboteur Extraordinary or these limits?"
Her response carried obvious derision. Had he chosen the Bureau because he was incapable of warm relationships? But he really cared for Fannie Mae! He admired her...and she could hurt him because he admired her and felt...felt this way.
He spoke out of his anger and hurt.
"Without the Bureau there'd be no ConSentiency and no need for Calebans."
"Yes, indeed. People have but to look at a dread agent from BuSab and know fear."
It was intolerable, but he couldn't escape the underlying warmth he felt toward this strange Caleban entity, this being who could creep unguarded into his mind and talk to him as no other being dared. If only he had found a woman to share that kind of intimacy...
And this was the part of their conversation which came back to haunt him. After months with no contact between them, why had she chosen that moment--just three days before the Dosadi crisis burst upon the Bureau? She'd pulled out his ego, his deepest sense of identity. She'd shaken that ego and then she'd skewered him with her barbed question:
"Why are you so cold and mechanical in your Human relationships?"
Her irony could not be evaded. She'd made him appear ridiculous in his own eyes. He could feel warmth, yes...even love, for a Caleban but not for a Human female. This unguarded feeling he held for Fannie Mae had never been directed at any of his marital companions. Fannie Mae had aroused his anger, then reduced his anger to verbal breast-beating, and finally to silent hurt. Still, the love remained.
Human females were bed partners. They were bodies which used him and which he used. That was out of the question with this Caleban. She was a star burning with atomic fires, her seat of consciousness unimaginable to other sentients. Yet, she could extract love from him. He gave this love freely and she knew it. There was no hiding an emotion from a Caleban when she sent her mental tendrils into your awareness.
She'd certainly known he would see the irony. That had to be part of her motive in such an attack. But Calebans seldom acted from a single motive--which was part of their charm and the essence of their most irritant exchanges with other sentient beings.
"McKie?" Softly in his mind.
"I show you now a fractional bit of my feeling toward your node."
Like a balloon being inflated by a swift surge of gas, he felt himself suffused by a projected sense of concern, of caring. He was drowning in it...wanted to drown in it. His entire body radiated this white-hot sense of protective attention. For a whole minute after it was withdrawn, he still glowed with it.
A fractional bit?
"Have I hurt you?"
He felt alone, emptied.
"The full extent of my nodal involvement would destroy you. Some Humans have suspected this about love."
She was confusing him as she'd done in their first encounters. How could the Calebans describe love as...nodal involvement?
"Labels depend on viewpoint," she said. "You look at the universe through too narrow an opening. We despair of you sometimes."
There she was again, attacking.
He fell back on a childhood platitude.
"I am what I am and that's all I am."
"You may soon learn, friend McKie, that you're more than you thought."
With that, she'd broken the contact. He'd awakened in damp, chilly darkness, the sound of the fountain loud in his ears. Nothing he did would bring her back into communication, not even when he'd spent some of his own credits on a Taprisiot in a vain attempt to call her.
His Caleban friend had shut him out.
Copyright 1977 by Frank Herbert
Excerpted from The Dosadi Experiment by Herbert, Frank Copyright © 2002 by Herbert, Frank. Excerpted by permission.
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