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When bad people are chasing you, life is dangerous. When good people are chasing you, life is awkward. But when you are chasing yourself, the most simple facts of existence become disturbing, destabilizing, and a source of unending waking confusion.
So it was with Flinx, who in searching for the history of himself, found that he was once again treading upon the hallowed, mystic soil of the spherical blue-white womb among the stars that had given birth to his whole species. Only, the soil he was treading presently was being treated by those around him with something other than veneration, and a means of sourcing the information he hoped to uncover was still to be found.
Tacrica was a beautiful place in which to be discouraged.
Sensitive to his frustration, Pip had been acting fidgety for days. An iridescent flutter of pleated pink-and-
blue wings and lethal, diamond-backed body, she would rise from his shoulder to dart aimlessly about his head and neck before settling restlessly back down into her customary position of repose. As active as she was colorful, the mature female minidrag was the only thing he was presently wearing.
His nudity did not excite comment because every one of the other sun and water worshipers strolling or lying about on the seashore was similarly unclothed. In the human beach culture of 554 a.a., the superfluity of wearing clothing into the sea or along its edge had long been recognized. Protective sprays blocked harmful UV rays without damaging the skin, and frivolous, transitory painted highlights decorated bodies both attractive and past their prime. It was these often elaborate anatomical decorations that were the focus of admiring attention,
and not the commonplace nakedness that framed them.
Flinx flaunted no such artificial enhancements, unless one counted the Alaspinian minidrag coiled around his neck and left shoulder. Such contemporary cultural accoutrements were as alien to him as the primeval grains of sand beneath his feet. Culturally as well as historically,
he was an utter and complete stranger here. Nor was he comfortable among the throngs of people. With its still unsettled steppes and unexplored reaches, Moth, where he had grown up, was far more familiar to him. He was more at home in the jungles of Alaspin, or among the blind Sumacrea of Longtunnel, or even in the aggressive world-girdling rain forest of Midworld. Anyplace but here. Anywhere but Earth.
Yet it was to Earth he had finally come for a second time, in search of himself. All roads led to Terra, it was said, and it was as true for him as for anyone else. Beyond
Earth, the United Church had placed a moral imperative lock, an elaborate Edict, on all information about the Meliorares, the society of renegade eugenicists responsible for whatever bastard mutation he had become.
Travels and adventures elsewhere had left him with hints as to their doings, with fragmentary bits and pieces of knowledge that tantalized without satisfying. If he was ever going to unravel the ultimate secrets of his heritage, it was here.
Even so, he had been reluctant to come. Not because he was fearful of what he might find: He had long since matured beyond such fears. But because it was dangerous.
Not only did he want to learn all the details of his origins: so did others. Because of contacts he had been compelled to make, the United Church was now aware of him as an individual instead of merely as an overlooked statistic in the scientific record. As high-ranking an official as thranx Counselor Second Druvenmaquez had taken a personal interest in the red-haired, bright-eyed young man Flinx had become. The novice beach-goer smiled to himself. He had left the irascible, elderly thranx on Midworld, slipping away quietly when the science counselor had been occupied elsewhere. When he eventually discovered that the singular young human had taken surreptitious flight, the venerable thranx would be irked. He would have to be satisfied with what little he had already learned, because neither his people nor anyone else would be able to track Flinx's ship, the
Teacher, through space-plus.
Ever cautious, Flinx had decided for the moment to hew to the hoary principle that the best place to hide was in plain sight. What better place to do that than on one of the Commonwealth's twin world centers of government and religion, where he had come looking for information years ago? It was where he needed to be anyway, if he was ever going to find out the truth about himself. In addition to his burgeoning curiosity, there had come upon him in the past year a new sense of urgency. With the onset of full adulthood looming over him, he could feel himself changing, in slow and sometimes not-so-subtle ways. Each month, it seemed, brought a new revelation.
He could not define all the changes, could not quarantine and assess every one of them, but their periodic nebulosity rendered them no less real. Something was happening to him, inside him. The self he had known since infancy was becoming something else.
He was scared. With no one to talk to, no one to confide in save a highly empathetic but nonsapient flying snake,
he could look only to himself for answersanswers he had always wished for but had never been able to acquire.
It was for those reasons he had taken the risk of coming back to Earth. If he was going to find what he needed to know, it lay buried somewhere deep within the immense volume of sheer accumulated knowledge that was one of the homeworld's greatest treasures.
But if he was home, as every human who came to
Earth was supposed to be, then why did he feel so much like an alien? It bothered him now even more than it had when last he had visited here some five years ago.
He tried to wean himself from the troubling chain of thought. Belaboring the accumulated neuroses of twenty years would solve nothing. He was here on a fact-finding mission; nothing more, nothing less. It was important to focus his attention and efforts, not only in hopes of securing the information he sought, but in order to avoid the attention of the authorities. With the exception of the thranx Druvenmaquez and his underlings, who were specifically looking for him, what other agencies and individuals might also be interested in one Philip Lynx he did not know. It did not matter. Until he left the home-world,
a little healthy paranoia would help to preserve himbut not if he allowed his thoughts to float aimlessly,
adrift in a distraught sea of incomplete memories and internal conflicts.
Of course, he might well secure answers to all the questions that tormented him by the simple expedient of turning himself in. Druvenmaquez or a specialist in some other relevant bureau would gladly take the plunge into the secrets of him. But once committed to such research,
he would not be allowed to leave whenever it might please him. Guinea pigs had no bill of rights. Revealing himself might also expose him to the scrutiny of those he wished to avoidthe great trading houses, other private concerns, the possible remnants of certain heretical and outlawed societies, and others. Becoming a potentially profitable lab subject carried with it dangers of its own
a long, healthy, and happy future not necessarily being among them.
Somehow he had to discover himself by himself, without alerting to his presence the very authorities who might help alleviate his seemingly illimitable anxieties.
And he had to do it quickly, before the changes he was experiencing threatened to overwhelm him.
For one thing, the unpredictable, skull-pounding headaches he had suffered from since childhoodthe ones that caused blinding flashes of light behind his eyeswere growing worse, in intensity if not frequency. When and if it occurred, would he be able to tell the difference between a common headache and a cerebral hemorrhage? Would he be able to deal with the physical as well as the mental consequences of the changes he was undergoing? He needed answers to all the old questions about himself, as well as to the new ones, and he needed them soon.
Of all the billions of humans on all the settled worlds scattered across the vast length and breadth of the Commonwealth,
no one could claim that "nobody understands me" with the depth of veracity of a tall young redhead named Philip Lynx, who was called Flinx.