Upřímně řečeno, kdybych sem nedával ukázky ke všem popisovaným knihám, tak snad časopis Galaxy 12/1968 přeskočím. Z hlediska ukázek má totiž tu zásadní nevýhodu, že jeho povídky jsou buď příliš krátké, nebo jejich první kapitoly nejsou reprezentativním vzorkem. No a celé povídky nebo delší úseky si sem dávat nedovolím, to už by docela jistě nespadlo do volných užití podle zákona. Ve výsledku musím dát kapitolu z povídky The Sharing of Flesh, která jediná splňuje všechna požadovaná kriteria. Bohužel jako jediná ukázku nepotřebuje, protože je jako tehdejší vítěz Huga dostatečně známá. Ale třeba i tak přijde někomu vhod…
- ANDERSON, Poul: The Sharing of Flesh. New York: Galaxy Publishing Corporation. Číslo 12/1968 (ročník 27, číslo 5). 196 str. ISSN nemá.
The Sharing of Flesh
Moru understood about guns.
At least the tall strangers had demonstrated to their guides what the things that each of them carried at his hip could do in a flash and a flameburst. But he did not realize that the small objects they often moved about in their hands, while talking in their own language, were audiovisual transmitters. Probably he thought they were fetishes.
Thus, when he killed Donli Sairn, he did so in full view of Donli’s wife.
That was happenstance. Except for prearranged times at morning and evening of the planet’s twenty-eight-hour day, the biologist, like his fellows, sent only to his computer. But because they had not been married long and were helplessly happy, Evalyth received his ‚casts whenever she could get away from her own duties.
The coincidence that she was tuned in at that one moment was not great. There was little for her to do. As militech of the expedition—she being from a half barbaric part of Kraken where the sexes had equal opportunities to learn arts of combat suitable to primitive environments—she had overseen the building of a compound; and she kept the routines of guarding it under a close eye. However, the inhabitants of Lokon were as cooperative with the visitors from heaven as mutual mysteriousness allowed. Every instinct and experience assured Evalyth Sairn that their reticence masked nothing except awe, with perhaps a wistful hope of friendship. Captain Jonafer agreed. Her position having thus become rather a sinecure, she was trying to learn enough about Donli’s work to be a useful assistant after he returned from the lowlands.
Also, a medical test had lately confirmed that she was pregnant. She wouldn’t tell him, she decided, not yet, over all those hundreds of kilometers, but rather when they lay again together. Meanwhile, the knowledge that they had begun a new life made him a lodestar to her.
On the afternoon of his death she entered the bio-lab whistling. Outside, sunlight struck fierce and brass-colored on dusty ground, on prefab shacks huddled about the boat which had brought everyone and everything down from the orbit where New Dawn circled, on the parked flitters and gravsleds that took men around the big island that was the only habitable land on this globe, on the men and the women themselves. Beyond the stockade, plumy treetops, a glimpse of mud-brick buildings, a murmur of voices and mutter of footfalls, a drift of bitter woodsmoke, showed that a town of several thousand people sprawled between here and Lake Zelo.
The bio-lab occupied more than half the structure where the Sairns lived. Comforts were few, when ships from a handful of cultures struggling back to civilization ranged across the ruins of empire. For Evalyth, though, it sufficed that this was their home. She was used to austerity anyway. One thing that had first attracted her to Donli, meeting him on Kraken, was the cheerfulness with which he, a man from Atheia, which was supposed to have retained or regained almost as many amenities as Old Earth knew in its glory, had accepted life in her gaunt grim country.
The gravity field here was 0.77 standard, less than two-thirds of what she had grown in. Her gait was easy through the clutter of apparatus and specimens. She was a big young woman, good-looking in the body, a shade too strong in the features for most men’s taste outside her own folk. She had their blondness and, on legs and forearms, their intricate tattoos; the blaster at her waist had come down through many generations. Otherwise she had abandoned Krakener costume for the plain coveralls of the expedition.
How cool and dim the shack was! She sighed with pleasure, sat down, and activated the receiver. As the image formed, three-dimensional in the air, and Donli’s voice spoke, her heart sprang a little.
“—appears to be descended from a clover.”
The image was of plants with green trilobate leaves, scattered low among the reddish native pseudo-grasses. It swelled as Donli brought the transmitter near so that the computer might record details for later analysis. Evalyth frowned, trying to recall what… Oh, yes. Clover was another of those life forms that man had brought with him from Old Earth, to more planets than anyone now remembered, before the Long Night fell. Often they were virtually unrecognizable; over thousands of years, evolution had fitted them to alien conditions, or mutation and genetic drift had acted on small initial populations in a nearly random fashion. No one on Kraken had known that pines and gulls and rhizobacteria were altered immigrants, until Donli’s crew arrived and identified them. Not that he, or anybody from this part of the galaxy, had yet made it back to the mother world. But the Atheian data banks were packed with information, and so was Donli’s dear curly head—
And there was his hand, huge in the field of view, gathering specimens. She wanted to kiss it. Patience, patience, the offices part of her reminded the bride. We’re here to work. We’ve discovered one more lost colony, the most wretched one so far, sunken back to utter primitivism. Our duty is to advise the Board whether a civilizing mission is worthwhile, or whether the slender resources that the Allied Planets can spare had better be used elsewhere, leaving these people in their misery for another two or three hundred years. To make an honest report, we must study them, their cultures, their world. That’s why I’m in the barbarian highlands and he’s down in the jungle among out-and-out savages.
Please finish soon, darling.
She heard Donli speak in the lowland dialect. It was a debased form of Lokonese, which in turn was remotely descended from Anglic. The expedition’s linguists had unraveled the language in a few intensive weeks. Then all personnel took a brain-feed in it. Nonetheless, she admired how quickly her man had become fluent in the woodsrunners‘ version, after mere days of conversation with them.
“Are we not coming to the place, Moru? You said the thing was close by our camp.”
“We are nearly arrived, man-from-the-clouds.”
A tiny alarm struck within Evalyth. What was going on? Donli hadn’t left his companions to strike off alone with a native, had he? Rogar of Lokon had warned them to beware of treachery in those parts. But, to be sure, only yesterday the guides had rescued Haimie Fiell when he tumbled into a swift-running river… at some risk to themselves….
The view bobbed as the transmitter swung in Donli’s grasp. It made Evalyth a bit dizzy. From time to time, she got glimpses of the broader setting. Forest crowded about a game trail, rust-colored leafage, brown trunks and branches, shadows beyond, the occasional harsh call of something unseen. She could practically feel the heat and dank weight of the atmosphere, smell the unpleasant pungencies. This world—which no longer had a name, except World, because the dwellers upon it had forgotten what the stars really were—was ill suited to colonization. The life it had spawned was often poisonous, always nutritionally deficient. With the help of species they had brought along, men survived marginally. The original settlers doubtless meant to improve matters. But then the breakdown came—evidence was that their single town had been missiled out of existence, a majority of the people with it—and resources were lacking to rebuild; the miracle was that anything human remained except bones.
“Now here, man-from-the-clouds.”
The swaying scene grew steady. Silence hummed from jungle to cabin. “I do not see anything,” Donli said at length.
“Follow me. I show.”
Donli put his transmitter in the fork of a tree. It scanned him and Moru while they moved across a meadow. The guide looked childish beside the space traveler, barely up to his shoulder; an old child, though, near-naked body seamed with scars and lame in the right foot from some injury of the past, face wizened in a great black bush of hair and beard. He, who could not hunt but could only fish and trap to support his family, was even more impoverished than his fellows. He must have been happy indeed when the flitter landed near their village and the strangers offered fabulous trade goods for a week or two of being shown around the countryside. Donli had projected the image of Morn’s straw hut for Evalyth—the pitiful few possessions, the woman already worn out with toil, the surviving sons who, at ages said to be about seven or eight, which would equal twelve or thirteen standard years, were shriveled gnomes.
Rogar seemed to declare—the Lokonese tongue was by no means perfectly understood yet—that the lowlanders would be less poor if they weren’t such a vicious lot, tribe forever at war with tribe. But really, Evalyth thought, what possible menace can they be?
Moru’s gear consisted of a loinstrap, a cord around his body for preparing snares, an obsidian knife, and a knapsack so woven and greased that it could hold liquids at need. The other men of his group, being able to pursue game and to win a share of booty by taking part in battles, were noticeably better off. They didn’t look much different in person, however. Without room for expansion, the island populace must be highly inbred.
The dwarfish man squatted, parting a shrub with his hands. “Here,” he grunted, and stood up again.
Evalyth knew well the eagerness that kindled in Donli. Nevertheless he turned around, smiled straight into the transmitter, and said in Atheian: “Maybe you’re watching, dearest. If so, I’d like to share this with you. It may be a bird’s nest.”
She remembered vaguely that the existence of birds would be an ecologically significant datum. What mattered was what he had just said to her. “Oh, yes, oh, yes!” she wanted to cry. But his group had only two receivers with them, and he wasn’t carrying either.
She saw him kneel in the long, ill-colored vegetation. She saw him reach with the gentleness she also knew, into the shrub, easing its branches aside.
She saw Moru leap upon his back. The savage wrapped legs about Donli’s middle. His left hand seized Donli’s hair and pulled the head back. The knife flew back in his right.
Blood spurted from beneath Donli’s jaw. He couldn’t shout, not with his throat gaping open; he could only bubble and croak while Moru haggled the wound wider. He reached blindly for his gun. Moru dropped the knife and caught his arms; they rolled over in that embrace, Donli threshed and flopped in the spouting of his own blood. Moru hung on. The brush trembled around them and hid them, until Moru rose red and dripping, painted, panting, and Evalyth screamed into the transmitter beside her, into the universe, and she kept on screaming and fought them when they tried to take her away from the scene in the meadow where Moru went about his butcher’s work, until something stung her with coolness and she toppled into the bottom of the universe whose stars had all gone out forever.