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Chapter Twelve

The Lake of Clouds was Omega's finest vacation resort. Upon entering the district, all weapons had to be checked at the main gate. No duels were allowed under any circumstances. Quarrels were arbitrarily decided by the nearest barman, and murder was punished by immediate loss of all status.

Every amusement was available at the Lake of Clouds. There were the exhibitions such as fencing bouts, bull fighting, and bear baiting. There were sports like swimming, mountain climbing, and skiing. In the evenings there was dancing in the main ballroom, behind glass walls which separated residents from citizens and citizens from the elite. There was a well-stocked drug bar containing anything the fashionable addict could desire, as well as a few novelties he might wish to sample. For the gregarious, there was an orgy every Wednesday and Saturday night in the Satyr's Grotto. For the shy, the management arranged masked trysts in the dim passageways beneath the hotel. But most important of all, there were gently rolling hills and shadowy woods to walk in, free from the tensions of the daily struggle for existence in Tetrahyde.

Barrent and Moera had adjoining rooms, and the door between them was unlocked. But on the first night, Barrent did not go through the door. Moera had given no sign of wanting him to do so; and on a planet where women have easy and continual access to poisons, a man had to think twice before inflicting his company where it was not wanted. Even the owner of an antidote shop had to consider the possibility of not being able to recognize his own symptoms in time.

On their second day, they climbed high into the hills. They ate a basket lunch on a grassy incline which sloped away to the gray sea. After they had eaten, Barrent asked Moera why she had saved his life.

"You won't like the answer," she told him.

"I'd still like to hear it."

"Well, you looked so ridiculously vulnerable that day in the Victim's Society. I would have helped anyone who looked that way."

Barrent nodded uncomfortably. "What about the second time?"

"By then I suppose I had an interest in you. Not a romantic interest, you understand. I'm not at all romantic."

"What kind of an interest?" Barrent asked.

"I thought you might be good recruitment material."

"I'd like to hear more about it," Barrent said.

Moera was silent for a while, watching him with unblinking green eyes. She said, "There's not much I can tell you. I'm a member of an organization. We're always on the lookout for good prospects. Usually we screen directly from the prison ships. After that, recruiters like me go out in search of people we can use."

"What type of people do you look for?"

"Not your type, Will. I'm sorry."

"Why not me?"

"At first I thought seriously about recruiting you," Moera said. "You seemed like just the sort of person we needed. Then I checked into your record."

"And?"

"We don't recruit murderers. Sometimes we employ them for specific jobs, but we don't take them into the organization. There are certain extenuating circumstances which we recognize; self-defense, for example. But aside from that, we feel that a man who has committed premeditated murder on Earth is the wrong man for us."

"I see," Barrent said. "Would it help any if I told you I don't have the usual Omegan attitude toward murder?"

"I know you don't," Moera said. "If it were up to me, I'd take you into the organization. But it's not my choice…. Will, are you sure you're a murderer?"

"I believe I am," Barrent said. "I probably am."

"Too bad," Moera said. "Still, the organization needs high-survival types, no matter what they did on Earth. I can't promise anything, but I'll see what I can do. It would help if you could find out more about why you committed murder. Perhaps there were extenuating circumstances."

"Perhaps," Barrent said doubtfully. "I'll try to find out."

That evening, just before he went to sleep, Moera opened the adjoining door and came into his room. Slim and warm, she slipped into his bed. When he started to speak, she put a hand over his mouth. And Barrent, who had learned not to question good fortune, kept quiet.

The rest of the vacation passed much too quickly. The subject of the organization did not come up again; but, perhaps as compensation, the adjoining door was not closed. At last, late on the seventh day, Barrent and Moera returned to Tetrahyde.

"When can I see you again?" Barrent asked.

"I'll get in touch with you."

"That's not a very satisfactory arrangement."

"It's the best I can do," Moera said. "I'm sorry, Will. I'll see what I can do about the organization."

Barrent had to be satisfied with that. When the vehicle dropped him at his store, he still didn't know where she lived, or what kind of an organization she represented.

Back in his apartment, he considered carefully the details of his dream in the Dream Shop. It was all there: his anger at Therkaler, the illicit weapon, the encounter, the corpse, and then the informer and the judge. Only one thing was missing. He had no recollection of the actual murder, no memory of aiming the weapon and activating it. The dream stopped when he met Therkaler, and started again after he was dead.

Perhaps he had blocked the moment of actual murder out of his mind; but perhaps there had been some provocation, some satisfactory reason why he had killed the man. He would have to find out.

There were only two ways of getting information about Earth. One lay through the horror-tinged visions of the Dream Shop, and he was determined not to go there again. The other way was through the services of a skrenning mutant.

Barrent had the usual distaste for mutants. They were another race entirely, and their status of untouchability was no mere prejudice. It was well known that mutants often carried strange and incurable diseases. They were shunned, and they had reacted to exclusion by exclusiveness. They lived in the Mutant Quarter, which was almost a self-contained city within Tetrahyde. Citizens with good sense stayed away from the Quarter, especially after dark; everyone knew that mutants could be vindictive.

But only mutants had the skrenning ability. In their misshapen bodies were unusual powers and talents, odd and abnormal abilities which the normal man shunned by day but secretly courted by night. Mutants were said to be in the particular favor of The Black One. Some people felt that the great art of Black Magic, about which the priests boasted, could only be performed by a mutant; but one never said so in the presence of a priest.

Mutants, because of their strange talents, were reputed to remember much more of Earth than was possible for normal men and women. Not only could they remember Earth in general, but in particular they could skren the life-thread of a man backward through space and time, pierce the wall of forgetfulness and tell what really had happened to him.

Other people believed that mutants had no unusual abilities at all. They considered them clever rogues who lived off people's credulity.

Barrent decided to find out for himself. Late one night, suitably cloaked and armed, he left his apartment and went to the Mutant Quarter.


Chapter Eleven | The Status Civilization | Chapter Thirteen







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