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Chapter Four

The Mouse pulled the leather sack from under the couch and slung it over his shoulder.

“…sensory-syrynx with you.”

The door slid back and the Mouse stood at the top of three steps above the blue carpet of the Roc’s commons:

A stairway spiraled in a fall of shadows: tongues of metal twisting under the lights on the ceiling sent flashings over the wall and the leaves of the philodendrons before the mirrored mosaic.

Katin had already seated himself before the layered gaming board for three-D chess and was setting up pieces. A final rook clicked to its corner, and the bubble chair, a globe of jellied glycerin contoured to the body, bobbed, “All right, who’s going to play me first?”

Captain Von Ray stood at the head of the spiral steps. As he started down, his smashed reflection graveled down the mosaic.

“Captain?” Katin raised his chin. “Mouse? Which one of you wants the first game?”

Tyy and Sebastian came through the arched door and across the ramp that spanned the lime-banked pool filling a third of the room.

A breeze.

The water rippled.

Darknesses sailed in over their heads.

“Down!” from Sebastian.



His arm jerked in its socket, and the beasts wheeled on steel leashes. The huge pets collapsed about him like rags.

“Sebastian? Tyy? Do you play?” Katin turned to the ramp.

“It used to be a passion with me, but my game has gone off a bit.” He gazed up the steps, picked up the rook again, and examined the black-cored crystal. “Tell me, Captain, are these pieces original?”

At the bottom of the steps Von Ray raised red eyebrows.

Katin grinned. “Oh.”

“What are they?” The Mouse came across the carpet and looked over Katin’s shoulder. “I’ve never seen pieces like that before.”

“Funny style for chess pieces,” Katin observed. “Vega Republic. But you see it a lot in furniture and architecture.”

“Where’s the Vega Republic?” The Mouse took up a pawn: inside crystal, a sun system, a jewel in the center, circled a tilted plane.

“It isn’t anywhere any more. It refers to an uprising in twenty-eight hundred when Vega tried to secede from Draco. And failed. The art and architecture from that period have been taken up by our artier intellectuals. I suppose there was something heroic about the whole business. They certainly tried as hard as they could to be original-last stand for cultural autonomy and all that. But it’s become sort of a polite parlor game to trace influences.” He picked up another piece. “I still like the stuff. They did produce three gold musicians and one incredible poet. Though only one of the musicians had anything to do with the uprising. But most people don’t know that.”

“No kidding?” the Mouse said. “All right. I’ll play you a game.” He walked around the chessboard and sat on the green glycerin. “What do you want, black or yellow?”

Von Ray reached over the Mouse’s shoulder for the control panel that had surfaced on the chair arm and pressed a micro-switch.

The lights in the gaming board went out.

“Hey, why…?” The Mouse’s rough whisper halted on chagrin.

“Take your syrynx, Mouse.” Lorq walked to the sculptured rock on the yellow tiles. “If I told you to make a nova, Mouse, what would you do?” He sat on a stone outcrop.

“I don’t know. What do you mean?” The Mouse lifted his instrument from its sack. His thumb ran the finger board. His fingers walked the inductance plate; the pinky staggered on its stilted nail.

“I’m telling you now. Make a nova.”

The Mouse paused. Then, “All right,” and his hand jumped.

Sound rumbled after the flash. Colors behind the afterimage blotted vision, swirled in a diminishing sphere, were gone.

“Down!” Sebastian was saying. “Down now…

Lorq laughed. “Not bad. Come here. No, bring your hell-harp.” He shifted on the rock to make room. “Show me how it works.”

“Show you how to play the syrynx?”

“That’s right.”

There are expressions that happen on the outside of the face; there are expressions that happen on the inside, with only quivers on the lips and eyelids. “I don’t usually let people fool with my ax.” Lips and eyelids quivered.

“Show me.”

The Mouse’s mouth thinned. He said: “Give me your hand.” As he positioned the captain’s fingers across the saddle of the image-resonance board, blue light glowed before them. “Now look down here.” The Mouse pointed to the front of the syrynx. “These three pin-lenses have hologramic grids behind them. They focus where the blue light is and give you a three-dimensional image. Brightness and intensity you control here. Move your hand forward.”

The light increased—”Now back.”

—and dimmed. “How do you make an image?”

“Took me a year to learn, Captain. Now, these strings control the sound. Each one isn’t a different note; they’re different sound textures. The pitch is changed by moving your fingers closer or further away. Like this.” He drew a chord of brass and human voices that glissandoed into uncomfortable subsonics. “You want to smell up the place? Back here. This knob controls the intensity of the image. You can make the whole thing highly directional by—”

“Suppose, Mouse, there was a girl’s face that I wanted to re-create; the sound of her voice saying my name; the smell of her too. Now, I have your syrynx in my hands.” He lifted the instrument from the Mouse’s lap. “What should I do?”

“Practice. Captain, look, I really don’t like other people fooling with my ax—”

He reached for it.

Lorq lifted it out of the Mouse’s reach. Then he laughed. “Here.”

The Mouse took the syrynx and went quickly to the chessboard. He shook the sack and slipped the instrument inside.

“Practice,” repeated Lorq. “I don’t have time. Not if I’m to beat Prince Red to that Illyrion, hey?”

“Captain Von Ray?”

Lorq looked up.

“Are you going to tell us what’s going on?”

“What do you want to know?”

Katin’s hand hung on the switch that would reactivate the chessboard. “Where are we going? How are we going to get there? And why?”

After moments, Lorq stood. “What are you asking me, Katin?”

The chessboard flicked on, lighting Katin’s chin. “You’re in a game, playing against Red-shift Limited. What are the rules? What’s the prize?”

Lorq shook his head. “Try again.”

“All right. How do we get the Illyrion?”

“Yes, how we it get?” Tyy’s soft voice made them look around. At the foot of the bridge, beside Sebastian, she had been shuffling her deck of cards. She stopped when they looked. “Into the blasting sun, plunge?” She shook her head. “How, Captain?”

Lorq’s hands capped the bone knots of his knees. “Lynceos? Idas?”

On opposite walls hung two six-foot gilt frames. In the one just over the Mouse’s head, Idas lay on his side under his computer’s lights. Across the room in the other frame, hair and eyelashes glittering, pale Lynceos was curled on his cables.

“While you sail us, keep an ear on.”

“Right, Captain,” Idas mumbled, as a man talks in sleep.

Lorq stood up and clasped his hands. “It’s been a good number of years since I first had to ask that question. The person who answered it for me was Dan.”

“Blind Dan?”—the Mouse.

“Dan who jumped?”—Katin.

Lorq nodded. “Instead of this hunk of freighter”—He glanced up where simulated stars hurled on the high, dark ceiling to remind them that, among pools and ferns and shapes of rock, they sped between worlds—”I had a racing boat that Dan was studding for. I stayed out too late at a party one night in Paris, and Dan got me home to Ark. He flew me there all the way by himself. My other stud, some college kid, got scared and ran off.” He shook his head. “Just as well. But there I was. How could I get hold of enough Illyrion to topple Red-shift before they toppled us? How many people would like to know that? I mentioned it to Dan one evening when we were drinking around the yacht basin. Get it out of a sun? He stuck his thumb in his belt and looked at one of the wind irises dilating over the bar and said, ‘I was caught in a nova once,’” Lorq looked around the room. “It made me sit up and listen.”

“What happened to him?” the Mouse asked.

“How come he was around long enough to get into another one? That’s what I want to know.” Katin returned the rook to the board and lounged back on the jelly. “Come on—where was Dan through all the fireworks?”

“He was in the crew of a ship that was bringing supplies to one of the Alkane Institute’s study stations when the star blew.”

The Mouse glanced back at Tyy and Sebastian, who listened from the steps at the end of the ramp. Tyy was shuffling her cards again.

“After a thousand years of study, from close up and far away, it’s a bit unnerving how much we don’t know about what happens in the center of the most calamitous of stellar catastrophes. The make-up of the star stays the same, only the organization of the matter within the star is disrupted by a process that is still not quite understood. It could be an effect of tidal harmonics. It could even be a prank of Maxwell’s demon. The longest build-ups observed have been a year and a half, but these were always caught after they were under way. The actual time a nova takes to reach its peak intensity from the time it blows is a few hours. In the case of a super-nova—and there have only been two on record in our galaxy, one in the thirteenth century in Cassiopeia, and an unnamed star in twenty-four hundred, and neither of those could be studied up close—the blow takes perhaps two days; in a super-nova the brightness increases by a factor of several hundred thousand. The resultant light and radio disturbance of a super-nova is more than the combined light of all the stars in the galaxy. Alkane has discovered other galaxies simply because a super-nova occurred inside them and the near-total annihilation of a single star made the whole galaxy of several billion stars visible.”

Tyy flicked cards from hand to hand.

Sebastian asked, “What to Dan happened?” He reined his pets closer to his knees.

“His ship overshot and was funneled through the center of the sun in the middle of its first hour of implosion—and then funneled out the other side,” Yellow eyes fixed Katin. On the ruptured features it was hard to read subtleties in Lorq’s emotions.

Katin, used to hard readings; dropped his shoulders and tried to sink into the chair.

“They only had seconds’ warning. All the captain could do was switch off all incoming sensory inputs in the studs.”

“They blind flew?” asked Sebastian.

Lorq nodded.

“This was a nova Dan was in, before he even met you; the first,” confirmed Katin.

“That’s right.”

“What happened in the second?”

“One more thing that happened in the first. I went to the Alkane and looked up the whole business. The hull of the ship was scarred from bombardment with loose drifting matter at about the time it was in the nova’s center. The only matter that could break off and drift into the area of protection around the ship must have been formed from the almost solid nuclear matter in the sun’s center. It would have to be formed of elements with immense nuclei, at least three or our times the size of uranium.”

“You mean the ship was bombarded with meteors of Illyrion?” the Mouse demanded.

“One of the things that happened in the second nova”—

Lorq looked at Katin again—”was that after our expedition was organized in complete secrecy, after a new nova had been located with my aunt’s help from the Alkane Institute without letting anyone know why we wanted to go there, after the expedition was launched and under way, I was trying to re-create the original conditions of the first accident when Dan’s ship had fallen into the sun, as closely as possible, by flying the whole maneuver blind; I gave an order to the crew to keep the sensory input off in their perception chambers. Dan, going against orders, decided he wanted to take a look at what he hadn’t seen last time.” Lorq stood up and turned his back to the crew. “We weren’t even in an area where there might have been any physical danger to the ship. Suddenly I felt one vane of the ship flailing wild. Then I heard Dan screaming.” He turned to face them. “We pulled out and limped back to Draco and took the tidal drift down to Sol and landed on Triton Station. The secrecy ended two months back.”

“Secrecy?” Katin asked,

The twisted thing that was Lorq’s smile rose in the muscles of his face, “Not any more. I came to Triton Station in Draco rather than shelter in the Pleiades. I dismissed my whole crew with instructions to tell as many people as they could—all they knew. I let that madman stagger around the port babbling till Hell3 swallowed him. I waited. And I waited till what I was waiting for came. Then I picked you up right off the port’s concourse. I told you what I was going to do. Who did you tell? How many people heard me tell you? How many people did you mutter to, scratching your heads, ‘That’s a funny thing to do, huh?’” Lorq’s hand knotted on a spike of stone.

“What were you waiting for?”

“A message from Prince.”

“Did you get it?”

“Yes.”

“What did it say?”

“Does it matter?” Lorq made a sound nearly laughter. Only it came from his belly. “I haven’t played it yet.”

“Why not?” the Mouse asked. “Don’t you want to know what he says?”

“I know what I’m doing. That’s enough. We’ll return to the Alkane and locate another nova. My mathematicians came up with two dozen theories that might explain the phenomenon that lets us enter the sun. In all of them, the effect would reverse at the end of those first few hours during which the brightness of the star rose to peak intensity.”

“How long a nova to die takes?” Sebastian asked.

“A few weeks, perhaps two months. A super-nova can take up to two years to dwindle.”

“The message, the Mouse said. “You don’t want to see what Prince says?”

“You do?”

Katin suddenly leaned over the chessboard. “Yes.”

Lorq laughed. “All right.” He strode across the room. Once more he touched the control panel on the Mouse’s chair.

In the largest frame on the high wall the light fantasy faded in the two-meter oval of gilded leaves.

“So. That’s what you’ve been doing all these years!” Prince said.

The Mouse watched the gaunt jaws and his own jaws clamped; his eyes raised to Prince’s thin, high hair, and the Mouse’s own forehead tightened. He pushed forward in the chair, his fingers twitching to shape, as on a syrynx, the bladed nose, the wells of blue.

Katin’s eyes widened. His sandal heels grabbed the carpet as involuntarily he pushed away.

“I don’t know what you think you’re going to accomplish. Nor do I care. But…”

“That Prince is?” Tyy whispered.

“You’ll fail. Believe me.” Prince smiled.

And Tyy’s whisper became a gasp.

“No. I don’t even know where you’re going. But watch. I’ll get there first. Then”—he raised his black-gloved hand—”we’ll see.” He reached forward so that his palm filled the screen. Then the fingers flicked; there was a tinkle of glass- Tyy gave a little scream.

Prince had snapped his finger against the lens of the message camera, shattering it.

The Mouse glanced at Tyy; she had dropped her cards.

The beasts flapped at the leash; the wind scattered Tyy’s cards on the carpet.

“Here,” Katin was saying, “I’ll get them!” He leaned from his seat and reached about the floor with gawky arms. Lorq had begun to laugh again.

A card overturned on the rug by the Mouse’s foot. Three-dimensional within laminated metal, a sun flared above a black sea. Over the sea wall the sky was alive with flame. On shore two naked boys held hands. The dark one squinted at the sun, his face amazed and luminous. The tow-headed one looked at their shadows on the sand.

Lorq’s laughter, like multiple explosions, rolled in the commons. “Prince has accepted the challenge.” He slapped the stone. “Good! Very good! Hey, and you think we’ll meet under the sun afire?” His hand went up, a fist. “I can feel his claw. Good! Yes, good!”

The Mouse picked up the card quickly. He looked from the captain to the viewing screen where the multichrome’s shifting hues had replaced the face, the hand. (And there, on opposite walls, were dim Idas and pale Lynceos in their smaller frames.) His eyes fell back to the two boys beneath the erupting sun.

As he looked, his left toes clawed the carpet, his right clutched his boot sole; fear pawed behind his thighs, tangled in the nerves along his backbone. Suddenly he slipped the card into his syrynx sack. His fingers lingered inside the leather, becoming sweaty on the laminate. Unseen, the picture was even more frightening. He took his hand out and wiped it on his hip, then looked to see if anyone watched.

Katin was looking through the cards he had picked up. “This is what you’ve been playing with, Tyy? The Tarot?” He looked up. “You’re a gypsy, Mouse. I bet you’ve seen these before.” He held the cards up so the Mouse might see.

Not looking, the Mouse nodded. He tried to keep his hand from his hip. (There had been a big woman sitting behind the fire—in the dirty print skirt—and the mustachioed men sat around under the flickering overhang of rock, watching while the cards flashed and flashed in her fat hands. But that had been…)

“Here,” Tyy said. “You to me them give.” She reached.

“May I look through the whole set?” asked Katin.

Her gray eyes widened. “No.” Surprise was in her voice.

“I’m sorry,” Katin began, confused. “I didn’t mean to…”

Tyy took the cards.

“You do you read the cards?” Katin tried to keep his face from freezing.

She nodded.

“Tarot reading is common over the Federation,” Lorq said. He was sitting on the sculpture. “Of Prince’s message, your cards anything have to say?” As he turned, his eyes flashed like jasper, like gold. “Perhaps your cards of Prince and me will speak?”

The Mouse was surprised how easily the captain slipped on the Pleiades dialect. The expression inside was a quick smile.

Lorq left the stone. “What the cards about this swing into the night say?”

Sebastian, gazing from under thick blond brows, pulled his dark shapes closer.

“I their patterns want to see. Yes. Where Prince and myself among the cards fall?”

If she read, he would have an opportunity to see more of the cards: Katin grinned. “Yes, Tyy. Give us a reading on Captain’s expedition. How well does she read them, Sebastian?”

“Tyy never wrong is.”

“You for a few seconds only Prince’s face have seen. In the face the lines of a man’s fate mapped are.” Lorq put his fists on his hips. “From the crack across mine, you where those lines my fate can tell will touch?”

“No, Captain—” Her eyes dropped to her hands. The cards looked much too big for her still fingers. “I the cards only array and read.”

“I haven’t seen anybody read the Tarot since I was in school.” Katin looked back at the Mouse. “There was one character from the Pleiades in my philosophy seminar who knew his cards. I suppose at one time you could have called me quite an amateur aficionado of the Book of Toth, as they were incorrectly labeled in the seventeenth century. I would say rather”—he paused for Tyy’s corroboration—”the Book of the Grail?”

None came.

“Come. Give me a reading, Tyy.” Lorq dropped his fists to his sides.

Tyy’s fingertips rested on the golden backs. From her seat at the bottom of the ramp, gray eyes halved by epicanthi, she looked between Katin and Lorq.

She said: “I will.”

“Mouse,” Katin called, “come on and take a look at this. Give us your opinion on the performance—The Mouse stood up in the light of the gaming table. “Hey…!”

They turned at the wrecked voice. “You believe in that?”

Katin raised an eyebrow.

“You call me superstitious because I spit in the river? Now you tell the future with cards! Ahnnn!” which is not really the sound he made. Still it meant disgust. His gold earring shook and flashed.

Katin frowned.

Tyy’s hand hung over the deck.

The Mouse dared half the distance of the rug. “You’re really going to try and tell the future with cards? That’s silly. That’s superstitious!”

“No it’s not, Mouse,” Katin countered. “One would think that you of all people-”

The Mouse waved his hand and barked hoarse laughter. “You, Katin, and them cards. That’s something!”

“Mouse, the cards don’t actually predict anything. They simply propagate an educated commentary on present situations—”

“Cards aren’t educated! They’re metal and plastic. They don’t know—”

“Mouse, the seventy-eight cards of the Tarot present symbols and mythological images that have recurred and reverberated through forty-five centuries of human history. Someone who understands these symbols can construct a dialogue about a given situation. There’s nothing superstitious about it. The Book of Changes, even Chaldean Astrology only become superstitious when they are abused, employed to direct rather than guide and suggest.”

The Mouse made that sound again.

“Really, Mouse! It’s perfectly logical; you talk like somebody living a thousand years ago.”

“Hey, Captain?” The Mouse closed the rest of the distance and, peering around Lorq’s elbow, squinted at the deck in Tyy’s lap. “You believe in those things?” His hand fell on Katin’s forearm, as though holding it, he might keep it still.

Tiger eyes beneath rusted brows showed agony; Lorq was grinning. “Tyy, me the cards read.”

She turned the deck over and passed the pictures—”Captain, you one choose”—from hand to hand.

Lorq squatted to see. Suddenly he stopped the passing cards with his forefinger. “The Kosmos, it looks like.” He named the card his finger had fallen on. “In this race, the universe the prize is.” He looked up at the Mouse and Katin. “Do you think I should pick the Kosmos to start the reading?” Framed by the bulk of his shoulders, the “agony” grew subtle.

The Mouse answered with a twist of dark lips.

“Go ahead,” Katin said.

Lorq drew the card:

Morning fog wove birch and yew and holly trees; in the clearing a naked figure leaped and cavorted in the blue dawn.

“Ah,” said Katin, “the Dancing Hermaphrodite, the union of all male and female principles.” He rubbed his ear between two fingers. “You know, for about three hundred years or so, from about eighteen-ninety to after space travel began, there was a highly Christianized set of Tarot cards designed by a friend of William Butler Yeats that became so popular, they almost obliterated the true images.”

As Lorq tilted the card, diffraction images of animals flashed and disappeared in the mystic grove. The Mouse’s hand tightened on Katin’s arm. He raised his chin to question.

“The beasts of the apocalypse,” Katin answered. He pointed over the captain’s shoulder to the four corners of the grove: “Bull, Lion, Eagle, and that funny little ape-like creature back there is the dwarf god Bes, originally of Egypt and Anatolia, protector of women in labor, the scourge of the miserly, a generous and terrible god. There’s a statue of him that’s fairly famous: squat, grinning, fanged, copulating with a lioness.”

“Yeah,” the Mouse whispered. “I seen that statue.”

“You have? Where?”

“Some museum.” He shrugged. “In Istanbul, I think. A tourist took me there when I was a kid.”

“Alas,” mused Katin, “I have been content with three-dimensional holograms.”

“Only it’s no dwarf. It’s”—the Mouse’s rasp halted as he looked up at Katin—”maybe twice as tall as you.” His pupils, rolling in sudden recollection, showed veined whites.

“Captain Von Ray, you well the Tarot know?” Sebastian asked.

“I’ve had my cards read perhaps a half dozen times,” Lorq explained. “My mother didn’t like my stopping to listen to the readers who would have their little tables set up under the wind-shield junctions on the streets. Once, when I was five or six I managed to get lost. While I was wandering around a part of Ark I’d never seen before, I stopped and got my fortune read.” He laughed; the Mouse, who had not judged the gathering expression right, had expected anger. “When I did get home and told my mother, she grew very upset and told me I mustn’t do it again.

“She knew it was all stupid!” the Mouse whispered.

“What had the cards said?” Katin asked.

“Something about a death in my family.”

“Did anyone die?”

Lorq’s eyes narrowed. “About a month later my uncle was killed.”

Katin reflected on the sound of m’s. Captain Lorq Von Ray’s uncle?

“But well the cards you do not know?” Sebastian asked once more.

“Only the names of a few—the Sun, the Moon, the Hanged-man. But I on their meanings never studied.”

“Ah.” Sebastian nodded. “The first card picked always yourself is. But the Kosmos a card of the Major Arcana is. A human being it can’t represent. Can’t pick.”

Lorq frowned. Puzzlement looked like rage. Misinterpreting, Sebastian stopped.

“What it is,” Katin went on, “in the Tarot pack there are fifty-six cards of the Minor Arcana—just like the fifty-two playing cards, only with pages, knights, queens, and kings for court cards. These deal with ordinary human affairs: love, death, taxes—things like that. There are twenty-two other cards: the Major Arcana, with cards like the Fool and the Hanged-man. They represent primal cosmic entities. You can’t very well pick one of them to represent yourself.”

Lorq looked at the card a few seconds. “Why not?” He looked up at Katin. All expression was gone now. “I like this card. Tyy said choose, and I chose.”

Sebastian’s hand rose. “But—”

Tyy’s slender fingers caught her companion’s hairy knuckles. “He chose,” she said. The metal of her eyes flashed from Sebastian to the captain, to the card. “There it place.” She gestured for him to lay the card down. “The captain which card he wants can choose.”

Lorq laid the card on the carpet, the dancer’s head toward himself, the feet toward Tyy.

“The Kosmos reversed,” muttered Katin.

Tyy glanced up. “Reversed for you, upright for me is. Her voice was sharp.

“Captain, the first card you pick doesn’t predict anything,” Katin said. “Actually, the first card you take removes all the possibilities it represents from your reading.”

“What does it represent?” Lorq asked.

“Here male and female unite,” Tyy said. “The sword and the chalice, the staff and the dish join. Completion and certain success it means; the cosmic state of divine awareness it signifies. Victory.”

“And that’s all been cut from my future?” Lorq’s face assumed agony again. “Fine! What sort of a race would it be if I knew I was going to win?”

“Reserved it means obsession with one thing, stubbornness,” Katin added. “Refusal to learn—”

Tyy suddenly closed the cards. She held out the deck. “You, Katin, the reading will complete?”

“Huh?… I… Look, I’m sorry. I didn’t… Anyway, I only know the meaning of about a dozen cards.” His ears blushed along the rims. “I’ll be quiet.”

A wing brushed the floor.

Sebastian stood and pulled his pets away. One flapped to his shoulder. A breeze, and the Mouse’s hair tickled his forehead.

All were standing now except Lorq and Tyy, who squatted with the Dancing Hermaphrodite between.

Once more Tyy shuffled and fanned the cards, this time face down. “Choose.”

Broad fingers with thickened nails clamped the card, drew:

A workman stood before a double vault of stone, a stone-cutter plugged into his wrists. The machine was carving its third five-pointed star into the transom. Sunlight lit the mason and the building face. Through the doorway, darkness sank away.

“The Three of Pentacles. This card you covers.”

The Mouse looked at the captain’s forearm. The oval socket was almost lost between the double tendon along his wrist.

The Mouse fingered the socket on his own arm. The plastic inset was a quarter the width of his wrist: both sockets were the same size.

The captain lay the Three of Pentacles on the Kosmos.

“Again choose.”

The card came out upside down:

A black-haired youngster in brocade vest, with boots of tooled leather, leaned on the hilt of a sword on which was a jeweled silver lizard. The figure stood in shadow under crags; the Mouse couldn’t tell if it were boy or girl.

“The Page of Swords reversed. This card you crosses.”

Lorq placed the card crosswise on the Three of Pentacles.

“Again choose.”

Above a seaside, in a clear sky with birds, a single hand, extending from coils of mist, held a five-pointed star-form in a circle.

“The Ace of Pentacles.” Tyy pointed below the crossed cards. Lorq placed the card there. “This card beneath you lies. Choose.”

A big blond fellow stood on the flag path within a garden. He looked up, his hand back. A red bird was about to light on his wrist. On the stones of the court, nine star-shapes were cut.

“The Nine of Pentacles.” She pointed beside the pattern on the rug. “This card behind you lies.”

Lorq placed the card.

“Choose.”

Upside down again:

Between storm clouds burned a violet sky. Lightning had ignited the top of a stone tower. Two men had leaped from the upper balcony. One wore rich clothing. You could even see his jeweled rings and the gold tassels on his sandals. The other wore a common work vest, was barefoot, bearded.

“The Tower, reversed!” Katin whispered. “Uh-oh. I know what—” and stopped because Tyy and Sebastian looked.

“The Tower reversed.” Tyy pointed above the patter “This above you lies.”

Lorq placed the card, then drew a seventh.

“The Two of Swords, reversed.”

Upside down:

A blindfolded woman sat on a chair before the ocean, holding two swords crossed on her breasts.

“This before you lies.”

With three cards in the center and four around, the first seven cards formed a cross.

“Again choose.” Lorq chose.

“The King of Swords. Here it place.” The King went to the left of the cross.

“And once more.” Lorq drew his ninth card. “The Three of Wands reversed.” Which went below the King. “The Devil—”

Katin looked at the Mouse’s hand. The fingers arched and the little nail bit Katin’s arm.

“—reversed.”

The fingers relaxed; Katin looked back at Tyy.

“Here place.” The upside-down Devil went below the Wands. “And choose.”

“The Queen of Swords. This final card here place.” Beside the cross there was now a vertical row of four cards.

Tyy squared the pack.

She brushed her fingers under her chin. As she bent over the vivid dioramas, her iron-colored hair broke on her shoulder.

“Do you see Prince in there?” Lorq asked. “Do you see me, and the sun I’m after?”

“You I see; and Prince. A woman also, somehow related to Prince, a dark woman—”

“Black hair, but blue eyes?” Lorq said. “Prince’s eyes are blue.”

Tyy nodded. “Her too I see.”

“That’s Ruby.”

“The cards mostly swords and pentacles are. Much money I see. Also much struggle about and around it there is.”

“With seven tons of Illyrion?” the Mouse mumbled. “You don’t have to read cards to see—”

“Shhh…” from Katin.

“The only positive influence from the Major Arcana the Devil is. A card of violence, of revolution, of struggle it is. But also the birth of spiritual understanding it signifies. Pentacles at the beginning of your reading lay. They cards of money and wealth are. Swords them overtake; cards of power and conflict. The wand the symbol of intellect and creativity is. Though the number of the wands three and low is, high the reading it comes. That good is. But no cups—the symbol of the emotions and particularly love—there are. Bad is. To be good, wands must cups have.” She lifted the cards in the center of the cross: the Kosmos, the Three of Pentacles, the Page of Swords.

“Now…” Tyy paused. The four men breathed together. “You yourself as the world see. The card covering you of nobility, of aristocracy speaks. As well, some skill which you possess—”

“You said you used to be a racing captain, didn’t you?” asked Katin.

“That with material increase you are concerned, this card reveals. But the Page of Swords you crosses.”

“That’s Prince?”

Tyy shook her head. “A younger person it is. Someone already close to you now it is. Someone you know. A dark, very young man perhaps—”

Katin was first to look at the Mouse.

“—who somehow between you and your flaming sun will come.”

Now Lorq looked up over his shoulder.

“Hey, now. Look…” The Mouse frowned at the others. “What are you going to do? Fire me the first stopover because of some stupid cards? You think I want to cross you up?”

“Even if he you fired,” Tyy said, glancing up, “it would nothing change.”

The captain slapped the Mouse’s hip. “Don’t mind it, Mouse.”

“If you don’t believe in them, Captain, why waste your time listening to…?” and stopped because Tyy had replaced the cards.

“In your immediate past,” Tyy went on, “the Ace of Pentacles lies. Again, much money, but toward a purpose pointed.”

“Setting up this expedition must have cost an arm and a leg,” Katin commented.

“And an eye and an ear?” Sebastian’s knuckles rippled on the head of one of his pets.

“In the far past, the Nine of Pentacles lies. Again a card of wealth it is. You success are used to. The best things you have enjoyed. But in your immediate future the Tower reversed is. In general this signifies—”

“—go directly to jail. Do not pass go. Do not”—Katin’s ears glowed again as Tyy narrowed her eyes at him—”collect two hundred pounds @sg.” He coughed.

“Imprisonment this card signifies; a great house topples.”

“The Von Rays have had it?”

“Whose house I did not say.”

At that Lorq laughed.

“Beyond it, the Two of Swords reversed lies. Of unnatural passion, Captain, beware.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” the Mouse whispered.

But Tyy had moved from the cross of seven cards to the row of four.

“At the head of your endeavors the King of Swords sits.”

“That’s my friend Prince?”

“It is. Your life he can affect. He a strong man is, and easily to wisdom he you may lead; also your death.” Then she looked up, her face sharply distraught. “As well, all our lives… He—”

When she did not go on, Lorq asked, “What, Tyy?” Her voice calmed already, became a deeper, solider thing.

“Below him—”

“What was it, Tyy?”

“—the Three of Wands reversed lies. Of offered his beware. The best defense against disappointment expectation is. The foundation of this the Devil is. But reversed. You the spiritual understanding of which I spoke will receive in the—”

“Hey.” The Mouse looked up at Katin. “What’d she see?”

“Shhh.”

“—coming struggle, the surface of things away will fall. The workings beneath strange and stranger will seem. And though the King of Swords the walls of reality back will pull, behind them the Queen of Swords you will discover.”

“That’s… Ruby? Tell me, Tyy: do you see the sun?”

“No sun. Only the woman, dark and powerful as her brother, her shadow casts—”

“From the light of what star?”

“Her shadow across both you and Prince falls—”

Lorq waved his hands over the cards. “And the sun?”

“Your shadow in the night is cast. Stars in the sky I see. But still no single sun—”

“No!” Only it was the Mouse. “It’s all stupid! Nonsense! Nothing, Captain!” His nail dug, and Katin jerked his arm away. “She can’t tell you anything with them!” Suddenly he lurched to the side. His booted foot kicked among Sebastian’s creatures. They rose and beat at the end of their chains.

“Hey, Mouse! What are you—”

He swept his bare foot across the patterned cards.

“Hey!”

Sebastian pulled flapping shadows back. “Come, still now be!” His hand moved from head to head, knuckle and thumb working quiet behind dark ears and jaws.

But the Mouse had already stalked up the ramp across the pool. His sack banged his hip at each step till he disappeared.

“I’ll go after him, Captain.” Katin ran up the ramp.

As wings settled by Sebastian’s sandals, Lorq stood.

On her knees Tyy picked up her scattered cards.

“You two back on vanes I put. Lynceos and Idas I’ll relieve.” As humor translated to agony, so concern appeared a grin. “You to your chambers, go.”

Lorq took Tyy’s arm as she stood. Three expressions struck her face, one after the other: surprise, fear, and the third was when she recognized his.

“For what you in the cards have read, Tyy, I you thank.”

Sebastian moved to take her hand from the captain’s.

“Again, I you thank.”

In the corridor to the Roc’s bridge, projected stars drifted on the black wall. Against the blue one, the Mouse sat cross-legged on the floor, sack in lap. His hand molded shapes in the leather. He stared at the circling lights.

Katin strolled up the hall, hands behind his back. “What the hell’s wrong with you?” he inquired amicably.

The Mouse looked up, and let his eyes catch a star emerging from Katin’s ear.

“You certainly like to make things complicated for yourself.”

The star drifted down, disappeared at the floor.

“And by the way, what was the card you stuck in your sack?”

The Mouse’s eyes came back to Katin’s fast. He blinked.

“I’m very good at picking up on that sort of thing.” Katin leaned back on the star-flecked wall. The ceiling projector that duplicated the outside night flashed dots of light across his short face, his long, flat belly. “This isn’t the best way to get on the captain’s good side. You’ve got some odd ideas, Mouse - admitted, they’re fascinating. If somebody had told me I’d be working in the same crew, today in the thirty-first century, with somebody who could honestly be skeptical about the Tarot, I don’t think I would have believed it. You’re really from Earth?”

“Yeah, I’m from Earth.”

Katin bit at a knuckle. “Come to think of it, I doubt if such fossilized ideas could have come from anywhere else but Earth. As soon as you have people from the times of the great stellar migrations, you’re dealing with cultures sophisticated enough to comprehend things like the Tarot.

I wouldn’t be surprised if in some upper Mongolian desert town there isn’t someone who still thinks Earth floats in a dish on the back of an elephant who stands on a serpent coiled on a turtle swimming in the sea of forever. In a way I’m glad I wasn’t born there, fascinating place that it is. It produces some spectacular neurotics. There was one character at Harvard—” He paused and looked back at the Mouse. “You’re a funny kid. Here you are, flying this star-freighter, a product of thirty-first-century technology, and at the same time your head full of a whole handful of petrified ideas a thousand years out of date. Let me see what you swiped?”

The Mouse jammed his forearm into the sack, pulled out the card. He looked at it, back and front, till Katin reached down and took it.

“Do you remember who told you not to believe in the Tarot?” Katin examined the card.

“It was my…” The Mouse took the sack rim in his hands and squeezed. “This woman. Back when I was a real little kid, five or six.”

“Was she a gypsy too?”

“Yeah. She took care of me. She had cards, like Tyy’s. Only they weren’t three-D. And they were old. When we were going around in France and Italy, she gave readings for people. She knew all about them, what the pictures meant and all. And she told me. She said no matter what anybody said, it was all phony. It was all just fake and didn’t mean anything. She said gypsies had given the Tarot cards to everybody else.”

“That’s right. Gypsies probably brought them from the East to the West in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. And they certainly helped distribute them about Europe for the next five hundred years.”

“That’s what she told me, that the cards belonged to the gypsies first, and the gypsies knew: they’re just fake. And never to believe them.”

Katin smiled. “A very romantic notion. I cotton to it myself: the idea that all those symbols, filtered down through five thousand years of mythology, are basically meaningless and have no bearing on man’s mind and actions, strikes a little bell of nihilism ringing. Unfortunately I know too much about these symbols to go along with it. Still, I’m interested in what you have to say. So this woman you lived with when you were a child, she read Tarot cards, but she still insisted they were false?”

“Yeah.” He let go of the sack. “Only…”

“Only what?” Katin asked when the Mouse did not go on.

“Only, there was one night—just before the end. There was no one there but gypsies. We were waiting in a cave, at night. We were all afraid, because something was going to happen. They whispered about it, and if any of the kids came around, they shut up. And that night, she read the cards—only not like it was phony. And they all sat around the fire in the dark, listening to her tell the cards. And the next morning somebody woke me up early, while the sun was still coming up over the city between the mountains. Everybody was leaving. I didn’t go with Mama—the woman who read the cards. I never saw any of them. Again. The ones I went with, they disappeared soon. I ended up getting to Turkey all by myself.” The Mouse thumbed a form beneath the leather. “But that night, when she was reading the cards in the firelight, I remember I was awful scared. They were scared too, see. And they wouldn’t tell us about what. But it made them scared enough to ask the cards—even though they knew it was all phony.”

“I guess when the situation gets serious, people will use their common sense and give up their superstitions long enough to save their necks.” Katin was frowning. “What do you think it was?”

The Mouse shrugged. “Perhaps people were after us. You know with gypsies. Everybody thinks that gypsies steal things. We did, too. Maybe they were going to come after us from the town. Nobody likes gypsies, on Earth. That’s cause we don’t work.”

“You work hard enough, Mouse. That’s why I wonder that you get involved in all this other mess back with Tyy. You’ll spoil your good name.”

“I haven’t been with gypsies steady since I was seven or eight. Besides, I got my sockets. Though I didn’t get them till I was at Cooper Astronautics in Melbourne.”

“Really? Then you must have been at least fifteen or sixteen. That certainly is late. On Luna we got ours when we were three or four so we could operate teaching computers at school.” Katin’s expression suddenly concentrated. “You mean there was a whole group of grown men and women, with children, wandering around from town to town, country to country, on Earth without sockets?”

“Yeah. I guess there was.”

“Without sockets there’s not much in the line of work you can do.”

“Sure isn’t.”

“No wonder your gypsies were being hounded. A group of adults traveling around without plug facilities!” He shook his head. “But why didn’t you get them?”

“That’s just gypsies. We never had them. We never wanted them. I took them because I was by myself, and—well, I guess it was easier.” The Mouse hung his forearms over his knees. “But that was still no reason for them to come and run us out of town whenever we got settled. Once, I remember, they got two gypsies, and killed them. They beat them up till they were half dead, and then cut their arms off and hung them head down from trees to bleed to death—”

“Mouse!” Katin’s face twisted.

“I was only a kid, but I remember. Maybe that’s what made Momma finally decide to ask the cards what to do even though she didn’t believe. Maybe that’s what made us break up.”

“Only in Draco,” Katin said. “Only on Earth.”

The dark face turned up at him. “Why, Katin? Go on, you tell me, why did they do that to us.” No question mark at the end of his sentence. Hoarse outrage instead.

“Because people are stupid, and narrow, and afraid of anything different.” Katin closed his eyes. “That’s why I prefer moons. Even on a big one, it’s hard to get so many people together that that sort of thing happens.” His eyes opened. “Mouse, consider this. Captain Von Ray has sockets. He’s one of the richest men in the universe. And so does any miner, or street cleaner, or bartender, or file clerk, or you. In the Pleiades Federation or in the Outer Colonies, it’s a totally cross-cultural phenomenon—part of a way of considering all machines as a direct extension of man that has been accepted by all social levels since Ashton Clark. Up until this conversation, I would have said it was a totally cross-cultural phenomenon on Earth as well. Until you reminded me that on our strange ancestral home world, some incredible cultural anachronisms have managed to dodder on until today. But the fact that a group of non-socketed gypsies, impoverished, trying to work where there’s no work to do, telling fortunes by a method that they have totally ceased to understand while the rest of the universe has managed to achieve the understanding these same gypsies’ ancestors had fifteen hundred years back—lawless eunuchs moving into a town couldn’t have been more upsetting to the ordinary socketed workingman or woman. Eunuchs? When you plug into a big machine, you call that studding; you wouldn’t believe where that expression came from. No, I don’t understand why it happened. But I do understand a little of the how.” He shook his head. “Earth is a funny place. I was there in school four years, and I had just begun to learn how much of it I didn’t understand. Those of us who weren’t born there probably will never be able to figure it completely. Even in the rest of Draco, we lead much simpler lives, I think.” Katin looked at the card in his hand. “You know the name of this card you swiped?”

The Mouse nodded. “The Sun.”

“You know if you go around pinching cards, they can’t very well show up in the reading. Captain was rather anxious to see this one.”

“I know.” He ran his fingers along the strap of his sack, “The cards were already talking about me coming between Captain and his sun; and I’d just pinched the card from the deck.” The Mouse shook his head.

Katin held the card out. “Why don’t you give it back? While you’re at it, you might apologize for kicking up that fuss.”

The Mouse looked down for half a minute. Then he stood, took the card, and started up the hall.

Katin watched him turn the corner. Then he crossed his arms and dropped his head to think. And his mind drifted to the pale dusts of remembered moons.

Katin mulled in the quiet hall; finally he closed his eyes. Something tugged at his hip.

He opened them. “Hey—”

Lynceos (with Idas a shadow at his shoulder) had come up to him and pulled the recorder out of his pocket by the chain. He had held up the jeweled box. “What’s this—”

“—thing do?” Idas finished.

“You mind giving that back?” The foundations for Katin’s annoyance were laid at their interruption of his thoughts. It was built on their presumption.

“We saw you fooling with it back at the port.” Idas took it from his brother’s white fingers—”Look—” Katin began.

—and handed it back to Katin. “Thanks!” He started to put it back into his pocket. “Show us how it works—”

“—and what you use it for?”

Katin paused, then turned the recorder in his hand. “It’s just a matrix recorder where I can dictate notes and file them. I’m using it to write a novel.”

Idas said, “Hey, I know what that—”

“—me too. Why do you want to—”

“—have to make one of—”

“—why don’t you just make a psychorama—”

“—is so much easier. Are we—”

“—in it?”

Katin found himself starting to say four things. Then he laughed. “Look, you glorified salt and pepper shakers, I can’t think like that!” He pondered a moment. “I don’t know why I want to write one. I’m sure it would be easier to make a psychorama if I had the equipment, the money, and the connections in a psychorama studio. But that’s not what I want. And I have no idea whether you’ll be ‘in it’ or not. I haven’t begun to think about the subject. I’m still making notes on the form.” They frowned. “On structure, the aesthetics of the whole business. You can’t just sit down and write, you know. You have to think. The novel was an art form. I have to invent it all over again before I can write one. The one I want to write, anyway.”

“Oh,” Lynceos said.

“You sure you know what a novel—”

“—of course I do. Did you experience War—”

“—and Peace. Yeah. But that was a psychorama—”

“—with Che-ong as Natasha. But it was—”

“—taken from a novel? That’s right, I—”

“—you remember now?”

“Um-hm,” Idas nodded darkly behind his brother. “Only”—He was talking to Katin now—”how come you don’t know what you want to write about?”

Katin shrugged.

“Then maybe you’ll write something about us if you don’t know yet what—”

“—can we sue him if he says something that isn’t—”

“Hey,” Katin interrupted. “I have to find a subject that can support a novel. I told you, I can’t tell you if you’re going to be in it or—”

“—what sort of things you got in there anyway?” Ides was saying around Lynceos’ shoulder.

“Huh? Like I said, notes. For the book.”

“Let’s hear.”

“Look, you guys don’t…” Then he shrugged. He dialed the ruby pivots on the recorder’s top, then flicked it to seven. Bear in mind that the novel—no matter how intimate, psychological, or subjective—is always a historical projection of its own time.” The voice played too high, and too fast. But it facilitated review. “To make my book, I must have an awareness of my time’s conception of history.”

Idas’ hand was a black epaulet on his brother’s shoulder. With eyes of bark and coral, they frowned, flexed their attention.

“History? Thirty-five hundred years ago Herodotus and Thucydides invented it. They defined it as the study of whatever had happened during their own lives. And for the next thousand years it was nothing else. Fifteen hundred years after the Greeks, in Constantinople, Anna Comnena, in her legalistic brilliance (and in essentially the same language as Herodotus) wrote history as the study of those events of man’s actions that had been documented. I doubt if this charming Byzantine believed things only happened when they were written about. But incidents unchronicled were simply not considered the province of history in Byzantium. The whole concept had transformed. In another thousand years we had reached that century which began with the first global conflict and ended with the first conflict between globes brewing. Somehow the theory had arisen that history was a series of cyclic rises and falls as one civilization overtook another. Events that did not fit on the cycle were defined as historically unimportant. It’s difficult for us today to appreciate the differences between Spengler and Toynbee, though from all accounts their approaches were considered polar in their day. To us they seem merely to be quibbling over when or where a given cycle began. Now that another thousand years has passed, we must wrestle with De Biling and Broblin, 34-Alvin and the Crespburg Survey. Simply because they are contemporary, I know they must inhabit the same historic view. But how many dawns did I see flickering beyond the docks of the Charles while I stalked and pondered whether I held with Saunder’s theory of Integral Historical Convection or was I still with Broblin after all. Yet I have enough—prospective to know that in another thousand years these differences will seem as minute as the controversy of two medieval theologians disputing whether twelve or twenty-four angels can dance on the head of a pin.

“Note to myself number five thousand three hundred and eight. Never loose the pattern of stripped sycamores against vermilion—”

Katin flicked off the recorder.

“Oh,” Lynceos said. “That was sort of odd—”

“—interesting,” Idas said. “Did you ever figure it out—”

“—he means about the history—”

“—about our time’s historical concept?”

“Well, actually, I did. It’s quite an interesting theory, really. If you just—”

“I imagine it must be very complicated,” Idas said. “I mean—”

“—for people living now to grasp—”

“Surprisingly enough, it isn’t.” (Katin) “All you have to do is realize how we regard--”

“—Maybe for people who live later—”

“—it won’t be so difficult—”

“Really. Haven’t you noticed,” (Again Katin) “how the whole social matrix is looked at as though it—”

“We don’t know much about history.” Lynceos scratched his silver wool. “I don’t think—”

“—we could understand it now—”

“Of course you could!” (Katin encore) “I can explain it very—”

“—Maybe later—”

“—in the future—”

“—it’ll be easier.”

Dark and white smiles bobbed at him suddenly. The twins turned and walked away.

“Hay,” Katin said. “Don’t you…? I mean, I can ex…” Then, “Oh.”

He frowned and put his hands on his hips, watching the twins amble down the corridor. Idas’ black back was a screen for fragmented constellations. After a moment Katin lifted his recorder, flicked the ruby pips and spoke softly:

“Note to myself number twelve thousand eight hundred and ten: Intelligence creates alienation and unhappiness in…”

He stopped the recorder. Blinking, he looked after the twins.



“Captain?”

At the top of the steps Lorq dropped his hand from the door and looked down.

The Mouse hooked his thumb through a tear in the side of his pants and scratched his thigh. “Eh… Captain?” Then he took the card out of the sack. “Here’s your sun.”

Rusty brows twisted in shadow.

Yellow eyes dropped their lights at the Mouse.

“I, eh, borrowed it from Tyy. I’ll give it back—”

“Come up here, Mouse.”

“Yes, sir.” He started up the coiled steps. Ripples lapped the pool edge. His image, rising, glittered behind the philodendrons on the wall. Bare sole and boot heel gave his gait syncopation.

Lorq opened the door. They stepped into the captain’s chamber.

The Mouse’s first thought: His room isn’t any bigger than mine.

His second: There’s a lot more in it.

Besides the computers, there were projection screens on the walls, floor, and ceiling. Among the mechanical clutter, nothing personalized the cabin—not even graffiti.

“Let’s see the card.” Lorq sat on the cables coiled over the couch and examined the diorama.

Not having been invited to sit on the couch, the Mouse pushed aside a tool box and dropped cross-legged to the floor.

Suddenly Lorq’s knees fell wide; he stretched his fists; his shoulders shook; the muscles of his face creased. The spasm passed, and he sat up again. He drew a breath that pulled the laces tight on his stomach. “Come sit here.” He patted the edge of the couch. But the Mouse just swung around on the floor so that he sat by Lorq’s knee.

Lorq leaned forward and placed the card on the floor.

“This is the card you stole?” The expression that was his frown wrinkled down his face. (But the Mouse was looking at the card.) “If this were the first expedition I pulled together to plumb this star…” He laughed. “Six trained and crackling men, who had studied the operation hypnotically, knew the timing of the whole business like they knew the beating of their own hearts, functioned closely as the layers in a bimetal strip. Stealing among the crew…?”He laughed again, shaking his head slowly. “I was so sure of them. And the one I was surest of was Dan.” He caught the Mouse’s hair, gently shook the boy’s head. “I like this crew better.” He pointed to the card. “What do you see there, Mouse?”

“Well, I guess… two boys playing under a—”

“Playing?” Lorq asked. “They look as if they’re playing?”

The Mouse sat back and hugged his sack. “What do you see, Captain?”

“Two boys with hands locked for a fight. You see how one is light and the other is dark? I see love against death, light against darkness, chaos against order. I see the clash of all opposites under… the sun. I see Prince and myself.”

“Which is which?”

“I don’t know, Mouse.”

“What sort of person is Prince Red, Captain?”

Lorq’s left fist flopped in the hammock of his right palm. “You saw him on the viewing screen in color and tri-D. You have to ask? Rich as Croesus, a spoiled psychopath; he has one arm and a sister so beautiful I…” Weight and hammock came apart. “You’re from Earth, Mouse. The same world Prince comes from. I’ve visited it many times, but I’ve never lived there. Perhaps you know. Why should someone from Earth who’s had every advantage that could be distilled from the wealth of Draco, boy, youth, and man be…” The voice caught. Weight and hammock again. “Never mind. Take out your hell-harp and play me something. Go on. I want to see and hear.”

The Mouse scrabbled in his sack. One hand on the wooden neck, one sliding beneath curve and polish; he closed his fingers and his mouth and his eyes. Concentration became a frown; then a release. “You say he’s one-armed?”

“Underneath that black glove he so dramatically smashed up the viewer with, there’s nothing but clock-works.”

“That means he’s missing a socket,” the Mouse went on in his rough whisper. “I don’t know how it is where you come from; on Earth that’s about the worst thing that can happen to you. Captain, my people didn’t have any, and Katin back there just got finished explaining how that made me so mean.” The syrynx came out of the sack. “What do you want me to play?” He hazarded a few notes, a few lights.

But—Lorq was staring at the card again. “Just play. We’ll have to plug up soon to come in to the Alkane. Go on. Quick now. Play, I told you.”

The Mouse’s hand fell toward the—

“Mouse?”

—and moved away without striking.

“Why did you steal this card?”

The Mouse shrugged. “It was just there. It fell out on the rug near me.”

“‘But if it had been some other card, the Two of Cups, the Nine of Wands—would you have picked it up?”

“I guess so.”

“Are you sure there isn’t something in this card that’s special? If any other had been there, you would have let it lie or handed it back…?”

Where it came from the Mouse didn’t know. But it was fear again. To battle it, he whirled and caught Lorq’s knee. “Look, Captain! Don’t mind what the cards say, I’m going to help you get to that star, see? I’m going right with you, and you’ll win your race. Don’t let some crazy-woman tell you different!”

In their conversation, Lorq had been self-absorbed. Now he looked seriously at the dark frown. “You just remember to give the crazy-woman her card back when you leave here. We’ll be at Vorpis soon.”

The intensity could maintain itself no longer. Rough laughter broke the dark lips. “I still think they’re playing, Captain.” The Mouse turned back in front of the couch. Planting his bare foot on top of Lorq’s sandaled one, for all the world like a puppy by its master, he struck.

The lights flickered over the machines, copper and ruby, to arpeggios recalling harpsichords; Lorq looked at the boy by his knee. Something happened to him. He did not know the cause. But for the first time in a long time, he was watching someone else for reasons having nothing to do with his star. He did not know what he saw. Still, he sat back and looked at what the Mouse made:

Nearly filling the cabin, the gypsy moved a myriad of flame-colored lights about a great sphere, in time to the crumbling figures of a grave and dissonant fugue.


Draco (Roc transit), 3172 | Nova | Draco, Vorpis, Phoenix, 3172