fetch, 2. n. Chiefly British. An apparition, said to be seen by someone whose death is imminent; may take the form of a double or of some other person, animal or thing.
'Maybe next time you'll listen to reason. If there is a next time. Which seems unlikely.'
The words, the tone of her voice, bounced off him. It was Dayna, he just about registered that. And Soolin, making some dry comment in the background. And Vila, chattering on. Be quiet. All of you. Please. I cannot listen to reason or anything else with this in my head.
With a great effort, he closed his mind to it and concentrated on what he knew was there, what he could see. Scorpio, the damaged hull... And it let him, obligingly fading while he worked with Tarrant to patch up the ship he'd just battered with a passing asteroid. He'd noticed before that it would do that, leave him alone as long as there was something urgent to see to.
But as soon as the crisis was over he heard it again, over and over, deep in his head. 'Come. Come.'
It wasn't loud. In a way, that was part of the trouble; he had to strain to hear it and couldn't stop himself listening for it, far away, on the edge of his hearing. Come. Come.
Sometimes he feared and fought it. It is them, messing with my mind again. This is how I lost the Liberator. But then the word would come back, and sometimes it sounded like bells, or waves, or wind in an empty landscape, and now and again, teasingly, like a human voice, and he would be consumed with a need to get closer to it. There was every good reason to go after the stardrive; extra speed was their only chance of staying alive. But even while he said so, he was listening to the inside of his head. 'Oh, yes. Come faster. Come faster.' And he followed, not feeling completely conscious or under his own control. When they had it on board, when he pressed the button, he was thinking not We can out-distance those ships and live, but I'm on the way. I'm coming. Some voice outside his head mentioned a name; he looked up, distracted. 'Who?'
He would get out of the base, when he could, away from the voices of others, because it was so hard to listen to two things at once. He couldn't tell them, not after Terminal. He had caught odd glances already; if he told them he heard sounds in his head they would be convinced he was delusional. Maybe he was. But he couldn't risk being restrained, prevented from obeying the call that was gentle when he followed it but implacable when he resisted.
He liked the old bridge by the disused hydro plant. He would stand there for hours, staring down into the fast-flowing water, hearing words in it. 'It will be all right, when you come to me. You can sleep again.'
Will the water bring me to you? It looked so easy; he was tempted to give himself to it, let it carry him as it did the debris and the dead leaves.
'No. I'll bring you to me. Come.'
Again he wrenched himself free. I will not go this way. I have a will of my own. I will fight you.
'But it's you that you have to fight. With your will that longs to submit. Your body that needs rest and comfort.'
Standing on the bridge, facing the android, feeling hope not fear. I can fight you with this. I can fight anyone with this. Trying to fit the head, hearing the electrical charge hiss: 'Fight, if you must. But you won't win, because you don't want to.' The pain so intense it blotted out consciousness. And waking to hope destroyed, floating in fragments downstream, and people, computers, everything talking sense at him while he tried to listen to the sound in his mind. 'See how tormented the thing was, when it tried to think for itself? Stop fighting now; come to me and I won't ever have to hurt you like that again.'
In the blinding sun, his head throbbed. Boundaries blurred and shifted; he stared at a sandhill and it shaped itself into the sound in his mind.
I didn't know you had a shape. Stay still a moment; I can't see what you are.
'I am the shape of everything you want. But you won't see it until you let yourself think it.'
I have to think about this killer. I have to find him before he finds us.
And then there will be someone else to fight, something else to chase. There always will be.
Around him, the light changed infinitesimally and the pain in his head eased.
'Go and meet them, now.'
In the cell, he had half expected it to come back, but it seemed to be leaving him alone, so he concentrated on worrying about how he was going to get his bracelet back. Old Nebrox, despite his earlier promise, didn't seem any too confident about that; he was talking about the slave market as if trying to reconcile himself to his fate.
'It might not be so terrible, I suppose. Some masters are kind, they say. But I can't imagine it, can you? Not having any will of your own, not deciding anything about your life, doing just what some man tells you. What would that be like?'
I could tell you.
'Yes, you could, couldn't you?'
He glanced up sharply. The words had come from Nebrox, and it was Nebrox's voice, but... something else too. And when he looked into the old man's face he knew something else was there. Borrowing him. He shivered.
What are you, that you can do that?
'The human mind is very powerful. Yours more than most. That was an interesting question he asked, wasn't it?'
'Oh, come.' The voice was gentle, teasing. 'You must have wondered, all those times you've had to make decisions, take responsibility... What would it be like, to be a slave? To be responsible for nothing, not even yourself. To have no fears for the future, because that is your master's concern. You don't even need to worry that you'll get things wrong, because he won't let you. And he is kind, and takes care of you; all he asks in return is obedience; would that be so hard? To say: "Yes, Master?"'
It would be like being in that water, he thought dreamily, that carried the leaves away. Is that what is going to happen to me now?
'Oh, no. Don't worry, I'll get you out of this. How could you come to me, if you belonged to anyone else?'
Sometimes it would come to comfort him. At night when he lay sleepless, staring into the shadows, he would suddenly know that something was in the bed with him.
It all went wrong again. Everything goes wrong now.
I have to trust people sometimes. There's no choice. And it isn't safe.
No-one I have ever met.
There was a pause. Almost no-one.
A warmth spread itself around him, inside him, relaxing his body like sunlight or warm water. 'I'm here,' said the sound softly, and it was almost a voice. The light held him, filled him, wrapped itself around him. He felt its tendrils infiltrate him, stroking the sensitive inner surfaces of his mouth, making every inch tingle and convulse as if he had touched static, making him want to open completely to it. He could feel light everywhere, behind his eyelids, under his skin, loosening muscles, easing all the tension out of him.
'Do you like this?' The light began to move in waves, like a great ocean; he lay back on it and let it carry him, let its pulse flow and ebb inside him. He gave a long, contented sigh.
I used to think love might be like this.
'Oh, it is, it is.'
He stretched out his empty hands, unable to believe that he couldn't touch this presence he could sense so strongly. Hold me. Please.
'When you come. You'll be close enough, soon. Rest now. Sleep. I'll keep the dreams away.'
The others think I'm going mad. Am I going mad?
'No. Just coming home.'
'Vila weighs seventy-three kilos.'
Orac's voice... but something else too.
He felt as if he'd been kicked in the stomach. Oh, no. You cannot mean that. Not Vila. No. I will fight you as long as I can.
It was all of four seconds. He stalked the ship, white and sick, gun in hand, calling in a voice he hardly recognised as his own, seeking, wanting to find, not wanting, knowing that if he did, he would use the gun. Grey metal passages, echoing and empty, but for the mistrust and fear that hung in the air like the smell of sickness. And somewhere a man, huddled and rocking in terror, trying not to listen to the sound of a voice. It felt like walking through his own mind.
If my hand fires this, it will be you behind it, not me. You are using me, as that woman did. I am not responsible for what invades my mind.
'Oh, she used your hand. Nothing is doing that now. And nothing is in your mind unless you call it there.'
Let me die here. What odds does it make?
'There is death, and there is your death, the one you've been making all your life, the one you are going towards. It isn't here.'
When he tripped over the neutron fragment and realised what it was, he nearly sobbed with relief. But it was so heavy... He called Vila, over and over, and each time there was no answer, the thing grew harder to move. And he knew there would never be an answer, that Vila would never again look at him without fear or come with him willingly, and the weight was almost too much for him. Why couldn't you let me find this first?
'If you'd found this first, you might have kept the funnel. You might not come to me, if you had anywhere else to go.'
You know what I mean by first. Before you... before I... On the edge of his hearing, from somewhere deep in the shuttle's innards, he caught a muffled sob.
'You might not come to me, if you had anywhere else to go.'
The voices outside were getting further away. It was a strain to listen to them; sometimes he didn't have the strength.
Since Malodaar, he had been fighting the call inside his head with everything he had. He had flung himself into negotiating with the various leaders, trying to ignore the teasing voice that told him any one of them would sell him and the revolution without a second thought. It was particularly vocal whenever Zukan mentioned honour. He was instinctively mistrustful of Zukan himself, more than once nearly backing off. Even on the way to Betafarl with Soolin, he kept worrying about what might be going on at the base, wanting to turn back. Then he would think of Vila, flinching from his voice as if from a weapon, seeking escape in any bottle he could find, seeing no hope in anything. No. I have to trust someone. Or there is no way out of this.
'You know the way. You know where I am.'
It never sounded like anything but a voice now, and though now and again, disturbingly, it resembled his own, most of the time it was another, one he knew well.
Are you Blake?
'Longing can put a shape on anything.'
Why do you want me to come to you?
'Why do you want to come?'
I don't. That's why I'm going elsewhere.
The voice was quiet on Betafarl; it let him register betrayal and failure without comment. Only on the way back did it return, as he was listening to Zukan, alone and haunted, screaming his way into death because, his own word being worthless, he could trust no-one else's. The death he'd been making all his life.
'Well, there goes your rebel leader.'
'And your base. Even if you could repair it, you can't be sure it's safe now.'
'Who do you trust now?'
'Are you going to come to me now?'
There is nowhere else to go.
Send feedback toHafren