The Gobi Animat

12 Sep

Jacob Pile, Chief Navigator of the Insurant vehicle, addressed his son with a heavy heart and a feeling of incoherent pain.

“What is wrong with you my son? I look at you and I see a person who is adrift, without a goal or a purpose. You are merely drifting along, with no compass or direction. It isn’t that you have made wrong decisions. You are making none at all. You haven’t chosen a career or a professional field.

“What are your plans? I have no idea, nor does anyone else. Nor do you. What is the problem? Why are you caught in a strange inertia? That is not how a young man like you should be. You seem not to act or move at all.”

Danton, the son, appeared to be far away in thought when he murmured a reply to his father.

“I wish that I could explain why I am this way, but I can’t. I don’t know what I really want to do, or to become. My future looks like an empty desert to me. There is nothing there for me to dream about or aspire to. What kind of ambition should I conceive for myself? I just can’t say, even to myself. I have turned into a stranger, even to myself.

“I don’t know who I am or who I should become. Nothing at all interests me. No field of science, no job here on the ship Inquiry. It’s as if I am somehow frozen into an unending present moment that never changes, and that never can.

“I have no idea what is going to happen with me, and the truth seems to be that I don’t even care. This is exactly like being caught in a celestial fog, in a nebular cloud without boundaries. And I can’t get out of the galactic hole that I’m in.

“I sense that there is nothing out there for me to do or become involved with. I’m floating in a star wind of some kind, and have no idea where it is going to take me. I have no control over anything, whether near or far.

“What is the cause of my indifference to even myself, father? Why has my life fallen into this vacuum, this whirl of nothingness that I feel? Tell me what to do, I beg you.”

Jacob Pile looked directly at his son as he responded with a reply.

“If I were your age, I would enter one of our many apprentice programs in planetary modeling and redesign. So, I have decided to enroll you myself.

“You certainly know enough molecular chemistry and physics to begin work on the rebuilding of our next destination, the planet named Gobi.

“It will be a very tough project, to remake life on such a dry, poor, inhospitable and hopeless world.

“We will have to find wise solutions to the problems and difficulties of the suffering, miserable inhabitants of the desperate planet we are headed for. It will not be easy, or happen all at once.

“My dream is that you will be part of the effort, my son.”

Danton was informed by his father that he had scheduled a series of sessions for him with the ship’s chief psychologist, Dr. Mead Quort.

The young fellow, unsettled by the possibilities involved with the official who was a stranger to him, entered the doctor’s consulting office with unease and apprehension. The large, heavy therapist shook his hand and asked the new patient to sit down on the side of his silicon desk.

“How would you describe yourself to me, Danton?” asked the grinning Mead Quort.

“I think that I am like a lost soul, like a wandering nomad of some sort. My mind is like an endless desert. I do not trust my ability to determine or know anything for myself. My father has recently had me placed in the Production Department of this ship. I shall be studying and serving in a variety of material design sections, under numerous different supervisors.

“Perhaps I should be glad and thankful for the appointment, but I don’t really feel anything at all about what I expect to be doing. I may have to carry out the motions, but my own self-identity will not at all become involved. I will still be a person looking in from the outside. That is going to be my inevitable fate in the Production Department of this ship.”

The session droned on to its vacuous end.

Nearly a thousand men and women were eating breakfast in the assembly hall of the Inquiry.

Danton found a vacant seat on a table bench after fetching a plate of burgo from the food counter. He began to eat when someone spoke to him from behind.

The young man turned around to see who it was. A middle-aged small man in a laboratory uniform began talking to him.

“You are Danton Pile, son of Jacob?”

The former gave an affirmative nod. “Yes,” he managed to reply. “That is who I am.”

“Let me introduce myself. I am Soto Rimny, director of the Bio-Eco Section of the Production Department. Your father spoke with me about you. I understand that you are available for recruitment into a section such as the one that I head. Would you accept appointment into our group? Your father assured me that you have completed sufficient academic training in the sciences to fit in and accomplish the responsibilities that might be assigned to you.”

For several seconds, Danton sat speechless. Finally, he nodded his head a number of times.

“Yes, of course I would work in your Bio-Eco Section. It would be exciting to be a part of the natural planning and engineering in progress for this desert planet we will soon be visiting. I promise to do my best for the creation of the flora and the fauna of the new eco-world that will be coming for this world we will be making.”

“Good,” muttered Soto Rimny. “As soon as you are finished with your breakfast, come to my office in the Production Wing of the Inquiry. We will quickly introduce and orient you to the duties you will be fulfilling in your post.”

With that, the Director of Bio-Eco turned around and toddled off.

Danton finished his burgo and made a rapid exit out of the giant assembly hall.

The Captain in command of the Inquiry was a tall, athletic-looking red-head named Nedge Wia. She visited the office of Jacob Pile a month after Danton had begun to work at his job in Bio-Eco as a planning apprentice.

“How is your son coming along with his appointment?” the skipper asked the father of the young one. “Does he enjoy the work he is engaged in?”

Jacob smiled with confidence. “I believe that Danton now has something to believe in. He has invested his whole future in the projects that now take up his time and energy.

“I am happy and hopeful about the direction he is now taking,” announced the father. “His success in what he is doing heartens me a great deal. I think that things are progressing as they should for Danton.”

“That is good to hear,” said the Captain as she turned and left the office.

Dr. Quort perceived the noticeable change in Danton as soon as their second session together started. It seemed to him that almost another person with a different character and personality was there to see him in his consultation office.

“How is your work at the new post going for you, Danton?” began the psychologist.

“It is exciting for me, Doctor. I am now part of a team busy creating new animals for the planet of Gobi. We are engineering bands of wild camels that can be domesticated by the native desert tribes, species that they can herd and raise, but better suited to conditions that the old, natural beasts they are familiar with.

“Our hope is to bring prosperity and a higher standard of life to those peoples of the deserts on Gobi. Biological and genetic achievements of the specialists on our staff promise to give the Inquiry the ability to remake the ecological conditions of the planet in a complete range of circumstances.

“Everyone is excited by the brilliant prospects that lie ahead for us.”

Mead Quont smiled warmly at the patient sitting across from him.

“That is good to hear, Danton. Keep up with what you are doing. I can foresee enormous success for both you and the magnificent program you are engaged with.

Soto Rimny gave a weekly pep talk and progress report to his assembled Bio-Eco section. Danton leaned a lot about the contours and direction of the work project he had become a member of whenever the Director spoke to his group of fifty associates and subordinates.

“As all of us recognize, out section has the mission of developing a hybrid animat suitable for the deserts of planet Gobi. This artificial animal has to be a replacement for the small, inadequate camels that the tribes of the dry lands live with and utilize. Our task is not at all a simple one, as all of you know as well as I do.

“I can report to you that every day we move nearer to achieving our goal. We are exceeding all the desert camels found elsewhere: the dromedaries, the bactrians, and the wild species beyond human intervention or breeding.

“In our work here on the Inquiry, we have isolated favorable traits taken from camelids such as the alpaca, the llama, the vicuna, and the guanaco. These characteristics will make the model animat we provide an excellent adjuster to the particular conditions of Gobi and its desert environments.

“But now we shall enter an area of even more distance from camels. There are a number of useful traits we will attempt to add to the basic core of the camel, from which we have started. I refer to xerocoles found on distant desert planets, species than can save and secure water for long periods of time.

“I believe that we can develop and provide an animat that will never need to drink any water, but can obtain it by other means. This invented species will be capable of avoiding evaporation completely, to an absolute degree.

“It will be able to concentrate its own excrement so as to retain water. Its urine and feces will not subtract any of its inner water.

“The brain of this animat must have a constant, never changing temperature to it. A concentrating number of arteries and veins in the head will keep the brain cooled. The new creature will be able to cope with changes in both outer and body temperature through its temperate blood flow. It will never sweat, because there will be no need for it to do so.

“We are moving forward and will in a short time reach our final foal.

“It is time to return to our scientific labors, so let us do so at once.”

Soto Rimny walked away, back to his office and the team of fifty dispersed.

Danton became totally focused on the work going on in the Bio-Eco Section. But his interest spread far beyond just the chores and jobs that he himself was assigned to carry out by supervisors. During free periods and when out of the lab, he spent his time reading whatever he could get in hand about camels, xerocoles, and desert species of all sorts on many planets that had been visited and studied by galactic scientists.

As he ploughed through volumes written about xerocoles on planet Earth, his curiosity fastened upon the white antelope which went by the name of the Addax.
How did that animal cope with heat and water scarcity? He extracted the many features of the addax that made its survival possible in almost waterless desert regions.

Its coloring changed with the seasons. In winter it was gray-white, but in summer completely white.

The addax was able to concentrate its urine, preventing water loss.

But then Danton came across a characteristic that drew his full attention.

He discovered that certain kinds of addax had small pouches in the lining of their stomach. This was where they stored water for specially difficult emergency circumstances or conditions. Stomach pouches? wondered the young biological apprentice.

Why not take this unusual feature to the Director of the Bio-Eco Section, Soto Rimny? Was he aware of its existence and functioning? Did the pouches have any practical use for the animat that was being designed and engineered for planet Gobi?

It would be good and useful to find out whether he had stumbled upon something that might possess some practical value.

Soto Rimny decided to try out and test the unusual idea brought to him by Danton. The two of them huddled together in the bionic planning room which served as the central control location for new initiatives in biotechnology.

“I never heard about such stomach pouches in the ungulates called addaxes, but they sound like a subject worth thorough investigation, that is certain,” said the Director with rising curiosity. “Let me assign you, Danton, to be the original collector of published material concerning these water-holding pouches and how they work in and for an addax.

“It is all new to me, but what does that mean?” cynically grinned Soto.

Thus began a project without visible end, but that continued on and on.

Positive indicators came out of the research carried out by Danton.

Director Soto Rimny soon organized a large group of bio-engineers to set down a concrete plan for a camel-like animat with water-holding and preserving pouches inside a stomach with separate food and water compartments.

An artificial animal containing biological materials and graphene structural frames within it. Biocybernetists and biorobot specialists took part in deciding how to combine living and inorganic parts.

A synthetic biobot combined the natural and the manmade into a new creature that deserved inclusion in the category of galactic animats.

Danton shared the widespread pride and joy within the Bio-Eco Section of the spaceship named Inquiry.

By the time that they landed on planet Gobi, the planners and engineers had created a dozen camel-type animats, all of them carrying water pouches within their stomachs. Within a month or so, over a hundred such bionic beings would be ready to be turned over to the native nomad tribes that lived on the several deserts.

Danton asked his Director for permission to be included in the first group of bio-scientists to take animats off the ship and hand them over to a tribe of desert nomads. “I feel that my early contribution entitles me to be in the ship team leading the creatures into their new environment, to their new owners of the planet.

Soto Rimny nodded his head affirmatively.

“I have talked with Captain Wia about your amazing discovery about the water pouches and how they can solve many hydration problems for desert animats that will replace and substitute for the existing camels here on Gobi.

“She agreed with me that you have earned the gratitude of everyone aboard the Inquiry. So, as a reward for your important contribution the Captain has already granted you the right to be among the biologists who will introduce the new animat to the inhabitants of the vast Gobi desert.

“I congratulate you on the prize and honor that will now be yours to enjoy, Danton.”

The latter’s face glowed with a radiance completely new to it and to him.

Immediately after the landing of the Inquiry the animat group began to oversee the removal of the new creatures onto the desert surface. Already messages had been radioed to the nearest tribes of nomadic people to assemble at the location indicated for their reception of the animats into their flocks of natural camels, all of the dromedaries.

Danton exited the ship together with the bio-engineers who had carried out the planning and construction of the newly arrived beings.

From the side of the Equity, Danton and the rest of the team observed how the main exit door opened and the animats began to carefully, fearfully move out onto the desert sand, an environment totally unfamiliar to them.

Nomads, sitting on camels, watched as the animats emerged and made their way toward the large number of unsaddled camels next to the ones carrying riders in flowing desert burnooses and other colorful protective outer clothing.

Danton waited to see how the new animats were going to join the herd of unsaddled, unridden camels.

In a few seconds, he and the bio-engineering group witnessed the completely unforeseen and unexpected.

Who was capable of predicting what actually occurred in front of their eyes.

A battle of camels against animats, animats against camels broke out at once.

Each species and variety recognized at once what it faced: a deadly, dangerous enemy. Mortal foe fought with what was seen as a mortal rival, a merciless foe.

Each competitor for space on the desert floor was willing to kill, to avert being killed itself.

Danton and his companions watched in horror as camels fell to the ground, seriously hurt and wounded. But animats unable to fight well also became losers in the mad war that had erupted between the two kinds of moving combatants.

The individuals from the Inquiry looked at each other in terror and ignorance.

Not one of them was able to understand what they saw.

Dead bodies, wounded and injured casualties littered the area between the ship and the saddled camels and their riders.

After a considerable time, the nomads and their personal camels began to depart. Their faces looked pale with terror caused by the scene that they had just experienced.

The bio-engineers, Danton with them, returned to the Inquiry in confusion, horror, and shock.

None of those who came back into the ship had any sort of explanation to give to anyone on the space ship.

A few weeks after the Inquiry fired off from planet Gobi, Danton made an appointment to meet with Dr. Mead Quort for personal, psychological counseling and advice.

“I have quit working in the Bio-Eco Sector, and I intend never again to have any role in making animats of any kind or species. My experience on Gobi has caused me endless pain and imbalance. I cannot say when, if ever, I will have recovered from what I had to see back there.

“My desire is to leave this ship and never catch sight of it ever again. As long as my life lasts, I doubt that I can forget or comprehend what occurred back there on Gobi, or why the slaughtering went to such extremes of beastliness.

“Both the natural camels and our own animats carried destructive genes. I feel right in terming them self-destructive genetic components.

“I have come to suspect that we who journey through galactic space as engineers of natural and constructed life are no less beastly.

“That idea threatens to haunt me all the rest of my days and years.”

Dr. Quort, unable to add anything to what he had heard, put an end to the session by himself rising from his chair behind a desk and quickly exiting from an uncomfortable scene he had not foreseen.

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Galleon of Strangers

18 Aug

Dr. Jat Rixan watched through a silicon window as the last of the four space barques connected the psychiatric hospital’s gigantic galleon. All the patient coming aboard from the planet called Doiro would now have arrived on the vessel that specialized in mental treatment and therapy.

Jat, a long, thin figure with large marine eyes and unruly rusty hair, had received the assignment of initial orientation for the new residents. The galleon already had patients who had come up from five other planets of this and nearby star systems.

The task of Dr. Rixan would soon be one of explaining the unique makeup of this hospital ship, with its variety of patients from a multiple number of home worlds. He had given this talk many times and knew it by heart.

Jat headed for the large assembly hall of the photon-powered vessel, ready to introduce himself to the ninety-seven patients, both the old and the new ones.

“Patients from Doiro, welcome to our hospital galleon. This ship is one that holds people from half a dozen different worlds of our galaxy. Our newest residents are you who just a little while ago ascended from your planet up to our ship. What we do for patients is to relate them as strangers to many other strangers who were aboard before we came here and went into orbit around your home planet.

“Being a stranger to everyone around you on all sides is the initial condition of every individual patient. This is an extremely important element, as you shall see for yourself in the days ahead. Because that circumstance will prove to be a central ingredient in the therapy applied to each separate person.

“A stranger on a space galleon is a valuable position from which to begin psychiatric treatment. You will see the truth of this as you become a part of our community of strangers. Early tomorrow, your therapist will roll out the particular path laid out for you. Thank you.”

Jat climbed down from the rostrum and made for his individual office in order to meet and become acquainted with his own set of new patients from Doiro.

The first patient assigned to Dr. Rixan for initial interview and evaluation was Geg Mnan, an athletic man with glowing diamond eyes. He was listed as a sufferer from severe neurotic anxiety, unable to work or interact socially.

The psychiatrist and Geg sat across a magnesium desk from each other.

“What do you know about coming aboard this ship as a stranger among other strangers, Geg?” asked the therapist, staring at the man from Doiro.

The patient blanched. “I’m not certain, but I was told that being a member of a large group of strangers could help me get over my anxiety. Every day, down on Doiro, I felt fear and pain. My body even started to shake sometimes. Medication could only give me very temporary relief. It seemed to me that my condition was going to be permanent and never come to any end.”

The psychiatrist gave a radiant smile. “A lot about a patient’s future depends upon her and his learning about themselves and what the cause of their neurosis is, what its reason for starting and continuing happens to be.

“That is the core of what we try to accomplish here. We have discovered that an individual can find out the most about their problems and how to solve them in a community of mostly strangers. There are many reasons for this effect on a mind and a personality.

“When one is among strangers, there are many more chances to begin all over, to attempt the re-invention of oneself. It tends to happen even without conscious plan or intention.

“A person has the opportunity to act as the person he wants to be, or thinks that he should be, or that he was meant to be. It can have a nearly magical or miraculous effect on a person’s thinking and behavior.

“We see it occur almost every day here on this galleon, Geg.”

The latter looked away for a moment. “I hope that it happens to me,” he murmured as if to himself.

Dr. Rixan continued. “Do you know who or what you are today, Geg?”

“I have some idea, because I am anxious enough to need treatment on a galactic mental hospital.”

“But do you know who and what you will be tomorrow or the far future? That is the important question, the one that really counts.

“Our staff and all the strangers aboard here as patients will help you answer these crucial questions in the days ahead. That should inspire hope in you, as it does in all of our patients.”

Geg was assigned a small private sleeping room, and he quickly met the two men who were his immediate neighbors on both sides. At the evening meal served in the galleon’s mess hall, he introduced himself to and met four other male patients. It was in the recreation-library chamber that he crossed paths with Omo Klis, a short and small young woman with bobbed blond hair.

Geg moved close to her as he looked at the covers of books displayed on a long, low table. She happened to be doing the same thing.

“Are you looking for any particular kind of book?” she inquired, turning so as to face him directly.

“I have no special favorite, although I favor mysteries and adventure tales,” he said with a smile. “Do you have a special taste in literature?”

“Oh, I sometimes look into romance novels for escape, but my real interest lies in stage plays and dramatic narratives. You see, I have been an actor of the professional stage on my home planet of Odrin. My interest in acting is what draws me to most of what I read.”

“That is interesting,” declared Geg. “I have never met many actors back on Doiro. There is not too great an interest there in theaters and performances.”

Omo suddenly frowned. “There is much tension and pressure involved in an acting career. A lot of people in that area become neurotic. I myself suffer from a depressive obsession.” Her gray eyes suddenly looked away to one side.

Something seemed to clink instantly somewhere within the mind of Geg.

“That is interesting to me, because I am a newsman for an etherwave channel and I have seen a lot of dramatic presentation being recorded,” he hesitantly told her. “It would be enjoyable to ask you about stage productions on Odrin and your personal experience in them. Could we meet and talk about how matters go in your planet’s theaters and stages?”

“Indeed,” she replied with unexpected eagerness. “We can talk right around here, in one of the music-listening cells. That would be a convenient location for us to converse in.”

The pair said farewell and separated, each going off in a different direction.

“Have you made any interesting acquaintanceships yet?” his doctor asked Geg at their next therapeutic session together.

“Yes,” grinned the patient. “I met an actor from the planet Odrin. Her name is Omo Klis.”

“I know her well, for she is under my care. It has been important in therapy to realize that we all are actors, in a fundamental sense. We are always presenting an identity to others through what we do and say, and how we carry out our lives. And like every actor, there is always a difference between the role we enact and the deeper, inner being. A person often forgets that the role he enacts and plays is not the same as his interior self. the latter can become invisible, more or less an unknown existence.”

Geg’s face and eyes seemed to brighten and light up. “Yes, I realize the truth of what you are saying, Doctor. I have come to understand that for years I have been searching for my true, genuine self, not knowing it in any sense. I could not make sense of other people because I was a deep mystery to myself. Today, I see that the truth has been hidden as if behind a false mask.”

The psychiatrist furrowed his brow in thought.

“The problem is not that human beings are too vastly complicated. It is that they are instable and plastic in basic nature. This changeability always creates surprises. That is one of the cardinal features of humans: they are unpredictable and impermanent.

“That instability makes it impossible for many persons to know who or what they are. They are always in transition to something new and different.”

The session wound down to its end without any definite conclusion.

Geg sat with Omo at every further meal in the mess hall of the galleon. The two found increasing reasons for being together.

“I found some reels in the library catalog showing performances I participated in back on Odrin,” the actress informed him. “Would you like to view them with me, Geg? I mean to review and critique my acting parts from home.”

The pair took charge of a viewing room and its apparatuses, spending hour after hour going through past roles played by Omo as part of various casts.

The dramas in which she had leading roles were romantic comedies, in which she displayed high emotional involvement in love duets with male actors playing central parts.

Geg realized that he was excited by the inner passions that she was able to show through facial expression and vocal emotion. Is this sweet, generous young woman beginning to idolize me? he asked himself one evening after seeing her to the door of her sleeping room. Has she convinced herself that I deserve to enjoy deep affection from her?

And he also turned to his own emotional state. Am I becoming infatuated with this fellow-patient? Has she succeeded in capturing hold of the imagination of my mind? Is a mutual fixation started to germinate between the two of us?

Geg had great difficulty falling asleep that night. The falling morning, he looked ahead to a coming session with his therapist, Dr. Rixan.

It was embarrassing to confess his sudden affection for Omo, discovered Geg. His voice was rough and constricted. How was the psychiatrist going to react to this exposure of this condition of having fallen in love on a galactic hospital ship?

“I realize that I have created an elevated, idealized image of this person, still a stranger to me. But who else can so easily become an object of emotional appeal except someone one meets as a stranger? That is usually the case, one comes across an individual and does not expect what is on the horizon, what is about to happen.

“It comes about as if a result of magic, or pure chance. Perhaps it is fate or destiny of some sort. Who can say?

“I myself do not know how it was born, but it has seized complete hold of my mind and my heart.”

Jat Rixan leaned forward over his mahogany desk, pointing his forehead toward his patient. When he started to speak, his voice had a distant, timeless quality to it.

“Ancient thinkers like Heraclitus and Carl Jung gave psychology and psychiatry the concept of enantiodromia: that forces in the mind can turn into their opposites. This especially pertains to emotional relationships that we usually term love, affection, and romantic attraction.

“It is the simple concept that a surplus amount of any one force or emotion can turn into its exact opposite as a kind of reaction. A conscious idea can create its unconscious opposite, while an unconscious urge can consciously come forth as a wish for something entirely different.

“Love can evolve into hate. Hatred can end up as love.

“This is something that complicates the work of therapists like me.”

Geg looked disturbed and confused. “How can that be, Doctor? I would think it makes it almost impossible for you to understand persons like me and your other patients.”

All at once, Jat Rixan slyly grinned. “Enantiodromia hinders all of us from understanding both other persons and ourselves.” He paused, gazing intently into the diamond eyes of Geg.

“I hope that you do not find the love you feel today becoming something like its opposite,” he quietly said with tones of sympathy.

Geg and Omo attended a showing of a new filament-drama from Doiro that evening. Both of them enjoyed the bright, pleasant musical score that accompanied the narrative scenario.

The two sat down together at a small round table at a snack and tea reception that followed the viewing.

“How did you like our Doiro type of production, Omo?” he asked her as they tasted the honeyed sweets.

She gave a bashful smile. “I get the impression that your planet has large numbers of romantic male lovers. They seem to be living emotional lives that are not overly practical or materialistic.

“Does my generalization apply to you, Geg?” she provocatively asked him.

He laughed several times before replying.

“I have never interpreted my own character as being such, but if you think that such a description fits someone like me, I suppose I will have to accept it as true.”

It was now Omo’s turn to laugh a little. “Let’s go over to the other side and have ourselves some ice cream,” she suggested to her new friend.

“You have made phenomenal change in yourself, so that your previous anxiety neurosis has almost vanished,” announced the psychiatrist to his patient, Geg Mnan.

“That is good to hear, Doctor,” happily said the latter. “I did not expect such rapid effect when I first came up here.”

Dr. Rixan waited in silence before coming to the main point that he had in mind.

“As you know, the time is near when this hospital vessel will be leaving for its next destination. Most of the patients we have from Doiro will be flying away from this location with us. Those are the individuals who will need further treatment and therapy. Only a few, those who experienced great improvement within themselves, will be returned to their home planet, directly below our present orbit route.” He paused for a moment. “You are one of those who will be leaving this ship before we depart from this area. I am truly surprised at the enormous way you have come. Your entire personality structure has been altered.

“I believe you realize that it was another patient, a young woman from Odrin, who had this influence on your mind and self-image.

“You know of whom I am speaking, my good man.”

All at once, Geg had a shaking, spinning sensation at his mental core. Yes, it was Omo who served as the forceful factor in what had happened to him aboard this therapeutic space vessel. She had effected the previously inconceivable, improbable change within his personality. Was he now to leave and return to the surface of Doiro? Could it be his destiny to continue his life down there, without the presence of the person he had come to feel such deep love for?

The patient’s face turned ghostly pale with combined panic, fear, and anger.

He suddenly found it impossible to control or contain his emotional crisis.

“No, I refuse to leave this ship. How can I survive without Omo? How could she find happiness without my being with her?

“If you want me off this vessel, it will have to be carried out by force. I will not voluntarily leave Omo or go back to Doiro without my love.”

Geg glared at the psychiatrist with blazing emotional fire in his diamond eyes.

“No,” he cried out in a voice unnatural for him. “I will not separate myself from her!”

With that, Geg leaped up, turned about, and swiftly bolted out of the office of his therapist.

Dr. Rixan, overpowered by what he had just seen, remained still and motionless a considerable time. His mind searched and explored for some explanation and understanding of what he had witnessed from this patient.

The two who had fallen in love with each other found each other in the ship’s library-recreation center.

Geg blurted out what the frightening situation was that threatened them.

“As you know, it is the rule that one accepts when signing up as a patient of the galactic vessel that you can only return to the world from which you came, nowhere else.

“So, that means that you are compelled as if by a law to go back to Odrin when you have undergone a program that is curative. And the same obligation is said to apply to me, so that I have only Doiro as my port of return.

“Dr. Raxin sees no way that either you or I can bend or avoid that general rule. He finds no possible exception to it, none at all.

“Therefore, I am slated for Doiro, and you are condemned to go back to Odrin, my dear.”

The pair gazed at each other in awed fascination.

“What can you or I do, my dear?” she pleaded, tears gushing in her gray eyes. “Are we fated to suffer insufferable pain and harm?”

Dr. Jat Rixan woke up and instantly realized that someone was loudly rapping on the door of his personal compartment.

He forced himself to get up and go see who it might be and what their business with him was.

Opening the door wide, he found a nursing aide assigned to him standing there.

The young man spoke in a halting tone. “Something terrible has happened, Doctor. Geg Mnan has been suddenly seized by a convulsive kind of motion that he cannot control or stop. His appearance is that of someone who has taken leave of his reason and his senses. Poor Geg twists and turns, shaking all the time without any halt to his strange fit.”

“Where is the man now?” asked the alarmed psychiatrist.

“We took him immediately to the emergency station. He received a strong sedative, but it failed to calm him at all. He is no longer himself, not the young man he used to be.”

“I’ll go see his condition as soon as I get dressed,” muttered the suddenly distressed therapist.

Dr. Rixan arrived at the emergency dispensary to find that Geg had descended into profound delirium. His eyes goggled forth as if the young man had turned into some sort of drugged monster.

None of the nursing aides hovering around the stricken patient had any knowledge they were able to share with Jat Rixan.

The Doctor leaned over the bed holding the patient, looking fixedly into the eyes of the supposedly maddened one.

All at once, a voice sounded from behind the psychiatrist.

“What happened to him?” asked a feverish Omo. “His face looks strange, as if something evil and poisonous has bitten him. How can this happen to him? Geg was getting much better, he was recovering from neurotic tendencies. And now something terrible has done this to him.”

Having turned about upon hearing her speak, Rixan stared into her troubled, haggard face.

“His neurosis has returned in a more virulent, fiercer form.” He paused a few seconds, then went on. “I doubt very much that he can leave this ship and return home to Doiro.

“That outcome will not be happening. So, Geg will have to stay aboard the galleon, even when we soon leave this orbit and proceed on to the next planet on our route and schedule.”

The Doctor noted a hint of victory and success in her facial expression.

“Then, Geg is in no condition to be sent home, is he?” she inquired.

Jat Rixan made an indecipherable, inscrutable grimace. “I believe you are correct, Omo,” he stated with total certainty.

Shanghai Hyaloids

15 May

Part II.

1.

It was not possible for the correspondent to find or interrogate President Chen Qi, but Wu Xue remained in the office building, seeing to the furnishings and equipment in his new personal suite as vice-president.

Ling boldly entered the inside room where Xue sat behind a large polysteel desk. The corporate official who had changed posts looked up from a paper he had been perusing and recognized who had entered,

“Ling, how are you? Were you present at our joint media conference? I did not have the opportunity to look around to notice who was covering the affair.”

“Yes, I caught what went on there. It was most interesting for me, because I am extremely interested in the future activities and projects of the new, magnified corporation. The possibilities take my breath away, I must admit. And your people from Holoid Light will stand at the center of the great, promising combination of bots with photic controls.

“My knowledge is limited, so that I am only capable of imagining what the results of cooperation may turn out to be.”

Ling moved forward until he stood near the executive’s metal desk.

“I am optimistic about where we will be heading,” declared Xue. “There will be many times the resources available that we had at Holoid Light as a separate enterprise. Yes, I am confident that we will soon have a final product in the robotic field that soars far beyond anything achieved in the past.

“You shall be seeing products that are qualitatively advanced and new in nature. They will approximate human powers and capacities close enough to almost destroy the basic difference. Great, stunning marvels will result from our advancing knowledge of the optical properties of various kinds of nanoparticles and crystalline structures. There will be breathtaking wonders in front of us here in Shanghai.”

Xue grinned with radiant pride and assurance.

“There will be greater photic miniaturization and empowering, then?” inquired the correspondent from Vitroline News.

The other gave a full, affirmative nod. “Neither China nor the world will be the same as it has been. I am certain of that, Ling.”

The latter, without another word, began to retreat in withdrawal. He realized that he could not obtain greater detail on what was going to come.

The night of port bombings was cloudy, moonless, and starless.

Detonation was set for three a.m. in order to minimize human casualties. The physical damages were supposed to be so astronomical that they would overshadow losses in harbor or shipping personnel.

The objective was to prevent any bestial vision of those responsible for the three major events of the night. Why should they turn into bloodbaths if that was sure to incite outrage?

Jian distributed handheld radiofons among members of the three groups in order to coordinate and order the timing of the events at their different locations.

Tension rose for the organizer as the designated moment approached. Jian had decided to stay at his own Pudong apartment, keeping out of the eyes of neighbors the day before. Everything he could think of was prepared and seen to.

When three o’clock arrived, he gave out a sigh of relief he considered justified. The hour for action had arrived.

The first message Jian received while waiting alone in his flat came from the international dock at Yangshan.

“The deed is done with complete success. The results are visible and spectacular, rising and growing by the second. We have the outcome that was planned and anticipated. The damages go far beyond what was expected.”

Jian was unable to avoid smiling. Immediately, a second message came through, this time from the Huangpu location.

“We have succeeded in reaching the goal that was set. Everything is going as it was planned. It is a bright and beautiful sight to see. Everyone will be deeply impressed by what has resulted from the efforts of our minds and hands.”

The anarchist leader gave a laugh as the second communication came to an end.

He was satisfied with how he had thought out and then commanded this second major assault on the existing reality of the world of China. Things were going as anarchist theory indicated they would. Violent events were falling into place.

Jian waited expectantly for the third message, the one from the Yangtze River embankments. Seconds passed, turning into minutes. As time went forward, the anarchist began to feel anxiety. What had happened? Why did no one call to inform him of what was transpiring at the third site?

He decided to turn on his vitroline screen to find out how his favorite media company was covering the events happening on the docks of Greater Shanghai.

Police sirens cut through the cool night air. The shadowy docks saw new illumination from helicopters of the People’s Liberation Army and the Chinese Navy. Troops of law-enforcers rushed toward the point of clash. The would-be bombers had no chance to set their explosive charges, for they were instantly surrounded and captured.

The anarchists had set off a dock alarm which aroused the forces of government and order. The latter contingents surprised and overpowered them without conflict or injury of any kind. No one dared mount any kind of resistance. The terrorists were completely defeated.

Jian learned over vitroline of the failure and capture of one of his platoons of anarchist bombers. No one succeeded in safely escaping.

The news totally floored and dispirited him. How could this be? What had gone wrong? What was he to do now? There was no easy answer to the puzzle.

Jian sat in his armchair until dawn broke, only falling asleep as first daylight broke out over Shanghai.

2.

Li Jian was alarmed and deeply troubled. The capture of half a dozen bombers at the Yangtse docks was a catastrophic disaster for his plans. What might they tell the authorities about the organization they belonged to? How would this defeat affect the other anarchists under his leadership?

Jian had an even closer worry. How was Xu Yao and his Tianite ideas going to adjust to what had happened? Would a sentiment of defeatism and pessimism now arise among those who came to anarchism through the route of traditional Chinese culture and philosophy, the stream of Taoism? Perhaps these philosophical radicals might have cause to renounce what he had preached to them.

It might be best to meet with Xu Yao at once, in order to re-establish trust and influence in that particular quarter.

Jian rushed out of his apartment and headed to catch the Tianite before anything happened with him. Matters seemed to be nearing some sort of climax, he felt with all his mind and spirit.

Ling decided that he should drop in and talk with Ren Wing about the anarchist movement that had appeared in Shanghai with the recent bombings and the capture of six of them trying to blow up the Yangtze dock. An indefinite feeling told him that she might give him some general information about the contemporary version of that thought system and its adherents.

He drove to her neighborhood, parked his box vehicle, and made his way to her door.

“Ling, I’m so glad to see you. Come right in. What do you think of the bombings at the Shanghai wharfs last night? And the arrests of a number of anarchists caught trying to set off a third bomb? The news of what happened has alarmed and excited the entire metropolis.”

She closed the door and led Ling into her living room. He took the sofa while she sat down at a table chair.

Ling studied her face for a few moments, then returned to what had brought him there that day.

“I thought that you might have some knowledge about this particular group or organization, Wing. You happened to mention a name last time you and I saw each other and talked about this subject. Do you remember?”

It was at that moment that a knock came from the door.

Wing sprang up and stepped forward to see who was there. Opening the door, she saw the face of her lover, at the same moment as Ling also caught sight of the man who stood in the doorway.

“Come in, Jian, I have a visitor whom I want you to meet.”

The surprised second visitor looked at Ling as he entered, led by Wing.

“This is Hua Ling, and he works for Vitroline News as a correspondent.”

She stopped and turned her eyes on Ling. “This is Li Jian, a close friend of mine,” she said with a pleasant smile on her face.

Jian sat down on a wing chair opposite Ling, while Wing remained standing near the latter.

“What do you think of today’s news, Jian?” she asked without preamble of any sort. “Who are this group of young, undisciplined hotheads? They are not the traditional, ordinary type of Shanghai anarchists, that’s for certain. This has to be something new and different.”

Her friend concentrated his gaze directly on the face and the eyes of the stranger who had been identified as a newsman.

“Our knowledgeable Wing is a great student of the history of anarchism in China. She knows the details of all the many strains and streams of that philosophy in our country before the Maoist revolution back there in the past. But it is the present-day varieties that have not yet been studied in any scholarly way by anyone. It should be an area of research fascinating for dear Wing.”

He suddenly turned his head to one side and faced the historian.

“If you aspire to understand those who are carrying out bombings, it is necessary to look at the Tianites who have transformed themselves into social revolutionaries. They are the desperate radicals who have adopted the means of destruction and violence. Their emotions have driven them close to the point of complete insanity. Minds such as theirs have gone beyond all rational limits. That makes them unlike all traditional, normal varieties of believers in the anarchist libertarian principles. That is what makes them so hard to analyze or understand.”

Ling, astounded at what he was hearing proclaimed, kept his eyes on the stranger named Li Jian.

How much of what this man was saying was credible? wondered the reporter with a measure of suspicion and doubt. There was a measure of fiction in his words, suspected the correspondent.

“You mentioned the name of the chief Tianite to me once, Jian,” suddenly remembered Wing.

The anarchist gave her a cynical, wicked smile. “Xu Yao, he is the one I identified for you. A man who has a strange character to him, I have to confess. I have never truly understood him or his motives, not at all.”

Ling intervened, the other two focusing on him.

“That is an interesting situation that you point to: a combination of one of our most ancient intellectual traditions with the European system of thinking that was labelled as anarchism back in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

“I find that an intriguing conglomeration that this man has constructed in his personal thought and his personality. That may explain much of what is occurring today in Shanghai. It seems very possible to me.”

Jian, all of a sudden, rose to his feet and spoke to Wing.

“I must be going,” he murmured, then turned to Ling. “It was a great pleasure meeting you, sir,” he quietly lied to the correspondent from Vitroline News.

Once the anarchist was gone, Wing and Ling looked at each other.

“He is an interesting person,” said the latter. “I did not know that you knew such an individual,” he said with a look of curiosity.

“He continually reveals new aspects of himself,” muttered Wing, giving an enigmatic, wondering smile.

3.

He Wei did not know what to do after learning of the merger that was going to occur. The robotics industry in which he operated would now have a great power-house because of the absorption of Holoid Light by his nemesis, Shanghai Hyaloid. How should his firm react to this?

The president of Vitribots decided to go and see Sung Han, the invisible operator within the corporate folds of the industrial corporation that he was formal, public chief of.

Driving his company sedan himself, He Wei headed for the entertainment sector of downtown Pudong where Han ruled over an underground economic kingdom which had its disguised roots within the shell of the entity called the Vitrobot Corporation.

The night club out of which Han ran his numerous businesses and rackets went by the name the Zhijiang Livehouse. It was one of several such places that the obscure gang chief ran and used. But this was the man’s central, original business home.

He Wei was recognized by a pair of guards who always accompanied their boss wherever he was or went. They nodded and executed small bows of respect to the company president, walking beside him across the central floor to the private office of their employer.

“Go right in,” said the senior bodyguard, pointing to a thick, solid steel door. “The Master is always ready to receive you, sir.”

The visitor did exactly that, discovering Sung Han standing behind a long desk of expensive teak.

The mobster was a heavy, stocky figure with wildly ruffled black hair of a lightless shade. On his oval face of reddish orange he wore an enigmatic yet enticing expression that could be taken for a grin of sorts.

“Welcome, my friend. How are you and Vitrobots doing? The recent news has been quite disturbing, both inside Shanghai industry and in general. Violent upheaval can never be good for business, either yours or mine.”

Han offered his large fat hand, which Wei took into his and shook with vigor.

Han asked his surprise guest to sit down, which the corporation chief did.

Wei unexpectedly began by posing a question. “Who is behind these anarchistic bombings?” he quizzed the big man behind the steel desk.

“That remains a deep puzzle to all my partners in my numerous business networks and structures. No one is able to solve that riddle, because the perpetrators have no records, criminal or legitimate. No one has any acquaintance with anyone of such a mad ilk as that.”

“Such conditions have to be expected since the complete liberalization of China has been carried out the last twenty years,” mused Wei. “The decades of Communist Party monopoly of power had much greater and thorough controls over illegal and criminal actions like this anarchistic violence and vandalism.”

Han, the mob chief, grinned. “That was when my predecessors laid the foundations of the syndicate of networks that today operate in modernized China. We lack the authoritarian discipline of our fathers and grandfathers since our government and party realm were reformed.

“Old, pre-revolutionary China had its vertical syndicates like the Green Gang, the Red Gang, the Society of Brothers, the Hong League, and the fearful Triads. Under one-party dictatorship, our organizations had to conceal themselves. Horizontal structures replaced the vertical gangs of old. Everything became informal and camouflaged. For instance, gambling and vice infiltrated many legal, acceptable institutions, even the Party itself.

“We still operate with the older, so-called hermit-crab hybrids of the lawful and the unlawful. Syndicate activities permeated and crept into safe harbors on all sides of China. Drug distribution was organized into hub and spoke patterns. Everything learned to operate under terms of masquerade. That is how Vitrobot Corp. formed as an industrial shell protecting and including the illegal networks of which I am top chief and operator.

“I run things through an intricate cobweb, positioned at its exact center. Without me, there would be disorder in the underworld of Shanghai, believe me.”

He glared at Wei with focused eyes. “There is a crying need to save Vitrobods from what may result from the merger just reached on the industrial scene. If I can send my associates into action for your sake, just tell me and I will give the sign, my friend.”

“Thank you, Han,” smiled the corporate chief. “In the name of the company, I express our debt to you. But I must wait for a short time in order to determine what may be necessary. Just a little while, in order to judge how things are going and what is the best alternative to take up.”

“Tell me when you decide what measures I should put into operation,” said the illegal boss. “All of my networks will be ready to serve your interests.”

Wei thanked Han and quickly departed, returning to his company headquarters with a rising feeling of relief.

4.

How does one find a particular individual, in this case a Tianite, in a metropolis of twenty-five million? Ling decided to attempt to find some link to Xu Yao through a major Shanghai temple that was a Taoist center of worship, education, and meditation. He choose the most prominent one in Podung. It was a large complex of structures opposite the Yian Shan metro station, a busy nod of urban transportation.

Called the Taiqinggong, the temple was the largest Taoist institution in Shanghai. The correspondent decided to enter in the disguise of a tourist.

He joined a small group of vacationing visitors marshalled through the three main sections by a professional guide. The ambled through a central courtyard containing a statue of the Emperor of the Sacred Eastern Mountains, a judge of humanity said to own seventy-two hells and thirty-six prisons in which to punish and torture the wicked.

An inner second hall held statues of the Three Pristine Ones who had attained perfect possession of the life force at the foundation of everything. “These three are the incarnation of the Tao, which is the natural order of the universe,” declared the guide. “Only the Tao can spare a person from pain and suffering,” she added.

In the rear, innermost sector, the group viewed the Supreme Jade Emperor, described as “king of the heavens and governor of all humans and the gods.”

As the small group was led back out to the street, Ling stayed behind with the intention of making his planned inquiry.

Only when he was left alone with the guide did he present her with his question.

“Excuse me, but I am trying to locate a particular Taoist scholar who is a follower of the Tian stream of thought. His name is Xu Yao. Have you or anyone else heard of this man?”

“Let me check out that name at our address file,” she smiled at him. “It may be listed there among users of our temple library.”

Ling followed her into an office to the side that few people ever notice.

She consulted the records in an office monitor, coming up quickly with what the visitor to the temple was seeking.

“Yes, sir. Here it is, and the address of the individual is right here in Pudong. Let me write it down for you so you can take it along with you.”

She did so and Ling put it into his coat pocket. He thanked her for the assistance and left the temple knowing where he was headed next.

Chen Qi realized that he had a lot to learn about new photic technology from Wu Xue. That was why he tried to meet and talk with the latter often in their first days as partners on the joint project that both of them were now engaged with.

The personal office of Qi was where they most frequently saw each other.

Xue sensed that the president of Shanghai Hyaloids did not understand how light science could be applied to the movement and maneuvers of a bot made of a polymer substance.

“It has always been the aim and ambition of robotic engineers to approximate the human mental system as closely as possible, but it is only in recent times that the functional importance of the sense organs for our brains has been emphasized and brought to the forefront.

“The human brain is so intimately connected to our major senses of seeing, hearing, and touch that its influence has been overlooked and not explained.

“As a result, few have recognized that bots and mechs will have to possess the closest possible interweaving of their senses and control systems if they are to imitate human powers and capacities. There can be no other way.”

“That has been your aim at Holoid Light?” asked the other.

“Precisely,” replied the smiling Xue. “Only with vastly expanded and improved organ-brain interactions can we hope for more versatile, more independent robotic mechanisms. Eyes and ears of extraordinary abilities will open the door to greater specialization and miniaturization of the intellectual potential of what we are trying to assemble. By combining these different areas of science, we shall end up with a nano-electromechanical system that approximates what a human being is.

“Does that make sense to you, Qi?” said the man with the photic background.

“Yes, it certainly does. But successfully doing it will not at all be an easy mission to fulfill. Our work will be hard and expensive.”

Ling knew that he had to invent a false identity and imaginary purpose in order to befriend and become accepted by the Tianite named Xu Yao.

He decided to pose as a potential new member of this subdivision of the greater, broader Taoist minority within Chinese society. It was necessary to boldly present and introduce himself in order to establish an initial relation to the leader of the Tian stream in Shanghai.

Ling rang the apartment sounder and waited anxiously to find out if the man he was seeking was at home.

The door opened and the resident of the flat faced the investigating reporter from Vitroline News.

“Mr. Xu?” quickly said Ling. “I am a student of the Way of Tao who great need for exploring and mastering the ideas and methods of the followers of Tian, of which you are known as the foremost authority here in Shanghai.

“Could I speak with you? It would only take a few, limited minutes of your time. I promise not to burden you with my personal questions or concerns. My knowledge of the philosophy of the Tian is a limited one, and my hope is to obtain good advice from you as to how I can further enlighten myself on the steps I should take in order to make some definite and certain progress.”

Xu Yao gave the stranger a sharp, piercing look of examination.

“Come in, please,” invited the Tianite. “I am not busy at the moment and can speak with you about what may help your education along. Come in and sit down. What is your name?”

“I am Hua Ling and I work in the publishing industry of Shanghai,” said the correspondent, convinced that he was compelled to conceal and disguise much of the truth concerning himself. After all, he speculated, he might be going into a very dangerous, life-risking situation with anarchist activist.

5.

Wu Xue had deeply influenced Chen Qi with his theory of the basis of the human mind’s superior powers in the power and acuteness of human sense organs and their major importance in the development of the brain and mind of man.

Has there been any major breakthroughs in that specific area of psychology? pondered the president of Shanghai Hyaloids. He looked for some clue over his memory computer, searching for some mark of recent research.

Had anyone attempted to sharpen and enhance robotic senses for the purpose of increasing the mental efficiency and productivity of bots and mechs?

He came across a single reference. It dealt with work going on at a small Shanghai company called Roboplasma. They were testing methods of making robotic mechanisms super-sensitive to stimuli in their environment by using various forms of chemo-physical plasma. No results or outcomes had been noted or reported anywhere, up to the present date.

His curiosity aroused, Qi decided to contact the firm and look around for more information about what they were doing. There might be something of future value that he could find in that obscure corner.

He Wei returned to the livehouse of Sung Han for a second conference with the underworld chieftain whose tentacles extended well into the Vitrobots company.

The pair talked once again in the office of Sung Han. The bot-maker was curious to find out whether his ally had figured out a means of saving him from competitive disadvantage and prospective ruin.

“Are you planning any kind of strategic move that is possible?” inquired Wei with worry in his voice.

Han looked away for a moment, then concentrated his eyes on the face of his visitor.

“We know that there is a violent anarchist gang at large in Shanghai. Recent news has been dominated by their destructive exploits. The damage and losses have been colossal. But there is an aspect of these attacks that you and I can exploit to our advantage.

“If Shanghai Hyaloids were to be bombed in their offices or labs in the same time period as one of the major anarchist actions, it would appear to be part of their campaign of mayhem. I have no doubt that the police and the public would both tend to interpret these assaults as part of one catastrophic movement against Chinese society. That would seem proven by simple logic. Even experts in the field of criminology would share that general opinion.

“Don’t you agree, my friend?”

Wei had only to consider for a few seconds. “Yes, that is something that might well hide the true origin of a bombing attack upon Shanghai Hyeloids. I have no reason to doubt that such a conclusion would prevail in nearly every mind in the city.”

Han gave a cynical grin. “Then, I plan to prepare the personnel and the materials for such an attack in order to be ready for the next occasion presented by these radical incendiaries.”

Li Jian held a planning session with his co-conspirators that night in his apartment. The next step in his campaign of bombing attacks was already outlined on a map of Shanghai that he revealed to the others present.

“We must now concentrate on a vulnerable part of the metropolitan economy, the public land transportation system that connects us to the rest of China. That is the vital link that we are going to cut so severely as to cripple all economic life that goes on every day.

“Our bombing targets shall be the three main rail stations in the city: the Central Railway Station in the Jingian District, the South Railway Station, and the Hongqiao Railway Station. All three of these are vital knots that tie our Shanghai economy to all the other provinces in our country. Making it impossible to operate will halt much of the trade and transport that occurs anywhere in China.

“This shall be an historic feat of anarchic destruction that will never be forgotten in centuries of time to come. Our great city will never be the same once we have succeeded in carrying out these three actions.”

“What date is set to do this?” asked one of the associates present.

Li Jian made a grimace and frowned. “Our supply of plastic explosive has become somewhat depleted. It may take me three or four days to replenish what we have in storage. But once we are once again equipped for action, we shall at once move on the offensive.”

No more questions being posed to him, Jian went on with the details of how the charges were to be placed and detonated.

Ling proceeded with his exposure to Tianite doctrine, winning the trust and friendship of Xu Yao. The latter was thrilled with the idea of converting a new adherent to the Taoist sect that he was so prominent in.

“Are there periodic meetings of members of the followers of the Way of the Tian who live in Shanghai?” asked the new disciple one morning in the flat of his teacher. “I have never met the others who are connected to you, sir.”

The correspondent looked into the eyes of Yao with eager curiosity.

“We usually gather together at least once a month. It has been about that length of time since our last get-together, so I expect to send out vitro calls to the others today and tomorrow.

“Would you come to the next meeting, Ling? You are very welcome to attend, because you have learned quite a lot about the philosophy of the Tian.”

“Yes,” answered the other. “That would provide me marvelous opportunity to broaden my knowledge and experience.”

6.

Chen Qi had all his life been oriented by disgust with the old and hunger for the new. That maxim was the foundation of his view of both science and practical technology. He was a man whose mind was ready to test the untested and flee from the ways and methods of the past.

Learning of the existence and activity of the company called Roboplasma, he decided to make a personal examination of what the outfit might be able to provide him in the project of the advanced, independent, autonomous type of hyaloid he was planning to produce for the bot market of China.

First of all, Qi gathered together and read all the available data on the company, its management, and research activities. Yes, the leadership of the firm had strong hope in the future application of nano-technology to the area of plasma substances. Confidence in the possibility of finding new characteristics and capabilities in new forms of plasma prevailed around the president and major owner of Roboplasma, Ba Xueq.

I must meet this man and find out whether he can help us at Shanghai Hyaloid, Qi told himself. He decided to approach the head of the small company himself over the vitrofon and ask for a meeting with him.

Ling realized that his investigation of the Tianites and Xu Yao was going nowhere. He was learning a lot about the abstractions of Chinese philosophical thought, but not finding any evidence concerning the bombing attacks that were disturbing the peace and harmony of Shanghai.

Had he made his way into a fruitless dead end? he asked himself as time passed.

It was necessary for him to go back and see Ren Wing once more. It appeared that perhaps she had steered him down a useless, futile path, without either knowing or intending it.

Around noontime Ling arrived at her flat unannounced and surprising her as she was about to go out on a shopping round in the neighborhood.

“I had to see you, Wing,” he claimed with a disarming smile. “There is an important matter that is weighing on me. I think that you could provide me some answers to what seems to be bothering me.”

“Come in and sit down,” she suggested to him. “I have plenty of time and can go out later on.”

He stepped into the parlor and found a seat while she remained standing across from him.

“What is it that brings you here today, Ling?”

He began to frown. “I have, from the beginning of my venture into Tian thought, suspected the adherents to be somehow involved with anarchism and the recent plague of explosions and bombings. The number of casualties I found disturbing, but believed that fanaticism might serve to justify the use of violent means to those involved. But now I realize that I was wrong.

“None of the Tianites I have come across is in any way dangerous, I am certain of that. It is incorrect to suspect them of hypocrisy over deadly actions. They are unable to justify evil or criminal means of any sort. That is not in their character as moral individuals.

“I have had to completely revise my view point on the whole question.”

Wing gave him a questioning look of concern. “So, what is it you now think on such subjects of the psychology of people?”

“Those responsible are pure anarchists, and nothing beyond that. They are motivated by the small violent strain of thought in the history of Chinese anarchism, not by the peaceful tradition of the followers of Tolstoy or Kropotkin. Although a minority with few members, they are the ones making and throwing the bombs in today’s Shanghai.

“What do you say to that, Wing?”

Her face looked as frozen as a mask of some sort. “I believe you are right, Ling. It would seem that I have proven too trusting of the anarchists whom I am acquainted with. I especially mean Jian.”

The visitor gave a faint nod. “Yes, I have been thinking of the words that he has spoken, and whether he has been concealing much from both you and me.”

The two stared at each other a considerable time before Wing spoke again.

“I have called and invited him to stop by this evening, Ling. It would be helpful if you came back as well. What do you say?”

The reporter promised her he would be present.

Ba Xueq was a heavy, rotund figure of middle age who exuded an atmosphere of optimism wherever he went, whatever he said. His devotion to the future and the cause of plasma technology was like a mania within him and his life.

He was happy to have an important industrial leader like Chen Qi of Shanghai Hyaloid make a journey to see him at his own company headquarters in the Hongqiao Sector of the city.

The two businessmen sat opposite each other in the bare, simple office of Ba Xueq. The latter did most of the talking, presenting his personal view of the future of all of Chinese industrial technology.

“Plasma has unlimited possibilities of development into new, miniaturized forms of energy and energy transmission. I predict that progress in plasmatic development will dominate the next century and make possible incredible products and methods. No doubt of that is possible in my mind.

“There is no better way of producing, storing, and sending electrons from location to location than with plasma chambers and cells. Electrons become totally free and mobile within a plasma, so that they are liberated in terms of space and can leap about almost anywhere within the system that contains them in plasmatic suspension.

“Here at Roboplasma, we have created nano-devices that can operate within a plasma at the subatomic level, smaller than anything ever worked with in laboratories anyuwhere in the world.

“As a result of such instrumental advances, our plasma chambers contain lines of energy smaller than a neuron within the normal human brain. The complexity attainable with such technology will revolutionize the robotic industries. I believe that bots will become more individual and autonomous. They will come to have sensing devices that will outdo those within the biological human being.

“Let me take you on a tour of our lab and our testing section, Mr. Chen.”

The latter beamed with interest. “I will be very happy to see how plasma progress is growing,” he said with happy anticipation.

7.

Jian arrived at the apartment of Wing only minutes after Ling appeared there. The two who were waiting for the anarchist had not had any time to exchange ideas between themselves. Both of them felt that they were dealing with Jian as an independent factor in what was going on.

“It is good to see you here, Ling,” smiled the last one to appear, sitting down with the others at the dining area table. “You will discover that dear Wing is an efficient hostess who always has some surprises prepared for her guests, whoever they happen to be. Isn’t that true, Wing?” he said with a little laugh.

“I have some delightful sugared fruit slices in my freezer,” announced the scholar who lived in the apartment. “Let me go in the kitchen and get a plate of the snacks that I’ve defrosted for us to enjoy.”

Left to themselves, Ling and Jian looked at each other.

“How are your studies in the classics of the Tian progressing?” asked the anarchist.

Ling frowned. “I know more about that school of Tao, but still I have not reached the heights that were promised to me. It is very hard going, I find.

“But there is one conclusion that I am firmly convinced of. The Shanghai Tianites are not connected to the wave of destructive bombings we have witnessed in this city. Their characters prevent me from suspecting any of them of complicity in that sort of anti-social activity.”

Jian showed no signs of surprise or disturbance on hearing this.

“Yes, I find that group of idealists to be beyond any kind of suspicion. No reasons for fearing or doubting them exist, that is the logical truth.”

The anarchist gazed with bold assurance into the eyes of Ling.

“I am glad that you have changed your viewpoint about them, Jian,” said the investigative journalist.

At that precise moment, Wing entered the living room from the kitchen, carrying a tray with fruit snacks on it. “I have some items that I believe both of you are going to enjoy,” she laughed.

The conversation in progress halted at once, but Ling had reached a strong conclusion about Jian. he man was willing to change opinions when confronted with a contrary view.

This anarchist is probably much more than a theoretical speculator, an inactive idealist.

If anyone deserves being suspected, it is Li Jian.

Chen Qi sensed his mind boiling over with newly-acquired enthusiasm. I know what the key to connecting a hyaloid bot to its innovative photic brain. I now have the central ingredient that will make an autonomous entity possible. Shanghai Hyaloids and Holoid Light shall have to bring in a third member of the partnership we have composed through our merger.

Ba Xueq has the essential sensing devices to connect advanced bots to their environment and make use of the augmented light brain. Roboplasma will become the source of the plasmatic devices that can provide what will surpass even the splendid sensing forms evolved within human beings. Plasma cells and chambers are going to link together the physical and neurological aspects of robotic units in the future.

China and its social economy will never be the same after this combination comes to enjoy mass existence.

But first of all, Qi recognized that he had to convince the new vice-president of Shanghai Holoids, Wu Xue, to go along with the vision that had captured the imagination of the company’s eternally optimistic president.

Ling knew one person certain to provide him sound advice: his editor at Vitroline News, Guo Ziao.

An immediate meeting with the latter was called for in order to begin a process of necessary probing involving the group of anarchists around Li Jian.

The correspondent was admitted directly into the executive office of his superior.

“Good to see you, Ling. Have you found out anything of interest? Is that why I happen to be seeing you here today?”

“Indeed, sir, I’ve come across some interesting information that you should know about. My suspicions have been raised to a high altitude by what I have learned about a small circle of radicals who call themselves anarchists. I am convinced that they are favorable to the use of violence and are possible bombers.”

“Does this circle have an identified leader?”

“Yes, his name is Li Jian, a man with the reputation of following the principles of traditional Chinese anarchism. I am familiar with this individual through a mutual friend who is an historian in that area of thought. There are reasons to believe that Li Jian is concealing dangerous tendencies in his mind and his actions.

“Unless something is done soon, I fear that Shanghai may suffer another number of bomb attacks. What form they may take in terms of targets, I cannot predict. But I fervidly believe that they can be averted by timely preventive action.”

The editor considered a moment, then spoke in a tone of quiet strength.

“You and I must, both of us, visit the Shanghai police and inform them about this person and the potential great danger that he poses.”

Gao Ziao rose from his chair, circled the desk, and moved toward the doorway.

“Come with me, Ling. Both of us have a mission we must carry out today.”

Unforeseen difficulty arose for Chen Qi. He found that Wu Xue was dubious about what might develop if Shanghai Hyaloids ventured into the area of plasmatic sensing devices such as those assembled in the labs of Roboplasma.

“I do not think that plasma can be as useful and efficient as photic organs are,” argued Xue when summoned to the office of the firm’s president.

Qi bristled for a moment at this opposition, then calmed himself and spoke in a smooth, measured voice.

“Let’s not exaggerate things, my good man. We shall only enter this area of plasma cells or chambers as we can establish their worth in practice. More than general theory will be leading our work with plasma. Every step in that direction will have to be tested many times. Nothing at all will be accepted until it is thoroughly confirmed by our scientists.

“Trust me, Xue. I will not replace light devices with plasmatic ones without consulting with you and learning what you think is best.

“There is nothing for you to fear, believe me.”

Saying nothing in reply, the new vice-president of Shanghai Hyaloids hurried out of the office with energetic speed.

Qi, puzzled and disturbed, watched Xue disappear.

A long sedan stopped in front of the apartment building where Li Jian lived. Four men in business suits of the same serge blue exited and walked in group formation to a door with a number they were on the lookout to find. One of the foursome rang the electric chimes and the resident quickly opened the front door of his flat.

“Li Jian?” inquired the leader of the group of plainclothes officers.

“Yes,” replied the anarchist in a state of confusion. “Can I help you?”

“You must come along with us,” announced the detective. “We are placing you under arrest and will now transport you to our central police headquarters.”

Jian’s face blanched in surprise and fear. He said not a word of protest as the police escorts walked him to their large official box vehicle.

Shanghai Hyaloids

28 Apr

Part I.

1.

The three nearly simultaneous explosions at midnight woke up and terrified all of Pudong, across the Huangpu River from central Shanghai.

Guo Ziao, chief editor of Vitroline News, summoned his most highly reputed investigative correspondent to his penthouse office at the top of the corporate building early the following morning. Hua Ling already had a good hunch what his boss intended to assign him to look into.

As soon as the pair were seated across the editor’s desk from each other, Ling anticipated what his immediate assignment was going to be.

“You want me to find out what is behind these three bombings of research facilities in Pudong, I can guess,” said the younger man with a knowing smile. “Am I correct on that score?”

The short, pudgy supervisor nodded that the writer was right. “The damage was considerable in all three instances, and they were all small research outfits in the area of specialized, advanced robotics. I have my own suspicions about who might be behind it. But I have learned that the Shanghai police are baffled and at a loss as to naming anyone.

“Many think that it is tied in with sharp rivalry and commercial competition in their field, but I believe that the destruction goes far behind anything like that. I have studied and paid personal attention to the so-called Luddite resistance to new hyaloid bots that can outperform any of the older, conventional types of mechs produced in our Shanghai robotic industry. The new models are powered by magneto-laser plasma and approximate actual human beings as industrial workers and serviles. They can perform actions with astounding capability and agility and will eventually replace our older, traditional bots everywhere throughout China, and then the whole world.

“My mind is concentrating on the anti-bot movement that lies almost underground here in Shanghai, the group that refers to itself as the followers of the Tian, the so-called Tianites. They see themselves as a branch of traditional Chinese Taoism, but they go far beyond our cultural past.

“I believe that their ideas have led them into accepting the need for direct action, going as far as destructive violence in their opposition to new robotic progress and innovation.

“They cannot abide the new hyalobots, because they approximate to closely the abilities and intelligence of actual biological humans.

“These Tianites are, in actuality, at war with science and technology as we know them in today’s China. Their dream is to return to a pre-robotic life and world. But you and I know that to be impossible, don’t we, Ling?”

The latter, saying nothing immediately, stared into the circular, tanned face of the chief editor.

“What would you advise me to do, sir?” finally inquired Ling.

“Locate the leader of the Luddite extremists and question him about who is personally responsible for the three bombings. Keep your identity a secret and attempt to infiltrate this Tian conspiracy. I want to know who can be held personally responsible for what happened. The criminals must be captured and publicly punished.”

“I can only promise you I will do my best, sir,” muttered the correspondent.

Guo Ziao gave a nod, signaling that Ling could leave and begin investigating.

Over several decades, Shanghai had developed into the center of two new industries of China: robotics and vitric nano-chemistry. Bots became more skilled and diversified, and scores of new glassified materials entered the industrial and commercial market. Automatic mechs and vitrified metals and compounds left the Shanghai region for Chinese provinces and the entire globe.

Hyaloid Corp. was a major producer of vitric bodies for advanced robotic mechanisms. Its president, Chen Qi, was a sharp, ever awake operator at the point of confluence of the two major fields, automatons and vitrification.

The industrial leader kept himself knowledgeable about what was happening in the multitude of Shanghai laboratories and research institutions. That is what drew him to the small company named Holoid Light in the Puxi region across the Huangpu River, on the west side. Qi rode in his company sedan past the old Bund area, along Huaihai Road, till he reached the main office and lab facility of Holoid Light, his destination. He had arranged an appointment with the head and owner of this firm, Wu Xue. This is a man who can be of enormous benefit to the Hyaloid Corp., Qi told himself over and over that day.

An office assistant waited at the vehicle entrance to take over and move the auto into the company underground parking garage. Another employee ushered the visitor into the vitro-aluminum building, then led him into a levator that climbed upward to the executive offices of Holoid Light.

Qi found Wu Xue waiting by the door of his presidential office. He greeted the industrial titan effusively, then guided him into his spacious personal suite.

The two sat down at a prepared conference table, and Xue began to speak, giving a well-prepared presentation.

“I called you here, sir, because I believe that you would be deeply interested in what my company has achieved in our most important research project. It has taken us years to complete the numerous steps that were required of us, and we intentionally, consciously kept all of it top-secret. I insisted that no one in Shanghai or its industries learn about what we were working on. Only when success was reached and we were prepared to offer an operating product would we make any announcement to anyone. Even the vitric press of the metropolis has been ignorant of what we were about.”

Xue paused to draw a long breath, examining the dark face and bright black eyes of Qi to find out whether he had aroused the visitor with his words. He decided that he had, so he continued with a detailed description of what he was presenting as an important breakthrough.

“What we now have at Holoid Light is something that worldwide scientific research has long sought through optoelectronics, a way of providing a thinking, governing brain to the bots and mechs that characterize modern society everywhere. The prediction that has existed for many decades that this could be attained using light rays turns out to have been correct.” His face brightened with internal joy. “We now have it here at Holoid Light. The invention rights are ours to apply, distribute, and enjoy.

“My company can claim that it possesses a holographic brain that is small and convenient enough to fit within an average, normal bot or mech in use anywhere, in Shanghai, all of China, or anywhere on our planet. I will only describe it in very general terms, but you shall be able to see how it moves, works, and operates in a little while. You shall be thoroughly amazed and stunned by this marvel of ours, sir. We have advanced nano-electronics light years ahead.

“You shall witness how holographic rays produced by nano-illuminators transform streams of photons into what we have come to call a photosphere. These new, innovative rays form into a holographic brain in which millions of neuro-transformations occur in every nano-second of natural time. There occurs the construction and abstracting of numberless logical patterns. What we have named a photic memory can be created within the great, almost unlimited photosphere of this brain composed out of streams of light rays.

“What nerve cells, the neurons, carry out in the human brain, can now take place inside mechs and bots using nothing beyond holoid light produced by nano-devices. We have created an effective nano-bioelectronic system.

“It will revolutionize all of China, and all other human societies, I predict.”

The two company presidents stared at each other as if mesmerized by what Xue had just revealed to Chen Qi.

The latter, after a long silence, spoke to the other. “I would like to have a look at how this holographic brain operates, Mr. Wu,” he said with a mysterious, undecipherable smile.

2.

“I am a man of words and ideas,” confessed Xu Yao to his second-in-command within the Tianite network of Shanghai. “There is no question, Jian, that I am dependent upon you for practical implementation of our organization’s goals and purposes. That makes me highly beholden and thankful for your active services in our enlightened cause of Tian.”

The two men looked fixedly at each other’s face in the dim light of the beer palace in a neighborhood of centuries-old shikumen houses in old Puxi.

Short, skinny, and facially ugly Li Jian appeared to want to flatter the movement’s leader with praise and flattery. “Without you, though, there would be no structured Tianite group here in Shanghai. It was your impetus that began our existence as an organized brotherhood with a single, common system of thought and belief. You are the one who made us what we are. Our actions have their roots within the ideas conceived in your illuminated mind.”

Jian gazed across the bamboo table with a faint glow in his eyes and on his face.

Suddenly, Yao began to speak as if out of a deep spell or waking dream.

“When was it that I first began to meditate and cogitate about the meaning of the Tian for my own life as a person? My mother and father were interested in Chinese philosophical thought and owned an entire library of books that might be classified as Taoist. In my early years, I became familiar with the need for what is referred to as Universal, Final, and Fundamental Truth. As a youth, I became embroiled in the age-old search for the Path, the Way to personal, internal enlightenment of both mind and soul. I read book after book in my hunt for a road to Perfection, the lifting up of the remainder of my life.

“I discovered what I was after from the very beginning. It was the Tian, a concept that has been interpreted as heaven, nature, paradise, or even the summit and the sky. It is highest and the most sublime.

“The Tian is uncreated and unborn, because it was non-produced and prior to the entire cosmos. It is like a Nature that was here before there was any universe at all. Tian existed before this world and before even heaven.

“Who can truly know it? But who is capable of questioning, criticizing, or doubting the Tian?”

Xu Yao suddenly fell silent, but Li Jian seized and carried on the stream of thought.

“In our own lives, we are obligated to uncover the path of the Tian and follow its commands with all our minds and bodies. With our eyes and thoughts, we are able to discern the way of the Tian. It did not set human beings on a road of assembling robots and mechs to perform human actions and labor. All the automatons and bots manufactured in Shanghai are a disgrace to the natural life meant for us by the supreme Tian. Our modern city and its industries are an insult and offense against the straight line set for us by the Tian. We have made serious transgressions against what the Tian demands of all of us in this mighty city.

“Our movement and organization consists of correctors and re-constructors of life in all of China and the world. Direct action against the making of new bots and mechs is our tool, our weapon against those who break away from the principles of Tian and its teachings over the many ages.

“Back to the Tian! That is our watchword, is it not?”

Jian gazed expectantly at his leader. Should I tell him of the coming bombings that I have planned and provided for? he asked himself. Yes, Yao appears to be willing to proceed on the path already begun.

At the skyscraper headquarters of Vitrobots Corp. in the Oriental Pearl Tower in Pudong, the company president sat in his spacious office looking over a report from one of the private detectives in his hire. He read and reread several times what Chen Qi of Hyaloids had been up to that day.

The main rival, the enemy competitor, had made a personal trip to a small company located in the Puxi sector and had spent over five hours there. There was no specific evidence of what his purpose for this trip might have been. The best guess, the smartest supposition was that the affair dealt with some new research development at the Holoid primary facility. What else could this have been connected with? It seemed unlikely that if a merger with the smaller outfit were contemplated that Chen Qi would have come there alone, driving the company auto that was being used.

If the activity involved some scientific discovery made by the laboratory staff of Holoid Light, then it had to be in an area with which Hyaloid itself was active in. The report gave no indication what this might be.

He Wei, president of Vitrobots, was an experienced veteran in the robotic industry of Shanghai. No other executive had the inside knowledge he enjoyed of the ways of business intrigue in the great city. His suspicions, being aroused by this incomplete report, led him to pick up his vitrofon and make a personal call to an old, close acquaintance of his.

He pronounced the name that he wished his private secretary to summon over a secure company fiberline. It was the editor of Shanghai Vitroline News he wished to communicate with.

“Ziao, how are you? This is He Wei. It has been a considerable time since you and I have seen each other or talked to each other. How is business in the news field, my friend?”

“Wei, it is good to hear your voice. Yes, it has been a long while since we saw each other together. I believe it was at a performance of the Shanghai Classical Opera last season. We happened to be at the same post-performance reception for the cast, as I remember that evening.

“I am in very good health, and our operations here at Vitroline News are growing, blooming, and succeeding quite well, I am able to report to you. And how is Vitrobots progressing? From our own business news staff, I receive favorable news on your affairs all the time. Of course, Vitrobots has management under a very skilled chief executive, that is certain.” The news chieftain gave a single, small laugh.

“There is a matter that I think your staff should look into, Ziao. It concerns a small outfit called Holoid Light. Have you ever heard of them?”

“No, I don’t believe that I have. What do you think they are doing, Wei?”

“I do not have any details at all, but they have drawn the interest and attention of Chen Qi and Shanghai Hyoloid. There must be something of value there to attract that shrewd figure to a photonic concern like this tiny one. I thought that you might want to look into what is going on over there. It could have some kind of importance for the technical picture. That is all.”

“Thank you, Wei, thank you a lot. I will send someone out to look into this, and if we learn anything definite, you will learn about it directly from me, old pal. I can tell that your interest has been aroused. So has mine, I confess right now.

“Don’t worry, Wei, Vitroline News will find out what the truth is about this.”

Each of the two said good-bye and closed off his side of the line.

3.

The chief editor summoned Hua Ling to his office early the next morning. When he learned what the new, additional assignment consisted of, the reporter was surprised and a little shaken.

“I know that I am asking quite a lot of you, combined with what you are at present working on,” smiled Guo Ziao, “but I know that your abilities can cope with both of the missions I’ve given you. If there is anyone on my staff capable of success on both jobs at the same time, that person has to be nobody but you, dear boy.” He beamed with assurance at the star correspondent.

Ling nodded his head with a degree of reluctance. “I’ll try the best I can, sir,” he told his superior. “I think that I know a beer hall where Tianites like to hang out. My plan was to go there and listen around today. Now I intend to put that off until later, this evening sometime.

“My priority will be to have a look around the premises of Holoid Light, as close to them as I can get.”

An investigative correspondent such as Ling tries to establish strong relations with individuals who are knowledgeable and informed about developments in their field of activity. It was at the Robotics Institute of Jiao Tong University that Ling had made acquaintance with the director of the Mechanotronics Research Center, Dr. Dai Fang. This individual had long been a good source of current information about technological developments for the reporter from Vitroline News.

Ling made a fiberline call to his friend and was invited to visit him at the research center on Guan Hua Road. It was worthwhile for Ling to take the time to hire an electrocab and ride out to the location in the Minhang District.

The research director met him in his tiny office on an upper floor and had something to tell the writer about what was probably involved in the excitement at Holoid Light.

“They are a deeply dedicated group of scientists over there, under Wu Xue,” said the robotics scientist. “For a number of years, they have attempted to find a method of applying a combination of laser light and magnetism to computer memory and digital operations. It has become almost a single-minded mania with Wu and his researchers. As far as I can say, no one has ever learned of major success of any kind in their endless round of experimentation.

“But who can say what may have occurred there recently? I have, myself, heard of no leaps or breakthroughs, but that may mean nothing. No one really knows, since Wu and his team have always been tight-lipped and very secretive about their lab work.

“I am sorry that there is no more that I can tell you, Ling.”

The latter thanked the director and found his way out of the Robotics Institute.

The crowded streets held glassy hyaloids walking along with living organic human men and women, though still only a fraction of the moving mass of bodies.

A newsman should be able to work on more than a single project at any one time, believed Hua Ling. At the present time, he found it wise and necessary to operate on that principle.

Ling decided to nose around in bars, taverns, and livehouses in the evening highlife area of older, downtown Puxi.

The writer ordered his favorite brand of beer in one of the hangouts that he often frequented when he was at loose ends over a matter connected with his job at Vitroline News. How was he going to attack the subject of the laboratory bombings in Shanghai? The urban district now held over twenty million residents. Who was capable of finding out what was being planned and carried out below the surface that was visible to an investigator like himself?

Ling ordered a second ice-cold bottle of Pearl River Beer, and had finished it when an idea on how to proceed came to him.

Who might know something about such attacks more than a genuine anarchist? One who accepted the necessity for using violent means for the sake of a higher good or goal?

All at once a broad smile broke forth on his circular face.

I know an historian of Chinese anarchism who himself probably possesses some such beliefs and values. Perhaps Professor Ren Wing can give some information that no one else has. Even a suggestion or a hint from him could possibly point me in the right direction.

A visit to the scholar at Shanghai University might prove productive for me tomorrow, the reporter told himself with confidence.

He Wei stayed in his office the whole day, even after the sun set and the evening fell over the international port and metropolis.

The head of Vitrobots had difficult decisions to make concerning how to battle his enemy, Shanghai Hyaloids and its clever agile president, Chen Qi. What was he to do before his rival had his hands on a photic brains of some sort, one that could be placed in a bot or mech in order to multiply its abilities and thinking potential?

What he now had a crying need for was accurate data about what Holoid Light had developed that had attracted the attention, the interest of his robotic competitor. But he had no open, acceptable way of learning what was going on in the laboratory of the small firm that specialized in laser-magnetic rays and their industrial applications.

There is always the possibility of an illegal break-in and taking the data out of the digital files of Holoid Light.

The more that He Wei considered the idea, turning over in his mind the chances of success, the more he was drawn to accepting the option of industrial burglary, of technological espionage.

Yes, He Wei saw the logic of doing it, and reached an irreversible decision.

He would command his most trusted company guards to perform such a crime under his executive authority. The responsibility would fall primarily on his own shoulders.

The corporate president reached for his vitrofon in order to have a small, well-chosen team meet with him in his office that very night.

4.

Ling met Professor Ren Wing at her office at the Fudan University campus in Pudong. He sat across her old-fashioned mahogany desk from the middle-aged, slender and tall academic in a business suit.

“How have you been, Wing? It has been over two years since we have seen each other. I have come here this morning because I need to know about a certain subject that you have been studying for a long time.

“I am interested in the question of the role of anarchist thought in the present-day world and how it developed in the early twentieth century, before the Great Revolution of Mao Tse-Tung and the Communist Party.

“What can you tell me about relics of the past that may still be around today?”

Ling gazed at her small face with intense curiosity, waiting for her reply.

She answered him in a calm, almost abstract manner.

“Shanghai in the early twentieth century was a hotbed of anarchist thought, organization, and activity.

“The group of important writers and leaders located here tended to look for their roots in Chinese culture and rural society rather than in European radicalism. They stood for the total abolition of all private property and believed in the future of our agricultural peasantry. State Confusianism was completely repudiated by them. Their values fit better with the Taoist tradition of our past. Local self-determination was their fundamental goal and value. Leo Tolstoy was their teacher rather then Bakunin.

“Most anarchists in Shanghai, except for a radical few, did not accept the idea of violent means. The education of workers and peasants in anarchist principles was their central program. There was a Labor University organized here in Shanghai under their great leader, Li Shizeng. They rejected all formal governmental or social authority and sought to combine the minds and hands of their followers in preparation for a libertarian future.

“They clashed, of course, with Chinese socialism, and then communism.

“Their dream was a distant one of a free federation of local units in a great Chinese agrarian society and economy based on mutual aid. It is no wonder that they were stigmatized on all sides as impractical utopians and idealists.”

Ling posed the question that bothered him. “Are they still active in our post-Maoist system? What would they think of our system that some call state capitalism?”

Wing pursed her thin lips, then spoke in a soft, guarded tone.

“I have, in my studies, come across a few who survive as a small study group in our present Shanghai. As far as I can tell, they lean more toward Russian Nihilism and Bakunin more than Tolstoy or Kropotkin. Their main figure is a man named Li Jian who claims that the anarchists of today and the future must forget and drop all non-violent beliefs and values.” She hesitated for several moments. “I do not know what these people who follow Li Jian may be capable of in terms of destructive actions or vandalism. That is a mystery to me, Ling.”

The two of them stared at each other briefly, then the correspondent excused himself, thanked her, and left the office.

A team of police officers and technicians examined the data center memory units at the Holoid Light laboratories. At last, the chief detective in charge of the break-in investigation went to the office of Wu Hue to make his preliminary report to the head of the company. The plainclothesman stood while Hue sat behind his desk.

“Yes, we failed to find any identifiable fingerprints. It could be that the perpetrator or perpetrators wore protective gloves or mittens of some sort.

“Our experts were able to ascertain what the raider or raiders were after. It appears that their attention was exclusively devoted to the area of laser-magnetic devices, especially the newest and most experimental types being used or tested in your laboratory work by the scientific staff.

“We have calculated that photographic copies were made of the most complex and concentrated series of illumination points in these photonic arrays that were being worked on in various specific experiments.

“I received that conclusion that the interloper or band of interlopers had a clear purpose, that they had exact knowledge beforehand of what they were after, and that is what they stole from your company’s memory bank. They were skilled enough to call forth exactly what they wanted.

“For now, that is all that we have found out about this burglary, Mr. Wu. I am sorry that we have no clue as to who stands behind this act of industrial espionage.”

The police investigator made a small bow, then retreated, leaving Hue alone in worried thought.

Xu Yao met with Li Jian at his favorite beer hall in lower Pudong. The pair occupied a small table away from all the others in the long room. They talked in low, measured tones that no one could overhear.

“I believe that there are many new options open to us in coming days,” whispered Jian. “Plans that seemed impossible before are now within our reach. We can now accomplish some very impressive displays of our growing powers.”

Yao looked him directly in the eye. “What targets have priority for you, my friend? What institutions or locations would be best to hit immediately, do you think?”

Jian made a nervous grin of anticipation. “As enemies of all legal, official authority, we ought to concentrate on symbols of state power wherever they may exist. That is why I recommend the choice of an official structure of everyday governing. I am thinking of something as ordinary as one of the Shanghai city prisons where people are kept jailed and imprisoned.

“I belief that kind of target would be easy to attack and destroy. No one is ready for it, because it appears beyond people’s thoughts.

“What do you think, sir?”

“Wouldn’t many injuries of the innocent occur?” demanded Yao. “I can foresee some fatal casualties resulting.”

“We are likely to hit numerous jailers, guards, and police officers, sir. None of them deserve to be considered in any way innocent or guiltless. And the prisoners themselves have mostly been prosecuted and judged guilty of some sort of crime. Isn’t that the bitter truth, sir?

“But there will be many survivors in the jails and prisons of Shanghai. We shall save and liberate them from captivity. They will no longer be cornered as slaves of the government. We shall make them into free men and women for the first time in their lives.”

Yao nodded his head, but did not say an affirming word more.

5.

As soon as he read the vitroline report on the burglary at Holoid Light, Chen Qi made an instant decision to make a second visit to see and talk with Wu Xue about the condition of their future relationship.

Qi was confident he could now convince the other to agree to providing the new laser-magnetic power device for totally modified and improved hyaloid bots and mechs that outperformed anything now available or in use.

If there was a force or factor trying to steal the “light brain” that promised so much, it was unwittingly improving the bargaining position of Shanghai Hyaloid Corp., concluded the president of the robot producing company.

Xue, as soon as he was informed of the appearance of the unexpected visitor, had him brought quickly, directly up to his executive office.

Qi expressed his sympathy over the data attack and robbery as he shook hands with the other. The pair sat down and started to discuss the situation they faced with the overnight event in the Holoid Light laboratory.

“I believe that you and I must come to immediate agreement on the future course of cooperation between our two firms. Our interests now coincide, they are perfectly congruent and overlapping.

“I promise to look out for the good of your company, my friend, to the same degree as I serve the aims of my own.

“Your firm and mine will now become the same as two brother. We shall be aiding and boosting each other in a multitude of ways. There will be no limits to the benefits that we both enjoy, because we will be sharing so many valuable capabilities and possibilities.

“Don’t you see and understand that, Xue?”

The latter seemed passive and thoughtful for several moments, but then came to life with new energy and vigor.

“There shall be no secrets between us or our companies from now on,” he declared with determination. “You will know everything about the new light brain today. Let us go down to our photic laboratory so that I can show you what we have created there.”

As Ling walked into the main editing hall of Vitroline News, a colleague of his called out to him from a monitor reader.

“The boss wants to see you as soon as you can get to his office,” smiled the fellow correspondent. “I bet it has to do with what happened last night at Holoid Light, the criminal break-in there.”

Ling made for the executive suite where Guo Ziao was busy at work at his editing responsibilities.

“This data raid was a sudden surprise for everyone,” frowned the little man with the tanned face. “What can you tell me about what lies behind it?”

“I can only make a guess that it is connected to the brutal rivalry and competition for technological renewal in Shanghai industry. The important question is this: who stands to gain something from such data theft? Who is able to use it for commercial advantage of any sort?

“My judgment is that the culprits were not agents sent by others in the photic illumination business like Holoid Light, but from an entirely different industry. I speculate that it was one of our major robotic companies that dispatched the information robbers.

“They were told exactly what to steal from their victim and quickly obtained what they were after.

“Does any of what I say help you understand the nature of the situation?”

Guo Ziao broke out in a wide-mouthed smile. “Yes, that is what I think, and I think the police would agree with what you just told me. But you must obtain the true identity of who stands behind the crime, Ling. I want you to probe deeper into the conflict in the robotic industry. Who is it that wants what Holoid Light possesses? You must find out what is so valuable in the laboratory that was attacked by hired agents. That will not be easy, but if anyone can learn where the truth lies, it is you.

“I have faith in you and know you can accomplish it.”

Ling promised to do his best and departed with speedy steps.

That evening there were persons concentrating their minds on the problems of the new bots that threatened to change the entire situation of automatons in Chinese society.

He Wei lay in bed without sleeping at once, his mind on the puzzle of what to do about what he had learned about the light brain that now existed at Holoid Light.

Chen Qi was worried over the need facing him of convincing Wu Xue to come to agreement with him to allow Shanghai Hyaloid to use the new light brain of his own company laboratory.

Hua Ling fell asleep very late, trying to figure out how to uncover the truth about the dangers hanging over the city he lived in.

6.

Li Jian was a bomb-maker who took his profession seriously. He took his time in laying out plans, but was a meticulously attentive to all the small details involved.

Meeting with Xu Yao at the latter’s Pudong apartment, he described what he and his action group were going to carry out after midnight.

“I have broken up our forces into three separate units,” explained Jian with a tinge of gloating in his voice. “Each of them will go to a different prison site within Greater Shanghai. All three will be transporting a powerful bomb with chemical explosive in it. The members have practiced and received the necessary training to be successful. Here are the three targets that have been chosen.”

He gave the names of each prison, describing the work that prisoners engaged in at each of the three.

“The Beixinjing Prison in the Changong District, where steel pipe is being produced by prisoners.

“The Jiangwan Prison in the Boshan District, which has a valve factory.

“The Tilanqiao Prison in the Hongou District, with printing and clothing factories attached.

“Those institutions will be the ones who suffer serious damage tonight. The news of what we accomplish will shake and terrify the rulers of Shanghai to the core. They shall never forget the bombings we carry out in the night.”

“Will your three teams manage to escape in safety?” inquired Yao.

Jian suddenly grinned. “The factor of surprise will favor our people,” he asserted with assurance. “I have no doubts at all about fulfilling this plan that I put together.”

The bombs were placed against the outer walls of all three of the chosen prison structures. Timers were set to arrange for simultaneous explosions in the three scattered locations.

Midnight quiet vanished once the chosen midnight moment arrived. Thousands of sleeping persons awoke at exactly the same time. Fire broke out from the trio of explosions. First came confusion, followed by horror and terror. Police vehicles and fire-fighting machinery rushed at once to the effected sites.

How could three different prisons suffer attacks at one time? wondered those who learned of the range of the attacks.

Was this vandalism by anarchistic elements of Shanghai society? What could be the possible aim? Who could think such monstrous thoughts?

Were there casualties? many wondered. What had conditions become inside the three prisons?

The news media of Shanghai rushed reporters in company vehicles to the sites of the explosions. Police agents spoke to them, giving the few so-far established facts about the situation. There were no identified deaths yet. The damage was large and significant. It would take time to estimate its full extent.

A vitroline call went out from company headquarters to Hua Ling. He received a notification of events in a few brief, condensed sentences.

“It is important to get as many facts as we can as quickly as possible,” said the editorial assistant who was coordinating from the corporate center. “We need you to cover central Pudong from downtown police headquarters. Go there as soon as you can. Report whatever you manage to learn from the police officers in charge of the first, early investigation of the outrages.”

Ling crawled out of bed and began to cloth himself for his late night mission.

He leaped into his auto and made it speedily to the downtown Pudong station. In a short time, Ling was able to hear current reports to the assembled press by an official spokesman.

So far, there were no deaths that occurred. But prisoners had poured out of all three of the bombed prisons and were now at-large within Shanghai. The round-up of these who had escaped would be difficult and might take considerable time to fully complete.

Ling, having the information recorded on his communicator wristband, left for Vitroline News main office.

He Wei hurried to the headquarters of Vitrobots just after dawn, as soon as he had absorbed the news of the triple bombing of Shanghai prisons. Instead of going immediately to his executive office, though, he made his way to the basement section that was assigned to the company’s platoon of professional guards. It was now his task to inform these dozen individuals of a momentous decision he had just made about a project which demanded total secrecy.

Wei assembled the entire protective crew in their rest chamber and addressed them with a sensitive matter that involved potential risk.

“I called you together because I need to enlist your services in a most important project. There is no question for me that every one of you is completely trustworthy and loyal to Vitrobots. You have proven that in your many years of successful service to our company. What I will now outline and describe for you is something new and different from what you are familiar with.

“I am certain that all of you know about the prison bombings that happened last night. The blame and responsibility will be placed on unknown, unidentified anarchists who hide in the darkness of night. All of Shanghai has fallen into panic and confusion. Chaos reigns in the minds of millions. All people in all the sectors and neighborhoods exist in terror of what might occur next. No one can foresee what the future might hold for the great city.

“This is the perfect circumstance for bold, unexpected action on the part of Vitrobots. And I believe we must seize the opportunity presented at this moment. We can do what yesterday would have been impossible to conceive of or to conceal.

“My plan is to use some of the chemical materials in our stockpile to put together an explosive that can halt our enemies from outdoing us in robotic production and assembly. We can prevent our main rival from adding a new controlling system to their bots and mechs.

“Your target of destruction shall be the central laboratory of Holoid Light, with the aim of preventing that company from equipping Shanghai Hyaloid with an invention capable of ruining all its competitors, including us.

“Let us get busy with the gathering together of the necessary materials so that before tomorrow morning there can be a bombing that will have the appearance of an additional anarchist action. That will shield all of us from suspicion by the police and government authorities, I am certain.”

He Wei surveyed his crew of company guards who were now to become bombers in an industrial conflict entering a war state. “Let us get to work and complete this job,” he finished.

7.

Ren Wing sensed a need to speak as soon as possible with the man who aspired to become her lover if she would grant him her favor.

She canceled her morning classes and took a street cab to the apartment of the individual whom she knew to be an anarchist activist, Li Jian.

The latter rose from bed to answer his door. He gazed with surprise at who his surprise visitor happened to be. “Come right in, Wing. I didn’t expect you here so early. Don’t you have a class at this hour of the morning?”

“I had to see you,” she said as she sat down on a sofa. “There has been a series of bombings in the city, three of them so far. Powerful explosives were detonated.”

“Yes, those are terrible events. Whoever set such bombs must have great emotional drives that impel them to act in a destructive manner. You know how much I am devoted to traditional Chinese anarchism, but I adhere to the peaceful, nonviolent stream of that philosophy. The branch that I am a part of is the Tolstoyan one. Our aim is social and moral education of the average citizen. I do not believe that violent acts can bring about any kind of reformation or improvement. The result tends to be the opposite of what the perpetrators may plan or intend. That is a guiding principle for those who think like me, Wing.”

“Who stands behind these explosions, then?” she asked him with desperation. “I don’t understand what impels such awful means.”

“It has to be the Tianites, those who follow the ancient teachings of the violent school of Taoism. They exist here in our time, right here in Shanghai. They are the most likely group behind what is happening at night.”

“But you would not be involved in such evil actions, Jian, would you?” she pleaded. “You are not that kind of a person, I know that. A man of your character does not have such violence within his soul. I know you are not one of those mad thinkers capable of risking lives.”

“I would never attempt anything violent,” lied her lover. “You are right, I am not at all like those Tianites. They are only my acquaintances, with whom I have serious disagreements on principles.”

He smiled at her with tenderness. “Let me fix you some breakfast to eat,” he proposed to his lover. “You must be hungry from all this recent excitement.”

Chen Qi had difficulty making sense of what had happened at the three Shanghai prisons. How could such events been occurring in a modernized, technologically advanced international metropolis? The bombings seemed an echo from a nearly forgotten past, a age of political and socio-economic turmoil. It did not carry the flavor of the present, with its optimism about the future of all humanity.

I have to contact Mr. Wu Xue of Holoid Light and convince him into partnership or merger with my own company. He has no know that he cannot go forward as he has so far, as an independent on his own. His tiny firm does not possess the capital resources that I could command into a light-brain type of bot. Only a giant enterprise like Shanghai Hyaloids has the potential to provide sufficient investment for such a revolutionary scientific development.

Qi decided that he had to make a second surprise trip to the president of the smaller outfit. He had to personally deliver a new, more generous proposal to the stubborn man. Yes, that was the best thing for him to do under the present circumstances of violent lawlessness in the great city.

He picked up his mini-communicator and punched in the code number of his personal driver and sedan. Another meeting with Wu Xue appeared appropriate and timely to the industrialist.

Li Jian summoned his most loyal supporters within the central group of Shanghai Tianites. He knew everyone one of them to be dedicated to his own version of traditional Chinese anarchism, a combination of the newest and the oldest elements of thought. What was now to be presented to them was the boldest, riskiest action yet contemplated or planned.

The meeting occurred in his own Pudong apartment, with a sense of total security of everyone who was present to hear his words.

“We must go for the jewels of targeting next,” he began. “I believe we have to strike at the international shipping system so as to incapacitate the entire economy not only of Shanghai, but of all the rest of China as well.

“Can it be done? Is it at all possible? Let me show you a diagram of the port locations that I intend to destroy through bombing.”

Jian picked up a scroll of drafting paper on which he had diagrammed the targets with rectangles and arrows. He pointed out and named each individual major bank that he had picked out for attack with explosives.

“The Yangsan Deep Port. No other one is as large or important. The entire economy of the city, the region and province, and coastal China will suffer colossal damage and loss. Our entire nation will feel the dire consequences of such an act of annihilation. This is our door to the entire world market, but in terms of imports and exports.

He continued on to indicate the location of the ports on the Huanpu River and the Yangtze River, then proceeded to list their connections to most industrial regions of China, describing the enormous losses that bombing them were certain to bring about.

“These bombings will cause devastation in Anhai, Jiansu, Zhejiang, and Henan Provinces in all areas of their economic life. It will ruin them in all ways.”

His associates marveled at the breathtaking scale and the dimensions of what he had conceived of.

“This plan will have both material and psychological effects on everything and everyone!” gasped one of the Tianite anarchists.

“All the world will feel the power of our circle here in Shanghai,” claimed another. “We shall put anarchism back on the stage of world history!”

_

Wu Xue was astounded when Chen Qi of Shanghai Hyaloloid made his appearance at the busy, confused, and disordered headquarters of the smaller company which had experienced a criminal break-in and ransacking of its memory records.

What could he do when his secretary announced that the robot titan had come there to see him?

“Show him right in,” commanded Xue. “I know that I have to talk with the man as soon as possible. Yes, bring him right in immediately.”

What am I going to say to him? How should I answer his previous offers and proposals? quickly pondered the worried, overburdened president of Holoid Light.

Was he going to accept or turn down the offers made before the disaster that had occurred after the first visit by the maker of bots and mechs?

Xue was completely uncertain what his reponse was going to be.

Did Chen Li intend to make a new offer? A better or a worse one in terms of the interests of the firm that was being courted?

Almost out of breath, his heart pounding at a breakneck speed, Xue watched as the surprise visit slowly stepped into the executive office.

Xue lacked the presence of mind to invite the guest to take a seat.

He gave Qi a blank stare of bewilderment and pronounced a single word.

“Yes?”

“I know about the sinister burglary attempt made on your laboratory last night and you have my deep sympathy. Whatever my company can do to help your recovery, I will authorize. I assure you of that.

“This act may have come from someone in the higher tech industries of Shanghai, but I swear to you by all that is sacred that we in my corportation had no connection to anything so criminally evil.

“We will do everything in our power to help identify and prosecute the culprits, all of them, from top to bottom, whether high up or the bottom perpetrators. They must all be punished for what they did to you and your people. Believe me, my company and I myself are on your side.”

The two presidents of tech companies stared at each other, until We Xue revealed a decision he had just made seconds before.

“I have concluded where innocence and guilt must be located.

“This break-in has the marks and the odor of He Wei and Vitrobots. He has always been a rapacious invader and this matches his style. It is not in the history of you or your company to go that far in business matters.

“Yes, I must conclude that the time has come for Holoid Light to seek merger into a larger industrial unit. That will keep my firm safe from a shark like He Wei.

“Let us get our lawyers busy with a formal agreement to join together in a common, united enterprise, Qi.”

The latter beamed with rhapsodic joy at his unforeseen rapid victory on the long-sought goal for Shanghai Hyaloid.

8.

As soon as Guo Ziao learned that a media conference had been scheduled for the middle of the afternoon by Chen Qi at the headquarters of Shanghai Hyaloid he realized that an important subject matter was going to be brought up there.

The person who was his best choice for covering the event had to be Hua Ling, the head of Vitroline News knew instantly. He made contact with him by radiofon as soon as he could.

“Ling, I need you to be at Shanghai Hyaloid this afternoon at three for an important announcement by Chen Qi. All indications are that he plans to announce some new development in his pursuit of Holoid Light and its most advanced photic computer device. That is what I surmise is about to happen.

“I want you present there not only for the official press announcement, but also in order to nose around and learn what you can about what is going on behind the scene. If you have established personal contacts there, this is the moment to make use of them. Get to the bottom of affairs and find out what motives might be at the top of both companies.

“It could well be that they will announce a close partnership of some sort. Or it might even go as far as merger or agglomeration, but I have my doubts about that stage of the relationship.

“Keep you eyes and hears open and tuned in to the reality of the event, Ling. I trust you and your reportorial talents. Use them on what happens today and make a good report on it for me. That’s all for now.”

The editor closed off, while Ling ran toward his autocar in the basement garage of his apartment block.

He had an urgent task to perform for his news service.

Li Jian was a busy man all of that afternoon, equipping his three small teams of bombers with the chemical explosives meant for Shanghai’s main international and river ports. Precise plans were focused upon at each separate session, with routes of entrance and withdrawal spelled out in exact detail.

“You must leave behind no clues or identifiers of who you are and what organization is behind you,” advised the head anarchist. “Those who sympathize with us will understand who the active attackers are and what their goal is. The panic and anarchy that result in Chinese society and the economy will provide eloquent testimony as to who we are and what our beliefs are. The enlightened individuals will realize at once what the lesson we are teaching happens to be.”

The elan of the bombers was evident to everyone present, most of all to the leader, Jian himself. All his intimate followers could see his emotional investment in what they were about to carry out under his direction.

“This shall be our greatest victory yet,” pronounced the chief of the bombers. “We, as anarchists, shall take over the steering wheel of history with our direct actions.”

Two dozen reporters stood in the company conference hall when two top business leaders, Chen Qi and Wu Xue, walked in and took positions beside each other at a low rostrum with an amplifier on it. The former man was the one who started to speak, making the important announcement that was awaited.

“Members of the media, we are gathered here today for the purpose of informing you of a very important development about the future of our two companies.

“We have decided to join together and form a unified, single industrial entity. Its name shall be Shanghai Hyaloid, that of the largest unit within the new corporate body. Holoid Light shall from now on be a major fraction of the overall combine of elements, its photic section.

“I cannot go into a description of all the major projects that our joint staff will be working on in future days, but the general direction of our combined cooperation shall lie in the addition of improved, advanced devices of control, coordination, and measurement within newer models of our existing bots and mechs of various kinds. That will be the central core of our new projects.

“That is all that I can tell you at present.

“I now turn over this rostrum to Mr. Wu Xue, who has become our new vice-president in charge of photic matters.”

The second executive, who was no longer to be president of anything, had little to say.

“The trustees and officers of Holoid Light approve this merger and will at once see to its successful completion. At this moment, I have nothing to add to what our chief executive officer has just told you. Thank you.”

The two speakers turned around and withdrew out of the conference room.

The mini-camera boxes in operation went out and the reporters began to exit, except for a single individual.

Hua Ling had already decided that he had to interview and ask pointed questions of both Chen Qi and Wu Xue, if it were possible.

He had to find out more about what was going on behind the scenes and what might be expected to result from the momentous merging of the robotic and photic scientists of the two corporations.

Epiphanic Therapy

6 Apr

The long, sleek hospital ship slipped slowly into the port of Blemo, Its Captain standing in the stern room beside the head of psychotherapy, Dr. Jeta Fimsal. The latter, wearing a summer dress of white silk, told the skipper of the impending troubles that she was able to foresee for herself and her staff in the patients who would soon be boarding the vessel.

“I have never before treated cases from this tropical zone,” she murmured to the commander of the Epiphanea, a tall, muscular veteran of the Solemn Sea in charge of the nautical affairs of the psychiatric ship on a circuit of many differing lands. “No one can foresee what may afflict patients sent to us from such varied social and cultural environments.”

The big man in dark blue uniform looked at the facial profile of the small, wiry head of psychotherapy. “You and your crew will be able to deal with their problems?”

Jeta, gazing at the docks in front of her, frowned. “We must be ready for anything we encounter from Blemo,” she muttered to him.

“I have visited Blemo and the nation of Tropica many times on a variety of different ships,” noted the veteran mariner. “I consider the people there strange and odd. Your efforts with them will be complicated and difficult,” he sadly predicted.

The patients brought aboard the Epiphanea once it docked consisted of serious neurotics, manic-depressives, and borderline paranoids. Each of them was assigned a private cabin, then met with Dr. Jeta Fimsal for general orientation about what to expect on the voyage ahead for them.

“We shall be heading out into the central zone of the Solemn Sea,” the head therapist always began. “I plan to assign you to a specific specialist once I am familiar with your psychological record and what doctors on land have given as your diagnosis.

“As you have already been told, our methods aboard this ship are unique and extremely advanced. We apply epiphanic treatment in a way specifically suited and tailored to your particular condition and situation. That is why you will have to be patient with us. It may take days and weeks of analysis before we determine how to create therapeutic events that are capable of creating the revolutionary change necessary within your mind and your personality.

“But your personal patience will produce magnificent returns for you, I can assure you with confidence.”

Dr. Fimsal took only a limited number of cases on each separate voyage, usually those that appeared to be the most difficult or else the most interesting ones to her. The last consideration led her to choose the patient named Garom Lin. He turned out to be a lean, athletic-looking young man with shiny blond hair. His family was prominent in mercantile circles in Blemo, with one of the largest fortunes in the port city.

As soon as the Epiphanea was out at sea, Jeta called the subject to her office for an initial session aimed at becoming acquainted with each other.

“You probably have heard some things about our system of treatment, or even our manner of analysis and understanding, Garom. We tend to be somewhat informal and easy-going here on our vessel. You will notice how little pressure or compulsion is applied to our ship’s residents.”

“This is supposed to be like a leisurely vacation at sea, I was told by my family physician,” said Garom with a grimace, staring at the psychiatrist.

Jeta looked away, to the side. “Our idea is that a person’s answer or solution can occur in a momentary flash, in a sudden illumination within the thoughts and feelings, like an unforeseen vision. A vivid sense of self-definition and deep perception strikes the individual, so that the mind and the personality are transformed and never go back to a prior problematic condition.

“Can you imagine what the benefits of such revelation and realization can be for you, my friend?”

Garom gave her an involuntary smile. “It would be nearly miraculous, if it was possible in practice, Doctor.”

“Call me Jeta,” she told him. “As our voyage across the Solemn Sea progresses and we have more and more talks together, the moment of your epiphany will be ever nearer, I can assure you. It has occurred for numerous others who have taken this journey over the water.

“I think that you are I can achieve the insight that will bring you deliverance and liberation from the things that weigh upon you. Trust me.”

Jeta rose from behind her desk, signaling that the session was over.

Captain Snex kept his ship moving at a slow, stately speed through the placid blue of the Solemn Sea. The resident patients started to meet with each other, except for the wealthy playboy with the blond hair. Garom spent his free time roaming up and down the sunny deck, talking to no one. It took him a week to become acquainted with anyone beyond his own therapist.

A tall, lithe young woman in a white summer dress approached and began to speak to the loner looking out at the rhythms of the waves.

Excuse me,” said the stranger, “but I was told that you are a player of chess, Mr. Lin. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Sabi Komt and I am supervisor of recreational activities onboard. Can I draw you into our chess-playing tournament soon to begin today? I already have three pairs ready to begin, but there is one of the persons without a partner to sit with.

“Could I convince you to join as a member of the chess tournament? It would even out things, and I can guarantee you some genuine enjoyment,” she grinned.

How could Garom refuse an invitation from such an attractive, enticing source?

“Yes, it sounds interesting,” he found himself replying.

Sabi turned and started walking toward the game room, the patient behind her.

For three weeks Jeta Fimsal allowed Garom to dominate the talking during their meetings together. She took notes as he described his life, then studied and thought about them by herself. At last, there appeared to be sufficient basis for telling him what she had concluded about his interior conflicts and ailments.

“It is a general principle today in psychology that a person is the sum of his or her mechanisms for defensive coping with surrounding humans and living conditions. I have studied your biography as you have outlined it for me, and I believe that I know the nature of how your mind protects its self-image and ego. It will benefit you to learn what your personal weapon of defense happens to be.

“It is a habit of acting opposite to what your two parents instilled and expected of you. Early life taught you the mechanism of being contrary to others and what they wished from you. The expectation model of your mother differed drastically, almost completely, from that of your father. The solution you devised was to disobey the specific expectations of the parent who was attempting to teach or influence your thought and behavior at a specific time as you were growing up. You devised methods of contradicting each one of them in turn, depending on particular circumstances.

“Do you comprehend what it is I am explaining to you, Garom?”

The patient had a confused, perplexed expression on his face.

“What you tell me is hard to accept, Doctor,” he gasped. “I think it will take me time to understand or accept such a description of myself. It makes me feel that I must be an evil person.”

“We will take up this analysis of mine next time, Garom. I want you to become familiar and used to it so that you can establish a new self-control over yourself.”

Sabi became engrossed with the aim of distracting the blond young athletic man with new projects and activities. From chess he advanced into playing varied kinds of cards in groups of patients that she set up for them.

Discovering the Garom had a longstanding interest in music, she led him through the ship’s rich collection of wire tapes and containers. He started to become used to spending free time with the friendly, helpful, and personable young woman in charge of the area of leisure activities.

“How did you become involved with Dr. Fimsal and the Epiphanea?” he inquired one afternoon as the two entered a special audio chamber near the bow.

“It happened several years ago, at my home port of Anchor,” she informed him. “I was working in a rehabilitation center for those addicted to illegal scents and perfumery. Many of those suffering from such conditions had deep psychological ailments and conflicts. I took several courses in that specific areas and decided to search for a position in an institution treating general mental and personality disorders.

“There appeared an opening on this therapeutic ship named the Epiphanea, so I applied for it. The idea of traveling across the Solemn Sea was very attractive to me, I have to admit. And somehow, it came about that Dr. Fimsal accepted me as the most suitable candidate for the position.

“So, here I am treating with those who climb aboard from scores of different ports and harbors on all sides of the wide body of water.”

“And you never become bored with your duties here?”

“Never, Garom,” she replied with joy and enthusiasm. “Never.”

Jeta, noting the fascination that her analysis had for her patient, decided to provide him a full, detailed explanation of how she saw the origins and development of his bipolar manic-depressive mental complex.

“Your parents were a divisive influence on you, Garom.

“The situation was one of a dominant mother and a passive father. She replaced the normal condition of a male child through her constant, potent influence in the shaping of your fundamental character. This made for a lopsided effect on your personality.

“The reaction within you was the creation of the ego-defense of reaction. Your mind became accustomed to resisting your mother by doing the opposite of what she taught and showed to you, and the same psychological mechanism came to exist toward your weak, ineffective father.

“As you grew up, there developed negative interpretations within you for both of the parental figures and the models that they gave to you. In other words, your own self turned against not just one of them, but both influences. You rejected mother as well as father. The protective defense that you found was a form of emotional vengeance against each of them.

“You took revenge on your mother by becoming depressive, and against your father by turning manic. Each reaction came to be a periodic phase that took hold of your personhood. One mood followed the other in perpetual continuation. You came to suffer an unending cycle, on and on.

“Vengeance upon your mother, followed by a similar but different mechanism oriented to the model given by your father.

“Does that make sense to you, Garom? Can you accept this analysis?”

The therapist gazed at him expectantly, not concealing her hope that the patient would understand and absorb what she said to him.

But he gave no positive sign back, only gazing at the psychiatrist with stunned disorientation. “I can’t say, Doctor. I will have to think out all that you’ve told me.”

Garom did not go to the ship’s game room that afternoon. He was too troubled by what his therapist had revealed to him. He broke the habit that he had developed for himself over the last several weeks. Instead, he isolated himself at the bow of the Epiphanea, standing with his hands on the protective railing, looking down into the passing water as if searching for something hidden beneath the surface.

There could be no doubt that his therapist had been giving him the truth about his condition. He was a bipolar, a manic-depressive caught between two extremes, suspended between the image of his mother and that of his father. Each of his parents had imprinted his psyche with an image in complete conflict with the one made by the other. His essence had grown into a totally divided one. And his reaction had been to declare a war of vengeance against both patterns received from the two.

What had Dr. Fimsal told him from their first meeting together?

That a solution would strike him like a sudden bolt of lightning, in a flash of self-discovery. But it had not occurred yet. When would it come about? Was it possible for him to hurry its arrival? he asked himself as he contemplated the Solemn Sea below him.

His thoughts came to focus upon the woman who had uncovered so much for him. Jeta Fimsal knew him better than he had ever understood himself. Was she able to lift him out of his cycle of excitement and despair, the instability of his conception of himself?

It came to him in a flash of insight: his mental salvation was meant to be the creation of the individual he would come to love, the person named Jeta.

You are in love with the woman who wishes to bring about your cure, the shaken patient said to himself. She alone can rescue you from the empty ruin that you exist in.

“Why were you absent from the card tables this afternoon, Garom?” the activity coordinator inquired in the ship’s dining hall that evening. “Everyone wondered where you might be. Were you staying in your cabin? That is what I told those who asked me.”

Sabi gave a warm smile, waiting for an answer from the patient seated at a table from which all the other diners had already departed.

“No,” Garom told her. “I felt like gazing out at the sea and went to my favorite place for contemplation, back in the bow. That’s where I go to carry out my heaviest thinking, but I stayed there longer than I planned to.”

“Did you accomplish a lot, then?” she said with a chuckle. “You appear to me to be in one of your better moods, my friend.” As soon as this was out, Sabi began to feel sharp regret. Would he take it as a reference to his emotional instability, at the core of his mental trouble?

“I think that I reached a certain plateau in thought, a level higher than anything I had before boarding the Epiphanea. Yes, I believe I achieved something valuable today.

“Is there anything on the residents’ schedule for tonight, Sabi?”

“I plan to show a film in the game room,” she grinned. “It’s an old musical that was once very popular. I hope that everyone enjoys watching it.”

“I don’t usually like musicals,” he admitted, “but this was a very good day for me and I’m ready for any sort of entertainment that makes other people happy.”

“That is a good attitude to have, Garom. Try to keep it going.”

He could barely wait the two days till his next session with the therapist, for he realized how great was his sudden, unexpected infatuation with her.

The inner transformation had arrived at the moment he had realized where the spring and source of the change was located. The salvation had come from more than her words to him, from the particular woman herself.

Jeta recognized that her patient was no longer the same as when they had first met as doctor and patient.

She decided to interrogate him about his present, altered condition of mind.

“You have a new vigor and energy to you, Garom. I am so surprised at how your appearance is now a different one. Tell me truthfully, how do you Feel?”

The patient beamed a radiant smile at her. “I know that I am no longer the same as I was, as I have always been. A new force of some sort now lives within me. It is most difficult to explain to you, Doctor. I am no longer the person that I have been. It is like having been born all over again, but with a new name, a different face and brain.

“Do I make sense to you?” he anxiously asked her.

Jeta sent him a heartfelt smile. “The important point is that you are getting a truer understanding of yourself, Garom. That is a sure sign that you have entered a new stage of personal development.

“We shall have to wait a little bit to find out the dimensions of your progress toward your own reshaping. Let both of us be patient and measure the permanency of what is so far happening to you here on the Epiphanea.

“My confidence in your future is soaring ever higher, my friend,” she revealed to her patient.

Jeta, having completed for the day all of her scheduled sessions, was starting to leave her office for dinner in the eating hall, when an unexpected figure opened the door and addressed the surprised psychiatrist.

“Doctor, could I speak with you for a moment?” said an uncertain, unsteady voice. “It concerns something important to me.”

“Come in, Sabi,” replied the therapist, seated behind her desk. She watched as the recreation director entered and closed the door, beginning to speak in a lowered, fearful tone.

“I thought that my old problems were over and gone for good, that I had escaped the demons that once troubled me so thoroughly. But something unpredictable has happened to me. How can I describe it to you or anybody?

“I am coming to the realization that I have fallen in love with one of the patients on the Epiphanea at the present moment.”

Sabi stopped and stared at Jeta, waiting to catch the response to what she had just confessed. There was no visible reaction on the expressionless face of the woman behind the desk.

“Please, sit down,” suggested the doctor in a quiet, assuring voice. “I have time to listen to you, as I did when I was treating your illness, Sabi.”

The latter took the chair used by patients, her face heavy with marks of worry and apprehension.

“When you first came aboard, Sabi, you were suffering from both an addiction to becalmers and severe dissociation of personality. It was not possible to free you from the material dependency until I could solve the problem of your compartmentalized, schizoid conscious and unconscious mind. So that was the part of you that I decided to focus upon.

“You certainly remember how I counseled you toward the final epiphanic moment when you yourself became capable of assembling a consistent, unified personality. It was not easy to do and took us time to achieve. Finally, though, you became consolidated enough to lose the addiction to medicinals that crippled your personal life.

“I won you the post of activity director onboard the Epiphanea, and you have successfully acted in that capacity for a number of years.”

Jeta stopped and gazed at her former patient, hunting for signs of intangible factors that might be at work.

“What did you mean, Sabi, when you mentioned falling in love with someone?”

After waiting a number of awkward moments, an answer emerged from the lips of the one who had come there for sympathetic support.

“There is a new person aboard our ship who has surprised me by how he has entered into the deepest heart of me, who has captured hold of all my imaginative thoughts. I can envision ties to him that never before were conceivable for me. How can I describe the enchantment he has cast over me? At any hour of day or night, I am now apt to go back to thinking of him.

“I have never foreseen myself involved in such an obsessive state. It is an experience I have never gone through in my life. Who could have predicted such a marvelous turn in my course here on the Epiphanea? I certainly couldn’t.”

“Do you fear the return of the schizoid interior divisions and conflicts you once suffered from, Sabi?” asked Jeta, growing excited and troubled by such a prospect.

“I fear that my self is already returning to its old state of dissociation, Doctor.”

“We must work together in order to preserve what has been achieved through the therapy that you have had up to now,” maintained the psychologist with emphasis in his words. “Will you tell me the name of this person with whom you have an emotion of affection?”

“It is Garom Lin,” whispered Sabi. “That is who it is, Doctor.”

The latter paused for a while before responding.

“I will need time to consider what you have said to me. If you return here tomorrow before my scheduled sessions start, we can discuss this matter in greater detail.

“You will receive advice from me at that time, Sabi. Have no doubt of that.”

Jeta, her mind burdened with what she had heard only a little time before, went into the dining room early, before almost no one else was present there.

She sat at the small table where she usually ate. The recent event with Sabi occupied every thought that came to her, so that she failed to notice the approach of a patient, Garom Lin. Before she was aware of his presence near her, he had already sat down across the table from her.

“It is important that I speak with you immediately, Doctor,” he said as soon as she was conscious of who was there with her. “Something terrible is happening to me, a thing that I did not anticipate. You did not warn me of this awful possibility. I need to inform you of it, because the matter cannot wait until tomorrow. It must be discussed by us now, without delay of any sort.”

Jeta, stunned and perplexed, stared at the patient she had treated with the epiphantic method of psychotherapy. She found herself unable to utter a single word to the young man with the shiny blond hair.

Garom, leaning his head down and forward, murmured softly, slowly.

“I have gone to two experiences in the last two days. Love has struck me, an unexpected infatuation, a kind of enchantment. It has captured my heart and my mind, my thoughts and all my emotions.

“And something else has occurred to me at the same time. My old condition has revived itself. I feel a manic love, but then falls a tragic depression of loss. Because I recognize the impossibility of winning or enjoying the affections of the object of my obsession. Fulfillment can never be mine, I know that, but I realize that my enchanted state of mind will not end. It cannot be erased or destroyed in any way. It exists and shall persist into the days ahead, for as far ahead as I remain alive.

“I have returned to the cycle with which I came onto the Epiphanea. My mind and personality are manic-depressive once again. My self is once again a bipolar contradiction. I feel and know that completely.”

Jeta knew she had to ask a specific question. “Who is the subject of your infatuation, Garom?”

His eyes dilated. “You are, Doctor Fimsal.”

A waiter appeared at that moment and asked the two of them what they wished him to serve them for dinner.

The dining hall was now too full to allow them to continue with the matter that they now faced between the two of them.

“Come to my office early tomorrow morning, Garom, before eight o’clock. We shall talk about all of this then, I assure you.”

No more was said about his interior crisis. Both of them ate in silence when their meals arrived. Garom finished first, rising and leaving in silence.

Jeta was unable to sleep much that night. How was she going to deal with the fact that two persons she had treated were sliding back into the ailment that affected them before their therapeutic sessions with her?

She had an intuition that the two of them had to be dealt with simultaneously, facing each other and her. But it was not possible for her to predict what the results might turn out to be. There might but either spectacular success or painful failure. Yet no alternative arrangement appeared feasible to her.

Sabi arrived at the office first, only seconds before Garom did so.

Short greetings occurred between the therapist and the two visitors.

No one smiled or seemed to be at ease. Neither Sabi nor Garom said a word to the other. Both of them avoided looking at the other.

Jeta coughed and then addressed the pair as if only one person was present.

“We are in a torturous situation where it appears that my epiphanic treatment of both of you has fallen into a state of failure. One of you has returned to manic-depressive, cycloid illness, while the other is once again in schizoid division of mind and emotions.

“I sympathize with the pain and frustration that both of you are feeling. It is my duty to ask you to forgive me my inadequacy as your counselor and therapist. Could more have been done in time to avoid what has occurred? No one will ever know for sure. But all three of us must grapple with the situation as it is at this moment, not as we might wish it to be.”

She looked at Garom, then at Jeta, before focusing at a spot between them. What was it that she was seeking there? In truth, her search was for the kind of epiphany that she produced within patients under her care and eager for their epiphanic moment of revelation.

She spoke without looking directly at either of the pair.

“I have one matter of advice that I can give you: look to each other. Find an emotion that can reach out and connect to the other one here in this office.”

She turned her face to Garom. “You must reach out and assist this woman, Sabi.”

Then she gazed at Sabi. “Persist and continue with what you have come to feel for this young man. You can rescue him better than I am able to.”

All at once, Jeta surprised both Sabi and Garom by rising to her feet and stepping forward between the pair in order to reach the door and open it.

Garom and Sabi turned to each other as their therapist disappeared into the outer corridor.

Neither said anything for a time, until Sabi asked him a question.

“Have you eaten breakfast, Garom?”

“No,” answered the latter. “Why don’t you and I go to the dining hall and see what they have there waiting for us?”

With a smile and a nod, she rose and started out of the office with him behind her.

Viroids

20 Mar

IX.

The last persons to leave the Mesmeric Drama School were Teba the actress and the viroid technician, Tuko Tara. It was the latter who was locking up the main doors of the building as the pair were on their way out.

“There is no need to walk back to your hotel alone, Miss,” said the man in charge of the ribbon masks. “I am going that way and I can accompany you if you wish.”

“Thank you,” she smiled, “That is very kind of you.”

The two exited out to the late afternoon street scene and began to amble away from the school when Teba started to talk.

“I am happy to be here on Eerie Island, taking part in an important, promising project that holds great promise for progress in dramatic presentations, and you have an important role in all that we are involved in, but you never appear to have a part in the joy and satisfaction of the group, Tuko.

“Perhaps I shouldn’t say this to you, but you seem a sad and despondent individual to me. Pardon me, but I have always been highly sensitive to the emotions of those around me, especially the people I work with.

If you ever want to relate what is troubling you to someone else, Tuko, I am ready to listen, and I can often give good advice to others.”

A period of silence followed as the two of them moved slowly forward.

At last, Tuko turned his face toward her. Both of them halted and looked at each other.

“There are aspects of what I am doing that bother me inside,” he told her quietly. “They lie deep inside my mind every minute of every day.”

“We can go into the café at the corner and talk about things, Tuko,” she suggested with sympathy. “I have plenty of time to listen to you, my friend.”

The two men walked from the Colonial Hotel to the dock area as twilight fell over the harbor. Darker grew the blue shadows on the water. Night was quickly approaching.

Skopo and his companion stopped a little way from the bench where the Hiziker was to meet them. Mizo sat down while the detective remained standing, on watch for the appearance of their transporter for that evening.

“Here he comes,” announced Skopo, catching sight of the movement of the boat-owner in the thickening dusk. The latter walked briskly toward the pair awaiting him.

“I am happy to see that you and your friend are here on time,” began Hiziker as he came nearer, not making any kind of greeting beyond that statement. “Please follow me over to where my craft is tied so that we can board it at once.”

With the mariner in the lead, the three figures advanced onto the beach and proceeded away from the boat docks. The light tubes of the harbor disappeared as shadows swallowed the group. The night sounds of island birds and insects came out of the woods that paralleled the shore. In a minute, they had left the port and the town in the distance.

A group of cottages suddenly appeared ahead of them. Their windows were lighted up. All at once, the four were inside a large, open clearing.

The Hiziker stopped and whispered to the two following him.

“We have reached the village where I live,” he informed them. “Now, I will take you to my boat so that we can embark on it. I beg you to keep quiet and maintain silence as we go forward.”

Their guide led Skopo and Mizo forward toward the water, only stopping where the shore sand began.

A loud, gravely voice called out as a flood of light went on from the deck of a vessel docked on a small pier. “Who goes there?” shouted someone on board.

“It is only the Hiziker here. I am escorting two new passengers for tonight’s sea journey, that is all.”

The handtorch emitting the light moved away from the threesome on land. “Come forward so I can see who is there with you,” said the person holding it.

Something clicked in the mind of the detective, a voice from the past. Whose was it? he asked himself. Why do I think that I recognize it?

Only when the party of three reached the boat did the face of the one calling become close enough to be clear.

“Come aboard, you two,” said the voice. “It has been some time since we met each other in Kalender, Inspector.”

The circle had made its way completely around. Predo Atat stood on the deck of the boat, a handtorch in one hand, a pulser in the other.

In the small cabin of the boat, Predo searched the policeman and took away his pocket weapon.

Then, the Hiziker bound the hands and feet of the two prisoners in plastex binding.

Predo stood over their bodies lying on the floor with a gloating expression.

“Do not think that I was unaware of your presence on Eerie Island, Inspector. I knew it the minute you arrived from Plazh. It was inevitable that at some time we would meet. But who would have believed it would happen like this?

“My friend, the Hiziker, has always been eager and willing to make a little money on the side. But it was never expected that he should bring me the one who has been on my tail ever since the encounter we had back in Kalender.

“Remember the way we fought each other and how you defeated my brother at the Atat Language School? And how I was compelled to leave the city where I had lived and practiced hydro-medicine?”

The Hiziker untied the boat from its moaring and started the engine. The transporter was soon headed into Eerie Bay at a slow, even speed.

Predo Atat gave a command to the boatman standing at the tiller.

“Turn in at the city dock so that we can pick up the Readers waiting for us there,” he said in a bold, confident tone. “We will have a full schedule of erasure raids in Plazh tonight.”

Revelation followed revelation.

Skopo maintained self-control, keeping silent as Predo boasted on about what he and his movement were up to.

“You may think me mad. That does not bother me in the slightest. I know what the truth is.

“Our actions against the ribbon industry of Plazh have been a big, spectacular success. The planet of Farmer will have to give up all use of viroids within the near future. The cost of continuing will become prohibitive. It will be easier to return to how things were before my grandfather discovered how to mobilize viroids for practical ends. Today, we Readers have almost destroyed the entire entertainment industry based in Plazh. There are no more drama ribbons coming out of any studio. All production has had to come to a stop.

“I know what is going on at the Mesmeric Drama School with the new viroid masks that apply hypnotic techniques. But the Readers will not allow such masks to spread further. We shall ruin this development in the bud, do not doubt that. We have the knowledge and the means to achieve exactly that. It will end what these mesmeric actors are involved with.”

Skopo glared at his captor. “How do you find out so much about what goes on at the drama school?” he shot back at the other.

Predo seemed to gloat with malice. “I have my methods. There are people there who keep me informed on what transpires. Some of the acting pupils have become Readers and are under our orders. They will carry out what we command them to do.”

“You have agents inside the place who serve you?” gasped the detective.

“You would be highly unhappy to learn who it is,” smirked the doctor. “For now, though, I will allow you to keep guessing about that.”

The boat drew up to one of the docks within the city harbor. The Hiziker cut the engine to a low, stable whine while a team of four Readers climbed aboard.

As Predo went forward to talk with them, Skopo and Mizo looked at each other.

Both of them noted how the group at the front of the boat looked toward the dock as a figure in a black coat and a mariner’s cap leaped aboard the craft.

Mizo instantly recognized who it was. Skopo followed only a moment after the son gaped at the appearance on the vessel of his own father, the head of the mesmeric drama institution.

The father attempted to justify himself to his son.

“It had to be this way, Mizo. There was no alternative. You know how many times my drama school has been near bankruptcy. I had to find a secure way of financing what I was doing. A supply of new, additional money was necessary for me to continue.

“Classical Eerie drama has never been capable of paying its own way through public support. So, when the Atat brothers came to me several years ago with a proposal to work together, there was no other choice available to me.

“It was Zado Atat himself who offered me the viroid mask for use in the training of our actors. It was he who found and trained Tuko Tarn to work as the school’s technical master. The price of this partnership with the Readers was to facilitate their raids and assaults on the ribbon industry in PLazh.

“There will soon exist a team of actors whom I myself have trained. They will be assisting the movement of the Raiders as their secret agents in the fields of drama and general entertainment.” The father gazed wishfully at his son, the ribbon director. “You have to adjust and comply as I have, Mizo.”

The latter gave Kanm a desperate look. “These are evil people, father,” he pleaded. “Their promises have no value at all. It was foolish to trust them.”

“No,” argued the father. “The evil ones are those who grabbed hold of viroid memory from the original inventor, the grandfather of the Atats. They misused and exploited what someone else had discovered through his scientific research.

“Look at what the studio-owners of Plazh have done to our classical dramas through using viroid ribbons. The true use of viroids is exemplified by the new mesmeric masks we are using in our school. That is the legitimate, justifiable version of the new technology. And the Readers have proved themselves the true champions of the correct path of ribbon application.

“You must join with me on the side of the Readers, Mizo.

“You and your ally, the detective from Kalender, will have to join our alliance or suffer serious consequences.”

“What happens to the two of us tonight?” asked Mizo.

Kanm looked away without giving an answer.

As the boat’s motor grew quieter, then turned silent, the craft approached an isolated portion of one of the side docks of the city harbor.

The two prisoners, inside the cabin, witnessed Kanm leave them there and go out onto the front deck to supervise the taking on of a small group of Reader vandals prepared for the night’s vandalizing of Plazh studio sites.

The Reader assistants steered the boat into a convenient berth alongside the weir as the new passengers from the town of Eerie moved to its edge, preparing to board in the silent darkness of the port at night.

The drama educator and the hydrophysician suffered a sudden, unforeseeable surprise as they waited for the first of the new crew to leap onto the open deck.

It was a person unknown to them, an unidentified stranger who immediately posed a visible danger. Who could it be? this sudden danger?

“Raise your hands in the arm and do not make any resistance,” whispered a strange voice with a metallic ring to it. “You and everyone here is under arrest. I hold a pulser in my hand, as do all of my fellow officers.”

Kanm and Predo instantly saw two, then three and four others dark shapes approach his vessel from the lightless dock.

“You and those on this vessel are surrounded from all sides on shore,” shouted a strong and loud baritone voice. “I place all of you under arrest in the name of the police administration of this island. Do not resist or else you will suffer for criminal action in the fulfilling of an illegal enterprise.”

The first officer, now on the deck of the boat, took charge of the flabbergasted Reader in charge, frisking and disarming Kanm of a small pulser carried in his pants pocket.

The remaining confederates gave up at once, none of them daring to fight against what was happening to them.

Resistance disappeared without a scrap of speech or action.

In the cabin of the small ship, Skopo and Mizo had been inert witnesses of the capture and arrests.

It was the detective who ventured out to speak to the rescuers and relate that there were two unwilling prisoners there who happened to be anything but vandalizing Readers.

As soon as the chief officer caught sight of Mizo coming forth out of the cabin, he knew that the mainlander in front of him was telling the truth.

“Let’s get off this boat and go to the station,” said the policeman. “We can straighten out what has happened tonight and find out where matters stand.”

Skopo and then Mizo found themselves escorted onto Eerie Island dry land.

X.

The investigator from Kalender and Director Mizo found Teba waiting for them at the Colonial Hotel when they returned there after long exchanges with the local police at their downtown headquarters.

Skopo invited the other two into the then empty dining hall in order to hold talk about the events of that evening.

Once the three were seated at a round table, the actress from PLazh began to explain her role in what had just occurred.

“The arrests tonight came about because of the revelations that Tuko Tama made to me at the Mesmeric School this afternoon. It all came out of him like some kind of avalanche. Once he began to tell the story of his own involvement with the underground vengeance movement, the unfortunate fellow was unable to stop what he was telling and exposing to me.

“Kanm Harn was the person who brought him into the invisible conspiracy. He chose Tuko as the one who had the knowledge and experience to bring the mesmeric mask into reality. At the same time, Kanm had enough personal influence over the technical expert to make him into a tool of the vandal conspiracy. Before he was fully aware of it, he was completely compromised by his first steps in services to those involved with viroid erasures.

“But Tuko came to suffer from a gnawing conscience. He found himself unable to justify the terrible attacks he had become involved in, for he had become a sort of scientific advisor to the Readers based on Eerie Island and elsewhere in the Peculiars. Tuko was becoming increasingly uncomfortable with what Kahm was ordering him to carry out for this destructive movement.”

Skopo asked her a question. “Were you, then, acting as this man’s personal confessor, Teba?”

She nodded yes. “It seems as if he had been waiting to find someone he could trust, in order to get this matter outside his own thoughts and emotions. I was the right individual there at the right time, it would appear.”

Mizo then spoke. “My father fooled everyone in contact with him. But now he is in official custody and will be prosecuted along with Preto Atat and all the other Readers who were captured last night. They will no longer bring ruin and destruction to the viroid entertainment industry.

“I will see to it that the Mesmeric Drama School continues to exist and operate, as well as recording new ribbons using the hypnotic method of acting. I intend to combine the old with the new.

“Do you agree to assist me in these future projects and activities,Teba?”

She smiled with encouragement. “Of course I shall, Mizo,” she promised him.

“I hope we have witnessed the end of Reader criminal damage,” added the detective, his face shining with relief. “They illustrate how far feelings of revenge can carry the misguided. When the minds of impressionable persons are taken over by unlimited passions of vengeful resentment, they become capable of major crimes such as the vandalism that we have witnessed all over our planet of Farmer.

“But I believe that we have brought final defeat to the viroid madness tonight.”

The End

Viroids Part III.

18 Mar

I.

Dari looked away from the fire that her brother was feeding papexboard into.

The Reader approaching the two with a tray of food saw at once what the prisoners were up to. Smoke from the controlled blaze could be smelled by him at once, impelling the little man to drop the tray and reach into his pocket for his tiny micropulser.

“Stand where you are and don’t move,” commanded the guard in gray pants and jacket.

The Totmaxes looked at him in terrified surprise, then turned their eyes on each other. What were they to do under these circumstances? Were they going to suffer irremediable harm?

All of a sudden, Mlem took action, picking up a plastex rod and crying out to his sister “Behind the fire! Quickly, on the other side!”

Instantly, Dari dove in back of the red, orange, and yellow flames. At the same time, her brother rushed forward toward the open doorway, surprising and almost for several seconds paralyzing the Reader who was holding a weapon.

“Stop!” screamed the man in gray. “Don’t come any closer.”

Mlem heard these words, but it was too late to do anything else but proceed with his desperate attack. Onward he threw himself, threatening to collide with the Reader and knock him over. Even though he heard the shouted warning, he pressed on. It was impossible to cease and halt.

Dari watched from behind the dancing flames as her brother leaped upward toward the shaking hand that held the little pulser.

A rippling sound, lasting less than a second, occurred just before a loud thud.

The Reader stepped forward and kicked the plastex rod out of the hands of the inert body sprawled on the floor of the tunnel supply room.

Dari, her heart palpitating wildly, saw the guard approach his now receding foe.

“Come out from back there,” barked the armed one. He waved his pulser about as if at random. “Don’t do anything foolish, or you’ll get the same as he did.”

Dark purplish clouds filled the late afternoon sky over the lonely cabin in the slatestone gorge. Captain Bukk had assembled and stationed his forces. The police officer from Kalender insisted on being in the command sled with him.

“I have a small arm that I can shoot, if necessary,” explained Skopo. “But the alpinists, of course, will make up the first line of assault. That is understood by me.”

His seat was in the extreme rear of Bukk’s vehicle. He was to be primarily a witness, but not necessarily an active participant in what was soon to happen.

The Captain carefully checked his personal timer, then spoke to the driver of the motor-sled.

“Only a few more seconds to go. All eight of the snow-sleds are in position and ready to move,” said Bukk. “One of the scouts up on top of the ridge will fire flares in the air for a while. That will signal the start of our charge toward the objective.” He paused and drew his breath. “Speed will be most decisive in this. The time has arrived for action.”

Concentrated silence reigned within the command sled. Scopo had direct view of the entire valley that was about to be crossed by the invasion force.

The faces of the crewmen in yellow coats were focused upward toward the rim of the ridge above the caves. Patient, concentrated waiting abruptly ended. White flares rose into the air.

Captain Bukk ordered his driver to gun the sled’s motor. From eight different positions, the dash for the hermit’s shack started. The attack was meant to be strong and relentless. Surprise would be an important advantage to the police.

Skopo had never realized that a snow vehicle was capable of such lightning-fast motion. He watched as the dilapidated building came closer and closer.

The decisive confrontation had now arrived.

II.

Dari glared with scorn at the grandson of the self-styled inventor of viroid ribbons as he was given a sketch of what had transpired below in the tunnel.

The Reader guard had hurried her into the lifter, up to the above-ground cabin. Mlem lay below, wounded and bleeding where he had fought.

“You have caused me a great deal of inconvenience and trouble,” grumbled Zado Atat. “The time has come to put an end to your interference.”

At that moment, the walls of the building suffered a great quaking shock.

Zado and the three Readers in this command center looked about in stunned wonder. What was happening? they silently thought as they gazed at each other.

Outdoors, the attacking sleds had the cabin in a tight noose.

Alpinists were tumbling out of hatches, setting up a perimeter line around their target.

Groups of arms experts placed plastex-powder charges onto the bluepine walls of the structure, then stepped away.

One by one, holes were blasted on each side of the cabin.

Through clouds of debris, dust, and powder, men and women armed with pulse weapons entered the interior of the ruin. Only one of the Readers had the presence of mind to raise a pulse-shooter in opposition. He was instantly hit and felled by a particle shot.

“Up with your hands!” commanded the first alpinist to reach the cabin office.

Behind the first and second lines, Skopo caught sight of Dari rushing forward toward her rescuers. She held her right arm high in the air.

But another figure, Zado Atat, was also running toward the blasted front door opening.

In a split second, Zado seized her around the waist, attempting to make the woman into his shield against the rescuers.

Dari screamed with all her vocal power, then struck Atat with a clenched fist before he succeeded in pushing down her arm and grabbing hold of it.

Captain Bukk, running up fast, raised his pulser and fired it once.

Fortunately, he was an experienced, expert marksman. He knew how to hit a moving target with accuracy.

By the time Zado was sprawled on the floor, Dari had made it through the doorway and out into the open.

In seconds, the detective from Kalender had the librarian nestled in his arms. He assured her that she was now safe.

All at once, she thought of her brother down below. “Mlem…he was shot down in the tunnel where we were held. Let me show you where the lifter is.”

Skopo and the Captain followed her into the corner where she pointed out the mechanism that would take them to where her brother lay wounded and injured.

Seriously injured, but still breathing, Mlem lay on the tunnel floor.

Dari and Skopo watched in silence as the wounded brother received emergency treatment supervised by Captain Bukk.

A crew member came forward and whispered to the Captain. The latter turned to the detective. “The leader of the vandals just died. We will have no more trouble from him.”

In five minutes, it was possible to move the patient up to ground level. Bukk made the decision to transport Mlem to the district hospital by motor-sled.

Dari asked to go with him. “I can’t leave him alone at this moment,” she insisted.

“I wish to make an immediate search of this place for documents and evidence about what the Readers were up to,” decided Skopo. “Their organization may still exist in other localities and areas. Dangers could persist elsewhere.”

Once the speeding sled had departed with the Totmaxes, Skopo and Bukk started a search of the communications center of the cabin. There were records of messages from Plazh and messages to Plazh. Going through the drawers of a desk, the investigator from Kalender began to reach conclusions.

“I believe that the center of Reader attention and activity is now in the city of Plazh,” he told the Captain.

Examining the contents of a filing case, Skopo discovered evidence of the targeting of libraries, banks, stores, and factories on the sea coast.

All of a sudden, he came upon commands issued to a person on Mount Meteor.

The name of the recipient was in coded form, but Skopo quickly deciphered its meaning. Again and again, the word “Pornet” appeared in orders and documents.

Pornet will accomplish this in time. Pornet has completed instructions sent to him. Pornet carried out a successful raid on poetry memory. Or collected writings of a certain poet.

All at once, the investigator realized what fascinated his thinking about what he was reading in the Reader file.

If the name “Pornet” was reversed from front to back, it spelled “Tenrop”.

Skopo was stunned by the implication of that fact.

In the conference room of the Poets’ Lodge, a large crowd of writers had assembled for the election of a new president. Every member had received a secret ballot on which to record a choice. Dioto Gerak sat in one rear corner. His opponent, the publisher who already held the top office, was in the front row among his supporters.

Uraf Selint had agreed to preside over the meeting while the ballots were collected and counted.

The members impatiently twisted and shuffled. Suspense mounted, for this was known to be a very close contest this time. Nervous energy filled the air.

All of a sudden, all eyes turned to the back of the large hall where something unexpected was occurring.

A number of alpine officers, led by Captain Bukk, had entered and were watching what was going on in front.

Skopo Kitanin entered, boldly marching up the central aisle to the rostrum where Ural stood, waiting for the results of the vote tally.

The detective nodded to her, motioning that he wished to tell her something.

All eyes in the room centered upon the two of them.

Perplexed and confused, the presiding poet stepped forward to where the intruder stood.

Whispers occurred between Skopo and Uraf. The latter flushed with astonishment. She suddenly pointed to the first row, specifically to Perek Tenrop. The latter sat there surrounded by his supporters.

The president of the writers’ Union leaped to his feet.

Seeing this, Bukk and his team rushed forward along the two side aisles and up the middle one. Perek, spinning around, caught sight of the group closing in on him. He lurched toward the door in back of the rostrum where Ulaf stood.

In an instant, Skopo ran up beside the cornered publisher. His right hand grabbed hold of Tenrop by the forearm. His left bent around the man’s neck.

He kept hold of the viroid vandal till the alpinists reached there and arrested the publisher.

The Writers’ Union had never before witnessed such a scene as this.

A motor-sled came up to the Lodge in the darkness. Skopo, waiting in the lobby, rose from his chair and rushed to the door to open it for Dari.

She looked the detective directly in the eye.

“Mlem is recovering,” she announced. “His prognosis is very good.”

“I’m so happy to hear that, Dari. Come over and sit down. A lot has happened that you will want to hear about.”

Once they were both seated, he swiftly described the arrest of Perek Tenrop.

“The members decided to make Uraf the new president by acclamation,” smiled Skopo. “The other candidate, Dioto Gerak, had withdrawn his name.”

“I am so happy for her,” remarked Dari. “But what will happen to Perek now?”

“I foresee many years of imprisonment in the sea islands for him.”

“But he seemed so trustworthy!” she burst out. “It was Dioto Gerak who appeared evil and suspicious to Mlem and me. The publisher seemed to be poetry’s best friend. There appeared to be nothing shadowy or suspicious about the man.”

Skopo sighed. “My work has taught me to ignore initial impressions and external appearance. What we see or think we see is only an assumed mask. It could be that Perek had an envious mind that the Readers managed to exploit. The Atats knew how to bring twisted personalities into their web of influence. Consciously or unconsciously, he aided poets. But deep within his mind, he was a destructive devil, mad with jealousy of others with creative attributes and characters.”

“Zado Atat can do no more harm to anyone,” solemnly said the librarian.

“That’s right, Dari. But his brother remains at large and still operates. I plan to leave tomorrow morning for Plazh. There is a rising wave of viroid raids there, centered on the fliko industry.”

“Be careful, Skopo,” she warned. “The Readers remain still dangerous.”

“Yes, I realize that.”

“I wrote a short poem about our adventure on Mount Meteor,” she told him with a pensive smile.

“I’d like to hear it, Dari.”

She recited it from memory for him.

“The evil I feared to see,

Is now detected and uncovered,

By one who dives and delves deeply,

Into mountain caves and tunnels,

And finds smoke signals,

From the invisible sources.”

III.

Skopo surveyed the giant studios of Plazh from the porch of his hotel room. They were famous for drawing the young and ambitious to the city on the Azure Sea. He reminded himself why he had traveled here by train. What lay behind the vandal attacks upon the viroid entertainment industry? I have to talk with the most important producer of dramatic ribbons in this city, the investigator said to himself.

The main office of Gax Productions was a donut-shaped high rise of ivory white silicon. Skopo made an appointment to see the head of the fliko conglomerate, Tandem Gax.

The latter was a long, stocky giant with a square head that resembled a slatestone rock. His hair was straight, short, smooth, and black.

“Sit down, Mr. Kitanin,” his bass voice rang out. “There is a lot I would like to tell you.”

The viroid mogul sat back in his gigantic, throne-like metallic chair.

“I have been receiving anonymous warnings over viroidfon for some time. They tell me to stop all ribbon production, or there will be destructive consequences. Because I ignored such threats, vandals have struck with erasures. Their targets have been the prompters used by our performers. Are you familiar with how these operate?”

“The prompters are viroid projectors that feed actors their lines. A script appears in legible form, beamed into the eyes of the performer.”

Gax frowned. “Already, entire viroid plays have been wiped out. Studio production is increasingly impossible. The losses are unimaginable.”

“This has all the earmarks of the Readers,” asserted the detective. “Their motive is vengeance upon our modern viroid technology. The claim is that all of our developments have been illegal and unjust, the results of fraudulent theft. These fanatics convince themselves that they are victims of a conspiracy that stole the field of viroid application from its original creator.”

“Other fliko companies have received similar threats and destructive damage. Our entire industry is in peril. But the police are unable to uncover the culprits. The vandals are as clever as they are evil.”

“I would like to look about one of your studios, sir,” proposed Skopo. “My experience fighting these vandals can provide me hints of what to look for.”

The producer grew excited. “My daughter is in the cast of a drama currently being recorded. She plays the main female romantic role.”

“It would aid me a lot to witness how a dramatic program is put on ribbon,” said the visitor.

“I shall make the arrangements for you, then,” promised the head of the studios.

The romantic drama scene being recorded was in a thick tropical forest.

Tall plantain trees rose among papayas, boniatos, and kaboches.

Only one actor stood in front of the viroid camera. Skopo was beside it, listening to the soliloquy of the short, slim brunette with eyes of hypnotic green. Her voice was slow and dreamy. She spoke as if in a sleepy spell.

All that once, her green eyes appeared to turn dark, becoming almost black.

Her mouth widened and remained open. Nothing came out of it as she stared into the viroid recorder.

Skopo turned to the producer standing beside him. Gax was moving quickly toward the small group congregating around the camera.

Something had gone wrong. The tall, skinny director had risen from his chair and advanced into the jungle set. He spoke to the confused, lost actress.

“What is it, Teba? What made you stop that way?”

Out of her gaping mouth flowed a fearful stuttering. “My lines were gone. I didn’t know what came next. It was chaotic for me. I fell into total confusion.”

Tandem, walking onto the set, came up to the pair.

“Did the prompter go blank?” he anxiously asked his daughter. “Is that what stopped you?”

“That’s it,” she whined. “Nothing came forth on the viroid ribbon.”

Her father took her hand in his.

“There will be no more recording today,” he announced loudly. “I’ll have you taken home at once.” He turned to the lanky director. “Let’s go to your office, Mizo. I want you to meet someone.” His right hand pointed at Skopo.

The detective tried to size up the director as they were introduced.

Seeing him out on the street, it would have been impossible to guess his profession. A director was supposed to be potent and commanding. Not this Mizo Harn. A boney scarecrow, there was nothing artistic or creative about him.

Something invisible told Skopo not to underestimate this viroid director.

“My operators believe the entire script was vandalized,” groaned Harn. “My writers will have to make an entirely new ribbon, starting from scratch.”

“We will lose at least a week,” said Gax. He turned to Skopo. “You think you know who is doing this to us?”

“It has all the marks of a cult of vengeance-seekers called the Readers.”

“I have read press reports about them,” muttered Mizo. “I don’t understand what their motives might be.”

Skopo made a grimace. “Once such a form of madness is born, it evolves onward on its own and becomes ever more vicious and criminal. The Readers are far ahead of our conventional viral memory technology. That is why there is almost no defense against their attacks. We have to capture them in order to stop their destructive erasures. They will never put an end to the madness that has taken hold of them.”

The detective studied the face of Mizo as he turned to Gax and addressed him.

“I hope that Teba is well enough to attend the reception for my father tonight. His jetboat arrives this afternoon and I will be picking him up at the harbor later today. Why don’t you bring Inspector Kitanin along with you?”
He turned his head and looked at Skopo.

Gax smiled. “Yes, I’m sure Taba will be well enough to be there.” He turned to the detective. “Mizo’s father is coming from the Peculiar Islands. He is head of the famous Mesmeric Drama School there. I expect to see a lot of the luminaries from the entertainment industry at the reception. Would you like to get to meet them?”

“Yes,” smiled Skopo. “It sounds like an interesting evening. There is much about the drama recording industry I could learn that will be helpful in my investigation.”

“I can take you in my cruiser,” said the mogul. “Mizo has a nice villa on the coast, a short distance from Plazh.”

IV.

On the luxury boat cruise along the coast, Tandem Gax told Skopo what he knew and thought about his star director.

“Mizo has always fascinated me. He came to our company as an assistant writer. I was on the lookout for raw talent and he gave me some of what he had put together out on the Peculiars. The material was very good, so I hired the promising young dramatist to work for me.

“His great grandfather ran a traveling comedy group. And his father was founder of the Mesmeric Drama School. Some of our best actors have been trained there under classical hypnotic control. That is a method that originated in the Peculiars and is still alive there. Long before the invention of the viroid prompter, direction of actors was occurring under trance control of the memory. But today that system has been replaced by viroid ribbons and projection techniques.

“When Mizo informed me that his father, Kanm Harn, was going to visit Plazh, I asked to meet that authority on acting methods. There may be a lot he can tell me from his years of experience.”

The cruiser slowed and approached the dock of the luxury villa.

Kanm Harn had the stage presence of a seasoned performer from the age before memory ribbons. He bowed before Teba and kissed the hand she extended to him.

“I have enjoyed your work,” he beamed. “We try to keep up with the latest in viroid drama on Eerie Island where I live. You are a beloved star there.”

As his son introduced him to Skopo Kitanin, Kanm gave him a fixed stare.

“You are with the police in Kalender?” he said with surprise.

“I am helping deal with certain crimes affecting the studios in Plazh,” grinned Skopo.

The face of Kanm turned frigid. “Yes, my son told me about what is happening. It is tragic. But such crimes become possible when complex technology is applied to dramatic production. Things used to be easier and safer in our field. There was less complexity, and therefore less confusion. Problems tended to be much fewer.”

Tandem spoke up. “You must visit our studios, Mr. Harn. I want you to see how we produce so much of what I call quality entertainment.”

The white-haired Kanm gave a sorrowful look. “Only by limiting how many pieces are staged can the highest quality be maintained. Too many dramas in too short a time are a recipe for problems.”

No one made any comment on what the veteran of the stage had just said to them.

Tandem Gax introduced Skopo to production executives, distributors, technicians, and writers from his company’s studios.

Teba took over the guidance of the detective. “Come with me into the library,” she said to him. “I have invited all of our acting crew in there for an informal get-together.”

Skopo entered with her, noticing that Kanm Harn was the hub of a group forming about him. All of a sudden, the man from Eerie Island broke away and walked over to speak to Teba.

“I wish to tell you about a project I have outlined to my son, Mizo. It is my main reason for having come to Plazh. He pleads that he is too busy, being tied up at your studio. What I want him to do is bring his viroid unit to our island.

“There would be no need for artificial sets. We have a diverse, colorful natural setting all over. I want him to record all of our traditional dramas there. Costs will be much less expensive back there on any of the other Peculiar Islands.

“We do not use viroid prompters, so production will be free of these reported erasure attacks. My staff will quickly train the studio actors how to apply the hypnotic method in their stage work.”

Teba gazed at him with a stunned, glassy look. “My father will be the one who decides on such a revolutionary matter. Has he heard of this plan of yours?”

“Not yet. That is why I tell you first, Miss. My hope is that you convince him that it makes sense in view of the present situation in Plazh.”

Unexpectantly, Kanm turned to Skopo. “Perhaps you can help make Tandem Gax see the wisdom of moving drama production to the safety of the islands,” he softly said.

With that, the main guest returned to the circle of actors who were his fans.

Teba and Skopo exchanged inquiring looks in silence.

V.

As the cruiser carried them back to Plazh, Teba told her father about how Kanm Harn had described his project for drama production in the islands.

“He wants to win the agreement of his son, Mizo, as well,” she concluded. “He has not won that yet.”

Tandem turned to Skopo. “What do you think, Mr. Kitanin? “Would we be free of sabotage if viroid prompters were replaced by hypnotism?”

The investigator grinned. “I know almost nothing about dramas and acting. It is a decision that those in your industry must make for themselves.”

“More news of erasures came in during the reception,” moaned the producer, turning to his daughter. “Would you be afraid of entering mesmeric trance, Teba?”

“Not at all,” she smiled. “It would be a totally new experience that would take me into new areas of acting. I believe that it would be highly interesting and exciting.

“I want to talk this over with Mizo, then reach a decision,” announced her father.

Teba and Mizo each talked to Tandem Gax until he agreed to have their unit move from the Plazh studio to the Eerie Island. His only demand was that Skopo Kitanin accompany them for the sake of safety and security.

“There will still be viroid cameras with ribbon in them there,” he insisted. “The mesmeric method of prompting is only a partial protection of the dramatic enterprise.”

The sea trip by motor launch took most of one morning. From the harbor, it was only a short walk to where they would be staying, the old and ornate Colonial Hotel. Down the same street was the Mesmeric Drama School, as well as the personal cottage of Kanm Harn.

After settling into his room, Skopo went down to the gigantic lobby with lush tropical furniture and decoration. The Harns were going to take him and Teba to see the drama school, then to dinner at a famous local restaurant.

A viroid screen flashed news from Plazh near where he sat down.

Several important studios had to be closed because of erasures. Vandalism was causing enormous financial losses in the ribbon entertainment industry. The city was terrified for its future.

Skopo failed to see Mizo approaching him from behind.

“It looks bad on the mainland,” groaned the director. “Let’s hope we can escape this plague here on Eerie Island.”

The detective spun around. “Teba should be down soon. I’ve been waiting for her. She told me she is anxious to begin acting once more.”

Mizo grimaced. “The erasures in Plazh have greatly disturbed her. Perhaps her nerves will calm down here. I sincerely hope that she can pull herself together out here on this island. She is an actor with natural talents she was born with.”

At that moment, the actress appeared at the bottom of the stairs from above.

Skopo ate a passion fruit salad, dryrice soup, and a jungleyam casserole with his companions. As the group finished its fruitgel desert, Kanm turned to Teba with a question.

“Have you ever intentionally, consciously been placed into a trance, my dear?”

She gave a slight start, but collected herself and tried to make a reply.

“No, I have no memory of anything like an hypnotic state. Never in my life.”

She attempted to avoid the fixed, unmoving gaze of the old man.

All at once, from the other end of the table, Mizo spoke up in a ringing voice.

“The mesmeric methods have advanced quite a bit since I started out at the school,” he asserted. “Remember, father, at that time even you relied on the traditional talking form of entrancing. Today, all of that has been transcended.”

Kanm nodded yes, his eyes still on Teba. “That was a slow, simple method back in the past. There was no need for technical apparatus of any sort. It all depended on the skills of the mesmerizer as an individual.”

“What was the old way like?” inquired Teba.

“Complete silence and semi-darkness,” murmured Kanm. “You asked the subject to do some deep breathing for a while, to attain a quiet body. A shining globe could concentrate the mind. A ticking metronome was useful. Attention had to be totally captured and fixed. That was the first step.

“Muscle relaxation and the sensation of monotony had to be induced, with the final result being drowsiness. Calm security replaced all signs of stress.

“Then, I would talk as gently and sympathetically as possible. I asked the actor to unburden his or her mind to me. Forget your body, make all your senses quiescent. Let your eyelids do as they want. Do not tell them what to do. The goal was to limit the field of consciousness, producing a state of abstraction, of absentmindedness. Passive receptivity developed. I often made passes with my hands or stroked the forehead. Once the trance existed, I began to teach the lines of the drama part. At that point, it became quite easy to accomplish. The actor absorbed the drama like a sponge. It occurred efficiently, without any difficulties at all.”

Kanm focused on Teba, with Skopo and Mizo following every word of his.

“I now have an effective instrument to facilitate this method. My name for it is the viroid mask. It can be placed on the face of a subject preparing to play a role. A deep trance captures control of the mind within a few minutes. Then the mask itself teaches the part to the actor. In less than an hour, all the lines and moves are completely mastered. This is far ahead of the older system that was used in the past.”

Teba asked a question. “It’s safe?”

Kanm chuckled. “Yes, my dear. We have lost no one using the mask. It contains primarily memory ribbons with viroid material.”

“The viroid mask must be a new device, because I am certain it is unknown elsewhere,” suddenly interjected Skopo.

“Yes,” nodded the head of the school. “Mainlanders have never had much interest in mesmeric science. But it is part of our historic culture here in the Peculiar Islands.”

“I am extremely interested,” announced Teba, “and can foresee myself trying to make use of such an aid to actors in mastering their lines.”

VI.

Skopo walked to the Drama School the next morning with Mizo and Teba.

“You shall be a pioneer,” the director told his star actress. “No one else in the studios of Plazh has ever used this viroid mask of my father’s. The first one shall be you.”

In the school’s practice chamber, Knom introduced the three of them to his mesmeric technician, Tuko Tara. This was a tall, bald, and dangerously obese islander who seemed drastically distant, abstracted, and preoccupied. He gave quick, perfunctory greetings to the visitors from the mainland.

“Shall we begin?” proposed Knom with a grin. “Let’s show Miss Gax how the mask works.”

The mask lay on the top of a silicon table. It had a brilliant white facial surface.

“As you see, it has the appearance of a traditional Eerie Island ritual mask. That makes it easier to recruit local actors into using it.

“Why don’t you try it out, Teba? We can then go on to your first experiment in using it.

“You will learn, through the viroid mask, the role of Royal Princess Bota. The drama to be staged deals with the conflict of islanders with spiritworkers from the mainland. The local inhabitants considered them to be witches.

“The princess you play tries to learn the methods of the outsiders who come to live on Eerie. The results are tragic. Bora loses everything: her lover, her parents, the island throne. But she applies the secrets of the spiritworkers in order to drive them into the Azure Sea.

“It is a long, convoluted drama of thirty acts and eighty separate scenes. The public has always loved it, but it exhausts and overpowers the entire cast.

“The viroid mask solves all these problems. Each actor comes to have perfect mastery of her or his part. Confidence rises high on stage. All the lines are spoken smoothly, fluidly, without self-doubt or fear.”

“Everything is ready, sir,” ammounced Tuko. “The actress can take the seat and I will place the mask upon her.”

The technician picked up the white mask and carefully fitted it onto Teba.

Skopo noticed the gossamer viral strings that connected the mask to a small terminal placed on the table beside the actress.

The body of Teba relaxed and she gradually fell into semi-coma. The line learning in a trance began, taking only several minutes to complete.

Skopo did not enter the Colonial Hotel, but continued walking past it.

This was his opportunity to look about the harbor. He sensed that there might be things of interest to him there. This was more intuition than logical analysis.

Small pleasure boats and fishing skiffs were lined up on the pier. Workers were making repairs on several of them.

A sign over the door of an old building drew his attention. “Morphic Dormitory” was what it offered to the passersby.

A long, dark room with garishly violet lighting presented itself. It took the detective several seconds to adjust his eyes to the strange redness.

A sound that reminded him of sawing reached his ears. It had to be snoring men.

Out of nowhere, a voice came. “What do you want? All my bunks are taken by these daytimers. There’s no more space in here. You came too late.”

“I’m only looking around,” muttered Skopo. “I don’t want any space.”

A hideously disfigured face approached through the reddish light.

“Then why did you come in?” growled a deep bass. “You look like a mainlander to me. What are you after?”

“I’m a visitor on Eerie Island. But I want to leave as soon as possible.”

“Take a ship or a skyboat, pal. Don’t look for your fare in here.”

“You don’t understand. No public means of transport will do. Only a hired rafter can get me where I want to go.”

“Is that what you’re after? A boat available for hire?”

“Exactly,” replied Skopo with an enigmatic grin.

“Come back tonight. I know someone who might be willing to help you. Be here about eleven and be alone.”

“Right,” said the intruder, turning and hurrying out of the dormitory.

VII.

Teba was tired and went to bed early that evening. The two Harns were busy with scenery at the school. Skopo slipped away from the hotel and headed for the Morphic Dormitory. He had his appointment with an unknown transporter by small boat.

Can an investigator operate by means of hunches?

He wondered how it was that the Readers struck and disappeared with such speed. They seemed to be invisible and ghostlike. Their coming and going seemed wrapped in mystery.

What if they arrived from over the Azure Sea, on fast craft? Where might they have a hidden base during daytime? The Peculiar Islands, such as Eerie? wondered the detective from Kalender.

The underclass around the docks could possess some valuable secret information that would lead him further, Skopo told himself as he walked down the rockstone pathway to the docks. Only a few strollers were out, mostly men on the prowl. The smell of cheap herbal beer flowed out of dusty bars. Drinking songs played on local instruments floated through the evening air.

He reached his destination and opened the door. Snoring rose from the sleeping bunks. The same lurid red lighting fell from ceiling tubes. The smell of unwashed male bodies reached the nose of the visitor.

All of a sudden, a female shape jumped out from between two beds and stood in front of the newly arrived Skopo.

“You were here this afternoon and asked about hiring a boat?” screeched her high, rasping voice.

She was a short woman with a large, honey-colored wig. Her sensuous red dress had a provocative flavor. Who was she, and what was her business here? Skopo attempted to guess.

“I would like to have a serious talk about how to reach the mainland without using public transport of any kind,” he calmly whispered. “Can you help me, or take me to someone who is able to do that?”

Large, almond eyes stared through the red glow. “Follow me,” said the shapely female in blazing red. “The dulser is waiting in the back.”

The Dulser? pondered Skopo as he walked behind the red dress. Who is the person she calls the Dulser? It took a small time to adjust to bright white light. His guide disappeared once the two men faced each other.

The little man studied Skopo with his bright hazel eyes.

Within less than a minute, he learned this person was a kelper who dealt in seafood and owned his own small vessel.

“There is nothing unusual for me to take passengers to the mainland. I have transported persons I know, but never a stranger. That would be something entirely new for me,” muttered the short stranger in a seaman’s clothing.

“Are there boaters who regularly take unknown travelers over the sea?” inquired the detective, eager to find out more on the subject.

“Indeed, there are,” admitted the Dulcer. “I have a friend who does it all the time. In fact, he collects very little kelp. Transporting is his main business.

“I am busy with sea harvesting at this season, but I could talk with my friend about what you are seeking. What do you say to that?”

“It would be good for me to meet with your friend,” proposed the investigator with a warm, sweet smile.

“He can meet you right here tomorrow morning,” grinned the Dulcer. “His name is the Hiziker.”

Skopo shook the hand that the latter offered, then turned about and left.

VIII.

The transporter was waiting in the back room of the Morphic Dormitory.

Small and light of weight, he was not at all what the detective expected.

“You are the one looking for a rafter to take you across?” The Hiziker looked Kitanin over from head to shoes.

“Let’s take a little stroll down by the docks,” suggested the boatman.

The pair left the flop-house and headed for the old wharf on the other side of the harbor. Neither said a word till they reached a quiet, deserted spot and sat down on an isolated bench.

“You are a mainlander, I take it,” began the Hiziker. “Why are you so interested in hiring a boat to Plazh?”

Scopo improvised an answer. “Let me say I have reasons to be on the continent without being seen on any big ship.”

The Hiziker smiled broadly. “I think you know quite a lot about what goes on down here on Eerie Island. There is a regular traffic that goes on during the late night hours. People go across, then return before dawn. I know the boats involved with such traffic. Nothing concerning it is hidden from my eyes.”

“How many passengers can such a vessel hold?” eagerly inquired Scopo.

“Up to half a dozen, though the boat becomes a little crowded. But most people doing that don’t mind being uncomfortable. Not at all.”

“How many can your boat hold?”

The Hiziker made a grimace. “You want to take others with you? That is possible, but it would cost a lot more.”

“The price means nothing to me. What I want to do is bring others with me when and if I decide to do so.”

The boater scratched the stubble on his chin. “It will not be cheap. At least five hundred porizi.”

“I can afford that amount,” admitted Skopo. “Where and when can I pay you the fare?”

“Be here on this wharf at midnight, you and your companions. My boat will be docked nearby. I shall be able to fully accommodate you and anyone who accompanies you, my good man.”