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Young Bleys - Childe Cycle 09

Gordon R. Dickson

  What was it that Bleys wanted from life?

  He forced himself to look squarely at the limited years, months and days of his own likely existence. Suppose he gave himself the longest possible lifetime—say a hundred and twenty years during which he could be active and useful. What a drop that still was in the ocean of time that was the history of human race itself.

  He did not want to be just a drop in the ocean of past history . . . His whole self rebelled against the idea that he could live and die without having had any important impact on the rest of humanity . . . He must find some greater value for himself than the millions of others had . . .

  He tried to picture the human race. There was much, very much, that was good about them . . . they had spread out from their original home to fifteen other worlds. But what they were on all those worlds now was largely what they had been when they first began to stand upright and think on Old Earth. They were still the same people.

  Perhaps there was some way in which he could help them up the stairs, even one step toward being something better. Something more capable—as he was capable.

  The moment that thought occurred to him, he knew that the had found it. That was what he wanted to do.

  Alien Art

  Arcturus Landing

  Beyond the Dar Al-Harb

  The Dragon Knight

  The Far Call

  The Final Encyclopedia

  Gremlins Go Home (with Ben Bova)

  Guided Tour

  Hokaf (with Poul Anderson)

  Home from the Shore

  The Last Master

  Love Not Human

  The Man From Earth

  The Man the Worlds Rejected

  Mission to Universe

  On the Run

  The Outposter

  The Pritcher Mass


  Secrets of the Deep Sleepwalkers' World Soldier, Ask Not The Space Swimmers Space Winners Spacepaw Spacial Delivery Steel Brother The Stranger Wolf and Iron Young Bleys



  NOTE: If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this stolen property. It was reported as "unsold and destroyed" to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this "stripped book."

  This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to real people or events is purely coincidental.


  Copyright © 1991 by Gordon R. Dickson

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form.

  Cover art by Royo

  A Tor Book

  Published by Tom Doherty Associates, Inc. 49 West 24th Street New York, N.Y. 10010

  Tor® is a registered trademark of Tom Doherty Associates, Inc. ISBN: 0-812-50947-1

  Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 90-48781

  First edition: April 1991

  First mass market printing: February 1992

  Printed in the United States of America



  The author wishes to express his appreciation to Professor O. J. Harvey of the University of Colorado. The main themes of Bleys Ahrens' psychological development were based on the theory of belief systems, first published by Professor Harvey, David Hunt and Harry Schroder in 1961 and further refined by Professor Harvey, his students, and his colleagues in the intervening years. The discovery of the theory at a time when I was casting about for a scientific model that would tie my conception of Bleys Ahrens' early life to>the man he would eventually become is one of those happy little accidents that has made my career as a writer so interesting.

  YOUNG BLEYS is dedicated to two old friends who have shared fifty years of this twentieth century with it—Marvin and Jean Larson.


  The woman sat on the pink fabric of the softly padded float, combing her hair before the oval mirror and murmuring to herself. Those murmurings were all repetitions of the compliments paid her by her latest lover, who had just left her.

  The unbreakable but translucent brown comb slipped smoothly through the shining strands of her auburn hair. It was not in need of combing; but she enjoyed this little private ritual of her own, after the men who kept her in such surroundings as this had gone. Her shoulders were bare and delicate, with smoothly pale flesh; and the equally pale column of her neck was hidden from behind by the strands which fell clear to the float. A faint odor, as of musk and perfume mingled, came from her—so light as to make it uncertain whether she had actually touched herself with perfume, or whether it was a natural scent, one that the nostrils of another person could barely catch.

  The boy stood behind her and watched, his reflection hidden from the mirror by her own image in the shimmering electronic

  surface. He was listening to the words she repeated, waiting for a particular phrase to come from her lips.

  It would come eventually, he knew, because it was part of the litany she taught all her men, without their really knowing that she had trained them to say these things to her, during and after the time of their love-making.

  He was a tall, thin boy, halfway only on his way to adulthood, and his narrow face had almost unnaturally regular features that would grow and firm into a startling handsomeness with maturity, just strong enough to be beyond all delicacy. At the same time they resembled those of the woman gazing into the mirror.

  He knew this to be true, although at the moment he could not see her face. He knew it because he had heard many people say it; and had eventually come to recognize what it was to which they referred. It did not matter to him now, except in his rare encounters with other boys his own age, who, glancing at him, assumed he could be easily dominated—and found out differently. On his own, and watching the woman over his limited years, he had learned many ways of defending himself.

  —Now. She was coming close to the phrase he waited for. He held his breath a little. He could not help holding it, in spite of his determination not to.

  "... how beautiful you are," the woman was saying now to her image in the screen, "never was anyone so beautiful ..."

  It was time to speak.

  "But we know different, don't we, Mother?" the boy said, with a clear calmness in his voice that only an adult should have been able to achieve—and only hours of rehearsal had made possible even for him, intelligent beyond his years as he was.

  Her voice stopped.

  She turned about on the float, which spun unsupported in the air to the movement of her body; and her face stared back into his from hardly a handsbreadth away.

  In that moment her green eyes blazed at him. Her knuckles clenched about the comb were bloodless, holding it now like a weapon—as if she would rake its teeth across his throat to open both windpipe and carotid artery. She had not known, she had not thought—and he had planned on that—of the possibility that he might be standing behind her at one of these times.

  For a long moment the boy looked at death; and if the expression of his own face did not change, it was not because the great fear of extinction was not on him, at last. It was because he was frozen, as if hypnotized, in no expression at all. He had finally taken this risk, knowing that his words might actually drive her to kill him. Because he had at last reached the point where he knew he could only survive away from her. And in the young the urge to survive is strong, even at the cost of risking death.

  A few years from now and he would have known what she would do when he said what he had just said; but he could not wait to know. In a few years it would be too late.

He was eleven years old.

  So he waited ... for her to follow the impulse to kill that blazed in her eyes. For the cruelty of his words—even to her—was the utmost he could use against her. For what he had just said was true. A truth never mentioned.

  They knew. They two—mother and son—knew. The woman was not bad looking, except for the heavy, squarish boning of her face. With the almost magical art of makeup she controlled, she could be taken for attractive—perhaps very attractive.

  But she was not beautiful. She had never been beautiful and never would be; and it was to give her that word for which her soul hungered that she had used the great weapon of her mind, to teach those men she chose to parrot it to her at the right moments.

  It was her lack of beauty, in spite of all else she had, that she could not bear. The fact that all her power of intelligence and will, that could give her everything else, could not give her this, too. And Bleys, at eleven years, had just forced her to face it. The comb, tines outward, rose in her trembling hand.

  He watched the points of it approach. He felt the fear. It was a fear he had known he would feel; even as he knew he had no choice, for survival's sake, but to speak.

  The comb, shaking, rose like a weapon unconsciously driven. He watched it come, and come, and come ... until, inches from his throat, it stopped.

  The fear did not go. It was only held, like a beast on a chain; though now he knew he would live, at least. In the end, what he had gambled on—her heritage and training as an Exotic, one of a people socially incapable of any violence—was making it impossible for her to do what her torn ego urged her to do. She had left the twin worlds of the Exotics, and all their teachings and beliefs, as far behind her as she could; but she could not, even now, go against the training and conditioning they had given her, even before she had been able to walk.

  The blood returned to her knuckles. The comb slowly lowered. She laid it carefully down on the table of honey-colored wood below the mirror behind her; setting it down carefully, as if it was fragile and would break at a touch, instead of being tough as steel. She was once more her controlled and certain self.

  "Well, Bleys," she said, in perfectly calm tones, "I think the time has come for you and I to go different ways."


  Bleys hung in space, solitary and completely isolated, light-years from the nearest stars, let alone from any world holding even one of the human race. Cold, apart, and alone, but forever free . . .

  Only, his imagination would not hold. Abruptly, he lost it. It was only a private screen in the ship's lounge that he stared into—and it was full of star-points of varying brightness.

  He was alone; but back with the cold, scared feeling that had never left him since he boarded, seated in one of the great, green, over-padded swivel chairs in the ship taking him from New Earth, where he had left his mother two days earlier, to the "Friendly" planet of Association, which was to be his home from now on.

  One more day and he would be there.

  Somehow he had not thought about the future in any detail beyond the moment when he would confront his mother. Somehow he had expected that once he had won free of her, and his legion of ever changing caretakers who kept him

  encased in an iron routine of study, practice, and all else, things would automatically become better. But now that he was actually in the future there was no evidence that it was going


  His docking place on Association was to be the large spaceport at Ecumeny. This city had one of only twelve such spaceports on that whole world; for it was a poor planet, poor in natural resources, like its brother "Friendly" world of Harmony.

  Most of the religious colonists who had settled both worlds made their living from the land, with tools and machines that were made on the planet where they lived. For there were almost no interstellar credits to pay for imported devices; except when a draft of young men would be sold off on a term contract, as mercenaries to one of the other worlds where military disputes were still going on between colonies.

  Bleys had been pretending to be absorbed in that, destination on his starscreen. Particularly the star of the destination, Epsilon Eridani, around which circled both Association and Harmony. As Kultis and Mara circled the star of Alpha Procyon—the twin Exotic worlds on which Bleys' mother had been born and brought up; and which she had left forever in fury and disgust at her people, the Exotics, who would not give her the privileges and liberties to which she was sure her own specialness entitled her.

  Association was only eight phase-shifts from New Earth—as restatements of the ship's position in the universe were ordinarily, but not correctly, called.

  If it had been only a matter of making each phase-shift in turn, Bleys was already aware, they would have been at Association in a matter of hours after leaving New Earth. But there was a problem built into phase-shifting. It was that the longer the ordinary space-time distance that was disregarded by an individual restatement, the more uncertain became the point at which the ship would return to ordinary space-time existence after making a shift. That meant recalculation of the ship's position, every time a shift was made.

  Consequently, to be extra-safe for the paying passengers, this trip was being made in small shifts of position, taking a full three days. He would be met on landing at Association by the man who would take care of him from now on; the older brother of Ezekiel Mac Lean, one of the earlier men in his mother's life. Also, the only other permanent individual in Bleys' life along with her, for as far back as he could remember.

  It was Ezekiel who had been the only bright spot in Bleys' existence. It was Ezekiel who had chosen to accept the blame not only for being the father of Bleys, but of Bleys' older half-brother, Dahno. Dahno, who had, like Bleys, been sent off to Henry MacLean and his farm on Association, some years back. It was like Ezekiel to do so.

  In a strange way Ezekiel was both like and unlike Bleys' mother. She had left the Exotic worlds. He, born a Friendly on Association, had left that world as if he fled from it, rather than with the disdain and fury with which she had shaken the dust of her native world of Kultis from her feet. Ezekiel MacLean was the exact opposite of what those on other worlds imagined Friendlies to be. He was gentle, warm, easygoing—:and somehow so good at all these things that he had been suffered to continue to hang around Bleys' mother and Bleys himself, through the succession of lovers that Bleys' mother had taken since.

  Normally, Bleys' mother drove her former paramours from her, once she had chosen a new one. But Ezekiel seemed willing to take on a position that was half-friend, half-servant. His round, freckled face always cheerful, always obliging, he raised the spirits of Bleys' mother—and they were usually not high spirits. Ezekiel was useful to her, although he had long since been shut out of her bedroom.

  An example of this convenience—for Bleys' mother had no idea of who his real father was—had been Ezekiel's contacting Henry on Association, two weeks back, to see if he would take in yet one more supposed bastard child of his wandering and irreligious brother.

  Bleys had always suspected that Henry had a soft spot for Ezekiel, although Ezekiel had pictured his brother as hard as flint. Certainly, Henry had not turned Dahno, Bleys' 10-year older half-brother down, earlier, and he had not turned Bleys down now. It had been Ezekiel, with his never-failing good humor and kindness, who had offered Bleys some relief from the iron discipline of the caretakers and his unpredictable mother. And now Ezekiel was left behind also.

  Dahno, in his time, she had kept with her, on the basis that only she could control him. But this had not worked after all; and Dahno, at only a couple of years older than Bleys was now, had literally tried to run away from her. As a result she had shipped him off to Henry, and determined that she would not make the same error again.

  Nor had she. She herself was completely willful and undependable. But Bleys had been put under the control of caretakers, changed as each new lover moved them to a different location and hired a
different set. They guarded and ordered him at all times, letting him out only to show off to his mother's guests. At which times she basked in the reflected glory of having a genius child.

  A genius he was, legitimately. But that accident of birth had been supplemented by long hours of study, under the caretakers' discipline.

  Actually, the study was the last thing he minded. All things fascinated him. His mother, unable to escape her Exotic upbringing, would never, for example, have punished him physically. But the rules of an environment she laid out for him, making sure he would be under the supervision of caretakers at all times, were as rigid as those in a prison.

  So it was little help that punishment was non-physical, a room to which he would be sent to "think over what he had done."

  This would be a room, not unpleasant in itself, but with the only furniture in it a force-field bed, that needed no bedcoverings. It was merely a field in which the body sank until it was enwrapped by the field itself and kept at a desirable warmth and softness according to the wishes of its occupant.

  It had been a room which enforced idleness. There were not even books; not merely in the archaic sense of bound cardboard and paper, but in the modem sense of spindles or disks inserted into a reading machine. So he did there what any lonely child would do; and let his imagination take him places.

  He had dreamed of a land where there were no caretakers, there was no mother, and he had a wand with ultimate power that gave him unlimited authority and freedom. It had been a land where there was absolutely no changing of the people about him. That was one thing that, as absolute ruler, he insisted upon.

  It was a land where he lived in sharp contrast to his real life.

  He sat now, remembering all this on the spaceship to Association. He had been ecstatic at first at the idea of escaping. But gradually it had dawned on him, during these days on shipboard, that he might be going merely to the equivalent of yet another set of caretakers.