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Authors: Algis Budrys

Michaelmas

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Michaelmas

By Algis Budrys

Scanned by BW-SciFi

To Sydney Coleman, my friend and this book's friend

First published in Great Britain by Victor Gollancz Ltd 1977

First issued in Fontana Books 1979

Copyright © Algis Budrys 1977

Made and printed in Great Britain by

William Collins Sons & Co Ltd, Glasgow

CONDITIONS OF SALE

This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser

Author's Note

Effective assistance in a great variety of forms was given this project by A. C. Spectorsky, Carl Sagan, Jan Norbye and James Dunne, Ed Coudal, William B. Sundown, Slim Sanders, Chuck Finberg, Ed and Audrey Ferman, Bob Kaiser, Brad Bisk, Don Borah, Marshall Barksdale, the presence in my mind of James Blish, and most particularly Edna F. Budrys, in that simul-taneous order.

This novel incorporates features of a substantially shorter and significantly different version published inThe Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction,Copyright © 1976 by A. J. Budrys.

One

When he was as lonely as he was tonight, Laurent Michael-mas would consider himself in a dangerous mood. He would try to pry himself out of it. He'd punch through the adventure channels and watch the holograms cavort in his apartment, noting how careful directors had seen to it there was plenty of action but room as well for the viewer. At times like this, however, perhaps he did not want to be so carefully eased out of the way of hurtling projectiles or sociopathic characters.

He would switch to the news channels. He'd study the techniques of competitors he thought he had something to learn from. He'd note the names of good directors and camera operators. So he'd find himself storing up a reserve of compliments for his professional acquaintances when next he saw them, and that, too, wasn't what he needed now.

After that, he would try the instructional media; the good, classic dramas, and opera; documentaries; teaching aids —but the dramas were all memorized in his head already, and he had all the news and most of the docu-mentary data. If there was something he needed to know, Domino could always tell him quickly. It would pall.

When it did, as it had tonight, he would become restless. He would not let himself go to the romance channels; that was not for him. He would instead admit that it was simply time again for him to be this way, and that from time to time it would always be this way.

With his eyes closed, he sat at the small antique desk in the corner and remembered what he had written many years ago.

Your eyes, encompassed full with love,

Play shining changes like the dance of clouds.

And I would have the summer rain of you

In my eyes through

The dappled sunlight of our lives.

He put his head down on his arms for a moment.

But he was Laurent Michaelmas. He was a large-eyed man, his round, nearly hairless head founded on a short, broad jaw. His torso was thick and powerful, equipped with dextrous limbs and precisely acting hands and feet. In his publicpersonahe looked out at the world like an honest child of great capability. Had his lips turned down, the massive curve of his glistening scalp and the configuration of his jaw would have made him resemble a snapping turtle. But no one in his audiences had ever seen him that way; habitually his mouth curved up in a reassuring smile.

Similarly when he moved, his swift feet in their glistening black shoes danced quickly and softly over parquet and sidewalk, up marble steps and along vinyl-tiled corridors, in and out of houses of commerce, universities, factories, places of government, in and out of ships, aircraft, and banks.

There was hardly anywhere in the world where his concerns might not be expected to take him, smiling and polite, re-assuring, his flat black little transceiving machine swinging from its strap over his left shoulder, his fresh red carnation in the buttonhole of his black suit.

His smile looked into the faces of the great as freely as it did into anyone else's, and it was a long time since he'd actually had to show his press credentials. When in New York, he made his bachelor home in this living space over-looking Central Park from the top of a very tall building. He didn't make much of its location. Nor had anyone but he ever seen the inside of it, he having been a widower since before his professionalfloreat.So he did not have to apolo-gize for the blue Picasso over his desk, or the De Kooning, Braque, and Utrillo that were apportioned to other aspects of the room. He lived here as he liked. Most of the time, baroque music played softly and sourcelessly wherever he went about the apartment, as if he had contrived to have a strolling ensemble follow after him discreetly.

Seated now, his face reminiscing bleakly, the comm unit resting at his elbow, he was interrupted when one of the array of pinpoint pilot lights blinked. It was red. The machine's speakers simultaneously gave a premonitory pop. "Mr. Michaelmas."

The voice was reserved, the tone dry. A spiritless man might have thought it reproving.

Michaelmas turned to-wards the machine with friendly interest. "Yes, Domino."

"I have a news bulletin."

"Go ahead." Michaelmas always gave the impression of appreciating every moment anyone could spare him. That manner had served many a famous interviewer before him. Michaelmas apparently never discarded it.

"Reuters has a story that Walter Norwood is not dead. He is almost fully recuperated from long-term intensive treat-ment, and is fit to return to duty."

Laurent Michaelmas sat back in his chair, the jowls fold-ing under his jaw, and raised one eyebrow. He steepled his fingertips. "You'd better give me that verbatim."

"Right. 'Berne, September twenty-nine. Walter Norwood alive and well, says two-time Nobel winner life scientist. Doktor Professor Nils Hannes Limberg announced here 0330 Berne time astronaut Walter Norwood, thought dead in June destruction his Sahara orbital shuttle, suffered ex-tensive injuries in crash his escape capsule on Alpine peak near world-famous Limberg Sanatorium. Limberg states now that publicity, help, advice then from others would have merely interfered with proper treatment. Norwood now quote good as ever and news is being released at this earliest medically advisable time endquote. UN Astro-nautics Commission notified by Limberg just previous to this statement. UNAC informed Norwood ready to leave sanatorium at UNAC

discretion. Limberg refers add in-quiries to UNAC and refuses media access to sanatorium quote at this time endquote. Bulletin ends. Note to bureau managers: We querying UNAC Europe.

Reuters Afrique please query UNAC Star Control and send soonest. Reuters New York same UNAC there. Reuters International stand by. End all.'"

Laurent Michaelmas cocked his head and looked up and off a nothing. "Think it's true?"

"I think the way Limberg's reported to have handled it gives it a lot of verisimilitude. Very much in character from start to finish. Based on that, the conclusion is that Nor-wood is alive and well."

"Damn," Michaelmas said. "God damn."

He played with his fingertips upon the warm satiny wood of the desktop. The nails of his left hand were long, while those of his right hand were squared off short and the fingertips showed considerable callosity. One aspect of his living-room area mounted a large panel of blue-black velvet. Angular thin brass hooks projected from it, and on those were hung various antique stringed instruments. But now Michaelmas swung around in his chair and picked up a Martin Dreadnaught guitar. He hunched forward in the chair and hung brooding over the instrument, right hand curled around its broad neck.

"Domino."

"Yes, Mr Michaelmas."

"What do you have from the other media?"

"On the Norwood story?"

"Right. You'd better give it priority in all your informa-tion feeds to me until further notice."

"Understood. First, all the other news services are quot-ing Reuters to their Swiss and UN

stations and asking what the hell. AP's Berne man has replied with no progress on the phone to Limberg, and can't get to the sanatorium — it's up on a mountain, and the only road is private. UPI is filing old tapes of Norwood, and of Limberg, with back-ground stories on each and a recap of the shuttle accident. They have nothing; they're just servicing their subscribers with features and sidebars, and probably hoping they'll have a new lead soon. All the feature syndicates are doing essentially the same thing."

"What's Tass doing?"

"They're not releasing it at all. They've been on the phone toPravdaand Berne.Pravdais holding space on tomorrow's page three, and Tass's man in Berne is having just as much luck as the AP. He's predicting to his chief that Limberg will throw a full-scale news conference soon; says it's not in character for the old man not to follow up after this teaser. I agree."

"Yes. What are the networks doing?"

"They've reacted sharply but are waiting on the wire services for details. The entertainment networks are having voice-over breaks with slides of Berne, the Oberland, or almost any snowy mountain scene; they're reading the bul-letin quickly, and then going to promos for their affiliated news channels. But the news is tending to montages of stock shuttle-shot footage over stock visuals of the Jungfrau and the Finsteraarhorn. No one has any more data."

"All right, I think we can let you handle all that. I'd say Dr. Limberg has dropped his bombshell and retreated to a previously prepared position to wait out the night. The next place to go is UNAC.

What have you got?" Michaelmas's fingers made contact with the guitar strings. The piped music cut off. In the silence, the guitar hummed to his touch. He paid it no heed, clasping it to him but not addressing himself to it.

"Star Control has decided not to permit statement at any installation until an official statement has been pre-pared and released from there. They are circulating two drafts among their directors. One draft is an expression of surprise and delight, and the other, of course, is an ex-pression of regret at false hopes that have upset the de-corum of the world's grief for Colonel Norwood. They'll release nothing until they have authenticated word from Berne. A UNAC

executive plane is clearing Naples for Berne at the moment with Ossip Sakal aboard; he was vacationing there. The flight has not been announced to the press.

"Star Control's engineering staff has memoed all offices reiterating its original June evaluation that Norwood's vehicle was totally destroyed and nothing got clear. Ob-viously, UNAC people are being knocked out of bed everywhere to review their records."

Michaelmas's hands plucked and pressed absently at the guitar. Odd notes and phrases swelled out of the soundbox. Hints of melody grouped themselves out of the disconnected beats and vanished before anything much happened to them.

The hectoring voice of the machine went on. "Star Con-trol has had a telephone call from Limberg's sanatorium. The calling party was identified as Norwood on voice, ap-pearance, and conversational content. He substantiated the Limberg statement. He was then ordered to keep mum until Sakal and some staff people from Naples have reached him. All UNAC spaceflight installations and offices were then sequestered by Star Control, as previously indicated, and the fact of the call from Norwood to UNAC has not been made available to the press."

"You've been busy." A particularly fortunate series of accidents issued from the guitar.

Michaelmas blinked down at it in pleasure and surprise. But now it had distracted him, so he let it fall softly against the lounge behind him.

He stood up and put his hands deep in his pockets, his shoulders bowed and stiff. He drifted slowly towards the window and looked out along Manhattan Island.

Norwood's miracle — Norwood's and Limberg's miracle — was well on its way towards being a fact, and truth was the least of the things that made it so. Michaelmas absently touched the telephone in his breast pocket, silent only because of Domino's secretarial function.

He knew he lived in a world laced by mute sound clamouring to be heard, by pictures prepared to become instant simulacra. Above him — constantly above him and all the world —the relay stations were throbbing with myriad bits of news and inconsequence that flashed from ground station to station, night and day, from one orbit to another, from synchronous orbit to horizon scanner and up to the suprasynchs that orbited the Earth-Moon system, until the diagram of all these reflecting angles and pyramids of com-munication made the earth and her sister the binary centre of a great faceted globe resembling nothing so much as Buckminster Fuller's heart's desire.

Around him, from the height of the tallest structure and at times to the depths of the sea, a denser, less elegant, more frantic network shot its arrows from every sort of transmitter to every sort of receiver, and from every trans-ceiver back again. There was not a place in the world where a picture-maker could not warm to life and intelligence, if its operator had any of either quality, if Aunt Martha were not asleep, if one's mistress were not elsewhere, if the assis-tant buyer for United Merchants were not busy on another of his channels. Or, more and more often, there were the waterfall chimes of machines responding to machines, of systems reacting to controls, and only ultimately of con-trols translating from human voice for their machines.

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