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Andre NortonFORERUNNER
FORAYPREFACE

Parapsychology is now a subject for serious study around the world, storming barriers of long standing based on ignorance and fear. At one time it was dismissed as wild fantasy, except by those who had direct evidence to the contrary. Now it is the source of varied experiments.

Psychometry—a reading of the past history of an object by a sensitive who is sometimes not even aware of its nature—is a very old and well-documented talent. Recently the British archaeologist T.C. Lethbridge experimented in using this gift in his researches into sites and artifacts of Pict and pre-Roman Britain; one may read about the astonishing results in such books as E.S.P., Ghost and Divining Rod, and others.

Before beginning this book and while engaged in work upon it, I was witness to four “readings” by a sensitive who is well versed in this paranormal talent. In all four cases I supplied the object to be “read”; the results were amazing. In three cases the information delivered was clear, detailed, and related without hesitation; the fourth was more obscure since the object in question (a piece of antique jewelry) had passed through many hands.

One of the readings I could verify at once with knowledge I already possessed. Another reading, very detailed (in this instance the object was a rare and very old piece of Chinese manufacture), was verified by an expert some weeks after the reading, the true history being unknown to me before that time.

That this talent can be used in archaeology Mr. Lethbridge proved. That it may become a part of regular historical research in the future seems a good possibility.

 

1

Ziantha stood before the door smoothing a tight-fitting glove with her other hand. Under its clinging material her flesh tingled from the energy controls which had been woven so skillfully into that covering. She had seen the glove used, had practiced—but before this moment had never tried it to its full potential.

For a last time she mind-searched up and down the corridor. All clear, just as Ennia had promised, not that any Guildsperson ever depended on anything save his or her own wits, skills, and defenses. With that prickling hot on her palm, she reached forward and set her hand flat against the persona-lock. Yasa had paid a fabulous price for the loan of that glove; now it would be demonstrated whether that fee was justified.

Tongue tip pushing a little between set teeth, Ziantha waited for seconds frozen in time. Just when she was sure Yasa had lost her gamble, the door slid noiselessly into the wall. So far, so good!

Mind-seek again, to make sure there were no inner guards except those she had been trained to locate and disarm. It would seem that High Lord Jucundus was old-fashioned enough to use only the conventional protectives which were as child’s toys to the Thieves’ Guild. But still Ziantha made very sure, her bare hand on that girdle (wherein the supposed decorative gems were tiny but very effective detects) before she crossed into the room beyond, snapping down at that moment her dark sight band—which also masqueraded as part of an elaborate, high-fashion headdress, just as the cloak about her, at the pressure of a collar stud, was now a sight distort. The equipment she wore would have cost the yearly revenue of a small planet had it ever come to buying and selling; her own mathematical sense was not enough even to set a sum to its value.

The chamber had every luxury that could be offered on Korwar, the pleasure world. Treasures . . . but she was here for only one thing. Pulling the cloak tightly about her so that it might not brush against any piece of furniture and so discharge energy, traces of which could later be detected, Ziantha threaded a careful path to the far wall. If all went as Yasa wished, if it were a clean foray, Jucundus would never have a clue that his secrets had been penetrated. That is, until their substance had been safely sold.

With the nightsight at her service she might be in a well-lighted room. And not only was her sight an aid. Twice she paused at warnings offered by her belt detects and was able to mind-hold protection devices long enough to slip by, though each check heightened her uneasiness, drew upon her psychic energy.

On the wall was a tri-dee mural portraying an off-world scene. But she had been briefed as to the next step. With her tongue, answered by a blazing shock, she touched the latch of the glove, not daring to lift her other fingers from the detects. The glove responded by splitting down the back so she could hook it to her belt and pull her hand free.

Then the girl drew from beneath her cloak a pendant, raised it to one of the flashing stars on the wall display, pressed it there. An answering sound her ears could barely catch followed; the vibration of it was a pain in her head.

A portion of the wall lifted to display a cupboard. So far the skills and devices of the Guild had been successful. But the rest of her mission depended upon her own talents.

The cupboard safe was filled with neat piles of cubes so small she could have cradled three or four at a time in her palm. There were so many, and in a very limited time she must sort out the few that mattered, psychometrize their contents.

Her breath quickened as she set finger tip to the first in the top row. Not that, nor that—Her finger flickered on down, none in that row was what she wanted, though she guessed all had value. Jucundus’s records: if all the rumors about him were true, it did not matter in the least that he had been forced into exile, his planetary holdings confiscated. With these microrecords he could still use men, build again, perhaps even to greater power.

Here! From the middle shelf she brought out the cube, pushing it above the band of her nightsight so it rested against the bare flesh of her forehead. This was the most dangerous part of her foray, for at this moment she must forget everything else—the detects on her belt, her own mind-barrier—and concentrate only on what she could “read” from the cube. Also, it had little meaning for her: no vivid pictures, only code symbols to be memorized. That was it. With a release of breath that was close to a sigh of relief, she put it back, sliding her finger along the rows seeking another. Yasa had thought two—but make very sure.

The second! Once more she had to wait out in danger that transfer of knowledge that left her so defenseless while it was in progress. Now she must make sure there was not a third cube. But her questing finger did not find one. She closed the panel, new relief flooding in. She had only to leave, to relock the door.

Once more drawing her distort cloak tight, Ziantha turned. Touch nothing else, leave no trace to be picked up. This was—

Ziantha froze. She had reached with her now ungloved hand to draw in a corner of the cloak which had threatened to sweep across a small curio table. Now the edge of material fell from between her fingers, her hand stretched out farther, not by conscious will on her part, but as if her wrist had been seized in a powerful grip and jerked forward.

For a second or two the girl believed that she might have been caught in some new protect device that her belt had not been able to pick up. Then she realized that this was a psychic demand for her attention.

Never before had she had such an experience. When she psychometrized it was always by will, by her own volition. This was a demand she did not understand, which brought with it fear and the beginning of panic. On the table lay something that was “charged,” just as the Guild devices were charged, with psychic energy so great it could command her attention.

Ziantha’s first stab of fear faded. This was new, so the experience caught her even though she knew the danger of lingering. She had to see what demanded recognition from her by provoking such an answering surge of her talent.

Six objects on the table. There was a weird animal form carved from a semiprecious stone. A flat block of veriform rose-crystal with a gauze-winged free-flower from Virgal III imprisoned in it. A box of Styrian stone-wood and next to that one of those inter-ring puzzles made by the natives of Lysander. A trinket basket of tri-fold filigree sapphire held some acid-sweets. But the last— A lump of dusty clay, or so it looked.

Ziantha leaned closer. The lump had odd markings on it—pulling her— She snatched back her hand as if her fingers had neared leaping flames. But she had not touched that ugly lump, and she must not! She knew that if she did she would be totally lost.

Feverishly she wrapped her hand in a fold of her cloak, edged around the table as if it were a trap. For at that moment that was exactly what she felt it to be. A subtle trap, perhaps set not by Jucundus but by some other power to imperil any one with her talent.

Ziantha scuttled across the room as if she were fleeing the clang of an alarm that would bring the whole city patrol. Outside in the corridor, the room again sealed, she stood breathing with the painful, rib-raising force of one who has fled for her life, fighting back the need to return, to take into her hand that lump of baked clay, or earth-encrusted stone, or whatever it was—to know!

With shaking hands she made those swift alterations to her clothing which concealed the double purpose of her garments, allowing her to appear a person who had every right to walk here. What was the matter with her? She had succeeded, could return to Yasa now with exactly the information she had been sent to get. Still she had no feeling of exultation, only the nagging doubt that she had left behind something of infinitely greater value, disastrously spurned.

The branch corridor united with the main one, and Rhin stepped from the shadows where he had concealed himself so well that he startled even Ziantha on his appearance. He wore the weapon belt of a personal guard, the one branch of the Thieves’ Guild that had quasi-legality, since they offered protection against assassins. And some of the galactic elite who made Korwar their playground had good reason to fear sudden death.

At his glance she nodded, but they did not speak as he fell into step a pace or so behind her, as was determined by their present roles. Now and then as she moved, but not with undue haste, Ziantha caught sight of them both in a mirror. It gave her a slight shock to see herself in the trappings of a Zhol Maiden, her natural complexion and features concealed by the paint of an entertainer. Her cloak, its distort switched off, was a golden orange, in keeping with the richness of the gems in her headdress, girdle, and necklace. Garnished like this, she had the haughty look that was part of her role, quite unlike her usual self.

They were on the down ramp now and here were others, a motley of clothing, of racial types, of species. Korwar was both a playground and a crossroads for this part of the galaxy. As such, its transient population was most varied. And among them her present guise attracted no attention. The company of a Zhol Maiden for an evening, a week, a month, was a symbol of prestige for many galactic lords. She had had excellent coaching from Ennia, whose semblance she wore tonight—Ennia, who companied with High Lord Jucundus, keeping him well occupied elsewhere.

They reached the main hall, where the flow of guests moving in and out, seeking banqueting halls, gaming rooms, was a steady river into which they dropped. Yet Ziantha did not turn her head even to look at Rhin, though she longed to search faces, probe. Had her venture of the evening, the drain on her talents, brought this odd feeling of being shadowed? Or was it that her meeting with that lump had shaken her into this uneasiness? She sensed—what? The pull of the rock, yes, but that was something she could and would control.

This was something different, a feeling of being watched—a Patrol sensitive? In these garments she was protected by every device the Guild possessed against mind-touch. And all knew that the Guild had techniques that never appeared on the market or were known to the authorities.

Yet she could not throw off the sensation that somewhere there was a questing—a searching. Though as yet she was sure it had not found her. If it had she would have known instantly.

Rhin went ahead, summoned a private flitter with a Zhol registration. Ziantha pulled up the collar of her cloak as she went into the night, sure now that her imagination was overactive, that she need not fear anything at all—not now.

Tikil was all jewels of light, strains of music, exuberant life, and she felt the lifting of a burden, began to enjoy the knowledge that she had repaid tonight the long years of training and guardianship. Sometimes lately she had chafed under that indebtedness, though Yasa had never reminded her of it. Still Ziantha was not free—would she ever be?

But at least she was freer than some. As their flitter climbed to the upper lanes, swung out in a circle to bring them to Yasa’s villa, they crossed the edge of the Dipple, where the jeweled lights of the city were cut off by that wedge of gloom as dark and gray as the huddle of barracks below were by day, as depressing to the spirit to see as they were to those who still endured a dreary existence within their drab walls.

Almost her full lifetime the Dipple had been there, a blot that Korwar, and this part of the galaxy, tried to forget but could not destroy.

Ziantha need only look down on that grayness as they swept over to realize that there were degrees of freedom and that what she now had was infinitely preferable to what lay down there. She was one of the lucky ones. How could she ever doubt that?

All because Yasa had seen her on begging detail that time at the spaceport and had witnessed the guessing trick she had taught herself. She had thought it was only a trick, something anyone could do if he wished. But Yasa had known that only a latent sensitive could have done as well as Ziantha. Perhaps that was because Yasa was an alien, a Salarika.

Through Yasa’s interest she had been brought out of the Dipple, taken to the villa, which had seemed a miracle of beauty, put to school. Though the Salarika had demanded instant obedience and grueling hours of learning, it was all meat and drink to Ziantha, who had starved and thirsted for such without knowing it before. She was what those months and years of training had made her, an efficient tool of the Guild, a prized possession of Yasa’s.

Like all her feline-evolved race, Yasa was highly practical, utterly self-centered, but able to company with other species to a workable degree without ever losing her individuality. Her intelligence was of a very high order, even if she approached matters from a slightly different angle than would one of Ziantha’s species. She had great presence and powers of command and was one of the few fems who had risen to the inner ranks of the Guild. Her own past history was a mystery; even her age was unknown. But on more than one planet her slightly hissed word was law to more beings than the conventional and legal rulers could control.

Ziantha was a human of Terran—or part-Terran—descent. But from what race or planet she had come in that dim beginning, when the inhabitants of dozens of worlds (the noncombatants, that is) had been driven by war to land in the “temporary” camp of the Dipple, she could not tell. Her appearance was not in any way remarkable. She had no outstanding features, hue of skin, inches of height, which could easily place her. And because she was unremarkable in her own person, she was of even more value. She could be taught to take on the appearance of many races, even of one or two nonhuman species, when there was need. Like Yasa, her age was an unsolved question. It was apparent she was longer in maturing than some races, though her mind absorbed quickly all the teaching it was given, and her psychic talent tested very high indeed.

Gratitude, and later the Guild oath, bound her to Yasa. She was part of an organization that operated across the galaxy in a loose confederacy of shadows and underworlds. Governments might rise and fall, but the Guild remained, sometimes powerful enough to juggle the governments themselves, sometimes driven undercover to build in the dark. They had their ambassadors, their veeps, and their own laws, which to defy was quick death. Now and then the law itself dealt with the Guild, as was true in the case of Jucundus.

The Dipple was well behind now as they cruised above the gardens and carefully preserved bits of wild which separated villa from villa. Ziantha’s hands clenched under the border of her cloak. The thought of tonight’s work—not the work, no, rather that lump—filled her mind. An ache as strong as hunger gripped her.

She must see Ogan as soon as she discharged into the waiting tapes the memories she carried—she must see Ogan, discover what was the matter. This obsession which rode her was not natural, certainly. And it upset her thinking, could be a threat to her talent. Ogan, the renegade parapsychologist who had trained her, was the only one who could tell her the meaning of this need.

The flitter set down on a landing roof, where a dim light was sentinel. As a cover Yasa claimed a Salariki headship of a trading firm and so possessed a profitable and legal business in Tikil. That establishment she ran with the same efficiency as she did her Guild concerns. Nor was she the only one within that organization to live a double existence. On Korwar she was the Lady Yasa, and her wealth brought respect and authority.

Ziantha sped across to the grav shaft. Late as it was, the house was alive, as usual, though the sounds were few and muted. But there was never any unawareness under a roof where Yasa ruled. As if only by eternal vigilance could she continue to hold in her long clawed hands the threads of power she must weave together for her purposes.

At the scratch of her fingernails on a plexiglass panel into which had been set a glory of ferns, that panel rolled back, and Ziantha faced the heavily scented chamber of Yasa’s main quarters. On the threshold she paused dutifully while blowers of perfumed spray set up about that portal gave her a quick bath of the scent which was Yasa’s preference at the moment.

Quite used to this, Ziantha allowed her cloak to slip to the floor, turned slowly amid the puffing of vapor. To her own sense of smell the odor was oppressively powerful; to the Salarika it made her acceptable as a close companion. It was the one weakness of the species, their extreme susceptibility to alien scents. And they took precautions to render their lives among aliens bearable in this way.

As she endured that anointing, Ziantha lifted off the headdress of Zhol fashion. Her head ached, but that was only to be expected after the strain she had put on her talent and nerves tonight. Once she had delivered what she brought, Ogan might entrance her into a healing sleep, if she asked for it.

The light in the room was subdued, again because of the mistress here. Yasa did not need bright illumination. She was curled among the cushions which formed her favorite seat. By the open window was an eazi-rest, in which Ogan lay at full length. The rumors, which were many, said that he was a Psycho-tech, one of the proscribed group. Like Yasa, he was ageless on the surface, and could well have had several life-prolonging treatments. But on what world he had been born no one knew.

Unlike the Salarikis who served in Yasa’s villa, he was a small frail man, seeming a desiccated shadow beside them. He was not only a master of mental talents, but he possessed certain infighting skills which made him legend. Now he lay with his head turned away, facing the open window, as if the strong perfume bothered him. However, as Ziantha came forward, he turned to watch her, his face expressionless as always.

In that single moment the girl knew that she had no intention of telling him about the lump. Ogan might give her peace, but that she did not want at the price of letting him know what had surprised and frightened her. Let that remain her secret—at least for now. Why should Ogan be always full master?

“Welcome—” There was a purring in Yasa’s voice. She was slim, and the most graceful creature in movement Ziantha had ever seen. And, in her way, the most beautiful as well. Black hair, more like plushy fur, was thick and satiny on her head and shoulders and down the upper sides of her arms. Her face, not quite as broad and flat as those of most of her species, narrowed to an almost sharply pointed chin. But it was the wonder of her very large eyes which drew away attention from all other features. Slanted a little in her skull, their pupils contracting and expanding in degrees of light, like those of her far-off feline ancestors, these were a deep red-gold, their color so vivid against her naturally grayish skin as to make them resemble those koros stones that were the marvel and great wealth of her home world.

Two such stones were set now in a wide collar about her throat, but they seemed dimmed by her eyes, even though they radiated slightly in the low-lighted room.

She put forth a hand equipped with retractable nails now sheathed in filigree metal caps, and beckoned Ziantha. Her short golden robe, caught in by a girdle from which hung scent bags, shimmered as she moved. From down in her throat came a tiny murmur of sound the girl knew of old. Yasa purred, Yasa was well pleased.

“I do not ask, cubling, if all went well. That is apparent in your presence here. Ogan—”

He did not answer her, but the eazi-rest moved, bringing him upright. It was his turn to beckon Ziantha. She sat down on a stool near the table and picked up the waiting headband. Stripping off the long, now far too hot wig, she slipped the band over her own close-cropped hair. A few minutes more and she would be free of all the knowledge she had brought with her. For following her report, the machine that recorded it would purge her memory of factors it might be dangerous for her to know. It was a safeguard her kind had demanded before they would use their talents, so that they could not be forced by any enemy to talk after such a mission.

The girl unlocked her memory, knowing that every symbol she had read from the cubes was being recorded. What if she kept on, allowed the machine to read and then erase her reaction to the lump? But if she did that, those already reading her report on the visa-screen of the machine would know it too. No—her hand moved close to the cut-off key—she would prevent that.

There. Her finger came down and she experienced the familiar moment or two of giddiness, of disorientation. Now she would remember up to the opening of Jucundus’s safe and after, but not what she had “read.”

“Excellent.” Yasa’s purr was louder when Ziantha was again aware of the room and those about her. “A first-level foray in every way. Now, cubling, you must be most tired—go to your nest.”

She was tired, achingly tired. The lifting of her mental burden drained her, as it always did, though this was her first really big foray. Those in the past had been but token employment compared to this. Ogan was at her side with a cup of that milky-looking restorative. She gulped that avidly and went to gather up her cloak and headdress.

“Fair dreams.” Yasa’s lips wrinkled in her equivalent of a smile. “Dream of what you wish most, cubling. For this night’s work I shall make it yours.”

Ziantha nodded, too tired to answer with words. What she wanted most—that was no idle promise. Yasa would indeed make it come true. Those of the Guild were not niggardly with anyone who brought off a successful foray. What she wanted most now was sleep, though not of Ogan’s sending.

Back in her own chamber Ziantha pulled off the rest of the Zhol dress, dropped the trappings in a bundle on the floor. Tired as she was, she would not go to bed with that stiff, cracking mask of paint and overleaf on her face. She went into the fresher, set the dials, stepped into the waves of cleansing vapor. It was good to be her real self again.

As if to assure herself she had returned to Ziantha, she looked into the cruelly bright mirror, cruel because being so often used to check a disguising makeup, it revealed rather than softened every defect of complexion and feature. There was the real outward Ziantha. And with this hour and her great fatigue, that sight was a blow to any vanity.

She was very thin and her skin was pallid. Her hair, from the warm steam of her bath, curled tightly to her head, no lock of it longer than one of her fingers. In color it was silver fair, though in daylight it would show a little darker. Her eyes were gray, so pale as to seem silver too. The mouth below was large, her lips with little curve, but a clear red. As for the rest— She scowled at the true Ziantha and shrugged on her night robe, letting the light of that revelation die behind her as she left the room.

Dream of what she wanted most, Yasa had said. What if she asked for a complete cosmetic-change—to be someone else all the time, not just at those intervals when she played games for the Guild? Would Yasa agree to that? Perhaps she would, if Ziantha asked, but she only played with the idea.

But of course, what she wanted most—right now—was that lump of clay or carved stone. To have it right here in her two hands that she might learn its secret!

Ziantha gasped. What had put that in her mind? She had not been thinking of it at all, and then—suddenly—there it was as clear as if she could indeed reach out and cup it in her palms. And she did want it. What had happened to her this night?

Shivering, she ran to the bed, threw herself into its soft hollow, and pulled the covers up over her trembling body—even over her head.

2

Ziantha awoke suddenly from a sleep where, if dreams had crowded, she could not remember, as if she had been summoned. She knew what she must do, as surely as if Yasa had given her an order. Fear chilled her small body, but greater than that fear was the need which was a hunger in her.

The girl remembered Ogan’s precept: fear, faith, and obsession were akin. All three could drive a person to complete self-abandonment, removing mind blocks, unleashing emotions. She did not fear that much, but she knew she was obsessed.

Korwar’s sun was above the horizon. These chambers were all soundproof; she had only her knowledge of the daily routine to guide her. The quickest way to arouse interest in Yasa’s domain was to depart from the usual. Ziantha drew herself into a small brooding bundle on the window seat, laced her arms about her knees, and stared down into the garden.

It was going to be a fair day—good. Psychic powers diminish in a storm. Her talent could also be threatened by other factors; energy fields produced by machines, the sun, planets, even human emotions. What she had in mind was a stern test. She might not be able to do it at all, even if she could station herself at the right site, at the proper moment, with the needed backing.

The needed backing—

Psychokinetic power—

There were devices in plenty in Ogan’s lab. But to lay a finger on one of those was to attract instant attention. She must depend upon another source entirely.

Ziantha unclasped her hands, raised them to cover her eyes, though she had already closed them, concentrated on forming a mind-picture and with it a summons. It would depend on whether Harath was free.

She delivered her message. But so far she was favored; Harath was not in the lab. Quickly she went to the fresher, bathed, and sat down before the merciless mirror, no longer intent upon her own shortcomings, but upon applying those aids that would take her into Tikil as a person exciting no second glance.

A companion of the second class, from Ioni, she decided. The factors, such as her height, that she could not alter without wasting some of her power in producing a visual hallucination, would fit that identity. The girl worked swiftly, a wig of brassy-colored hair brushed out in full puffing, the proper skin tint, lenses slipped in, changing her own pale eyes to a much darker hue.

She chose skin-hugging trousers of a metallic blue, a side-slitted overrobe of green, and then hesitated over jewelry that was, for the most part, more than jewelry if carefully examined. Best not, she decided regretfully. Some of those devices had side effects that could be picked up by Patrol detects. Stick to a shoulder collar with no secondary use, wrist rings that covered the back of her hands with a wide, flexible mesh of worked gold between the five joined finger rings and the wrist bracelet, forming mitts without palms.

A last check in the mirror assured her the disguise was complete. She dialed the combination code for morning juice and vita meal and ate to the last crumb and drop that sustaining, if unexciting, breakfast.

Her corridor was silent, but she knew the house was astir. Now the last test— Drawing upon all the resolution and ease she could summon, Ziantha stepped to the visa-panel block and punched a code button.

She thus recorded her present appearance and gave her reason for leaving the villa. Without that her absence would arouse suspicion, although the fact that she went into Tikil in disguise was of no moment. It was customary for those of Yasa’s household to make sure of cover in the city.

“I go to Master-Gemologist Kafer on the Ruby Lane,” she said. Well enough. Yasa would believe that she might be selecting the promised reward for last night. A gem would be such. And Kafer’s shop would place her close to her real destination.

For a moment Ziantha waited, tense. There might be a negative flash in answer. It could be her misfortune that Ogan had set up a plan of some experiment this morning. But only the white flicker of a recording came in return.

Though she wanted to run, to be out of reach of either Ogan or Yasa as quickly as she could, Ziantha disciplined herself to keep to the almost strolling pace of one embarking for a morning’s shopping in Tikil. She dared not even summon Harath again, not when Ogan’s devices might record such a call. But, before her tight rein on impatience was stretched too far, she was on the roof, where a flitter waited.

One of Yasa’s liege-fighters turned his head, his eyes slitted against the full light of the sun striking across them. It was Snasker, a taciturn, older warrior, his pointed ears fringed with old battle scars, another of which ridged his jawline. He was holding out one hand while a shape of soft down jumped to catch at his fingers. His glance at Ziantha was indifferent.

“For Tikil?” His voice was a low growl.

“Yes. If it pleases you, Snasker.”

He yawned. “It pleases, fem.” Snapping two claws at his companion, he climbed into the flitter.

Ziantha stooped to catch the little creature who now threw himself into her arms, chittering a welcome. Though she could not understand his speech, she met mind-talk easily.

“Harath here. Go with Ziantha now, now!”

She beamed back agreement and settled herself beside Snasker. Harath sat on her lap, panting a little, his beaked mouth open a fraction, his round eyes wide to their fullest extent.

Just what Harath was, what species he represented, or whether he could be classed as “human” or merely as a highly evolved and telepathic animal, Ziantha did not know. His small body was covered with a down which could be either feathers or the lightest and fluffiest fur. But he was wingless, having coiled within deep pockets of his body-covering four short tentacles he could use as one might use rather clumsy arms and hands. His legs and feet were down-covered, though the down was shorter in length and fluffed out as if he were wearing leggings and three-toed slippers on his feet. The toes ended in wicked-looking talons which matched the oddly vicious warning of his large, curved beak. In color he was blue-gray; his eyes, black rimmed, were a vivid blue.

He had come to Ogan still encased in his natal egg, so transported during the incubation period, by a Guild collector. And his talent was psychokinetic to a high degree. Not that he apported as well as Ogan had hoped—perhaps that was because he was still so young, and his powers would grow. But he could “step up” the psychic power of another to an amazing degree.

On Korwar, in Tikil, where outré pets were the rule rather than the exception, he excited little attention. He chaffed against wearing the small harness Ziantha now fitted on, enduring it only because he must. Harath had a vast curiosity, and his favorite treat was a trip away from the villa. Since Ogan had decided such trips were a form of training, it was not unusual for Harath to accompany any one of the household into town.

The sun was very brilliant and on her knees Harath’s small body vibrated with the soft click-click of beak with which he expressed contentment.

“Where?” Snasker asked.

“I go to Kafer’s.”

They were winging over the Dipple but Ziantha would not look at that. She was excited by what she planned, deadly afraid she might betray some of that feeling to Harath. This—this must be like chewing gratz—this sensation that one could do anything if one only set one’s determination to it.

She must hold control, she must! Fight down that tingle of energy which came into being at the end of one’s spine, rising slowly to the head. Not here—not yet!

The flitter landed on a platform in the center of the gardened square. Through the trees she could see the flashing jewels of light which marked Ruby Lane of the gem merchants—the brilliant signal visible even in the sun. Now she must curb her impatience, visit Kafer in truth before she tried her experiment.

Normally she would have been totally distracted by Kafer’s display. It was sheer pleasure to those who loved the beauty of gems cut and polished. Or else the small toys and oddments, both old and new, made of precious things gathered up from perhaps a thousand worlds to show here, where credits flowed a free river.

In spite of the need which drove her, Ziantha stood for a moment entranced before a diadem lined with small tubes set with flexible thread-thin filaments, each supporting a flower, a leaf, a bud, or a filmy insect, to form a halo which would sway like meadow grass under a breeze with every movement of the wearer. Beyond this was a model town made of karem—that iridescent precious metal of a long-lost alloy from Lydis IV—complete in miniature with even its population, each tiny inhabitant no taller than her thumbnail but equipped with microscopic features and apparel.

She could look and look, but this was not what brought her here. Though most of Tikil kept late hours and the press of shoppers would not come until afternoon, there were customers drifting in and out of the shops, from Kafer’s at the proud head of Ruby Lane, all down the road.

Harath rode on her shoulders as she moved along, the leash of his harness looped about her forearm; his head sometimes seemed to turn almost completely around as he tried to see everything at once. Ziantha did not mind-talk, saving energy for later. She forced herself to saunter, pausing here and there.

Now she had reached the end of the lane, and she could wait no longer. Ziantha turned to cross into the luxurious foliage of the garden, nearer to the building which held Jucundus’s apartment. She must get as close to that as she could.

Unfortunately she was not the only weary shopper to seek out the shade and rest here. Each bench she came to had its occupant. And the closer she came to her goal, the more crowded these ways appeared to be. Her frustration became almost unbearable when added to the strain of keeping control. Somewhere there must be a place! She was not going to surrender her plan so easily.

Her agitation reached Harath. He was chittering unhappily, shifting his feet about on her shoulder with his claws pricking through to her skin. If she got him too upset he would not perform.

They were almost to the end of the last walk when Ziantha came upon something that might have been intended by fortune for...

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