Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

´╗┐Title: Wall of Crystal, Eye of Night
Author: Budrys, Algis
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Wall of Crystal, Eye of Night" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



                     WALL OF CRYSTAL, EYE OF NIGHT

                            By ALGIS BUDRYS

                      Illustrated by DICK FRANCIS

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                    Galaxy Magazine December 1961.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]



              He was a vendor of dreams, purveying worlds
         beyond imagination to others. Yet his doom was this:
            He could not see what he must learn of his own!


Soft as the voice of a mourning dove, the telephone sounded at Rufus
Sollenar's desk. Sollenar himself was standing fifty paces away, his
leonine head cocked, his hands flat in his hip pockets, watching the
nighted world through the crystal wall that faced out over Manhattan
Island. The window was so high that some of what he saw was dimmed by
low clouds hovering over the rivers. Above him were stars; below him
the city was traced out in light and brimming with light. A falling
star--an interplanetary rocket--streaked down toward Long Island
Facility like a scratch across the soot on the doors of Hell.

Sollenar's eyes took it in, but he was watching the total scene, not
any particular part of it. His eyes were shining.

When he heard the telephone, he raised his left hand to his lips.
"Yes?" The hand glittered with utilijem rings; the effect was that
of an attempt at the sort of copper-binding that was once used to
reinforce the ribbing of wooden warships.

His personal receptionist's voice moved from the air near his desk
to the air near his ear. Seated at the monitor board in her office,
wherever in this building her office was, the receptionist told him:

"Mr. Ermine says he has an appointment."

"No." Sollenar dropped his hand and returned to his panorama. When he
had been twenty years younger--managing the modest optical factory that
had provided the support of three generations of Sollenars--he had very
much wanted to be able to stand in a place like this, and feel as he
imagined men felt in such circumstances. But he felt unimaginable, now.

To be here was one thing. To have almost lost the right, and regained
it at the last moment, was another. Now he knew that not only could he
be here today but that tomorrow, and tomorrow, he could still be here.
He had won. His gamble had given him EmpaVid--and EmpaVid would give
him all.

The city was not merely a prize set down before his eyes. It was a
dynamic system he had proved he could manipulate. He and the city were
one. It buoyed and sustained him; it supported him, here in the air,
with stars above and light-thickened mist below.

The telephone mourned: "Mr. Ermine states he has a firm appointment."

"I've never heard of him." And the left hand's utilijems fell from
Sollenar's lips again. He enjoyed such toys. He raised his right hand,
sheathed in insubstantial midnight-blue silk in which the silver
threads of metallic wiring ran subtly toward the fingertips. He raised
the hand, and touched two fingers together: music began to play behind
and before him. He made contact between another combination of finger
circuits, and a soft, feminine laugh came from the terrace at the other
side of the room, where connecting doors had opened. He moved toward
it. One layer of translucent drapery remained across the doorway,
billowing lightly in the breeze from the terrace. Through it, he saw
the taboret with its candle lit; the iced wine in the stand beside it;
the two fragile chairs; Bess Allardyce, slender and regal, waiting in
one of them--all these, through the misty curtain, like either the
beginning or the end of a dream.

"Mr. Ermine reminds you the appointment was made for him at the Annual
Business Dinner of the International Association of Broadcasters, in
1998."

Sollenar completed his latest step, then stopped. He frowned down at
his left hand. "Is Mr. Ermine with the IAB's Special Public Relations
Office?"

"Yes," the voice said after a pause.

The fingers of Sollenar's right hand shrank into a cone. The
connecting door closed. The girl disappeared. The music stopped. "All
right. You can tell Mr. Ermine to come up." Sollenar went to sit behind
his desk.

       *       *       *       *       *

The office door chimed. Sollenar crooked a finger of his left hand, and
the door opened. With another gesture, he kindled the overhead lights
near the door and sat in shadow as Mr. Ermine came in.

Ermine was dressed in rust-colored garments. His figure was spare,
and his hands were empty. His face was round and soft, with long dark
sideburns. His scalp was bald. He stood just inside Sollenar's office
and said: "I would like some light to see you by, Mr. Sollenar."

Sollenar crooked his little finger.

The overhead lights came to soft light all over the office. The crystal
wall became a mirror, with only the strongest city lights glimmering
through it. "I only wanted to see you first," said Sollenar; "I thought
perhaps we'd met before."

"No," Ermine said, walking across the office. "It's not likely you've
ever seen me." He took a card case out of his pocket and showed
Sollenar proper identification. "I'm not a very forward person."

"Please sit down," Sollenar said. "What may I do for you?"

"At the moment, Mr. Sollenar, I'm doing something for you."

Sollenar sat back in his chair. "Are you? Are you, now?" He frowned at
Ermine. "When I became a party to the By-Laws passed at the '98 Dinner,
I thought a Special Public Relations Office would make a valuable asset
to the organization. Consequently, I voted for it, and for the powers
it was given. But I never expected to have any personal dealings with
it. I barely remembered you people had carte blanche with any IAB
member."

"Well, of course, it's been a while since '98," Ermine said. "I imagine
some legends have grown up around us. Industry gossip--that sort of
thing."

"Yes."

"But we don't restrict ourselves to an enforcement function, Mr.
Sollenar. You haven't broken any By-Laws, to our knowledge."

"Or mine. But nobody feels one hundred per cent secure. Not under
these circumstances." Nor did Sollenar yet relax his face into its
magnificent smile. "I'm sure you've found that out."

"I have a somewhat less ambitious older brother who's with the Federal
Bureau of Investigation. When I embarked on my own career, he told me
I could expect everyone in the world to react like a criminal, yes,"
Ermine said, paying no attention to Sollenar's involuntary blink. "It's
one of the complicating factors in a profession like my brother's, or
mine. But I'm here to advise you, Mr. Sollenar. Only that."

"In what matter, Mr. Ermine?"

"Well, your corporation recently came into control of the patents
for a new video system. I understand that this in effect makes
your corporation the licensor for an extremely valuable sales and
entertainment medium. Fantastically valuable."

       *       *       *       *       *

"EmpaVid," Sollenar agreed. "Various subliminal stimuli are broadcast
with and keyed to the overt subject matter. The home receiving unit
contains feedback sensors which determine the viewer's reaction to
these stimuli, and intensify some while playing down others in order to
create complete emotional rapport between the viewer and the subject
matter. EmpaVid, in other words, is a system for orchestrating the
viewer's emotions. The home unit is self-contained, semi-portable and
not significantly bulkier than the standard TV receiver. EmpaVid is
compatible with standard TV receivers--except, of course, that the
subject matter seems thin and vaguely unsatisfactory on a standard
receiver. So the consumer shortly purchases an EV unit." It pleased
Sollenar to spell out the nature of his prize.

"At a very reasonable price. Quite so, Mr. Sollenar. But you had
several difficulties in finding potential licensees for this system,
among the networks."

Sollenar's lips pinched out.

Mr. Ermine raised one finger. "First, there was the matter of acquiring
the patents from the original inventor, who was also approached by
Cortwright Burr."

"Yes, he was," Sollenar said in a completely new voice.

"Competition between Mr. Burr and yourself is long-standing and
intense."

"Quite intense," Sollenar said, looking directly ahead of him at the
one blank wall of the office. Burr's offices were several blocks
downtown, in that direction.

"Well, I have no wish to enlarge on that point, Mr. Burr being an IAB
member in standing as good as yours, Mr. Sollenar. There was, in any
case, a further difficulty in licensing EV, due to the very heavy cost
involved in equipping broadcasting stations and network relay equipment
for this sort of transmission."

"Yes, there was."

"Ultimately, however, you succeeded. You pointed out, quite rightly,
that if just one station made the change, and if just a few EV
receivers were put into public places within the area served by that
station, normal TV outlets could not possibly compete for advertising
revenue."

"Yes."

"And so your last difficulties were resolved a few days ago, when
your EmpaVid Unlimited--pardon me; when EmpaVid, a subsidiary of the
Sollenar Corporation--became a major stockholder in the Transworld TV
Network."

       *       *       *       *       *

"I don't understand, Mr. Ermine," Sollenar said. "Why are you
recounting this? Are you trying to demonstrate the power of your
knowledge? All these transactions are already matters of record in the
IAB confidential files, in accordance with the By-Laws."

Ermine held up another finger. "You're forgetting I'm only here to
advise you. I have two things to say. They are:

"These transactions are on file with the IAB because they involve
a great number of IAB members, and an increasingly large amount of
capital. Also, Transworld's exclusivity, under the IAB By-Laws, will
hold good only until thirty-three per cent market saturation has been
reached. If EV is as good as it looks, that will be quite soon. After
that, under the By-Laws, Transworld will be restrained from making
effective defenses against patent infringement by competitors. Then
all of the IAB's membership and much of their capital will be involved
with EV. Much of that capital is already in anticipatory motion. So a
highly complex structure now ultimately depends on the integrity of the
Sollenar Corporation. If Sollenar stock falls in value, not just you
but many IAB members will be greatly embarrassed. Which is another way
of saying EV must succeed."

"I know all that! What of it? There's no risk. I've had every related
patent on Earth checked. There will be no catastrophic obsolescence of
the EV system."

Ermine said: "There are engineers on Mars. Martian engineers. They're a
dying race, but no one knows what they can still do."

Sollenar raised his massive head.

Ermine said: "Late this evening, my office learned that Cortwright Burr
has been in close consultation with the Martians for several weeks.
They have made some sort of machine for him. He was on the flight that
landed at the Facility a few moments ago."

Sollenar's fists clenched. The lights crashed off and on, and the room
wailed. From the terrace came a startled cry, and a sound of smashed
glass.

Mr. Ermine nodded, excused himself and left.

--A few moments later, Mr. Ermine stepped out at the pedestrian level
of the Sollenar Building. He strolled through the landscaped garden,
and across the frothing brook toward the central walkway down the
Avenue. He paused at a hedge to pluck a blossom and inhale its odor. He
walked away, holding it in his naked fingers.


II

Drifting slowly on the thread of his spinneret, Rufus Sollenar came
gliding down the wind above Cortwright Burr's building.

The building, like a spider, touched the ground at only the points of
its legs. It held its wide, low bulk spread like a parasol over several
downtown blocks. Sollenar, manipulating the helium-filled plastic
drifter far above him, steered himself with jets of compressed gas from
plastic bottles in the drifter's structure.

Only Sollenar himself, in all this system, was not effectively
transparent to the municipal anti-plane radar. And he himself was
wrapped in long, fluttering streamers of dull black, metallic sheeting.
To the eye, he was amorphous and non-reflective. To electronic sensors,
he was a drift of static much like a sheet of foil picked by the wind
from some careless trash heap. To all of the senses of all interested
parties he was hardly there at all--and, thus, in an excellent position
for murder.

He fluttered against Burr's window. There was the man, crouched over
his desk. What was that in his hands--a pomander?

Sollenar clipped his harness to the edges of the cornice. Swayed out
against it, his sponge-soled boots pressed to the glass, he touched his
left hand to the window and described a circle. He pushed; there was a
thud on the carpeting in Burr's office, and now there was no barrier to
Sollenar. Doubling his knees against his chest, he catapulted forward,
the riot pistol in his right hand. He stumbled and fell to his knees,
but the gun was up.

Burr jolted up behind his desk. The little sphere of orange-gold metal,
streaked with darker bronze, its surface vermicular with encrustations,
was still in his hands. "Him!" Burr cried out as Sollenar fired.

Gasping, Sollenar watched the charge strike Burr. It threw his torso
backward faster than his limbs and head could follow without dangling.
The choked-down pistol was nearly silent. Burr crashed backward to end,
transfixed, against the wall.

       *       *       *       *       *

Pale and sick, Sollenar moved to take the golden ball. He wondered
where Shakespeare could have seen an example such as this, to know an
old man could have so much blood in him.

Burr held the prize out to him. Staring with eyes distended by
hydrostatic pressure, his clothing raddled and his torso grinding
its broken bones, Burr stalked away from the wall and moved as if to
embrace Sollenar. It was queer, but he was not dead.

Shuddering, Sollenar fired again.

Again Burr was thrown back. The ball spun from his splayed fingers as
he once more marked the wall with his body.

Pomander, orange, whatever--it looked valuable.

Sollenar ran after the rolling ball. And Burr moved to intercept him,
nearly faceless, hunched under a great invisible weight that slowly
yielded as his back groaned.

Sollenar took a single backward step.

Burr took a step toward him. The golden ball lay in a far corner.
Sollenar raised the pistol despairingly and fired again. Burr tripped
backward on tiptoe, his arms like windmills, and fell atop the prize.

Tears ran down Sollenar's cheeks. He pushed one foot forward ... and
Burr, in his corner, lifted his head and began to gather his body for
the effort of rising.

Sollenar retreated to the window, the pistol sledging backward against
his wrist and elbow as he fired the remaining shots in the magazine.

Panting, he climbed up into the window frame and clipped the harness
to his body, craning to look over his shoulder ... as Burr--shredded;
leaking blood and worse than blood--advanced across the office.

He cast off his holds on the window frame and clumsily worked the
drifter controls. Far above him, volatile ballast spilled out and
dispersed in the air long before it touched ground. Sollenar rose,
sobbing--

And Burr stood in the window, his shattered hands on the edges of the
cut circle, raising his distended eyes steadily to watch Sollenar in
flight across the enigmatic sky.

       *       *       *       *       *

Where he landed, on the roof of a building in his possession, Sollenar
had a disposal unit for his gun and his other trappings. He deferred
for a time the question of why Burr had failed at once to die.
Empty-handed, he returned uptown.

He entered his office, called and told his attorneys the exact times of
departure and return and knew the question of dealing with municipal
authorities was thereby resolved. That was simple enough, with no
witnesses to complicate the matter. He began to wish he hadn't been so
irresolute as to leave Burr without the thing he was after. Surely,
if the pistol hadn't killed the man--an old man, with thin limbs and
spotted skin--he could have wrestled that thin-limbed, bloody old man
aside--that spotted old man--and dragged himself and his prize back
to the window, for all that the old man would have clung to him, and
clutched at his legs, and fumbled for a handhold on his somber disguise
of wrappings--that broken, immortal old man.

Sollenar raised his hand. The great window to the city grew opaque.

Bess Allardyce knocked softly on the door from the terrace. He would
have thought she'd returned to her own apartments many hours ago.
Tortuously pleased, he opened the door and smiled at her, feeling the
dried tears crack on the skin of his cheeks.

He took her proffered hands. "You waited for me," he sighed. "A long
time for anyone as beautiful as you to wait."

She smiled back at him. "Let's go out and look at the stars."

"Isn't it chilly?"

"I made spiced hot cider for us. We can sip it and think."

He let her draw him out onto the terrace. He leaned on the parapet,
his arm around her pulsing waist, his cape drawn around both their
shoulders.

"Bess, I won't ask if you'd stay with me no matter what the
circumstances. But it might be a time will come when I couldn't bear to
live in this city. What about that?"

"I don't know," she answered honestly.

And Cortwright Burr put his hand up over the edge of the parapet,
between them.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sollenar stared down at the straining knuckles, holding the entire
weight of the man dangling against the sheer face of the building.
There was a sliding, rustling noise, and the other hand came up,
searched blindly for a hold and found it, hooked over the stone. The
fingers tensed and rose, their tips flattening at the pressure as Burr
tried to pull his head and shoulders up to the level of the parapet.

Bess breathed: "Oh, look at them! He must have torn them terribly
climbing up!" Then she pulled away from Sollenar and stood staring at
him, her hand to her mouth. "But he _couldn't_ have climbed! We're so
high!"

Sollenar beat at the hands with the heels of his palms, using the
direct, trained blows he had learned at his athletic club.

Bone splintered against the stone. When the knuckles were broken
the hands instantaneously disappeared, leaving only streaks behind
them. Sollenar looked over the parapet. A bundle shrank from sight,
silhouetted against the lights of the pedestrian level and the Avenue.
It contracted to a pinpoint. Then, when it reached the brook and water
flew in all directions, it disappeared in a final sunburst, endowed
with glory by the many lights which found momentary reflection down
there.

"Bess, leave me! Leave me, please!" Rufus Sollenar cried out.


III

Rufus Sollenar paced his office, his hands held safely still in front
of him, their fingers spread and rigid.

The telephone sounded, and his secretary said to him: "Mr. Sollenar,
you are ten minutes from being late at the TTV Executives' Ball. This
is a First Class obligation."

Sollenar laughed. "I thought it was, when I originally classified it."

"Are you now planning to renege, Mr. Sollenar?" the secretary inquired
politely.

Certainly, Sollenar thought. He could as easily renege on the Ball as
a king could on his coronation.

"Burr, you scum, what have you done to me?" he asked the air, and the
telephone said: "Beg pardon?"

"Tell my valet," Sollenar said. "I'm going." He dismissed the phone.
His hands cupped in front of his chest. A firm grip on emptiness might
be stronger than any prize in a broken hand.

Carrying in his chest something he refused to admit was terror,
Sollenar made ready for the Ball.

But only a few moments after the first dance set had ended, Malcolm
Levier of the local TTV station executive staff looked over Sollenar's
shoulder and remarked:

"Oh, there's Cort Burr, dressed like a gallows bird."

Sollenar, glittering in the costume of the Medici, did not turn his
head. "Is he? What would he want here?"

Levier's eyebrows arched. "He holds a little stock. He has entree. But
he's late." Levier's lips quirked. "It must have taken him some time to
get that makeup on."

"Not in good taste, is it?"

"Look for yourself."

"Oh, I'll do better than that," Sollenar said. "I'll go and talk to him
a while. Excuse me, Levier." And only then did he turn around, already
started on his first pace toward the man.

       *       *       *       *       *

But Cortwright Burr was only a pasteboard imitation of himself as
Sollenar had come to know him. He stood to one side of the doorway,
dressed in black and crimson robes, with black leather gauntlets on
his hands, carrying a staff of weathered, natural wood. His face was
shadowed by a sackcloth hood, the eyes well hidden. His face was
powdered gray, and some blend of livid colors hollowed his cheeks. He
stood motionless as Sollenar came up to him.

As he had crossed the floor, each step regular, the eyes of bystanders
had followed Sollenar, until, anticipating his course, they found Burr
waiting. The noise level of the Ball shrank perceptibly, for the lesser
revelers who chanced to be present were sustaining it all alone. The
people who really mattered here were silent and watchful.

The thought was that Burr, defeated in business, had come here in some
insane reproach to his adversary, in this lugubrious, distasteful
clothing. Why, he looked like a corpse. Or worse.

The question was, what would Sollenar say to him? The wish was that
Burr would take himself away, back to his estates or to some other
city. New York was no longer for Cortwright Burr. But what would
Sollenar say to him now, to drive him back to where he hadn't the
grace to go willingly?

"Cortwright," Sollenar said in a voice confined to the two of them. "So
your Martian immortality works."

Burr said nothing.

"You got that in addition, didn't you? You knew how I'd react. You
knew you'd need protection. Paid the Martians to make you physically
invulnerable? It's a good system. Very impressive. Who would have
thought the Martians knew so much? But who here is going to pay
attention to you now? Get out of town, Cortwright. You're past your
chance. You're dead as far as these people are concerned--all you have
left is your skin."

Burr reached up and surreptitiously lifted a corner of his fleshed
mask. And there he was, under it. The hood retreated an inch, and the
light reached his eyes; and Sollenar had been wrong, Burr had less left
than he thought.

"Oh, no, no, Cortwright," Sollenar said softly. "No, you're right--I
can't stand up to that."

He turned and bowed to the assembled company. "Good night!" he cried,
and walked out of the ballroom.

Someone followed him down the corridor to the elevators. Sollenar did
not look behind him.

"I have another appointment with you now," Ermine said at his elbow.

       *       *       *       *       *

They reached the pedestrian level. Sollenar said: "There's a cafe. We
can talk there."

"Too public, Mr. Sollenar. Let's simply stroll and converse." Ermine
lightly took his arm and guided him along the walkway. Sollenar noticed
then that Ermine was costumed so cunningly that no one could have
guessed the appearance of the man.

"Very well," Sollenar said.

"Of course."

They walked together, casually. Ermine said: "Burr's driving you to
your death. Is it because you tried to kill him earlier? Did you get
his Martian secret?"

Sollenar shook his head.

"You didn't get it." Ermine sighed. "That's unfortunate. I'll have to
take steps."

"Under the By-Laws," Sollenar said, "I cry _laissez faire_."

Ermine looked up, his eyes twinkling. "_Laissez faire?_ Mr. Sollenar,
do you have any idea how many of our members are involved in your
fortunes? _They_ will cry _laissez faire_, Mr. Sollenar, but clearly
you persist in dragging them down with you. No, sir, Mr. Sollenar,
my office now forwards an immediate recommendation to the Technical
Advisory Committee of the IAB that Mr. Burr probably has a system
superior to yours, and that stock in Sollenar, Incorporated, had best
be disposed of."

"There's a bench," Sollenar said. "Let's sit down."

"As you wish." Ermine moved beside Sollenar to the bench, but remained
standing.

"What is it, Mr. Sollenar?"

"I want your help. You advised me on what Burr had. It's still in his
office building, somewhere. You have resources. We can get it."

"_Laissez faire_, Mr. Sollenar. I visited you in an advisory capacity.
I can do no more."

"For a partnership in my affairs could you do more?"

"Money?" Ermine tittered. "For me? Do you know the conditions of my
employment?"

       *       *       *       *       *

If he had thought, Sollenar would have remembered. He reached out
tentatively. Ermine anticipated him.

Ermine bared his left arm and sank his teeth into it. He displayed
the arm. There was no quiver of pain in voice or stance. "It's not a
legend, Mr. Sollenar. It's quite true. We of our office must spend a
year, after the nerve surgery, learning to walk without the feel of our
feet, to handle objects without crushing them or letting them slip, or
damaging ourselves. Our mundane pleasures are auditory, olfactory, and
visual. Easily gratified at little expense. Our dreams are totally
interior, Mr. Sollenar. The operation is irreversible. What would you
buy for me with your money?"

"What would I buy for myself?" Sollenar's head sank down between his
shoulders.

Ermine bent over him. "Your despair is your own, Mr. Sollenar. I have
official business with you."

He lifted Sollenar's chin with a forefinger. "I judge physical
interference to be unwarranted at this time. But matters must remain
so that the IAB members involved with you can recover the value of
their investments in EV. Is that perfectly clear, Mr. Sollenar? You are
hereby enjoined under the By-Laws, as enforced by the Special Public
Relations Office." He glanced at his watch. "Notice was served at 1:27
AM, City time."

"1:27," Sollenar said. "City time." He sprang to his feet and raced
down a companionway to the taxi level.

Mr. Ermine watched him quizzically.

He opened his costume, took out his omnipresent medical kit, and
sprayed coagulant over the wound in his forearm. Replacing the kit, he
adjusted his clothing and strolled down the same companionway Sollenar
had run. He raised an arm, and a taxi flittered down beside him. He
showed the driver a card, and the cab lifted off with him, its lights
glaring in a Priority pattern, far faster than Sollenar's ordinary
legal limit allowed.


IV

Long Island Facility vaulted at the stars in great kangaroo-leaps of
arch and cantilever span, jeweled in glass and metal as if the entire
port were a mechanism for navigating interplanetary space. Rufus
Sollenar paced its esplanades, measuring his steps, holding his arms
still, for the short time until he could board the Mars rocket.

Erect and majestic, he took a place in the lounge and carefully sipped
liqueur, once the liner had boosted away from Earth and coupled in its
Faraday main drives.

Mr. Ermine settled into the place beside him.

Sollenar looked over at him calmly. "I thought so."

Ermine nodded. "Of course you did. But I didn't almost miss you. I
was here ahead of you. I have no objection to your going to Mars, Mr.
Sollenar. _Laissez faire._ Provided I can go along."

"Well," Rufus Sollenar said. "Liqueur?" He gestured with his glass.

Ermine shook his head. "No, thank you," he said delicately.

Sollenar said: "Even your tongue?"

"Of course my tongue, Mr. Sollenar. I taste nothing. I touch nothing."
Ermine smiled. "But I feel no pressure."

"All right, then," Rufus Sollenar said crisply. "We have several hours
to landing time. You sit and dream your interior dreams, and I'll dream
mine." He faced around in his chair and folded his arms across his
chest.

"Mr. Sollenar," Ermine said gently.

"Yes?"

"I am once again with you by appointment as provided under the By-Laws."

"State your business, Mr. Ermine."

"You are not permitted to lie in an unknown grave, Mr. Sollenar.
Insurance policies on your life have been taken out at a high premium
rate. The IAB members concerned cannot wait the statutory seven years
to have you declared dead. Do what you will, Mr. Sollenar, but I must
take care I witness your death. From now on, I am with you wherever you
go."

Sollenar smiled. "I don't intend to die. Why should I die, Mr. Ermine?"

"I have no idea, Mr. Sollenar. But I know Cortwright Burr's character.
And isn't that he, seated there in the corner? The light is poor, but
I think he's recognizable."

Across the lounge, Burr raised his head and looked into Sollenar's
eyes. He raised a hand near his face, perhaps merely to signify
greeting. Rufus Sollenar faced front.

"A worthy opponent, Mr. Sollenar," Ermine said. "A persevering,
unforgiving, ingenious man. And yet--" Ermine seemed a little touched
by bafflement. "And yet it seems to me, Mr. Sollenar, that he got you
running rather easily. What _did_ happen between you, after my advisory
call?"

Sollenar turned a terrible smile on Ermine. "I shot him to pieces. If
you'd peel his face, you'd see."

Ermine sighed. "Up to this moment, I had thought perhaps you might
still salvage your affairs."

"Pity, Mr. Ermine? Pity for the insane?"

"Interest. I can take no part in your world. Be grateful, Mr. Sollenar.
I am not the same gullible man I was when I signed my contract with
IAB, so many years ago."

Sollenar laughed. Then he stole a glance at Burr's corner.

       *       *       *       *       *

The ship came down at Abernathy Field, in Aresia, the Terrestrial
city. Industrialized, prefabricated, jerry-built and clamorous, the
storm-proofed buildings huddled, but huddled proudly, at the desert's
edge.

Low on the horizon was the Martian settlement--the buildings so
skillfully blended with the landscape, so eroded, so much abandoned
that the uninformed eye saw nothing. Sollenar had been to Mars--on
a tour. He had seen the natives in their nameless dwelling place;
arrogant, venomous and weak. He had been told, by the paid guide, they
trafficked with Earthmen as much as they cared to, and kept to their
place on the rim of Earth's encroachment, observing.

"Tell me, Ermine," Sollenar said quietly as they walked across the
terminal lobby. "You're to kill me, aren't you, if I try to go on
without you?"

"A matter of procedure, Mr. Sollenar," Ermine said evenly. "We cannot
risk the investment capital of so many IAB members."

Sollenar sighed. "If I were any other member, how I would commend you,
Mr. Ermine! Can we hire a car for ourselves, then, somewhere nearby?"

"Going out to see the engineers?" Ermine asked. "Who would have thought
they'd have something valuable for sale?"

"I want to show them something," Sollenar said.

"What thing, Mr. Sollenar?"

They turned the corner of a corridor, with branching hallways here and
there, not all of them busy. "Come here," Sollenar said, nodding toward
one of them.

They stopped out of sight of the lobby and the main corridor. "Come
on," Sollenar said. "A little further."

"No," Ermine said. "This is farther than I really wish. It's dark here."

"Wise too late, Mr. Ermine," Sollenar said, his arms flashing out.

One palm impacted against Ermine's solar plexus, and the other against
the muscle at the side of his neck, but not hard enough to kill. Ermine
collapsed, starved for oxygen, while Sollenar silently cursed having
been cured of murder. Then Sollenar turned and ran.

Behind him Ermine's body struggled to draw breath by reflex alone.

Moving as fast as he dared, Sollenar walked back and reached the taxi
lock, pulling a respirator from a wall rack as he went. He flagged a
car and gave his destination, looking behind him. He had seen nothing
of Cortwright Burr since setting foot on Mars. But he knew that soon or
late, Burr would find him.

A few moments later Ermine got to his feet. Sollenar's car was well
away. Ermine shrugged and went to the local broadcasting station.

He commandeered a private desk, a firearm and immediate time on the IAB
interoffice circuit to Earth. When his call acknowledgement had come
back to him from his office there, he reported:

"Sollenar is enroute to the Martian city. He wants a duplicate of
Burr's device, of course, since he smashed the original when he killed
Burr. I'll follow and make final disposition. The disorientation I
reported previously is progressing rapidly. Almost all his responses
now are inappropriate. On the flight out, he seemed to be staring at
something in an empty seat. Quite often when spoken to he obviously
hears something else entirely. I expect to catch one of the next few
flights back."

There was no point in waiting for comment to wend its way back from
Earth. Ermine left. He went to a cab rank and paid the exorbitant fee
for transportation outside Aresian city limits.

       *       *       *       *       *

Close at hand, the Martian city was like a welter of broken pots.
Shards of wall and roof joined at savage angles and pointed to
nothing. Underfoot, drifts of vitreous material, shaped to fit no sane
configuration, and broken to fit such a mosaic as no church would
contain, rocked and slid under Sollenar's hurrying feet.

What from Aresia had been a solid front of dun color was here a facade
of red, green and blue splashed about centuries ago and since then
weathered only enough to show how bitter the colors had once been. The
plum-colored sky stretched over all this like a frigid membrane, and
the wind blew and blew.

Here and there, as he progressed, Sollenar saw Martian arms and heads
protruding from the rubble. Sculptures.

He was moving toward the heart of the city, where some few unbroken
structures persisted. At the top of a heap of shards he turned to look
behind him. There was the dust-plume of his cab, returning to the
city. He expected to walk back--perhaps to meet someone on the road,
all alone on the Martian plain if only Ermine would forebear from
interfering. Searching the flat, thin-aired landscape, he tried to pick
out the plodding dot of Cortwright Burr. But not yet.

He turned and ran down the untrustworthy slope.

He reached the edge of the maintained area. Here the rubble was gone,
the ancient walks swept, the statues kept upright on their pediments.
But only broken walls suggested the fronts of the houses that had stood
here. Knifing their sides up through the wind-rippled sand that only
constant care kept off the street, the shadow-houses fenced his way
and the sculptures were motionless as hope. Ahead of him, he saw the
buildings of the engineers. There was no heap to climb and look to see
if Ermine followed close behind.

Sucking his respirator, he reached the building of the Martian
engineers.

A sounding strip ran down the doorjamb. He scratched his fingernails
sharply along it, and the magnified vibration, ducted throughout the
hollow walls, rattled his plea for entrance.


V

The door opened, and Martians stood looking. They were spindly-limbed
and slight, their faces framed by folds of leathery tissue. Their
mouths were lipped with horn as hard as dentures, and pursed, forever
ready to masticate. They were pleasant neither to look at nor, Sollenar
knew, to deal with. But Cortwright Burr had done it. And Sollenar
needed to do it.

"Does anyone here speak English?" he asked.

"I," said the central Martian, his mouth opening to the sound, closing
to end the reply.

"I would like to deal with you."

"Whenever," the Martian said, and the group at the doorway parted
deliberately to let Sollenar in.

Before the door closed behind him, Sollenar looked back. But the rubble
of the abandoned sectors blocked his line of sight into the desert.

"What can you offer? And what do you want?" the Martian asked. Sollenar
stood half-ringed by them, in a room whose corners he could not see in
the uncertain light.

"I offer you Terrestrial currency."

The English-speaking Martian--the Martian who had admitted to speaking
English--turned his head slightly and spoke to his fellows. There were
clacking sounds as his lips met. The others reacted variously, one of
them suddenly gesturing with what seemed a disgusted flip of his arm
before he turned without further word and stalked away, his shoulders
looking like the shawled back of a very old and very hungry woman.

"What did Burr give you?" Sollenar asked.

"Burr." The Martian cocked his head. His eyes were not multi-faceted,
but gave that impression.

"He was here and he dealt with you. Not long ago. On what basis?"

"Burr. Yes. Burr gave us currency. We will take currency from you. For
the same thing we gave him?"

"For immortality, yes."

"Im--This is a new word."

"Is it? For the secret of not dying?"

"Not dying? You think we have not-dying for sale here?" The Martian
spoke to the others again. Their lips clattered. Others left, like the
first one had, moving with great precision and very slow step, and no
remaining tolerance for Sollenar.

Sollenar cried out: "What did you sell him, then?"

The principal engineer said: "We made an entertainment device for him."

"A little thing. This size." Sollenar cupped his hands.

"You have seen it, then."

"Yes. And nothing more? That was all he bought here?"

"It was all we had to sell--or give. We don't yet know whether Earthmen
will give us things in exchange for currency. We'll see, when we next
need something from Aresia."

Sollenar demanded: "How did it work? This thing you sold him."

"Oh, it lets people tell stories to themselves."

Sollenar looked closely at the Martian. "What kind of stories?"

"Any kind," the Martian said blandly. "Burr told us what he wanted. He
had drawings with him of an Earthman device that used pictures on a
screen, and broadcast sounds, to carry the details of the story told to
the auditor."

"He stole those patents! He couldn't have used them on Earth."

       *       *       *       *       *

"And why should he? Our device needs to convey no precise details. Any
mind can make its own. It only needs to be put into a situation, and
from there it can do all the work. If an auditor wishes a story of
contact with other sexes, for example, the projector simply makes it
seem to him, the next time he is with the object of his desire, that he
is getting positive feedback--that he is arousing a similar response
in that object. Once that has been established for him, the auditor
may then leave the machine, move about normally, conduct his life as
usual--but always in accordance with the basic situation. It is, you
see, in the end a means of introducing system into his view of reality.
Of course, his society must understand that he is not in accord with
reality, for some of what he does cannot seem rational from an outside
view of him. So some care must be taken, but not much. If many such
devices were to enter his society, soon the circumstances would become
commonplace, and the society would surely readjust to allow for it,"
said the English-speaking Martian.

"The machine creates any desired situation in the auditor's mind?"

"Certainly. There are simple predisposing tapes that can be inserted as
desired. Love, adventure, cerebration--it makes no difference."

Several of the bystanders clacked sounds out to each other. Sollenar
looked at them narrowly. It was obvious there had to be more than one
English-speaker among these people.

"And the device you gave Burr," he asked the engineer, neither
calmly nor hopefully. "What sort of stories could its auditors tell
themselves?"

       *       *       *       *       *

The Martian cocked his head again. It gave him the look of an owl at
a bedroom window. "Oh, there was one situation we were particularly
instructed to include. Burr said he was thinking ahead to showing it to
an acquaintance of his.

"It was a situation of adventure; of adventure with the fearful. And
it was to end in loss and bitterness." The Martian looked even more
closely at Sollenar. "Of course, the device does not specify details.
No one but the auditor can know what fearful thing inhabits his story,
or precisely how the end of it would come. You would, I believe, be
Rufus Sollenar? Burr spoke of you and made the noise of laughing."

Sollenar opened his mouth. But there was nothing to say.

"You want such a device?" the Martian asked. "We've prepared several
since Burr left. He spoke of machines that would manufacture them in
astronomical numbers. We, of course, have done our best with our poor
hands."

Sollenar said: "I would like to look out your door."

"Pleasure."

Sollenar opened the door slightly. Mr. Ermine stood in the cleared
street, motionless as the shadow buildings behind him. He raised one
hand in a gesture of unfelt greeting as he saw Sollenar, then put it
back on the stock of his rifle. Sollenar closed the door, and turned to
the Martian. "How much currency do you want?"

"Oh, all you have with you. You people always have a good deal with you
when you travel."

Sollenar plunged his hands into his pockets and pulled out his
billfold, his change, his keys, his jeweled radio; whatever was there,
he rummaged out onto the floor, listening to the sound of rolling coins.

"I wish I had more here," he laughed. "I wish I had the amount that man
out there is going to recover when he shoots me."

The Martian engineer cocked his head. "But your dream is over, Mr.
Sollenar," he clacked drily. "Isn't it?"

"Quite so. But you to your purposes and I to mine. Now give me one of
those projectors. And set it to predispose a situation I am about to
specify to you. Take however long it needs. The audience is a patient
one." He laughed, and tears gathered in his eyes.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mr. Ermine waited, isolated from the cold, listening to hear whether
the rifle stock was slipping out of his fingers. He had no desire to
go into the Martian building after Sollenar and involve third parties.
All he wanted was to put Sollenar's body under a dated marker, with as
little trouble as possible.

Now and then he walked a few paces backward and forward, to keep
from losing muscular control at his extremities because of low skin
temperature. Sollenar must come out soon enough. He had no food supply
with him, and though Ermine did not like the risk of engaging a man
like Sollenar in a starvation contest, there was no doubt that a man
with no taste for fuel could outlast one with the acquired reflexes of
eating.

The door opened and Sollenar came out.

He was carrying something. Perhaps a weapon. Ermine let him come
closer while he raised and carefully sighted his rifle. Sollenar might
have some Martian weapon or he might not. Ermine did not particularly
care. If Ermine died, he would hardly notice it--far less than he would
notice a botched ending to a job of work already roiled by Sollenar's
break away at the space field. If Ermine died, some other SPRO agent
would be assigned almost immediately. No matter what happened, SPRO
would stop Sollenar before he ever reached Abernathy Field.

So there was plenty of time to aim an unhurried, clean shot.

Sollenar was closer, now. He seemed to be in a very agitated frame of
mind. He held out whatever he had in his hand.

It was another one of the Martian entertainment machines. Sollenar
seemed to be offering it as a token to Ermine. Ermine smiled.

"What can you offer me, Mr. Sollenar?" he said, and shot.

The golden ball rolled away over the sand. "There, now," Ermine said.
"_Now_, wouldn't you sooner be me than you? And where is the thing that
made the difference between us?"

He shivered. He was chilly. Sand was blowing against his tender face,
which had been somewhat abraded during his long wait.

He stopped, transfixed.

He lifted his head.

Then, with a great swing of his arms, he sent the rifle whirling
away. "The wind!" he sighed into the thin air. "I feel the wind." He
leapt into the air, and sand flew away from his feet as he landed. He
whispered to himself: "I feel the ground!"

He stared in tremblant joy at Sollenar's empty body. "What have you
given me?" Full of his own rebirth, he swung his head up at the sky
again, and cried in the direction of the Sun: "Oh, you squeezing,
nibbling people who made me incorruptible and thought that was the end
of me!"

With love he buried Sollenar, and with reverence he put up the marker,
but he had plans for what he might accomplish with the facts of this
transaction, and the myriad others he was privy to.

A sharp bit of pottery had penetrated the sole of his shoe and gashed
his foot, but he, not having seen it, hadn't felt it. Nor would he
see it or feel it even when he changed his stockings; for he had not
noticed the wound when it was made. It didn't matter. In a few days it
would heal, though not as rapidly as if it had been properly attended
to.

Vaguely, he heard the sound of Martians clacking behind their closed
door as he hurried out of the city, full of revenge, and reverence for
his savior.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Wall of Crystal, Eye of Night" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home