The Pnume | Chapter 12 of 15 - Part: 1 of 5

Author: Jack Vance | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1057 Views | Add a Review

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CHAPTER NINE

A DEAD CALM held the Second Sea. The Nhiahar slid out of the inlet, propelled by its field engine; by degrees Urmank faded into the murk of distance.

The Nhiahar moved in silence except for the gurgle of water under the bow.

The only other passengers were a pair of waxen-faced old women swathed in gray gauze who appeared briefly on deck, then crept to their dark little cabin.

Reith was well-satisfied with the grand cabin. It ranged the entire width of the ship, with three great windows overlooking the sea astern. In alcoves to port and starboard were well-cushioned beds as soft as any Reith had felt on

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Tschai, if a trifle musty. In the center stood a massive table of carved black wood, with a pair of equally massive chairs at either end. Zap 210 made a sulky appraisal of the room. Today she wore the dull white trousers with the orange blouse; she seemed keyed up and tense, and moved with nervous abruptness in jerks and halts and fidgeting twitches of the fingers.

Reith watched her covertly, trying to calculate the exact nature of her mood.

She refused to look toward him or meet his gaze. At last he asked: "Do you like the ship?"

She gave a sullen shrug. "I have never seen anything like it before." She went to the door, where she turned him a sour twitch of a smile-a derisive grimace-and went out on deck.

Reith looked up at the overhead, shrugged, and after a final glance around file:///C|/2590%20Sci-Fi%20and%20Fantasy%2...nce%20-%20Tschai%204%20-%20The%2

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204%20-%20The%20Pnume.txt the room, followed her.

She had climbed the companionway to the quarterdeck, where she stood leaning on the taffrail, looking back the way they had come. Reith seated himself on a bench nearby and pretended to bask in the wan brown sunlight while he puzzled over her behavior. She was female and inherently irrational-but her conduct seemed to exceed this elemental fact. Certain of her attitudes had been formed in the Shelters, but these seemed to be waning; upon reaching the surface she had abandoned the old life and discarded its points of view, as an insect molts a skin.

In the process, Reith ruminated, she had discarded her old personality, but had not yet discovered a new one ... The thought gave Reith a qualm. Part of the girl's charm or fascination, or whatever it was, lay in her innocence, her transparency ... transparency?

Reith made a skeptical sound. Not altogether. He went to join her. "What are you pondering so deeply?"

She gave him a cool side-glance. "I was thinking of myself and the wide ghaun. I remember my time in the dark. I know now that below the world I was not yet born. All those years, while I moved quietly below, the folk of the surface lived in color and change and air."

"So this is why you've been acting so strangely!"

"No!" she cried in sudden passion. "It is not! The reason is you and your secrecy! You tell me nothing. I don't know where we are going, or what you are going to do with me."

Reith frowned down at the black boil of the wake. "I'm not sure of these things myself."

"But you must know something!"

"Yes ... When I get to Sivishe I want to return to my home, which is far and remote."

"And what of me?"

And what of Zap 210? wondered Reith. A question he had avoided asking himself. "I'm not sure you'd want to come with me," he replied, somewhat lamely.

Tears glinted in her eyes. "Where else can I go? Should I become a drudge? Or a Gzhindra? Or wear an orange sash at Urmank? Or should I die?" She swung away and marched forward to the bow, past a group of the spade-faced seamen, who watched her from the side of their pale eyes.

Reith returned to the bench ... The afternoon passed. Black clouds to the north generated a cool wind. The sails were shaken out, and the cog drove forward. Zap 210 presently came aft with a strange expression on her face. She gave Reith a look of sad accusation and went down to the cabin.

Reith followed and found her lying on one of the couches. "Don't you feel well?"

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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