Authors: Marion Zimmer Bradley
“But she is the Keeper—” Rohana protested weakly.
Leonie tossed her hair with an arrogant gesture of disdain, as if the title
meant nothing to her. “Then she might as well learn it first as last; I do what I will, here or anywhere. And she shall learn it. This battle is not of my making, but I will not be denied.”
There were more people crowded into the little weather dome on the moon than it
was technically supposed to hold. Ysaye held the command seat behind the computer console, with David and Elizabeth hanging over her shoulders, and half a dozen men and women crowded behind them. Silence reigned as the computer created another
image on the screen from the data being uploaded from their satellite, and David drew a long breath of surprise and wonder.
“Holy smoke!” he exclaimed softly. Ysaye did not recognize the reference, and
ignored it as meaningless except for the obvious context of astonishment.
She had at least managed to ascertain that there was no hardware glitch in either the computer or the satellite, no bug in the software, and no joker playing games on the ship, transmitting phony data by the simple expedient of sending someone with a real, optical telescope and camera outside the dome to take
of the weather patterns on the planet below. And while those pictures were crude when compared with what the satellite was sending, they proved one thing: the data was real. The weather on Cottman IV was
“Look at this,” David said as he passed Elizabeth the latest weather map the
printer had finished. She studied the sheet of paper with puzzlement creasing her brow.
storm come from?” she asked. “First, there are two storms that disappear, and now there is a storm that springs up out of nowhere! Something down there is doing very strange things to the weather.”
“What sort of strange things?” asked a voice from the back. “We’ve just safety-
approved the atmosphere for a landing party, don’t tell me we’re running into problems now!” Commander Matt Britton, Head of the Sciences Section, had just arrived, and crowded as the room was, those between him and the console moved out of the way to let him squeeze through.
Elizabeth handed him her series of weather maps in chronological order. “Look
for yourself, sir,” she said. “First a pair of storms disappear into nowhere; then we get a rainstorm with no accompanying weather pattern.” Elizabeth shook her head. “No low pressure zone, no proper storm pattern, nothing. Just rain.”
The Head of Section studied the maps with no sign of any emotion on his face.
“Any theories on what is causing this?” Britton asked, after a moment.
“Nothing so far,” Elizabeth admitted. “We’ve been watching this for over forty-
eight hours now, and I’m afraid we’re getting a bit punchy. The best theory we’ve come up with yet is that there’s a wizard, or something like that; someone down there with magical powers over the weather.” She shook her head.
Now the Head did show some emotion as he looked up from under a pair of
heavy eyebrows at the meteorologist. Strong disapproval. “Are you seriously proposing that as a theory, Mackintosh?” Britton asked. “That sort of nonsense is all very well in one of your folk songs, but this is a scientific expedition, and I’ll thank you to remember that, fatigued or not.”
Elizabeth was taken aback by her superior’s cold disapproval, and the response
from the back of the crowd that followed Britton’s reproof did not help her self-confidence any. “Oh, Elizabeth, come off it!” Lieutenant Ryan Evans, one of the
younger botanists, said disgustedly.
Elizabeth flushed and, catching sight of Evans, she averted her eyes. He was a
friend of David’s, but she had never been able to like him much. He was a good-looking young man and knew it; he was quite tall and took psychological advantage of his extra inches to cow people—particularly women—at every opportunity. She had never seen him wear anything other than the gray uniform of Colonization services, despite the custom of wearing “civilian” clothing when off-duty. Strongly built, he kept his physique in top shape in the gym, and used it as a tool of intimidation or seduction, whichever applied. He sounded almost angry about what Elizabeth had said, but then he frequently did; he was a scoffer by nature.
Perversely, though, the look of scorn on his face and the near-insult he had thrown at her made her a little angry—angry enough at least to stand up for her explanation which had actually been given half-humorously, half desperately. She turned to Britton, ignoring Evans.
“Well, it’s kind of an out-there sort of theory, sir,” she temporized, “but we
haven’t been able to come up with anything else that explains what’s going on down there, and neither has the computer. We weren’t talking about fairy-tale magic, but something else entirely, and ‘wizard’ was just the name we were using to describe the kind of person we were postulating. Theoretically, someone with psychic powers could do all that, dispersing weather systems and reforming them again, and it
seem like magic to anyone without them.”
Evans responded as if she had spoken directly to him. “Even if we did get saddled with that inane experimental program for psychic abilities you people were playing around with, I still haven’t seen any conclusive proof that there are any such things—
much less that someone could steer storms around with them.”
Elizabeth bit her tongue to keep from snapping, and kept her attention fixed on
Britton. After all, Evans was nothing to her; he didn’t work in her division, he wasn’t her superior, and his approval or disapproval didn’t matter at all.
Britton shook his head. “I have to agree with Evans,” he said, sounding a bit
regretful. “I haven’t seen any conclusive proof that ‘psychic powers’ exist. Everything you and David have done could have been explained in other ways. And I can’t see any reason to think that ‘psychic powers’ are in play here.”
“Perhaps not,” she agreed, “but sir, you have to admit that there does seem to be something pretty unusual going on here. Wizards aren’t any more unlikely than anything else, at this point.” She frowned. “I have a hunch that when we find out whatever the truth may be, we’ll wish it were something as simple as a wizard.”
Evans muttered—but Britton quelled him with a look. He
under Britton’s authority, and he knew better than to continue after a look like that.
“Well,” Britton said, turning back to Elizabeth, “I trust that when you have a
somewhat more viable theory—or some proof that your ‘wizard’ exists—you will
inform me.” His tone was less caustic, but just as patronizingly sarcastic as Evans’, and Elizabeth almost flinched.
Ysaye winced quietly. This was not the first time Elizabeth had been criticized for her leaps of intuition, which were completely independent of logic, but sometimes gave astonishingly good results. In a more mellow mood, Commander Britton would not be giving her such a hard time about it. At the moment, however, he was obviously
in a mellow mood.
Ysaye thought she knew why. The surveillance satellites were performing
precisely as advertised, and they had marvelously detailed analyses of the chemical makeup of the environment, but although the air was nearly perfect—more so than they had dared hope for, the planet itself was not cooperating. Thick, dense cloud cover and omnipresent storms prevented seeing all but the most cursory of details about the IBs below. There
IBs, that much was obvious from the few tantalizing glimpses of structures that the satellites had been granted, but the inhabitants themselves were still a mystery. The few facts known were that they built individual and grouped structures that included what might be cities, and that they cultivated the land. The rest was a mystery
—for on the few occasions that the clouds
parted to reveal the terrain below, either the inhabitants themselves were not making an appearance, or the tree cover was too dense to see through, or the famous cameras, that could record a license plate in Nairobi, were pointed in the wrong direction and gazing down on yet another cloud-covered expanse.
Small wonder Britton was not in a particularly good mood.
Ysaye threw herself into the breach and changed the subject.
“Any idea yet, sir, when we will be going down to the planet?” she asked. That
they would be sending an expedition down was now a certainty, given the way that the Minions of Murphy’s Law had been plaguing them. It appeared that the only way to actually find out anything would be to go in person. A dangerously primitive but proven technique.
“A couple of hours,” said Britton. “The captain says we’re sending one of the
reconnaissance shuttles down, and landing in this area here,” he pointed it out on the computer screen, one briefly and blessedly free of clouds. “It’s fairly close to the range of mountains, and covered with snow, but it’s a plateau, as nearly as Cartography can figure out.”
Britton paused to aim another disapproving glance at David, who simply
shrugged, and nodded at the screen, as if to say, “I did my best with what I had.”
“It seems to me as arbitrary as most decisions,” Evans said. “Surely, there must be more hospitable areas.”
Ysaye knew as the figurative emotional temperature dropped a few degrees that
Evans had, at last, overstepped his bounds. She hoped he’d get more than a reprimand…
“I don’t pretend to be in on all administrative thinking, or to understand what
makes our superior officers decide what courses to take,” Britton said coldly. “But this is not a democracy; this is a ship, and I obey my superiors without complaint. Anyone who has different notions can feel free to step outside the dome and contemplate them for a moment.” Evans paled, and Britton smiled grimly. “I’m told that is the Captain’s preferred way of handling those with mutinous notions.”
Ysaye applauded silently. Evans was an inspired xenobotanist, but he was not
particularly popular with his shipmates. Britton would have been well within his rights to take the matter farther…and she rather hoped that he would.
Unfortunately, that was not to be. Britton seemed content when Evans nodded
stiffly, his lips compressed into a thin line. “This area was chosen for isolation, both from the resident IBs and from anything we might damage when landing. Since we have not been able to gather any reasonable amount of data about the natives, it was judged prudent not to approach them too directly. But since we have no idea how they might regard damage to their agricultural property, it also seemed prudent to avoid all cultivated areas; we’re not likely to burn up anything landing here, or crush anything, or otherwise damage terrain. Unless, of course, they cultivate snow, which does not seem terribly likely. Unfortunately, to fill all necessary criteria, we end up landing in a relatively inhospitable area.”
“There are a lot of factors involved,” one of the bystanders agreed.
“Who’s on the first shuttle?” another one asked.
“It’s not official yet,” Britton said, “but since there
IBs, the first load down is going to have to have the full complement of contact specialists, even though we don’t intend to make first contact yet, not until after we’ve had a chance to observe the IBs for a while. You know how it is—” he shrugged expressively “—plan
to make first contact, and the natives are likely to come strolling up within minutes of the landing, wanting to know who the new neighbors are, and whether or not they should roll out the red carpet or declare some sort of Holy War.”
Someone laughed, nervously.
“At any rate, they’re going to want people with qualifications in xenobiology,
xenopsychology, anthropology, linguistics, and all the appropriate expertise, to go with the first wave.”
Meanwhile, the computer had been redrawing the screen again, and something
different caught Ysaye’s eye. “Wait, something’s going on down there,” Ysaye said.
Everyone broke formation and waited while the computer delivered another of the
David reached down and handed it to Elizabeth. “This is your department,
Elizabeth. Anything new and interesting?”
“Not that I can see, just that same storm—though that’s quite enough. I see what Ysaye saw now, it’s growing rapidly; I’m glad I’m not down there in it,” she said. “It looks to me as if there’s enough wind shear in those thunderheads to rip the wings right off conventional aircraft. Perfectly clear air at the proposed landing site on that plateau, however. As long as that holds, we’re okay for a landing.” She passed the weather chart to Commander Britton.
He scanned it, and said, “According to the earlier scans, the biggest city on the planet appears to be somewhere in that valley.” He put his finger down on a patch of heavy cloud under which, theoretically, the city lay. “Not that you can tell from this map.”
“Not all that far from your freak weather either,” Ysaye noted, feeling just a little smug. “If there were such things as wizards, I would think they would be found in areas of high population.”
“Then why are we landing way the hell out in the mountains?” Evans asked.
“My,” Ysaye said, grateful for the chance to get several jabs in at him. “Weren’t you paying
attention, Lieutenant? Our superior officer just carefully explained that this is
a first contact mission, and why.” She smiled sweetly. “If I recall correctly, sir, you stated very clearly that we wanted to observe the natives without being observed, since we are unable to make those observations from orbit. And you also stated that we were landing in what appeared to be something of a wasteland, to avoid doing damage to anything the natives considered valuable.”
“Less chance of setting a town or crops on fire, and upsetting the natives,” a