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The Karma Kid Transcends

I had my twelfth birthday on the way back from star Capella. I didn’t celebrate. I stuck to my berth, drank acid shorts and poked tongue at my reflection. I didn’t tell Jacques, either. He wouldn’t give a damn how old I was. To him, I was just another telepathic-navigator, and the only thing that distinguished me from most of the others in the fleet was the fact that I was a girl. Even so, I was nothing special. I’d blooded a month before my birthday, but I was still unattractive – as if I’d expected, at the onset of womanhood, to be transformed butterfly-like into something beautiful. I was still short and plain, padded with puppy-fat in all the wrong places. Even my Asiatic origins did nothing for him. But what did I expect from a starship Captain who’d seen a hundred aliens more exotic than myself?

In the two years I’d worked for Jacques I’d often tried to get to know him better, establish a rapport that might in time have led to something more. But that proved impossible. Jacques wore a mind-shield. I had probed him on our very first meeting but came up with nothing. Since then I’d slipped probes towards him at regular intervals, but his mind was as elusive as a Lyran silver eel – and the fact that he constantly wore a shield frightened me. What was he hiding? Only criminals and psychopaths wore those things all the time, people who had something real bad to hide, who didn’t want telepaths probing by accident. The longer I knew Jacques, the more worried I became.

Then, at the beginning of this trip, as we lighted out of Sol System bound for star Capella, he let his defences drop.


I knew from his manner that something was bothering him. we were carrying a representative of the Telemann-Vonhoff corporation to the seventh world of Capella – an uninhabited, Earthnorm planet out of bounds to all but approved star traffic. Jacques’ attitude towards the official was, at best, brusque; he made it obvious that for some reason he resented the woman. He avoided her when he could and tried to ignore her when he couldn’t. He was pre-occupied and nervous and he spent most of his time in the flight-pod.

We were four days from star Capella; it was a routine haul and we were cruising. Jacques was flying and I was navigating. I’d mind-vectored ahead to the planet-bound telepath who charted our position and future flight-path, and then I fed the information through to Jacques.

I was about to close down when I picked up stray thoughts from our passenger. Nothing special – just superficial mindmush like how she couldn’t wait to bed her girlfriend when she got back to Earth.

Then I got something else. Jacques’ angst overcame his shield, and I was blitzed into unconsciousness by a two second burst of brainhowl. I awoke disoriented, and only after minutes realised what had happened. I tried to recall the content of the contact, but it was like snatching at fragments of a forgotten dream. I came up with ill-defined images and fleeting sensations. I saw dead bodies and experienced quick cerebral stabs of ecstasy, followed by plummeting depression. I saw enough to realise that Jacques needed help, and who knows maybe even love. I decided to confront him when I was next off-duty. I’d had enough of his keeping away from me, avoiding contact. I’d give him no choice now; he’d either reject me or take me, and either way I might learn something.

We were a day away from Capella when I made my way to the flight-pod and sneaked in. Jacques was strapped into the traction-nexus like a fly in a spider’s web. He’d just finished a stint in flux, and he was on his way down. Sweat saturated his uniform a shade darker than the usual sky blue. The sight of him made my stomach flip.

When I met Jacques two years back it was love at first sight. I was fresh out of navigator-training school and he was my first Captain. What I felt for him then, and still felt, wasn’t just the neophyte’s infatuation with the romantic mystique of a lone starship Captain. Okay, maybe that had something to do with it, at first. He cut a wild, wayward figure in his tight-fitting pilot’s garb – but my love for him was more than just an attraction to his physical aspect and rank. There was something about him that cried out for help and protection. He was scared and he needed someone. I was a telepath, wasn’t I? If only he’d open up and share his tortured psyche with me, allow us to become one... I might not be a stunning beauty, but love is more than just good looks. I knew I could give him what he’d never had before.

I touched his foot. He opened his eyes immediately and I caught my breath, managed a timid smile. He lifted his head and stared at me. I perched myself on the rim of the nexus. “Jacques...”

“What do you want?”

He said it sharply, as if what I wanted wasn’t obvious. I’d changed from my silversuit into a short slip. Telepathic therapy was always enhanced during sex. My face burned. I ran my had along his leg.

“Jacques... Please let me help.”

“I need no help, least of all from you...”

His words hurt. “The other day I... I read you briefly. I don’t understand what I saw, but I know you need help. Let me–”

He sat up. “How much did you read?” He leaned forward and stared at me with anger in his eyes.

“Hardly anything... I felt you needed help, that’s all. Please, Jacques – let me in.”

I tried a probe, got nothing.

He felt warmth in his head and hit out. His fist caught my cheek. I jumped up and backed away.

Jacques pushed himself from the nexus and stood shakily. He was weak after the flux and he leaned against the wall for support. He pointed at me, and the deliberation of the gesture scared me more than the punch. “You stupid little fool! How could you ever hope to understand? I need no one!” He came for me then, lurching forward. “Get out!” he yelled, and the emotion he generated overcame the restraint of his mind-shield. I was rocked by a wave of raw feeling that hit me with the force of a physical blow. Jacques hated himself. He hated me, too – but in the brief second that he was open I saw that he hated not me personally, not Dhondup Ysomo, tele-navigator, but what I represented. He hated the temptation that I and all living beings held for him. I was shocked and bewildered then, and only much later did I learn why he hated – and the reason he hated himself with such corrosive, almost suicidal energy. Sobbing, I fled the pod.

For the rest of the journey I kept my distance. I thought it best not to antagonise him. He needed time to cool off, and I needed time to plan my next move.

Only later, when the trip was over and we were coming in to land on Earth, did it occur to me that perhaps Jacques’ depression, his weltschmerz, had something to do with the presence aboard the ship of the Telemann-Vonhoff official, Hallelujah Birmingham.


We screamed out of hyper-light drive.

Jacques dropped the ship through the plane of the ecliptic and up again, heading for home. We were on automatic now, but he chose to remain in the flight-pod. My tour of duty officially finished here. Now we were out of hy-c, all communications could be handled conventionally. I slipped the ferroniere from my shaven head and left the navigation follicle. I dropped two decks to the lounge and sat, yogi-fashion, in the dome that obtruded through the skin of the ship. I stared out at the planets and wondered what I was going to do with Captain Jacques Latrouche.

In whichever port we docked, Jacques always used his ship as base. He spent his nights in the city and his days sleeping it off in his berth. I was barred from the ship while it was in port, given my pay and papers and the time of the next burn-out. A couple of times I’d tried to stay with Jacques, even suggested that I show him Lhasa or Kathmandu. But he was always at his most irritable at the end of a run, strung-out and impatient to be rid of me. He made it clear that he wanted to hit the city alone and I always felt abandoned when we said goodbye. This time, I decided to remain in the city where we landed and stick close to him.

I was so absorbed in my own thoughts that I failed to register those of our passenger until she laid a hand on my shoulder. Then I was aware of the warm glow high above my head. In the concave surface of the dome I could see the tall reflection of Hallelujah Birmingham.

“We’re almost home, Dhondup,” she smiled.

Folding herself neatly, she sat down beside me. She was outfitted in a smart red company uniform and she carried her case, ready to disembark when we docked.

The moment she boarded the ship three months ago, I was jealous. I was convinced that Jacques would make a move for her. She was tall, beautiful Nigerian, with all the poise and grace of her race. I guessed she was around eighteen, and consoled myself with the thought that maybe in five or six years I might look as good.

As things turned out, for some reason Jacques ignored her, and I got to know her well. Between shifts in the tele-communications nacelle, I played her at chess and beat her, and we’d rap for ages about our families and friends and things.

“What you doing this furlough, Dhondup?” she asked now.

I hesitated. “Oh... I’ll visit my mother in Lhasa, I think. I haven’t seen her for a while. She’ll be wondering where I’ve got to. You know what mothers are like...” I lapsed into silence, staring out. We were cruising above the asteroid belt; the silvery nodes arc’d away in a perfect parabola towards the far side of the sun.

She rested a warm hand on my thigh. “Hey, believe me – he isn’t worth it.”

I probed her. “Who isn’t?” I said, shocked that I was so readable. As a telepath I was accustomed to reading the thoughts and emotions of others and keeping my own well under wraps.

“You can’t kid me, kid. I know you’re crazy about him.”

Hallelujah Birmingham was one of the most genuine people I’d ever met. She was honest; her words corresponded with what she thought, always, and this was rare. Now I read a warm compassion for me – and lust as well – but more than that a sympathy for my unhappiness. At times I came up against areas of her mind that were guarded, that my probes glanced off and could not penetrate. This was usual with company representatives and people in big business. there were some things that had to be kept secret, and rather than employ a shield – which were not always effective – corporations had ways of hypnotising employees so that certain subjects in their heads were never readable. I’d probed Hallelujah many times and discovered that one of the things concealed behind her mindblock was this mission. It was top secret and priority A, and the Telemann-Vonhoff people wanted no one, not even lowly young tele-navs, to know what was going on.

“Dhondup, why not forget Jacques and come with me this furlough? You can visit your family some other time. Have you ever been to New York?”

“Of course I have,” I said, probing her. “I know it’s a dangerous place and I’m not scared, so don’t get that idea.”

Hallelujah smiled and raised her palms in mock capitulation. She leaned back against the wall of the dome and appeared to be suspended in space, with Mars on her right, Venus on her left and Earth eclipsed by her afro. “Well... how about it, Dhondy? Why not come with me when we land?”

“I prefer Jacques,” I said in a whisper.

Hallelujah just shrugged, smiling.


We’d made a rough touchdown on Capella Seven, and Jacques hadn’t even shown himself to apologise. Seven was a virgin world, the temporary base of a small team of Telemann-Vonhoff scientists. Hallelujah Birmingham had spent three days with her colleagues in the spacious living domes at the head of a beautiful valley, and we were requested to remain aboard the ship. While Miss Birmingham was away, I took the opportunity to go through her berth. I found she was a xenobiologist specialising in alien pharmaceuticals, which was an area of information blocked off in her mind. On the third day, Miss Birmingham returned with a freezer carricase and we lighted-out for Earth.

“What were you doing on Seven?” I asked now.

She gave me a cool, appraising look. “If I tell you... will you accompany me to New York?”

I decided to lie. “Hokay.” I shrugged. “Why not?”

I probed her and found doubt, hesitation – but desire overcame any qualms she might have had at breaching company guidelines.

“You’ve heard of the drug DLa, or Spice as it’s called on the street?”

“Do I look like a dummy?” I asked. The drug was used by non-telepaths to gain states of brief telepathic awareness. The user could read minds, but not as clearly as true telepaths, nor for any sustained periods. The usual trip lasted about ten minutes and left the user blasted. Spice was not addictive, but one trip could kill. The drug had become the focus of a sick cult in the Western world.

The Freaks, as the cultists were called, used Spice to ride ‘dead’ minds to the white light.


The fact of Afterlife was established at the end of the last century. It was ironical that life after death, the state of being that mystics had foretold for thousands of years, was eventually proven by the unforeseen result of a scientific breakthrough.

The first person to undergo neuro-surgery to bring about telepathy was a four year old Peruvian girl. On waking from the operation, she reported that an old man in another part of the hospital – who according to the minds of the doctors and nurses was dead – was in fact still alive. She claimed that she had travelled with the old man into the sky towards a bright light that emanated peace and tranquillity. There the girl had been repulsed, and the old man left her and became one with the light... More children were made surgically telepathic, and they all affirmed the experience of the first child – after the ‘death’ of the body, the mind, or perhaps even the soul, lived on.

I had experienced close contact with a departing mind only twice. The first time was after a loading accident at Varanasi spaceport; I had travelled with the ‘dead’ loader as far as a brilliant white light in a transport of incredible ecstasy. Even though, as a Buddhist, I believed in transcendence after bodily death, nothing could have prepared me for the actual wonder of the experience. The second time, when I had a hotel room next to that of an old woman who died in her sleep, there was no diminution of effect. The supernal delight of rising with her to the next stage of existence was such that the return to life on Earth came as a crushing disappointment.

I could almost bring myself to understand how the Freaks became hooked on the thrill of riding...

We landed.

We sailed into a stasis grid and magnetic grabs lowered us to the shunting lanes. A hovertug hauled us at walking pace towards the terminal ziggurat. It was dark outside, and the dazzling illumination of photon tubes prevented identification of the city beyond the perimeter crash barrier. We might have been in any one of a dozen major spaceports on Earth.

I said, “What was your mission on Seven?”

Hallelujah smiled at me. “You know what? I reckon our relationship should be more than just platonic...”

I didn’t flinch. She was being honest, after all. Which I wasn’t when I said, “I might like that, maybe.” And I smiled, too.

“Very well, then...”

And she proceeded to tell me that the scientists on Seven had been working on a new version of the drug DLa. The old drug was extracted from flora on the colony world of Emerald – illegally. A Telemann-Vonhoff exploration team had discovered a similar strain of vegetation on Capella Seven, and tests to date had shown it to be even stronger than the regular DLa.

“So?” I shrugged. “Why is your company interested in a drug stronger than Spice? I thought the authorities were trying to clamp down on the import of the stuff?”

“On the illegal import of DLa,” she said. “We intend to bring the new drug to Earth, legally, and test it for certain properties...”

I shrugged again.

Hallelujah smiled. “We have reason to believe that the drug will take the user not only to the white light, but beyond. Let’s just say that my company have a certain interest in discovering Heaven... or even Nirvana.”

The ship trundled to a halt. External clunkings and pneumatic sighs indicated that we had docked with the entry chute of the terminal ziggurat. Behind the rectangular viewscreens of the building I could see the small figures of spaceport personnel at work.

“Where are we?” I asked.

“New Seattle. Independent Pacific Northwest. I recognise the zigg.” She smiled at me. “I have to deliver this case to New York in four hours, but I’ve a few calls to make first. How about I meet you back here in say two hours?”

“I... There’s a bit of work I have to clear. I might be late.”

“Hey, don’t back out now, kid. Remember your promise...”

“I’ll be through in two hours,” I said.

She kissed my forehead. “I’ll see you then, my little Tibby-tan,” she said, mimicking the way I pronounced the word. She picked up her case and stood on the down-disc, wiping a circular wave in the air as she descended.


The voice of an Android official sounded through the ship, enumerating disembarkation procedure. I jumped from the dome and found my tricorne and moccasins in the sunken lounger where I’d thrown them earlier. I had no intention of keeping the rendezvous with Miss Birmingham, and I planned to be out of the ship when she returned. I’d hang around and follow Jacques when he left.

I was adjusting my tricorne at a cool angle when Jacques appeared at the far end of the lounge. “Where is she?” he yelled. He braced himself in the entrance, panting.

I felt an irrational pang of jealousy. “Who?”

“Who the hell do think? Birmingham!”

“She just left. I didn’t know you–”

He cursed again and jumped on the down-disc, stabbing the sensor impatiently. He dropped. “Jacques – wait!”

I rushed to the chute, then remembered my exit card and dashed to my berth. When I returned, Jacques had been processed and the chute was free. I hopped aboard and closed my eyes. I was voided in a peristaltic rush and landed dizzy at the terminal check-out. Jacques had already been cleared. I saw him pushing through the crowd beyond the barrier. I passed my card to the Andy officer and waited, trying to conceal my impatience. His nod signalled my release and I took off. The unshielded mindmush of the crowd came at me in a wave of mixed emotions. I damped my receptivity and the noise modulated to a background hiss like static on a bad vid-soundtrack. I scooted through the foyer and attracted a posse of bodyguards who surrounded me like beggars with offers of security for the next twenty-four hours. They took my age and the fact I was Asiatic to mean I’d be needing their protection in the big bad Western world outside. I cursed them, then scoured their heads with a blowback of the loathing I felt towards parasites. They fell away. I slipped through the exit gate, feeling great.

After the solitude of deep space, New Seattle jumped me like a familiar nightmare. It was three in the morning, but the early hour did nothing to slow the pulse of life. Slideways carried crowds between serried citystacks. Fliers swept fast and silent overhead, and photon displays strobed ads into the dark night sky. Superimposed over all this was the incessant brainhowl of urban citizens. Dizzy, I paused for breath, clamped in a crowd surging towards a flier platform. Invisible hands frisked me expertly, found nothing worth picking and moved on. Dubious voices hissed for my attention. The usual hassle. It took some getting used to after space, but I’d survive.

I squirmed through the crowd and probed the take-off ramp. If Jacques had taken a slideway, then he was lost. My only hope was that Miss Birmingham might have boarded an air-cab, and Jacques had followed her. Most of the drivers were Andys, and my probes got nothing. Then I scanned a human driver and picked up the quick recognition of a spacer, and the merest mentalised suggestion of the stench. I was familiar with Jacques flux-spiced body odour from the nexus, and my heart began a laboured pounding. His cab was moving up the take-off ramp, jets glowing. I jumped the queue and dived aboard the next cab in line, flashing the order to follow without saying a word. Take-off was immediate, pushing me into the padded seat. Jacques cab was speeding ahead, weaving through the ’stacks. His driver had Miss Birmingham’s cab in sight and was moving in. I ordered my driver to accelerate, leaned forward and watched the chase. I was desperate to find out why Jacques wanted to catch Birmingham. I had to know. I intended to be in there, probing, when they met.

As we raced over the city I was briefly aware of vibrant minds going out as suicides made it and left. The distance between us was too great to allow me to ride them, and for that I was thankful. The two occasions I had rode departing minds to the white light had been enough for me to appreciate the experience; any more and I faced the danger of becoming hooked. I knew a few tele-navs who couldn’t get enough of death, and worked the terminal wards during furlough. To these people everyday life, mundane reality, was an anti-climax. One guy I’d schooled with had jumped to his death from the cargo hatch of a landing lightship, just to have the final thrill. It was one way out, but not an exit I cared to contemplate. The white light was there at the end of it all like a promise, but I planned to make the most of my life before then.

Jacques’ cab was gaining steadily on the one in front of it, and I prepared myself for the imminent confrontation – but I should have known. Without warning, a stasis grid came down on our lane and held us immobile. Overhead a freighter from Callisto trundled in, its passage churning a wake of turbulence which would have capsized our cab. Jacques’ cab had been halted too – but Miss Birmingham’s had slipped through. The stasis grid lifted and Jacques’ cab moved off, slowly now, the chase abandoned. I probed Jacques’ driver and read his new instructions: a dive in the Android quarter. I told my driver the same place and sat back, rehearsing the questions I’d ask when I finally caught up with Jacques.


I stood across the slideway from the White Ride and watched Jacques dodge peds and run down the stairs to the underground club. I followed. He’d already entered when I reached the door, and a tall Andy barred my way. When I tried to push past, a powerful arm stopped me. His transistorised thumb toyed with the option of clamping my carotid. His optics registered the connected-minds symbol tattooed on my cheek. “Tele-snoops and kids,” the Andy purred, “persona non grata. Fly.” His thumb became more familiar. I’d heard of malfunctioning Andys before. A slip of his cogs and I’d be Angeled. I flew.

I took a drink in a bar above the slideway. I’d wait until Jacques came out and pick him up then. As I drank I watched the entrance, and the one next to it. From time to time a gang of girls descended the stairs to the second entrance. They were gash – I could tell that from their clothes, or rather the lack of them. They were ugly, too. I found myself thinking that I was more attractive at twelve than any of them. And to think that men paid... I was jolted by a sudden fit of bourgeois jealousy. Jacques! The dirty slumming bastard!

I ran across the slideway and tagged on to three gash as they went down the stairs. At the bottom we passed through a door, under the gaze of a disinterested Andy. Once inside, the gash went one way and I ran the other – in the direction, I hoped, of the bar and Jacques. I strode down a dark corridor and came to a swing door, opened it and peered in. Through a haze of euphor-fumes I made out a crowd of morose drinkers. I painted a rouge nova over my tele-symbol, pushed through the door and played it cool. Jacques slouched alone in a private booth, staring into a crimson drink. I joined him, climbing aboard the opposite stool.

“Jullay, handsome,” I wisecracked brightly.

His reaction was tardy. He blinked twice, focussing on me. “Dhondy... What you doing here?”

“I might ask you the same thing,” I said. I was suddenly aware that I was the youngest person in the bar. My moccasins dangled inches above the floor.

He regarded me blankly. “How’d you get in?”

“I snuck,” I told him. “Aren’t you going to buy me a drink?”

I glanced around. All the drinkers wore guarded expressions, and their minds were guarded too, shielded. The only open minds in the place belonged to the girls I’d followed in, three points of warmth somewhere beyond the bar-room. I recalled the Andy-doorman’s injunction against telepaths. It was the first time I’d ever been in a crowd and deprived of my tele-sense. I was frightened. What had they to hide? I glanced timidly at Jacques, but my probe ricocheted.

His attitude towards me, as he languidly sipped his drink, was that of an adult plagued by a bothersome kid: ignore it and it might vamoose. Well, this was one kid who wasn’t going to be got rid of that easy.

“Why did you follow Birmingham?” I asked, ordering my own short from the press-select panel on the table.

He sighed. “Let’s just say we have some unfinished business to clear up.” He was watching the timer on the wall of the booth.

“What business?” I demanded. I reached across the table, but he pulled his hand away. He looked at me. In his old, wise eyes I saw the weight of weariness, as if he’d seen everything and everything was too much.

“Let me help you, Jacques,” I said. “I’m a telepath, remember? If you open up and let me in... We all have secrets we like to keep hidden–”

“Even you?” He was mocking. “Even little Dhondup?”

My gaze fell to my stubby fingers, spread on the table. “Of course even me. We all have things to hide, things that are better shared. Open up, Jacques. Let me see what’s in your head and I’ll show you what’s in mine. Then you’ll realise...”

“I’m old enough to be your father, Dhondy. You can’t help me.”

I hated him then, briefly. He was mocking me, trying to belittle the genuine affection I felt for him.

I tried something else. “How desperately do you want to find Miss Birmingham?” I asked.

He affected disinterest, but his unshaven cheek twitched.

“I know where she’ll be not long from now,” I went on.

“How do you know?”

I shrugged. “I arranged to meet her.”

Jacques was in a dilemma: he wanted to ask me where she would be, but at the same time he didn’t want to involve me.

The silence stretched. I considered asking him the question I’d dreaded all along. In a whisper I said, “Is it something to do with the drug, Jacques?”

“What drug?” He sipped his drink, casual – and I knew I’d scored a hit.

“You know what damned drug! DLa. Spice.”

“What the hell are you getting at?” he laughed. And his question seemed so genuine that for a second he almost had me conned. But only for a second. I was unable to probe him, but my talent enabled me to match facial expressions to the psychology behind them. I’d read many a lie when the expression appeared truthful, and I had come to recognise the face of dishonesty.

Jacques knew very well what I was getting at.

“You want the drug, Jacques,” I said in a small voice. “The new stuff discovered on Seven.”

He smiled to himself. “I heard a rumour that a new strain had been developed...”

I felt tears swell in my eyes. “You’re hooked on riding, aren’t you?” I could hardly bring myself to look at him. “You’re one of those Freaks who bum around outside hospitals and retiring homes...”

He reached across the table and took my cheek in the palm of his hand. He thumbed tears from my eyes. “Honest, Dhondy, I do none of those things.”

“Then why–?” I bit my lip, unable to go on. Then I managed, “Jacques, let me help you. We could find a hotel room and merge and I promise you that everything will be better by morning. If you’re hooked on the stuff, on the need to ride, I’ll show you...” I whispered what I’d show him: “Love... I know it might not compensate for the ecstasy of the white light, but it’s the only thing I have to offer.”

“You don’t understand, Dhondy. You’re still a kid–”

“Not in here I’m not.” I pointed to my shaven skull. “You can’t say what I am until you’ve experienced a merging. At least give it a try.”

He sighed. His hands were shaking and he looked wrecked, as if he needed another trip with a departing Angel, or something only I could give him.

He said, “This... merging. What exactly happens?” He forced himself to look away from me, as if afraid he might relent and accept my therapy.

“We merge, Jacques. Become one. We pool our strengths to overcome our weaknesses. It’s an accepted psychiatric practice now. If the telepath is strong enough to take the subject’s psychosis–”

He smiled. “Are you strong enough?”

“I wouldn’t make the offer if I didn’t think I was...”

Jacques hesitated. Then: “Very well,” he said.

I choked on a sob. “You will? You’ll try it?” I began to cry with relief. “Really honestly? Now?” I clutched his arm as if afraid he was about to leave.

“I’ll let you do whatever it is you do,” he said. “On one condition...”

I slumped in my seat and stared at him.

“Where did you arrange to meet Birmingham?” he asked.

“You bastard,” I said in a whisper.

“Dhondy... Look, I swear – once I’ve seen her I’ll come back to you.” He touched my hand. “Honest, kid. Believe me.”

I stared at my bitten finger-nails. I felt the weight of a great depression bearing down on me. What was there to lose? If I refused to tell him, he would hardly agree to our merging. If I told him... then maybe there was a chance that he’d keep his word, allow me to help.

“She’ll be back at the ship in–” I looked at me watch, “in about fifteen minutes. She wanted to take me to New York.”

“Will she have the carricase with her?”

“Jacques...” I began to cry again.

“Will she?” He shook me, and my head jogged a grudging assent. He stepped from the booth and pushed his way through the crowd. I watched him go, unable to do anything to stop him, a hard knot of anguish in my chest.

The timer on the wall pulsed red, and an impersonal Android voice said, “Table eleven, your room is ready. Table eleven...” I bit back another fit of sobbing and slipped from the stool, stumbled to the bar and ordered a drink. I found a niche by a speaker blaring an assault of electro-horn and pipes. The euphor-fumes got to me and I giggled stupidly.

I was wondering what to do next when I felt a sudden warmth in my head. One of the gash had moved closer to me, and in lieu of any other open mind in the vicinity my tele-sense seized on it. Idly, to take my mind off myself, I probed. The woman entered a room behind the bar and stood facing a tall man. I probed the guy, too, but his mind was shielded. The woman undressed and walked across the room. She unzipped her customer’s suit, then dropped to her knees and took him in her mouth.

She died without fully understanding why. She saw the silver glint of the knife and felt it grate through her ribcage and into her lungs. Unable to scream, she choked – and I felt a dull pain within my chest in psychosomatic sympathy. She was still alive when the guy laid her on the bed and injected himself with Spice; he tensed as the drug took him. Then he entered the dying woman and thrust repeatedly, brutally. I collapsed against the wall, the woman’s dwindling consciousness bequeathing me the vicarious terror of rape. She died, then, and I was rising with her, taken in a breathless rush beyond the confines of my physical form and into a wondrous realm transcending all Earthly reality. I was one with the ‘dead’ gash and riding her towards eternity... There was another consciousness there, too. Hard and cruel and masculine – a mind closed but nevertheless evident to me as the killer’s rapture overcame the mechanics of his shield.

We flew into the white light


Then it was over.

The trip was through and I was squatting down against the wall, my legs sticky where I’d pissed myself in delight. Beyond the after-effects of the ecstasy, and the disappointment of withdrawal and comedown, I felt the first vague stirrings of dread.

I recalled the events of the last hour, the fact that Jacques had booked a room. Across the haze-filled bar, in the booth we had occupied, the red light flashed on and off.

I opened my mouth, but the scream was drowned by electro-horn. I thought of Jacques and Hallelujah Birmingham and I screamed again. I ran in blind panic from the White Ride, past the Andy-doorman and up the stairs.

There was a cab-ramp a block along the slideway. I jumped aboard the moving strip and ran, passing tired night-shifters. It was the beginning of a new day, and the sun was rising behind the citystacks. As I ran, it began to rain; a fine drizzle that soaked me in seconds.

I jumped from the slideway and ran to the ramp, barging through the crowd on the platform. Ignoring protests, I reached the first cab. I was almost aboard when some jerk grabbed the hood of my silversuit and yanked me back. I spun, half strangled, lashed out and missed. I slipped and fell to the ground, gashing my knee. The crowd affected not to notice. I staggered to my feet and charged them again. I made it this time and ducked aboard the flier, my anger replaced by a brief sense of achievement.

“Spaceport. Crew check-in.” I turned towards the side-screen, hiding my tears.

We climbed and banked. The driver accelerated and the ’stacks flickered by in a dizzying rush. I sent out a probe, but the port was too far away for me to reach without the amplification of my ferroniere. All I got was the chaos of a thousand intervening minds. This morning, the collective consciousness of mankind seemed a shade darker.

We slipped into the port stasis grid and I was sprinting again, into the zigg and through the departure lounge. I was brought up short by the check-in. The Andy official took my card and observed my distress, allowing me through only after scrupulously checking my credentials.

At the tube-booths I took the chute to the hangar where the ship was racked. As I was flushed through the cute, I shut my eyes and probed. Distinct among the minds of mechanics and servicing engineers, I found Miss Birmingham’s familiar mental warmth. She was running through the ship, her metabolism adrenalised with terror.

And Jacques was chasing her.

Then I read him. He’d removed his mind-shield to experience the full force of the new drug and his angst came at me like a bad attack of migraine. Over all else – over his fear and self-loathing – I experienced his ferocious craving, his need of ecstasy after so long in space.

I cried that I was coming, that I could help. In his mania to get at Birmingham he was hardly aware of my mental presence. The only image of myself that I managed to dredge from his mind was that of someone who mattered very little, a minor annoyance he could ignore.

The chute ejected me and I stumbled along the corridor, off balance. I fell again and my knee blazed in pain. I limped to the up-chute and threw myself in, crying at the delay as I was carried to the highest shelf. One part of me repeated over and over that I was not to blame, but another voice reminded me that if only I’d realised Jacques’ motives while we were in the club...

This time I landed square and sprinted limping along the catwalk. A variety of lightships were racked in individual berths. Our cruiser was the sixth along. I palmed the entry-sensor and rode the lift. I probed again, dreading what I might find.

I was rocked by a chaotic discord of two minds so close that they came to me as one – a schizophrenic blast of terror and desire. They were in the lounge, near the dome, and Jacques had Birmingham in the sights of his laser.

My sudden appearance on the disc startled him. He looked around, crazed with need and attempting to judge the threat I represented. I ran at him, was almost on him when he turned and fired. For one frozen second I was incredulous at the fact of my death. The bolt threw me off my feet and into the dome. I lay, immobilised but still alive, sick with the realisation that Jacques had had no idea whether the laser had been on stun, or kill. I tried to move, but the shot had paralysed me, and all I could do was stare into the lounge with mounting horror.

Jacques caught Birmingham and thrust her to the floor, then he opened her carricase and fumbled a cartridge. He loaded it into a hypo-ject gun and banged it into his arm. His eyes closed and his body swayed as the new drug took him. He stood over to Birmingham and adjusted his laser to kill. He took aim and fired, opening a bloody hole in her chest. Then he dropped to the floor and embraced her in a grotesque parody of affection.

I wanted nothing to do with the euphoria that rushed me then. I tried to withdraw my probe, close myself off, but the combined power of two open minds, one of them resonant with the new drug and the other already transcending, overcame my resistance and carried me away.

I soared, freed from paralysis and admitted into a realm of tranquillity and sublime peace. The joy of this trip was accentuated beyond anything I had ever experienced before. I was one with Birmingham and Jacques, and through him the new drug gave me a heightened perception of Afterlife. My last thought was that soon I would be experiencing the revelation of what lay beyond the white light.

Then the brightness came from everywhere, surrounding us and rushing in for the ultimate act of consummation. I was charged with wonder, with anticipation of what incredible sensation awaited us.

The white light exploded.


An instant blackness replaced the light – a cold, inimical void redolent of vague despair, just as the realm before it suggested hope. I found myself in a hostile element, like a non-swimmer thrown into the sea, and my mind reached frantically for some point of contact. I located Jacques, and beyond him, rushing away from us, bright shards and slivers of light, like the fragments of a smashed mirror reflecting the shattered image of something that was once complete. I probed towards one, and found a memory, the dwindling recollection of an African childhood; then another, Hallelujah Birmingham’s first lover; then later scenes from adult life, along with love and joy and pain and regret... Then the images became weak, tenuous, and the cold reality of nothingness annihilated their former warmth.

The darkness faded then, became ever more remote like the haunting memory of a nightmare, and I found myself back in the lounge. Hallelujah Birmingham lay in the corner. Some residual effect of the drug in Jacques allowed me to probe deeper into her mind than my normal tele-ability would permit. I saw the last fragments of her subconscious, her last thoughts and memories, close down and die.

Before the full horror of the revelation came to me, Jacques screamed. He crawled away from the body and vomited, then collapsed. Tentatively, I probed him, found his guilt and despair. I opened up and thought love at him. I found I could move and, with pain and difficulty, dragged myself across the floor. I pulled Jacques to me and held him like a child, moving into him and letting him move into me. We merged.

How can you...? he thought.

Love you? I asked. It’s the only way, Jacques. I know you like I know myself. The only way I can help you is to love you, and you need my help. We have no secrets from each other, now.

But you’re not... his thoughts exclaimed.


Of course I wasn’t Tibetan, or even Buddhist, really. I was the bastard of some lousy Chinese-American gash who dumped me at birth on a slideway for a patrolling cop-flier to pick up. At four I was diagnosed a latent telepath, and I had the cut. At six I sprung myself from state crèche; I couldn’t take the regimented routine imposed on me, so I quit. A girl has to look after herself in the big bad world, and what I needed most back then was an identity. I met a Buddhist nun on a sub-orbital bound for Leh, and we hit it off. I dug her belief system and took it as my own, along with the exotic notion of Tibetan nationality, and the tag. It was a hard life, but then whose isn’t? I had little love when I was young, and even less when I was on the run. For a year I bummed from job to job, living on my wits between times. Then suddenly things began to go right. At eight I was selected for tele-nav training school, and two years later I teamed up with a weak wreck of a bastard called Jacques Latrouche, barely twenty-five and in need of help... After all the shit, I got lucky.

Irony is, I’d always kidded myself that I must have been real bad in a previous incarnation, and the misfortune had carried over into this life.

So much for the Karma Kid.

I was just plain me, now.

I held him and he screamed again, screamed with grief for all the women he’d consigned to oblivion, horror at the new order of reality revealed by the drug.

We knew the truth. There was nothing beyond the white light.

The white light was brain death.

Jacques reached out as he descended into a mental hell, and I held him. Of course, there was no guarantee that he’d ever get back.

But I’d be with him all the way.

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