If words are your symbols of reality, you live in a dream world.
- Wreave Saying
McKie heard the PanSpechi's shouted command as the jumpdoor's vortal tube leaped into existence within the Beachball. The opening dominated the room, filled the purple gloom with bright light. The light came from behind two figures revealed by the opening: a Palenki and the PanSpechi, Cheo.
The vortal tube began swelling to dangerous dimensions within the confined room. Wild energies around its rim hurled enforcer guardians aside. Before they could recover, the Palenki arm thrust into the room, lashed out with its whip.
McKie gasped at the shower of green and golden sparks around the Caleban. Golden! Again the whip struck. More sparks glittered, fell, shimmered into nothingness.
"Hold!" McKie shouted as the enforcers recovered and moved to attack. He wanted no more casualties from a closing jumpdoor. The enforcers hesitated.
Once more the Palenki lashed out with its whip.
Sparks glowed, fell.
"Fanny Mae!" McKie called.
"I reply," the Caleban said. McKie felt the abrupt rise in temperature, but the emotion with the words was calm and soothing . . . and powerful.
The enforcers jittered, their attention darting from McKie to the area where the Palenki arm continued its vicious play with the whip. Each stroke sent a shower of golden sparks into the room.
"Tell me of your substance, Fanny Mae," McKie said.
"My substance grows," the Caleban said. "You bring me energy and goodness. I return love for love and love for hate. You give me strength for this, McKie."
"Tell me of discontinuity," McKie said.
"Discontinuity withdraws!" There was definite elation in the Caleban's words. "I do not see node of connectives for discontinuity! My companions shall return in love."
McKie inhaled a deep breath. It was working. But each new flow of Caleban words brought its blast from the furnace. That, too, spoke of success. He mopped his forehead.
The whip continued to rise and fall.
"Give up, Cheo!" McKie called. "You've lost!" He peered up through the jumpdoor. "We're feeding her faster than you can rob her of substance."
Cheo barked an order to the Palenki. Arm and whip withdrew.
"Fanny Mae!" the PanSpechi called.
There was no answer, but McKie sensed a wave of pity.
Does she pity Cheo? McKie wondered.
"I command you to answer me, Caleban!" Cheo roared. "Your control orders you to obey!"
"I obey holder of contract only," the Caleban said. "You share no connectives with holder of contract."
"She ordered you to obey me!"
McKie held his breath, watching, waiting for his moment to act. It must be done with precision. The Caleban had been lucidly clear about that - for once. There could be little doubt of the communication. "Abnethe gathers lines of her world into herself." That was what Fanny Mae had said, and the meaning seemed clear. When Fanny Mae summoned Abnethe . . . a sacrifice must be made. Abnethe had to die, and her world would die with her.
"Your contract!" Cheo insisted.
"Contract declines of intensity," the Caleban said. "On this new track you must address me as Thyone. Name of love I receive from McKie: Thyone."
"McKie, what have you done?" Cheo demanded. He poised his fingers over the S'eye controls. "Why doesn't she respond to the whipping?"
"She never really did respond to the whippings," McKie said. "She responded to the violence and hate that went with them. The whip served only as a peculiar kind of focusing instrument. It put all the violence and hate into a single vulnerable . . ."
". . . node," the Caleban said. "Vulnerable node."
"And that robbed her of energy." McKie said. "She manufactures emotion with her energy, you know. That requires a lot of eating. She's almost pure emotion, pure creation, and that's how the universe goes, Cheo."
Where was Abnethe? McKie wondered.
Cheo motioned to the Palenki, hesitated as McKie said, "It's no use, Cheo. We're feeding her faster than you can drain her."
"Feeding her?" Cheo bent his scarred head forward to peer at McKie.
"We've opened a giant jumpdoor in space," McKie said. "It's gathering free hydrogen and feeding it directly into Thyone."
"What is this . . . Thyone?" Cheo demanded.
"The star that is a Caleban," McKie said.
"What are you talking about?"
"Haven't you guessed?" McKie asked. He gave a subtle hand signal to the enforcers. Abnethe still hadn't shown up. Perhaps Cheo had confined her someplace. That changed things to the contingency plan. They were going to have to try getting a sentient through the jumpdoor.
The enforcers, responding to his signal, began moving closer to the opening. Each held a raygen ready.
"Guessed what?" Cheo asked.
I have to keep him distracted, McKie thought.
"Calebans manifest themselves in our universe several ways," he said. "They're stars, suns - which may really be feeding orifices. They've created these Beachballs - which are probably intended as much to protect us as they are to house the speaking manifestation. Even with the Beachball's damping force, they can't hold back all the radiant energy of their speech. That's why it gets so hot in here."
McKie glanced at his ring of enforcers. They were moving closer and closer to the jumpdoor. Thank all the gods of space that Cheo had made the opening so large!
"Stars?" Cheo asked.
"This particular Caleban has been identified," McKie said. "She's Thyone in the Pleiades."
"But . . . the S'eye effect . . ."
"Star-eyes," McKie said. "At least, that's how I interpret it. I'm probably only partly right, but Thyone here admits she and her kind suspected the truth during their first attempts at communication."
Cheo moved his head slowly from side to side. "The jumpdoors . . ."
"Star-powered," McKie said. "We've known from the first they required stellar energies to breach space that way. The Taprisiots gave us a clue when they spoke of embedments and crossing Caleban connectives to . . ."
"You talk nonsense," Cheo growled.
"Undoubtedly," McKie agreed. "But it's a nonsense that moves reality in our universe."
"You think you distract me while your companions prepare to attack," Cheo said. "I will now show you another reality in your universe!" He twisted the jumpdoor controls.
"Thyone!" McKie shouted.
The jumpdoor's opening began moving toward McKie.
"I reply to McKie," the Caleban said.
"Stop Cheo," McKie said. "Confine him."
"Cheo confines himself," the Caleban said. "Cheo discontinues connectives."
The jumpdoor continued moving toward McKie, but he saw that Cheo appeared to be having trouble with the controls. McKie moved aside as the opening passed through the space where he had been.
"Stop him!" McKie called.
"Cheo stops himself," the Caleban said.
McKie sensed a definite wave of compassion with the words.
The jumpdoor opening turned on its axis, advanced once more on McKie. It moved a bit faster this time.
McKie dodged aside, scattering enforcers. Why weren't the damned fools trying to get through the opening? Afraid of being cut up? He steeled himself to dive through the opening on the next pass. Cheo had been conditioned to the thought of fear now. He wouldn't expect attack from someone who feared him. McKie swallowed in a dry throat. He knew what would happen to him. The molasses delay in the vortal tube would give Cheo just enough time. McKie would lose both legs - at the very least. He'd get through with a raygen, though, and Cheo would die. Given any luck, Abnethe could be found - and she'd die, too.
Again the jumpdoor plunged toward McKie.
He leaped, collided with an enforcer who had chosen the same instant to attack. They sprawled on hands and knees as the vortal tube slipped over them.
McKie saw Cheo's gloating face, the hand jerking at the controls. He saw a control arm snap over, heard a distant crackling as the jumpdoor ceased to exist.
McKie felt himself considerably surprised to be still on hands and knees in the purple gloom of the Beachball's interior. He held his position, allowed his memory to replay that last glimpse of Cheo. It had been a ghostly vision, a smoky substance visible through the PanSpechi's body - and the visible substance had been that of the Beachball's interior.
"Discontinuity dissolves contract," the Caleban said.
McKie climbed slowly to his feet. "What's that mean, Thyone?"
"Statement of fact with meaning intensity-truth only for Cheo and companions," the Caleban said. "Self cannot give meaning to McKie for substance of another."
"That universe of Abnethe's was her own creation," he murmured. "A figment of her imagination."
"Explain figment," the Caleban said.
Cheo experienced the instant of Abnethe's death as a gradual dissolution of substance around and within him. Walls, floor, S'eye controls, ceiling, world - everything faded into nonbeing. He felt all the haste of his existence swollen into one sterile instant. And he found himself for a transitory moment sharing with the shadows of the nearby Palenki and other more distant islands of movement a place of existence which the mystics of his own species had never contemplated. It was, however, a place which an ancient Hindu or a Buddhist might have recognized - a place of Maya, illusion, a formless void possessed of no qualities.
The moment passed abruptly, and Cheo ceased to exist. Or it could be said that he discontinued in becoming one with the void-illusion. One cannot, after all, breathe an illusion or a void.