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Step IV
by Rosel George Brown
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Transcriber's Note:

This etext was produced from Amazing Stories June 1960. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.



Steps 1, 2 and 3 went according to plan. Then she moved on to....

STEP IV

By ROSEL GEORGE BROWN

ILLUSTRATOR VARGA

* * * * *



The first time Juba saw him, she couldn't help recalling the description of Ariovistus in Julius Caesar: Hominem esse barbarum, iracundum, temerarium.

She unpinned the delicate laesa from her hair, for Terran spacemen are educated, and if they have a choice, or seem to have, prefer seduction to rape.

Step. I. A soft answer turneth away wrath, leaving time for making plans.

He caught the flower, pleased with himself, Juba saw, for not fumbling, pleased with his manhood, pleased with his morality in deciding not to rape her.

Rule a—A man pleased with himself is off guard.

* * * * *

He was big, even for a Man, and all hair, and in his heavy arms the veins were knotted and very blue. He had taken off his shirt, letting the air blow shamelessly over him.

It was true he was wonderful to see. And Juba knew that such is the nature of our violences, if she had been born into such a body, she too, would be a thing of wars and cruelty, a burner of cities, a carrier of death and desolation.

His face softened, as though the hand of Juno had passed over it. Softly he gazed at the flower, softly at Juba.

Rule b—This is the only time they are tractable.

"Vene mecum," she bade him, retreating into the glade—what was left of it after his ship burned a scar into it. She ran lightly, so as to give the impression that if he turned, only so far as to pick up the weapon on the ground by his shirt, she would disappear.

"I follow," he said in her own language, and she stopped, surprise tangling her like a net. For she had been taught that Men speak only New-language in our time, all soft tongues having been scorned to death.

She should not have stopped. He looked back toward his gun. "Wait a moment," he said. His "a"'s were flat and harsh, his words awkwardly sequenced.

"Come with me," she said, and ran off again. She had been caught off guard.

Would he follow her? "Wait!" he cried, hesitated, and came after her again. "I want to get my gun." He reached for Juba's hand.

She shrank back from him. "Mulier enim sum." Would he get the force of the particle? What could he fear from a mere woman?

When he had followed her far enough, when he had gone as far as he would, for fear of losing his way from his ship, she let him take her hand.

"Terran sum," he said. And then, with meaning, "Homino sum."

"Then you are, naturally, hungry," Juba said. "You have no need to come armed. Let me take you to my home. There are only my sisters and I and the mother."

"Yes," he said, and took her other hand.

She blushed, because he was strangely attractive, and because the thought came to her that his ways were gentle, and that if he spoke a soft tongue, perhaps he was not like other Men.

Rule c—They are all alike.

"Come," Juba said, turning, "We are not far from the cottages."

* * * * *

She watched, during the meal, to see how he impressed the sisters and the mother. The little sisters—all bouncy blond curls and silly with laughter—their reaction to everything was excitement. And the mother—how could she seem so different from her daughters when they were so completely of her? They had no genes but her genes. And yet, there she sat, so dignified, offering a generous hospitality, but so cold Juba could feel it at the other end of the table. So cold—but the Man would not know, could not read the thin line of her taut lips and the faint lift at the edges of her eyes.

Juba brought him back to the ship that night, knowing he would not leave the planet.

"Mother," Juba said, kneeling before the mother and clasping her knees in supplication. "Mother ... isn't he ... different?"

"Juba," the mother said, "there is blood on his hands. He has killed. Can't you see it in his eyes?"

"Yes. He has a gun and he has used it. But mother—there is a gentleness in him. Could he not change? Perhaps I, myself...."

"Beware," the mother said sternly, "that you do not fall into your own traps."

"But you have never really known a man, have you? I mean, except for servants?"

"I have also," she said, "never had an intimate conversation with a lion, nor shared my noonday thoughts with a spider."

"But lions and spiders can't talk. That's the difference. They have no understanding."

"Neither have men. They are like your baby sister, Diana, who is reasonable until it no longer suits her, and then the only difference between her and an animal is that she has more cunning."

"Yes," Juba said resignedly, getting to her feet. "If thus it is Written. Thank you, Mother. You are a wellspring of knowledge."

"Juba," Mother said with a smile, pulling the girl's cloak, for she liked to please them, "would you like him for a pet? Or your personal servant?"

"No," she said, and she could feel the breath sharp in her lungs. "I would rather.... He would make a good spectacle in the gladiatorial contests. He would look well with a sword through his heart."

She would not picture him a corpse. She put the picture from her mind. But even less would she picture him unmanned.

He would rather die strong than live weak. And Juba—why should she have this pride for him? For she felt pride, pangs as real as the pangs of childbirth. There are different kinds of pride, but the worst kind of pride is pride in strength, pride in power. And she knew that was what she felt. She was sinning with full knowledge and she could not put her sin from her.

Juba ran straight to the altar of Juno, and made libation with her own tears. "Mother Juno," she prayed, "take from me my pride. For pride is the wellspring whence flow all sins."

But even as she prayed, her reason pricked at her. For she was taught from childhood to be reasonable above all things. And, having spoken with this Man, having found him courteous and educated, she could not believe he was beyond redemption simply because he was a Man. It was true that in many ways he was strange and different. But were they not more alike than different?

And as for his violences—were they much better, with their gladiatorial combats? Supposed to remind them, of course, of the bloodshed they had abhorred and renounced. But who did not secretly enjoy it? And whose thumbs ever went up when the Moment came? And this making of pets and servants out of Men—what was that but the worst pride of all? Glorying that a few incisions in the brain and elsewhere gave them the power to make forever absurd what came to them with the seeds at least of sublimity.

Juba stood up. Who was she to decide what is right and what is wrong?

She faced the world and its ways were too dark for her, so she faced away.

* * * * *

There was a sound in the brush near her, and she wished the stars would wink out, for the sound had the rhythm of her Mother's approach, and Juba wanted to hide her face from her mother.

The mother frowned at Juba, a little wearily. "You have decided to forsake the world and become a Watcher of the Holy Flame. Am I not right?"

"You are right, mother."

"You think that way you avoid decision, is that not right?"

"That is right," Juba answered.

She motioned the girl to the edge of the raised, round stone and sat. "It is impossible to avoid decision. The decision is already made. What you will not do, someone else will do, and all you will have accomplished is your own failure."

"It is true," Juba said. "But why must this be done, Mother? This is a silly ceremony, a thing for children, this symbolic trial. Can we not just say, 'Now Juba is a woman,' without having to humiliate this poor Man, who after all doesn't...."

"Look into your heart, Juba," the mother interrupted. "Are your feelings silly? Is this the play of children?"

"No," she admitted. For never before had she been thus tormented within herself.

"You think that this Man is different, do you not? Or perhaps that all men are not so savage of soul as you have been taught. Well, I tell you that a Man's nature is built into his very chromosomes, and you should know that."

"I know, mother." For Juba was educated.

"There was a reason once, why men should be as they are. Nature is not gentle and if nature is left to herself, the timid do not survive. But if bloodlust was once a virtue, it is no longer a virtue, and if men will end up killing each other off, let us not also be killed."

"No," Juba said. For who would mind the hearths?

"All that," the mother said, rising and dusting off her robe, "is theory, and ideas touch not the heart. Let me but remind you that the choice is yours, and when the choice is made I shall not yea or nay you, but think on this—a woman, too, must have her quiet strength, and you spring of a race of queens. How shall the people look to the Tanaids for strength in times of doubt and trouble, if a Tanaid cannot meet the Trial? The choice is yours. But think on who you are."

* * * * *

The mother slipped away and left Juba alone in the quiet precinct of Juno, watching how the little fire caught at the silver backs of turned leaves when the wind blew.

Yes, Juba knew who she was, though they had never made it an important thing to be a ruler. But ruler or not, she loved her land and her home and her people, and even this ringed space of quiet where the spirit of Juno burned safely. Life somehow had chosen for her to be born and had made room for her in this particular place. Now she must choose it, freely. Otherwise she would never have in her hands the threads of her own life, and there would be no life for her. Only the complete loss of self that comes to the Watchers of the Holy Flame. And that is a holy thing, and an honor to one's house, if it is chosen from the heart. But if it is chosen from fear of crossing the passageways of life—then it is no honor but a shame.

And Juba knew she could not bear such a shame, either for her house or within the depths of her soul.

"Mother Juno," she prayed, "make clear the vision of my soul, and let me not, in my vanity, think I find good what the goddesses see to be evil."

So she rose with a strong and grateful heart, as though she had already faced her trial and had been equal to it.

The rest of the night she slept warmly, so unaware are we of the forces within us.

* * * * *

The first fingers of the sun pulled Juba from her cot, as they pull the dew from the green things of the earth, and she pinned in her hair the first Laesa she saw that the sun's fingers had forced.

The Man was standing beside his space ship again. It was a small ship—indeed, from the angle of Juba's approach, and from the glancings of the sun, it looked smaller than the Man.

Juba's decision held firm within her, for she saw there was no humility in him. He stood there laughing at the dawn, as though he were a very god, and were allowing the earth and sky to draw off their shadows for him, instead of standing in awe and full gratitude for the gift of life, and feeling, as one should, the smallness of a person and the weakness of a person's power, compared with the mighty forces that roll earth and sky into another day.

It is in this way, Juba thought, that men seem strong, because they have no knowledge of their own weaknesses. But it is only a seeming strength, since it stems from ignorance, and the flower of it falls early from the bush.

Juba did not, however, say all this.

Rule d—A man's ego is his most precious possession.

"You are very strong," Juba said, her eyes downcast, for he was bare again to the waist, and it had come to her that she would like to string her fingers through the hair on his chest.

"Runs in the family," he said carelessly. "But come, I had dinner with you yesterday. Let's have breakfast in my ship today."

"I...." What was she afraid of? If he'd meant to do her any violence, he'd have done it already. And this would provide Juba's opportunity—"Yes," she said. "I would be delighted."

* * * * *

There had to be some talk, and perhaps something else, before she could make her request of him. They had to be friends of some sort before he was at all likely to agree.

It is difficult to make conversation with a man.

Finally Juba gave up trying to think of something interesting to say and asked, "What is your way of life, that you should be going around by yourself in a space ship?"

"My way of life?" He laughed. "It becomes a way of life, doesn't it? Whatever we do ends up enveloping us, doesn't it?"

For a man he was thoughtful.

"I'm a scout," he said. "I don't know that I chose it as a way of life. I was born into the Solar Federation and I was born male and I grew up healthy and stable and as patriotic as any reasonable person can be expected to be. When war came I was drafted. I volunteered for scouting because the rest of it is dull. War is dull. It is unimaginably dull."

"Then why," Juba asked, for she was amazed at this, "do you fight wars?"

Again he laughed. Is there anything these men don't laugh at? "That's the riddle of the sphinx."

That is not the riddle of the sphinx, but Juba did not correct him.

"When you're attacked," he went on, "you fight back."

"It could not possibly," Juba said, "be as simple as you make it sound."

"Of course, it isn't," he said, and he took two square sheets that looked like papyrus, and put them each in a bowl. "There is the question of what you did, or did not do, that you should be attacked."

"And what did you do, or not do, that you should be attacked?"

He was pouring a bluish-looking milk over the papyrus thing. His hands were too large for everything he handled, and Juba wondered, if his hand were on her wrist, if he could crush it. Or, being able to crush it, if he would take care not to.

"Oh—trade agreements, immigration agreements, how many space ships can go where—who can say what either side did when or where to begin it all? Nobody is making it happen. Sometimes, perhaps. But not as far as this war is concerned. All I can say now is—O.K., for whatever reason I'm in a war. At this point, what can I do but kill or be killed?"

Juba mashed the papyrus into the milk with her spoon, as the man was doing. She took a bite. It tasted just like it looked.

"You could," Juba said, "refuse to have anything to do with it at all. You could simply go away and...." She stood up and the spoon clattered to the floor and she could feel the bowl of milk spill cold and sticky along her thigh. Because that's just what you can't do. You can't pull the thread of your life out of the general weaving.

* * * * *

She looked at her adversary, and he was as close to her as the darkness is to the evening.

"No," he said. "Life flows. A person's life or a civilization's life or all humanity's life. If it cannot flow forward it flows backward. Isn't that true? Isn't it?"

But she turned away from him, to recover herself a little. For she felt that he was right and her country and her foremothers were wrong and she was wrong and yet—she had made her choice last night, at the altar of Juno, and though she felt herself possessed by new understanding, she had to go on in spite of it, as though she fought wounded or blinded.

"You are perhaps right," Juba said. "I am only a woman and I do not know. But still, can you not take a few days from your war? Must you think always on that and never on anything else?"

He ate another of the paper things, not melting it first, and drank from the container.

"Look, Juba," he said, "I've been thinking on other things ever since I got here, but first I want to...."

"First," Juba interrupted, for here was her moment, "I ask one thing of you. Only that you radio incorrect coordinates back to your base. Say you have moved on, that this is a barren world."

"Let me talk to you first," he said. "I want to...."

"Please," Juba begged, moving toward him. "It is no loss to you. Only a small favor, to protect our planet from outsiders, in return for ... for whatever pleasures I can provide for you, or my sisters, if I do not please you."

"All right," he said, turning to his communication equipment. "If that's the only way you're going to let me speak to you."

"Your tape," Juba said. "Turn on your tape."

"Tape!"

"I do not speak New-language. I will have to have it translated."

* * * * *

The man looked at Juba hard and worked at the corner of his mouth with his tongue.

"All right," he said, flipping a switch. He turned to his equipment and spoke his strange language into it. It was rough and she liked it.

"Now," he began.

"Give me the tape," Juba interrupted.

He jostled a flat box out of the wall, held the tape up to the light and snapped off a small portion and handed it to Juba.

"Come outside," she said, taking his hand. "My world is more beautiful than your space ship."

"Can't deny that," he said, watching the branches of the Untouchable Bush draw away as they walked through it.

"Now," he said, when he was stretched out on the undulant moss. He felt at the patch of moss sprouting under the warmth of his palm, and watched while an exploratory tendril curled around his little finger. "Now—do you know what it is I want of you?"

"I have," Juba said, "some idea." She hadn't known they talked about it. She thought they just did it.

"Well, you're wrong."

"Oh," she said, and stood up and walked over to the brook so he would not see her face. For she wondered wherein she was lacking and she was embarrassed. "Then," she asked, "what do you want of me?"

"There is, as I said, a war on. I am, as I said, a scout. I'm looking for a communications base halfway between a certain strategic enemy outpost and a certain strategic allied outpost."

"Why?"

"Why? I don't know why. Does the grain of sand know where the beach ends? And if I did know, what would it matter?"

"But why this planet? There are other systems. Even other planets in this system." The moss curled under her feet and pricked at her. She was not doing this right. What did she care about his war? But she did not know what to do. She had been prepared for Seduction, Step II, and had even thought up a few things to say, though conversation is not included in the manual, because there is usually a language barrier. It was his speaking the language that made the difference.

"This is the only immediately habitable planet. You don't realize how expensive and cumbersome and logistically difficult it is to set up the simplest station on an abnormal planet. Tons of equipment are needed just to compensate for a few degrees too much temperature, or a few degrees too little, or excessive natural radiation, or a slight off balance of atmosphere. Or even if a planet is apparently habitable, there's no way of being absolutely sure until there have been people actually living on it for a while. There isn't time for all this. Can't you just believe me?"

"I believe you," Juba said, "and the answer is no. It is not my decision to make. I cannot decide for my people. And if I could, the answer would still be no. That is exactly why we cut ourselves off from the rest of civilization. To stay out of your wars, to carry on civilization when you have laid it waste. That is why we are a planet of parthenogenetic women."

"Is it?" he asked. "Was it to carry on the torch for civilization or to flee from it? Life flows, Juba. If it doesn't flow forward, it flows backward. Which way does your world go?"

Which way? The little stream scrambled over its bright rocks, flashing the sunlight like teeth laughing.

Which way? The servants, the pets, the gladiatorial contests. The old goddesses. Were we becoming weary with time? Juba wondered. What sense did it make? What future did it mold?

* * * * *

The Man got up and came to put his arms around Juba, crossing his arms over her chest and putting his hands on her shoulders. He leaned down until she could feel his breath on the back of her neck.

Then it was that Juba could feel from his strength that everything he said must be right, because he said it, and that he was the name for all those things inside her which had no name.

"I cannot bring you in for the Ceremonies," Juba said. "Whatever you are and whatever I am—these futures must lie with the goddesses. But sacrifice you I cannot." She turned in his arms. "Go," she said. "And quickly."

He kissed her. "I will not go," he said, and she wanted very much for him to stay, but not for the Ceremonies.

"I was to draw you into the gladiatorial contests," she said, "with rich promises. But I cannot. For those who die it is bad. But for those who live it is worse."

"Well, now you have told me and I will not be drawn," he said with that grin. "Who said women are not barbarous? It is up to you," he went on, "to free your world from its deadly isolation."

He kissed her by the vein in her neck, the heavy one, where the blood beats through. And there flashed through her head the instructions for Seduction, Step II, and she wondered that other women had been able to remember printed pages when this happened.

"You must go," Juba said, holding him so that he would not. "What do you want me to do?"

* * * * *

He lost his fingers in her hair, "I like blondes," he said. "And I like a slender waist." There was a tension in the muscles of his lower lip and his eyes seemed to lengthen, and by this Juba knew what he felt at that moment.

But he said, "I want you to switch off your planetary directional diverter. Even if you had let me radio in the coordinates I had they would have been wrong, wouldn't they?"

"Yes," Juba said. "But the directional diverter diverts only in certain patterns, so that it might be possible to figure out...."

"I know. Maybe and maybe not. I want you to turn it off long enough for me to get up beyond your whole system and have my instruments take a fix on your orbit. Then we can planet in blind, if necessary, to set up our station."

"But as soon as you take off," Juba said, wondering if she would really do such a thing or if she would suddenly wake as from a dream and find her wits again, "they'll be on me with their questions. And what could I say to them?"

"You won't have to say anything to them," the Man said. "You'll be on the ship with me."

"With you!" The thought went all through Juba, as ice water does sometimes, and bubbled up into her ears. "With you." When she looked at him she really couldn't see what he looked like any more. Only a sort of shine. "You mean you'll take me away with you?"

"Do you think I could leave you?" he asked, all shiny. "Smash the thing," he said. "They'll repair it, but by that time it'll be too late."

She sat down on the moss, and he was over her, his face urgent, as for Step III. But he said, "Go ahead. Go now. And hurry."

She got up hastily, planning in her mind how she would arrange her face, so as to appear calm if anyone should see her and what excuses she would make if there were anyone about the Machine House. They had no guards and kept no watches, for why should they?

* * * * *

It was at the market place, near the fish stalls, that she met her mother.

The mother tugged at Juba's robe as she went by. "It is not easy for you, is it?" she asked, low, so that no one could hear.

"No," the girl said. "It is not easy." Was it not written all over her? Was it not on her breath and shaken out of her hair?

The mother looked closely at Juba and felt at her forehead. "Perhaps it is forcing you too soon," she said with a hesitant frown which for a moment made her look like someone else. "It is not too late, Juba, to get someone else. Even now...."

"It is too late," Juba said, and pulled away, afraid to talk more. But although the mother's face, Juba knew, was set, and her mind winding unhappily through surmises, she would not follow the girl, out of pride.

Pride.

* * * * *

The machine was alone. Juba cut it off and pulled the handle of the switch out. She then opened up the face plate and jerked out all the wires in sight. She reached in and broke off all the fine points of the compass settings and pulled out everything loose she could reach.

Then she walked back quickly through the market place, so as not to seem to be skulking.

"Juba ..." the mother said, standing in her path.

"Later," Juba said. "It will soon be done. Mother ... I love you. All of you." And she went around the mother, quickly.

* * * * *

"It is done," Juba said, giving him the switch key as though it meant something all by itself. "You have at least several hours, even if they find out at this moment. And they won't. There will be no real suspicion until your ... our ship takes off."

* * * * *

After he had made love to Juba, she could see the sun was wheeling high, and in the temple they would begin to wonder a little. "We must hurry," she said, and she broke a budded branch off a laesa bush, so that later, when everything was strange, this bit of what she had been would be with her to surprise her. In strange places, but with this man.

She turned to smile at him, for her heart was full of love, and she felt that he was as much within her as he was within himself.

It was then that he grabbed her hands and tied them, and he tied her feet, and he lit a cigarette and stood for a moment, looking at her and laughing a little with his eyes.

Juba's mind was dark, very dark, as dimness after bright sunlight in the eyes. She spoke to him with her brows, afraid to ask out loud why he had done this, though there could be only one reason.

"Thanks," he said, "for all of it." Then, seeing her tears, he said, "Well, really, what did you expect?"

There was a sharp stone beneath her shoulder, and she moved against it, so that it would cut through her pain. And, feeling the blood warm on her skin her tears stopped, for it was the stone that had hurt her, and not the Man.

"You act," she said with a sneer, "as I would expect a man to act."

"And you," he said, walking off with his heavy steps, "have very kindly acted as I would expect a woman to act."

Thus it was that she opened her veins on the sharp rock. Not out of love. Not out of sorrow. Not even out of fear. Out of pride.

THE END

* * * * *

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