The Intrepid Volunteers

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THE
Intrepid Volunteers

A REPURPOSED NOVEL

From Work Written By

MARION ZIMMER BRADLEY

ILLUSTRATOR NOVICK

Edited By Lin Stone


Stand By For

Take Off!

By the time I got myself all the way awake I realized I was not alone. There I was, lying on a leather couch in a bare white room with huge windows, made of smoky-spiraled glass-brick and prismatic clear glass. My head was pounding away in the world’s worst headache. The world beyond the windows was the swirling, snow-peaked mountains which gleamed with shafts of light that turned into pale w+edges of fluttering flakes of new snow when my gaze moved from side to side. The glistening snow would be there, then would the raging storm of falling shadows appear. I could not tell which was the reality and which was the illusion stirred up in the glass-brick.

Habit and memory fitted names to all these; the bare office, the orange flare of the great sun, the names of the dimming mountains. But beyond that glimmering vision stood a polished glass desk, and from those partitioned straight angles a man sat watching me. Was he a friend, or a foe? I racked my memory banks and came away empty-handed. I had never seen this silly man before.

He was a chubby, young, man. The vision did not hold still very long but shimmered from one solidarity to another. Chubby, I could call him that because his throat muscles rippled in floating folds of fat. “He needs a drink,” I condemned him with another toss of my haughty nose. He was watching me closely. Chubby saw danger. His hand jerked down to scoop up a bottle of liquid courage. He took a long drink, glanced at me again and took another drink, longer than the first one. It was true; perhaps he could see me clearly and he was afraid of me! He was afraid of me? I knew that. A growl from me would make him disappear as he ran for cover.

Was I that dangerous? Of course not; he was just that scared! Chubby’s ginger-colored eyebrows glistened with sweat, and a fringe of ginger-colored hair around the edges of his forehead which was otherwise quite pink and bald was ringed with sweat. He was wearing a white uniform frock like surgeons and butchers wear, and the intertwined caduceus on the pocket over the heart and on the right sleeve proclaimed he was a doctor, a member of the Medical Service attached to the Civilian HQ of the Terran Trade City.

I didn’t stop to make all these evaluations consciously, of course. They were just part of my world when I woke up and found it taking shape around me. The familiar mountains, the familiar sun, and the strange, chubby little man. That permutation was out of place. Then my eyes peeled away the distortions and the chubby little man resolved into a thin little man who was concerned for my comfort and well-being. Chubby spoke hesitantly to me but in a friendly, reassuring way.

He spoke as if it were an ordinary thing to find a perfect stranger sprawled out taking a siesta in his office. “Could I trouble you to tell me your name?”

My name, why that was simple enough. My name was, was, yes, why it had almost leaped from my tongue, but that was not my name! I pulled my tongue back and made it change directions. There was a full length mirror along one wall. It was canted just so, as if it were inviting me to look at myself in the mirror. I looked, and quickly looked again.

The man in the mirror was a stranger.

There was an explanation for that, a simple explanation. What I had thought was a mirror was actually a 3-D painting. Why, the graphic was scowling at me. Okay, it was a live 3-D painting then! Calmly, I went back to considering the stranger’s question, WHAT was MY name? The question was reasonable enough. If I had found somebody making himself at home in my office – IF I had an office – why, I’d ask him his name, too. I started to swing my legs to the floor, and had to stop and steady myself with one hand while the room drifted in mad, giddy circles around me.

“I wouldn’t try to sit up just yet,” he remarked in a cautionary tone of voice. Again, I knew his concern was for me. When I leaned back against my cushion the floor calmed down again. But then he repeated his question. He spoke politely but insistently, “Your name, please?”

“Oh, yes. My name. It seems that I am slightly disoriented.” My name, My name was – It was right on the tip of my tongue. It rested there, unspoken but more familiar this time, though it was different than the first name that had almost escaped my tongue. I spun through the dusty layers of finely powdered dust sprinkled over my brain. You know how it is, when you wake up in a strange place, at a strange time for awakening. I shook my head to clear away the cob webs and the only thing that cleared up was the fact that I was also wearing strange clothes that didn’t fit well.

What felt like gray fuzz was now trying to lay my tongue on the most familiar of all sounds, my own name. It was – why, it was worrying me that it would not come up from those smoldering depths. I said, on a high rising note, “This is awful silly,” and swallowed. And swallowed again. Hard. It would not come; my own name was down there in the ashes, hiding from me!

“Calm down,” the short, thin little man said soothingly. “Don’t go hyper on me. I’m really not comfortable with hyper terrorists.” His hand reached for the liquid courage, and brought up a blaster instead. When he saw I had seen it, he laid the weapon on top of his desk so it would be less threatening. I stared at him in a growing panic and demanded, “Do you think I might have amnesia or something?”

“Well, you certainly seem to be terribly stressed.”

“Well do you have any idea what my name might be? Perhaps I have an appointment with you?”

“Now, now, take it easy! I can’t help you there. I’m in research, statistical research. I”m the only one that’s supposed to be in here. Hmm. Yes. But, I’m sure you will remember your name soon enough. Maybe it would help you if you answered some other questions. How old are you?”

I answered eagerly and quickly, “Twenty-two.”

The thin man scribbled something on an index card. “Interesting. That is most In-ter-est-ing. Do you know where you might be? What planet is this?”

With care and caution I glanced around his office. “We seem to be in the standardized local Terran Headquarters. From your uniform, I’d say we were on Floor 8, Medical.”

He nodded with a smile and scribbled again, Then he paused, pursing his lips. “Can you – uh – tell me what planet we are on?”

He was trying to trick me and I had to laugh at how clumsy he was. I called him out. “You are trying to trick me,” I said. “Darcuever,” I chuckled, “I hope! And if you want the names of the moons, or the date of the founding of the Trade City, or something.. “

He gave put his pen down, grinning. “Perhaps I was a little hasty in summoning Security.” Then he leaned back, and he began laughing with me. “Do you remember where you were born?”

“On Samsumarra. I came here when I was three years old—my father was in Mapping and Exploring—” Was? I stopped short, in shock. “He’s dead!”

“You’re doing great. What was your father’s name then?”

“Jay – No, that’s the diminutive of his last name, Jaysunuyvoitch!” The flash of memory closed down in the middle of that name. It had been a good try, but it just simply hadn’t quite worked. The doctor said soothingly, “We’re doing very well.”

I didn’t feel well. I still had that fierce headache pounding in the back of my skull, my ears were ringing, and my hands hurt even worse. I glanced down at them. I was wringing them – and they were bleeding.

Oh, THERE you are.” I glanced up quickly. The Shore Patrol Security Officer had arrived. I tried to get to my feet, but could not make it. Did I want him to drag me off to jail? I tried to rise again. Try was all I could do. I fell back against my cushion and decided he would have to drag me.

But he had walked right by me, then around the desk. He was a brawny man. The doctor was afraid of him. He scooted his chair backwards, and struck the wall. He stretched his hands out for the cuffs to go on. I was confused. I was more confused than ever. The Security officer was even more confused.

Take that uniform off. Where are your clothes?” He glanced around the room until he saw me, then he respectfully said, “Doctor Jaysunuyvoitch, what has he done to you?”

It’s not my fault,” the doctor cried. “I only hit him once! Then I changed clothes with him. I was trying to get the outside door open when he came to and couldn’t remember who he was. I have been trying to help him ever since.”

It was too much. My headache was pounding, pounding, pounding. I rolled over and began retching onto the floor. Sleep, Oh, I needed sleep. I closed my eyes.

The next thing I knew the security officer was slapping my face repeatedly. The doctor was screaming from beneath one of the knees of the security officer and that officer was screaming at me. “Open your eyes, stay awake. Help is on the way! Help is on the way, way, way. Stay awake, awake. Wake, ache, ache, ache.” I had to retch again, then I felt a little bit better. A rough hand slapped me again. “Stay ache. Stay ache. A wake. Good God, get that gurney down here! I’m losing him. Stay awake, stay awake, a wake.”

All the pretty colors were dissolving into concentric circles of gray, then the gray circles turned up black. Everything was going black. I tried to retch again but nothing would come up. Dry heaves, dry. Heaves. The black circles turned blood red. Splatters of red in front of me and the dry heaves had turned into full body convulsions. Blood was coming out my nose, running down my throat and I had something in my stomach to retch that time.

Our story continues..

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