- Author: Floyd C. Gale and H. L. Gold
Read book online «Someone to Watch Over Me by Floyd C. Gale and H. L. Gold (good book recommendations .txt) 📕». Author - Floyd C. Gale and H. L. Gold
By CHRISTOPHER GRIMM
Illustrated by DICK FRANCIS
[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Galaxy Science Fiction October 1959.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
In the awfulness of hyperspace, everything
was the nightmare opposite of itself ... and
here was where Len Mattern found his goal!
Len Mattern paused before the door of the Golden Apple Bar. The elation that had carried him up to this point suddenly wasn't there any more. Lyddy couldn't have changed too much, he'd kept telling himself. After all, it hadn't been so very long since he'd seen her. Now he found himself counting the years ... and they added up to a long time.
But it was too late to go back now. A familiar thought. The commitment was moral only, and to himself, no one else—the same way it had been that other time, the time that had changed the direction of his whole life, and, possibly, of all other lives in his universe as well. There was only one human being with whom he kept faith—himself. Therefore, the commitment was a binding one.
He pushed open the door and went in.
He saw Lyddy at the end of the bar, surrounded by a group of men. Lyddy had always been surrounded by a group of men, he remembered, unless she was up in her room entertaining just one. She half-turned and he saw her face. The sun-pink lips were parted, her eyes still comparable to the heavens of Earth. She stood erect and lithe and slender.
She had not changed at all!
The tension that had built up inside him snapped with the weight of sudden relief. He lurched against a small hokur-motal table. It rocked crazily. The zhapik who owned the Golden Apple came out from behind the carved screen where he'd been sitting segregated from the customers. Many of the zhapiq, who had been native to Erytheia before the Federation took over, owned businesses catering to humans. It might be degrading, but it paid well.
"Maybe you've had enough to drink, Captain?" he suggested. "Maybe you'd like to come back another time?"
"I haven't had anything at all to drink," Mattern said curtly. "What's more, I haven't come for a drink."
He strode across the room, firmly now, and brushed aside the men who clustered around Lyddy. "I've come for you," he told her.
She didn't say anything, just looked him up and down. The beautiful blue eyes skillfully appraised his worth as a man and as a customer. Then she smiled and patted the gilded hair that streamed past her bare shoulders to her narrow waist.
"You're not a Far Planets man," she said. "How come you know about me?"
Funny he should feel disappointed. Sure, he'd been thinking of her all those years, but he'd never expected her to have been thinking of him. Yet he found himself blurting out, "Don't you remember me, Lyddy?" Then he cursed himself; first because he didn't want her to remember him as he had been; second, because he knew every man who'd ever slept with her—or a woman like her—would ask the same question. And, of course, she'd have the standard answer, something like "Why, of course I remember you, honey. I'm just not good at names."
But she just looked at him levelly. "No, dear, I'm afraid I don't remember you," she said. Then a tiny frown gathered on her smooth forehead. "Seems to me I would've, though. When did I meet you?"
"Oh, years ago! I was just a kid!"
She flushed, and he realized he'd been a little tactless. If he was no kid any more, neither would she be. Still, she looked as young as she ever had, and he, he knew, looked younger.
He didn't want her to probe further, so he hastily made an appointment with her for an evening later that week. As he left, he could hear her saying, in a bewildered voice, "I could've sworn there was somebody with him when he came in."
And he quickened his steps.
She had the same room—a warm luxurious chamber, high up in the Golden Apple Hotel. Lyddy herself was the same, too, just as he remembered her.
Afterward, as they lay together in the blackness, she asked, "Can you see in the dark, Captain?"
He was surprised, and then, thinking about it, not so surprised. "Of course not, no more than you can! Whatever made you ask that?"
"I—feel like somebody's looking at me."
He rolled over on his side, so his body was as far away from hers as possible. He didn't want her to feel the sudden rise of tension in him. Something's got to be done about this, he thought. I can't put up with it now.
"Why don't you say anything, honey?" her anxious voice came out of the darkness.
"Will you marry me, Lyddy?" he said.
He could hear the intake of her breath. "Ask me again in the morning," she told him wearily. He knew what she must be thinking: Men who hadn't had a woman for a long time sometimes did strange things. In the morning, she would wake up and he would be gone.
Only, when morning came, he was still there. Two weeks later, they were married.
Lyddy was curious about her husband-to-be and kept trying to find out all about him. Fortunately, in the code of the Far Planets, a man's past was his own business, so he was able to be evasive without actually lying to her. Not that he had any scruples, about lying; it was simply easier to tell as few stories as possible, rather than worry about keeping them straight.
But it was all right to ask about a man's present. "Do you have anybody, Len? Relations, anything like that?"
He frowned a little, remembering the boy on Fairhurst. "No," he said, "I have no relatives. I have nobody."
Her face fell. "It would've been kind of nice to have a ready-made family."
"Oh, I don't know," he said. "There are times when it's better to have no family."
"Yeah, I guess you're right. They might not approve of me."
"We'll be everything to each other," he assured her.
There was a ghost of a sound then—a laugh or a sigh. He hoped she didn't hear it.
The zhapik insisted on giving Lyddy's wedding, even though he himself could, of course, be present only behind the screen. Most people said the old E-T bastard knew a good piece of publicity when he saw it, but Mattern thought it might be out of genuine sentiment. He was closer to aliens than most men in this sector, any sector. Although he had originally hailed from the Far Planets, he had traveled widely and lost his prejudices. His best friend wasn't human.
Every human in Erytheia City was invited to the wedding. Mattern's four crewmen came. Three were middle-aged and had sailed with Mattern for years, but his most recent acquisition was a young man, almost a boy. Something Raines, his name was. He kept staring at Lyddy as if he had never seen a beautiful woman before, though, coming from Earth, he must have seen many. Mattern was gratified at this tribute to his choice.
"Only four crewmen!" Lyddy said, looking disappointed. "You must have a small ship."
Mattern smiled. "Not too small." He could see she didn't believe him.
Lyddy didn't seem to be enjoying her wedding. She kept glancing over her shoulder all through the ceremony and during the reception. Finally Mattern had to ask her what was wrong, although he would rather not have known.
"Y'know, hon," she whispered, "I keep having the funniest feeling there's somebody extra here, somebody who doesn't belong. I haven't quite seen him; he always seems to slip by so fast, but I don't even think he's a man."
"Don't be silly, Lyddy," he said, almost sharply. "You know no extraterrestrial would dare to crash a human party!"
"I guess not." But she still kept looking over her shoulder.
The zhapik invited them to remain at the Golden Apple Hotel as his guests for as long as they liked. They stayed two months. Then Mattern told his wife it was time they started planning their future, decided where they were going to live. "You'll want a home of your own," he said. "Otherwise you'll get bored."
"I'm never bored," said Lyddy. "But where will we go? I mean what system?"
"Well, Erytheia is a pleasure planet, so I thought we might as well stay here. There are some attractive residential neighborhoods on this continent—or, if you'd prefer, the other one."
Her face fell. "You mean we're going to stay here?"
He didn't know why he was so anxious to remain on Erytheia. Mainly it was because for no good reason he found himself disliking the idea of making the Jump with her. "If you'd rather, I could build you a city of your own, Lyddy," he tempted her.
It was obvious that even if she had taken this seriously, it still wouldn't be what she wanted. "I'd like to go away from here," she told him. "Far away."
"Just because you want a change—is that it?"
She hesitated. "That's partly it. But there's more. Somehow, ever since we've been married, I keep feeling all the time like—like I'm being watched."
His smile was strained. "Well, naturally, in 'Rytheia City, people will tend to—watch. Let's go far away from where people are. There's an island on this planet, way off in the western seas. I'll buy you that island, Lyddy. I'll build you a villa there—a chateau, a castle, whatever you want."
But she shook her golden head. "No, nothing like that. I want to go to another system. It's not that I don't want to be where people are. I like crowds. I just want to be where there are different people."
He forced another smile. "What's gotten into you, Lyddy? In the old days, you used to be so calm."
She wriggled her shoulders uncomfortably. "I keep seeing things, shadows that shouldn't be there, reflections of nothing. Only, when I turn, they don't get out of the way fast enough to be nothing."
"They?" he repeated.
"I only see one at a time, but I don't know if it's always the same one." She shivered again.
"It must be your nerves." He went on resolutely, "Maybe you do need a change of scene." Actually it was absurd to feel so apprehensive about the Jump. She'd be safer in hyperspace in his ship than anywhere else in the universe. And a large metropolis might provide distractions to take her mind off—shadows. "How would you like to go to Burdon?"
"That would be real nice!" But she was not as enthusiastic about it as he had expected.
She laid a hesitant hand on his arm. "Honey," she began tentatively, "you—you seem to spend so much time all by yourself. Do I bore you?"
"Of course not, dear," he said awkwardly. "It just seems that way to you. Pressure of business...."
"But why do you play chess with yourself all the time?"
"I've spent so much time in space that I got into the habit of playing alone. Many spacemen do that."
She bit her painted lip. "Sometimes—sometimes when you're alone in your room, I hear your voice. Why do you talk to yourself?"
It was an effort for him to meet the beautiful, blank blue eyes. "When you're alone a lot of the time, sweetheart, you have to hear the sound of a voice even if it's your own, or you start hearing voices."
"But you have me," she said. "You're not alone. But you still do it."
"Old habits are hard to break, dear."
She looked up at him, trying to force her way past the wall in his eyes. God help her, he thought, if she ever succeeds. "Would you like me to learn to play chess?"
"Would you like to?"
"I—don't know," she murmured doubtfully. "I've never been much good at mind things. But I want to be everything to you."
"You are, sweetheart." He stooped and kissed her. "Don't force yourself to do anything you don't want to for my sake. I'm used to playing alone."
"But I want you to do things with me!"
"I'll do everything else with you," he promised.
He went to his room and shut the door behind him. But she had heard him talking there, so sounds must carry through. When they got a place of their own, he would have the walls and doors sound-proofed. Meanwhile, it would be safer to go to the