Welcome to Andre Norton's

 

Reading Corner

 

andre norton storyteller 1948

Andre the Librarian hosting "Story Time" at the Cleveland Public Library ~ 1948

 

"Come on In! . . .Take a Seat! . . . and Settle Down! . . ."

As we share with you a tale by one of the leading story tellers of the past century.

 

Twice a Month (on the 1st and the 16th) We are going to post an original story by Andre Norton

During the showcase period you will be able to read it here free of charge.

 

Many were only published once.

So it's a sure thing that there's going to be a few you have never heard of.

The order will be rather random in hopes you return often.

 

Happy Reading!




 

 

 Nightmare

by Andre Norton

 

all.cats.are.gray.1953 fantastic universe

 

1st Published ~ In Perilous Dreams (1976) Published by DAW, PB, 0-451-UY1237, $1.25, 199pg ~ cover and illustration by George Barr

 

Available Now ~ In Deadly Dreams (2011) Published by BAEN, PB, 1-439-13444-8, $7.99, 528pg ~ cover by unknown ~ Omnibus containing Knave of Dreams (1975) & Perilous Dreams (1976)

 

Bibliography Page - http://andre-norton-books.com/worlds-of-andre/short-stories/445-nightmare




 

 

"But I know nothing of this sector." The youngest man in the room squirmed slightly in his easirest, as if that half-reclining seat, intended for maximum comfort was now giving more than minimum unease.

"Which is precisely why you are necessary for the operation," came a cold-tinged reply from one of the three facing him, the Trystian whose feather crest held the slight fading of age.

"A Terrian of a wealthy clan, touring this sector." man to the left elaborated, "could visit Ty-Kry, order a dreamer's services without comment or questions being asked in the wrong places. It is well known that our multi-credit class are ever avid to try new experiences. Your background would be impeccable, of course."

Burr Neklass shrugged. He had never had any quarrel with that department of the service. Any background they supplied could be combed and recombed with impunity for the one using it. He would be provided with a life history dating back to the moment of his birth and it would be a flawless one. That was not the base of his present uneasiness.

Being who and what he was, he now came out frankly with that basic argument.

"l am not an Esper."

"You were chosen for that very reason," Hyon returned. "Anyone testing Esper, and do not consider for a second that they will not investigate you thoroughly, would have no chance.”

"so I'm just bait." Again Burr hunched his shoulders against the easirest. "And it appears very expendable bait."

Grigor Bnon, the only true human on that inner council, smiled. It seemed to Burr there was an implied taunt in the curl of his lips as he did so. Bnon had a reputation, which it was said he delighted in, of being utterly un-human when it came to assignments.

"Very good bait," he said softly now. "According to the record you are just the type meant to trap, whatever it is or however it works."

“Thank you so much, Commander!" Burr snapped. “And what if I say ‘no’?"

Bnon shrugged. '"There is always that, of course. And it is your privilege."

"And you want me to do it." Burr returned silently. "You have been waiting a long time to catch me a hair's space off orders. either way, 'yes' or 'no,' you’ll have me." There was a sour taste in his mouth could have come from biting hard on that realization.

"so I go in without any backman, then What if I turn up dead? Will you know any more than you do right now? You haven't been able to monitor these dreams in any way . . .” His sentence had a slight lift which made it half-question. If they could monitor, get him out before the final fatal minute, that would put a different face upon the whole operation.

"Not in the Way you thigk," the third of facing him spoke first time. Outwardly he was so humanoid that Burr might have accepted him for a Terran-descended colonist. Only his strange pupilless eyes and the fine down which covered the visible portions of his skin named him alien. "But there will be a backup for you. To have another man killed uselessly would avail us nothing at all."

"I am grateful to hear that," Burr put what irony he could in his reply to Corps Master Illan.

Illan appeared not to hear him. "We shall provide the dreamer you know; I have been informed that you were fully briefed, that these dreamers are either hired or purchased from the Hive. On the death of any purchaser, the dreamer must be returned, half of her price being repaid to the clan-family of her owner. If she is rehired, then it is for an agreed-upon time only.

"Osdeve, Lord of Ulay, purchased a ten-point dreamer two years ago. He was in the last stages of kaffer fever. Two days ago he died. This dreamer, Uahach, must now returned to the Hive. It is the general custom that once an out-dreamer so returns, she is not resold for at least a year, since each owner or hirer programs the dreamer to his taste and she must have a rest before such reprogramming.

"However, the Foostmam of the Hive is not one to suffer idle minds. She will allow Hive dreaming for Uahach, providing that the one who purchases the girl's time is willing to accept any dream and does not require a certain briefing.

"You will be a tourist, wanting simply to try a dream as part of your travel experiences. Therefore, Uahach would answer your as well as any other. You have heard of her and can ask for her with an excellent reason . . .”

Hyon paused for breath and Burr shot in his question.

"How did I hear of her if I have never been in Ty-Kry beFore?”

"Osdeve was off planet three years ago. He visited Melytis. As the person you will be on Ty-Kry you made his acquaintance there. In fact he spoke so much of dreaming that you came to Ty’Kry lured by his stories."

Burr Was frowning a little. He had no doubts about their meeting in Melytis, that would be so expertly documented that it would stand now for the truth. But he was puzzled concerning another point.

"This Uahach, how can you be sure of her?"

"She is an agent . . . or will be by the time she returns to the Hive," Bnon explained. "With some plasta buildup she'll be Uahach: she is an Esper and has been undergoing dream study for some time. We had her long before the assignment computer selected you."

And this unknown "she," Burr accepted, was taking even a far greater risk than they expected him to accept. Dreamers Were born, though they underwent vigorous training to achieve the status of A or E, ready to guide someone through their imagined worlds.

"Yes, she is one of us," Hyon once more took over. "And her being unattached at this moment is what brought us together. We had to wait for just such a circumstance. Five deaths and no answers!" For the first time the Trystian showed outward emotion. "There is too leading a pattern: two diplomats, an engineer who had made recently a discovery, which left him so wealthy that he was about to set up his own research laboratory, two men of great possessions whose dream deaths brought about almost galaxy-wide confusion. Someone is troubling waters in order to collect the flotsam of such storms."

"Maybe they all had weak hearts . . . I hear that action dreams can be tough to take." Burr suggested, though he did not believe his own words.

Bnon snorted. "You do not Hive-dream if you do not present a certificate of health to the Foostmam on your first visit. They may not follow up what happens to the owner of a dreamer, but one-time dream excursions within the Hive are well supervised so that this sort of thing does not happen. They want no accusation of killing off their clients. It would be ruinous for their business."

"Yet it has happened," Burr pointed out. "Five times."

"Five times within the space of one planet year," agreed Hyon.

"But if these deaths are arranged, aren't they playing it reckless?" Burr mused, more to himself than the other three. "I should think they would be waiting for the authorities to do some investigating."

“The planet authorities," Hyon returned, "have done what they could. But they cannot shut down the Hive, nor are they even allowed to screen the dreamers, that could be fatal. And Ty-Kry is dreamer-oriented. Tne dead were all from off planet and such as would not cause any local stir. In fact, Villand and Wyvid were both traveling incognito and not officially. But the authorities were enough concerned to call us in, a step which is revolutionary as far as they are concerned, as the locals resent to a high degree off-world contacts. They made the proviso when they did that we were not to appear there officially either, and they Will give no open help to any investigation we might start."

Burr grinned without mirth. "Do they know about your planted dreamer?"

"No. And they are not to know either. The Hive has a monopoly on its product. To learn that a dreamer might be created by artificial means would turn the whole planet hostile. There is a religious significance to the existence of these girls and that we dare not meddle with."

"But What would make me so important they would try their game a sixth time?" Burr wanted to know.

"Burr Neklass has become owner of an asteroid which is nearly pure Bylotite," Hyon answered.

Burr's eyebrows lifted in unbelief. "Is there any such Thing?” he asked wonderingly.

"It exists, yes. And it is under the guardianship of the patrol. All rights are now on record in your name. You have no near family. and . . . “ Hyon paused as if to give extra emphasis to what he would say next, "one of your partners in Neklass Enterprises has been approached, very cautiously but With enough seriousness to be understood, to discover whether, at your death, the Bylotite will be included in your general estate. I do not doubt that there is already on record, perhaps not on Ty-Kry as there would be too pointed, a will ready to turn this estate over to whoever makes the highest bid for your life."

"Fine, you do have me well hammered in, don't you?”Burr scowled. "So, I'm good for murder. All right, when do I lay myself all ready and waiting on the Hive altar?"

"You will be briefed at once," Hyon said. “Then you will take your own space cruiser to Ty-Kry. There you will proceed to make yourself very visible as a man of great wealth who wants to try the unusual. I think there will be no difficulty in your finding the Hive welcoming and you will then ask for Uahach . . .”

"And get down to a good death dream," Burr finished for him. 'Thank you, one and all, for this exciting assignment. I shall remember you in my dreams!"

II

Her figure hidden in a dull gray sack of a robe, her hair cut so close to her head that it seemed less than half a finger in length so that the dream helmet would fit more easily, the slight figure sliding out of the carrying chair could have been any age from pre-teen to elderly. Her face was blank of any expression as she moved with the air of one still inhabiting those dreams which were her trade. The guard flung open the door and she stepped into the noiseless, curtained secrecy of the Hive.

As she moved down the central hall her eyes kept their fixed stare, but inwardly she was recognizing that which she had never seen before, but which the intensity of a mind-to-mind briefing had made plain to her. She was not Ludia Tanguly any longer, but Uahach an A dreamer with a ten-point rating. And it had been two years, a little more, since she had left the Hive to which she now returned. Luckily they had been able to so dip into the dreamer's mind that her double was familiar with all she saw, knew well the routine for returning.

Uahach turned toward a door to her right and stood, impassive, waiting for the spy ray to announce her. When the barrier split in two, she entered.

The room was small, containing only two chairs, not easirests but of the archaic hard-seated kind. It would seem that the Foostmam made no concessions of comfort for those who sought an interview. A memory control stood between the chairs, within easy reach of the ruler of the Hive. And there was a blank screen on the wall to one side. While the Foostmam herself sat waiting Uahach's arrival. She gave no verbal greeting, only raised a hand to signify that the dreamer might sit in the second chair.

"You have not come very speedily," the Woman observed. "Your late lord died four days ago." Her tone was monotonous. If she meant her words as a question, they did not Carry that inflection. And if she offered a reproof for tardiness, that, too, could only be guessed at.

"I was not released by my Lord's heir until an hour since. I then vision-messaged at once," Uahach's own voice held the same absence of meaningful accent. She had let her hands fall limply in her lap, sitting as one who had been under orders all her life.

'True. It was necessary for the Hive to remind the Lord Ylph that our contract was only with his predecessor. His reluctance to release you has been duly noted in the records. Perhaps he had thought to bargain . . . because of your rating and the satisfaction your Lord took in your dreams. We, however, do not bargain. And you are returned. Your dream records have been fed into the archives. For the present you are on inactive status. The Lord Osdeve required much research; it may even be necessary for you to undergo an erase." Now there was a faint shadow of some emotion in the Foostmam's eyes. "The records must be studied to the full, I do not wish to order an unnecessary erase."

Uahach remained outwardly impassive, but inside her instinct for self-defense awoke. Had the Corps Master foreseen that? To undergo an erase would negate everything she was programmed to do. If that happened she would become Uahach in truth.

“There is this . . .” the Foostmam's thin mouth snapped out each word as if she cut it free with a knife. "We are getting more and more of a new type of client, off-worlders who seek sensations strange to them. The lore you studied for Lord Osdeve was largely action adventure. And you might be a Hive dreamer for a length of time, serving these newcomers. They would not find what you had to offer too familiar."

"I am a Ten Point." Uahach said.

"And so above Hive service?" The Foostmam nodded. "It is agreed. Yet you must be rebriefed you are again hired for outside. Be assured that you shall not be downgraded in the least."

"I shall be guided by you in this as in all else," the girl gave the conventional answer. So Bnon had been right, already the first move of her game had been made.

"You are a true dreamer," the Foostmam replied with her conventional dismissal words. "I have given you the Chamber of the Mantled Suxsux. Dial what you may need. Your credit is unlimited."

Uahach arose and raised one hand to touch her forehead, the Foostmam replying with a prefunctory copy of that gesture. To be told that her Hive credit was unlimited meant that she was still rated a very valuable piece of merchandise. As she moved along the hall, ascended the twenty steps to the next floor she was already planning what she must do now. And since the Foostmam had suggested that she was to be hired in Hive service she had every right to start learning all she could.

The library of tapes owned by the Hive was the most spectacular collection of general information gathered anyplace in the galaxy except at Patrol Headquarters. Travelers' tales from thousands of worlds, history, strange stories, anything which could enrich the worlds the dreamers created for their clients, was at the call of those within the Hive. But was there any method of locating the special tapes either of the suspected dreamers had called upon? That was one fact they had not been able to ferret out for her. She knew the names of those dreamers, Isa and Dynamis. Both were action dreamers, neither one supposedly of ten-point rank, and both never hired outside the Hive. Uahach's memories, which had been sifted as well as the Patrol science could manage, had supplied a hazy picture of Isa. Dynamis was totally unknown. She was young, one of the Late Dreamers, whose talent developed enough to be measured only when she entered adolescence and not in early childhood when most of them were found and brought in for training.

Isa had survived the two dreams which had killed her clients . . . but just barely. She was, by all accounts the planet law enforcers passed along, now a near vegetable. Dynamis had had better luck. Though it had been necessary for her to undergo, the Foostmam had sworn, a lengthy period of reeducation.

The dreaming itself wag not too complicated an affair, though it was particular to this world. Linked by a machine which capped both dreamer and client, the dreamer entered into a hallucinatory state in which the client partook of vigorous action, some type of which he selected in advance. He could so return into the past, explore other worlds, venture into the speculative future. If a lengthy dream was desired, both dreamer and client could spend as long as a week so engaged, fed intravenously. And at any point the client could demand to break the dream.

Yet five men had dreamed themselves into death. and had not awakened. Once, perhaps twice, a faulty machine, a weakened heart, or some natural fatality could have occurred, but five were far too many.

The Foostmam had had, as Uahach well knew, every machine tested before the authorities. She demanded, and in this she was backed by those same authorities, certificates of health from every would-be client. And those were the result of examinations which could not be faked. The law in Ty-Kry had no wish to continue a scandal which was growing far too fast for comfort. The dreamers, long in use by the natives, had recently become a prime tourist attraction, the worth of which the rulers of the planet fully recognized.

Yet, in spite of all such safeguards, one dreamer was brainwashed into idiocy and five men were dead. Five men whose deaths could be turned to the credit of others off world. Suspicion was heavy, now there must be proof.

She Came to the door bearing the painted design of the fabled creature the Foostmam had mentioned, and knew the chamber to be one of coveted single rooms within this warren. She was, indeed, being shown that her value to the Hive had in no way diminished.

Though the room was considered luxurious by any dreamer who had not been quartered in one of the sky towers of the Lords, it was a small one with few attractions. There Was a couch formed of piled cushions covered in dull greens and grays; nothing must distract the attention of a dreamer, lure her attention from her work. Against one wall was a reading screen with a slitted block before it into which any tapes she desired could be fitted. On the opposite wall was a small board with a row of buttons; she could there order the bland, nearly tasteless food high in protein and nourishment Which was the usual meal of her kind.

A curtain hung before a small private bathroom. That, too, was gray, as was the thick carpet on the floor. Uahach sat down on the divan, wondering if the Foostmam had some hidden method of viewing the chambers of her charges. That point certainly could not be overlooked, and she must never be off her guard.

There was a thick silence here, not a single sound came from without, though the Hive was crowded. Again the dreamer must be able to study undisturbed by anything outside her own cubicle. Probably they did not find silence oppressive. To them dreaming was life and the world outside those they themselves created did not exist except as a shadowy and uninteresting place.

She went to dial for a drink, accepting the small cup of hot liquid gratefully. Her mouth felt parched and she was aware of that usual reaction to coming danger. The familiar dryness of her tongue and lips, the moisture of her palms were warnings for her to exert the techniques in which she had long been schooled.

Waiting was always difficult. If one could plunge straight into the indicated action, one lost oneself in that. But to have to sit and wait . . . How long before the other player Hyon was putting on the board arrived? She would not even know who he was, nor how much she could depend on him. And she did not like working in the dark. This was far outside of any operation of which she had before been a part. And she found she enjoyed it less with every passing minute.

III

"So I ask for this Uahach."

The Foostmam’s hands rested on the edge of her memory control board. She favored Burr with an unwinking stare so devoid of any personality, he began to wonder if the ruler of the Hive was now caught in some dream herself. Then she spoke, without any warning inflection in her voice.

"You say that the Lord Osdeve spoke of her. Yes, she was on lease to him. But you must understand, Lord, she is still unbriefed in a new series, for she has only returned to the Hive two days ago. You would not be able to choose your subject matter. . . .”

Burr opened his belt pouch, produced a silvery credit plate.

"I'm not asking for a series to be arranged just for me. In fact. I am only curious to see how this dreaming of Ty-Kry works. Any briefing she had had for Lord Ogleve would beall right as far as I am concerned. It is merely that I would like to try it as an experiment, you understand."

The Foostmam’s stare had shifted for several breaths to thecredit plate. Burr himself had never handled such before: unlimited credit. a promise to be accepted on any planet where the Council had an Embassy.

"For a single dreaming time," the Foostmam said, "the price is higher, since the dreamer has no security factor the future."

Burr shrugged. "Price does not matter. But I want Uahach. Osdeve had plenty to say about her dreaming when I saw him last."

The Foostmam again favored him with that blank expression. But her hand went to one of the buttons on the small control board and pressed two. A pattern. not a face, flashed on the vision screen. She eyed it and then her hand closed over the credit plate.

"She has not yet gone through debriefing. Very well, if you will accept Osdeve's series, it can done. You have your certificate of health and stability?"

He produced a second piece of perforated plasta. She accepted that to push into a slit on the control board. There Was a relay of clicks and the pattern on the screen changed.

"What is the danger in dreaming?" he decided to come openly to the point. As an off-worlder, unfamiliar with the processes of the Hive, Burr believed that he could ask such a question as a matter of routine.

"A ten point A dreamer." the Foostmam returned, "can produce so vivid a dream that its reality entirely grips the client. In such cases any strain on the heart or the mind can prove to be a very serious thing. Therefore, we naturally wish to know that this will not happen. We will have a Medic standing by. But the final choice anywhere in the dream to leave is always for the Client to exercise. If you dislike the dream you will it to end. Since you will be mind-linked with the dreamer, your will instantly records with her and she releases you."

“The danger then must be slight," Burr prodded.

"It has been so." Apparently the Foostmam was not going to say anything about the recent fatalities in the Hive. “When do you wish to call upon Uahach’s services?"

"HOW about right now?” Burr pressed. "The rest of this Five Days I guest with Lord Erlvin I believe he has made arrangements I cannot alter.”

The Foostmam held his credit plaque between thumb and forefinger. She was again fixed of eyes, but Burr was sure she was no longer studying him, rather thinking deeply.

"Uahach is free, that is true. But there must be our own preparations to be made. At the present all our interior dream rooms are occupied. But if you will chose to return past nooning it can be arranged.

“Good enough." Burr reached forward plucked the credit plate from her fingers. She had continued to hold that as if reluctant to lay it down. He wondered fleetingly just how many such plaques she had ever seen. Galaxy wide complete credit vouchers could not be too common.

He nooned in the best of Ty-Kry’s restaurants. And he ate sparingly, selecting from a list which had been supplied him along with the plaque which had so entranced the mistress of the Hive. All that could possibly be done to ensure his own safety (outside of actually canceling the operation entirely) Was accomplished. But he did face the unknown, and a threatening unknown.

When he returned to the Hive he was shown directly to a room occupied nearly to the full extent of its area by two couches. Between them stood the machine of linkage and there was already a girl stretched on the right-hand couch, her face masked past nose level by a helmet. Its twin awaited him. The dreamer was breathing in slow, regular breaths and Burr wondered if she were already asleep.

Two attendants. one of whom wore the insignia of a Medic greeted him and, within moments, Burr was installed on the other couch, blindfolded by the padded helmet. He drew a very deep breath of his own. There was no pulling back now; this was it!

He blacked out with a queasy feeling of whirling out and out through space itself. Then there came a burst of light as if he lay under the warmth of a sun, helmetless and in the open.

Burr sat up slowly, surveying the country about him. He had not expected this . . . this freedom of body, the absolute reality of all he could see. Experimentally he pulled at a tuft of gray-green grass. It resisted and then gave way, so that roots and reddish soil parted company. He . . . this . . . was so real!

Around his present position small hills or mounds arose to make a wall about a cup of lower land in which he crouched. On the top of each was embedded a standing stone, weather-worn, but certainly never so regularly placed by any natural means. The country bore no resemblance to any he had ever seen before.

Burr got slowly to his feet. An A dream promised straight action adventure. This landscape had a certain grim and threatening appearance, but as far as he could see, he was alone in it and there was an absence of any life signs. No bird wheeled overhead, no insect buzzed or flew. This was being on a deserted stage before the curtain arose and the play began.

The nearest of the rounded hills attracted him. From its summit surely he would be able to see more than he could in this hollow. And toward that block-crowned summit he climbed.

The tall mound was covered with grass of the same gray-green shade as the tuft he had pulled. And it was both steep and slippery, so he stumbled and had to clutch at the grass to keep from slipping back into the spot where he had entered this hallucinatory world.

Once on the crest he turned slowly, facing outward, trying to get an idea of the country. The hills with their pillars continued on into what he guessed was the north in an unending series. But to the south there were only a few before they gave way to a wide open land in which were embedded a number of stones, tumbled together in a manner which suggested they were very ancient remains of some building or buildings, long reduced to a rubble, either by time itself or some ancient disaster.

Tnere was a deep, quiet brooding over this stark world. Yet from somewhere came a vibration which could be felt rather than heard. It was almost as if the land itself were breathing. slowly, heavily.

Burr had a desire to shout, to make some sound which would rip away that quiet. He mistrusted all he saw with more than the mistrust which warnings had set in him. This was . . . dangerous, in a way he could not grasp.

His hand went to his belt, or where his belt should have rested, instinctively hunting a stunner such as any prudent man wore in strange territory. But his fingers swept across bare skin and for the first time he looked down at his own body.

He was no longer wearing the rather fantastic suit which had been designed for Burr Neklass, multi-credit man. Instead his body was darker of skin where it was clearly visible. He did have on a pair of breeches of a steel-colored material, seemingly elastic and fitting nearly as tightly as that same skin. On his feet were coverings feeling as soft as if fashioned of cloth, but soled with thickness of a dull red material, while the upper part of the shoes(?) were stitched With glittering red threat to mark each hidden toe plainly.

Above the waist he had two belt straps, not for about his waist, but reaching one over the right shoulder and one the left. Where those crossed on his breast they were united with a palm-sized plate of silver metal in which were set colored stones ranging in shade from a deep red to a brilliant orange. About each upper arm was a wide band of the same silver, One bearing all red stones, the other yellow to orange. It was to Burr the dress of some off-world barbarian, in spite of the obviously fine workmanship, and certainly one he had never seen before.

Movement among the tumbled blocks of the ruins sent him ducking prudently to shelter behind the monolith which stood beside him on the hilltop. For the first time he realized his folly in making so open an appearance there. Something was flitting from cover to cover among the stones, moving so fast he could catch only a confused glimpse of it. He could not even be sure it was humanoid.

There were plainly no weapons furnished him in this dress. Now as he knelt behind the stone, Burr gazed around him for some possible way of arming himself. Finally he pried loose a small rock which he held in his hand.

A usual client of any dreamer was prepared for the nature of the dream, since he indeed ordered it. But Burr must accept the programming which Osdeve had ordered and what had been implanted in the pseudo-Uahach.

Therefore he did not know what to expect, except trouble. And perhaps that was flitting toward him even now.

IV

There was more than one . . . Burr drew a deep breath, his grip on the stone so tight that the rough surface scored his fingertips. One hid behind two blocks still piled one on top of the other, a second moved, with the same fluid speed, more to his right, gone to cover before he had more than an impression of raw color, an acid blue which flashed swiftly among the Stones.

That they hunted him, he somehow knew. Perhaps Osdeve enjoyed this type of thrill . . . chase, choosing, because of the infirmities of his final years, a physical-combat type of dream.

Burr glanced over his shoulder at the procession of mound-hills filing on to the far horizon. He could retreat perhaps, play what he was sure would be a deadly kind of hide-and-seek, through that countryside. But that would only prolong whatever action lay in this dream. No, he would stay where he was until he was sure that the danger ahead was too much for him to handle.

Perhaps they had lost sight of him and their impatience was enough to bring them out. For they were moving again, this time farther into the open. There, some distance from each other, yet in an even line. three oddities stood statue still, as if by freezing they could also conceal their presence.

For an off-world traveler Burr had long lost the ability to be surprised by any alien difference from his own norm. But these were unusual enough to rivet his attention.

It was hard to judge sizes from this distance, but he believed that all three of them were taller than himself. And they were birds, or at least birdlike in form. Their bodies, perched on long, thin legs, were covered with a vivid blue or green feathering (there Was one green and two blues) which fluffed into plumes for tails. Their heads were unusually large, bearing tall crests of feathers, large eyes, and murderous appearing bills with points like Harkiman short swords. These outsize heads were connected to the bodies by long and very supple necks which were bare of the feathering, showing instead an expanse of scaled skin.

There was nothing reassuring about them. Rather Barr knew, just as he had been sure he was the quarry of a hunt, that they were deadly enemies to his own kind.

Now they were no longer so still. The green one dropped its head, a fraction, straightened its neck. Thus it pointed directly in Burr's direction. The man began to suspect that perhaps his lingering here had been the wrong choice after all. Yet the speed with which the bird things had transversed the ruins made him sure that any race between them would end fatally for him.

Was this how those others had died? Had they been hunted, not by those feathered monstrosities before him, but by other enemies? He remembered the warning of the Foostmam: he could wake . . .

The green bird took a flying leap which lifted it from among the blocks, moved it as if it were a chess piece in action to the crown of a nearer hill, slightly lower than that on Which Burr had taken refuge. No use trying to play hero, this Was a time to wake.

Instead of his directive being answered by an instant cancellation of the hunt menacing him, there was a quiver of light through the air. Point deep in the earth beside his sheltering monolith stood a spear, its haft still vibrating a little from the force of the throw which had hurled it there.

Instinctively Burr's hand went out to tighten on that haft. And the same time he was startled by a shout from the north. The head of the green bird snapped around, its intent gaze now in that direction. Burr wrenched the spear out of the ground. But overriding all else in his mind at that moment was that the cancellation demand had not worked!

So, he balanced the spear in one hand. This was it! He could well have been abandoned here. And the pseudo-Uahach who got him into this could not get him out. His stubborn refusal to be downed took over. Someone had thrown him a weapon, though it appeared a very paltry one taken in connection with the size and swiftness of the enemy. And someone had drawn the bird's attention . . .

Burr edged around, trying to keep an eye both on the birds as well as discover who had come to his rescue, if only momentarily. At the same moment the green bird gave vent to the first sound he had heard it make, a shrill, ear-tormenting scream. It sprang directly into the air from the stand it had taken on the other mound.

And, though it seemed wingless and unable to fly, that prodigious leap carried it directly to another mound, this even with the one on which Burr crouched, but still a short distance away. It no longer watched him, rather continued to look to the north.

Though he felt he dared not glance away from its two companions still among the ruins, he had to know who, or what, the thing was now moving to attack.

The body of the bird tensed, its long legs just a little bent. Burr was sure it was about to launch a third spectacular leap. If so, it was a fraction late in coming to that determination. Something whirled through the air. The weighted ends of a long cord snapped about the legs just under the bird's body, the force of their passage wrapping the limbs tightly together. The bird crashed with a fury of squawking, its head bobbing up and down as it tore at that prisoning cord with its wicked bill. As it writhed on the ground a second weighted cord whirled, wrapping about its neck with force enough to completely overset it and bind its head partly to its body.

Burr slued around to watch for its companions. They had vanished. though they might be using the cover of the mounds themselves to come to the aid of their half-bound fellow.

“Come!”

That was no scream from the bird, it was a clearly distinguishable word in everyday Basic. Burr turned again. Two mounds away a figure stood waving him on. The newcomer was cloaked, a hood pulled well down so he could distinguish little more than it had at least a general humanoid shape. And since there was nothing else to do, he obeyed, running down one slope and up the next at the best speed he could manage, while the corded bird continued to screech.

He was gasping as he fought up the last incline. A hand shot out from under the edge of the cloak, caught his arm and jerked him on, so that both of them were able to dart behind the monolith on this mound.

“That Whip-round will not hold the qwaker long." Burr was looking eye to eye with a girl. She pushed back her hood, showing hair pulled tight into a clasp high near the crown of her head, flowing freely from that down to her shoulders. And that hair was a dark blue. As with Burr the skin she bared as she shrugged the cloak back on her shoulders to free her arms was dark brown. And under her slanting blue brows her eyes shone like fiery sparks of orange flame.

Burr balanced the spear thoughtfully. "I would not say this would be too effective either," he commented dryly. "What now, do we run?"

He had no from whence this female had sprung. She

seemed to have saved his life for the moment at least. Now

she was shaking her head so that upheld plume Of hair

swished back and forth whispering against her hood’ai shoul-

"That is what they wish. They can move faster than any man. No, we change . . .”

“Change What," he repeated.

"Change our dream site. Give me your hand!" Her fingers closed about his in a grip which had no gentleness in it. With the other hand she made a sweeping gesture.

The world reeled and Burr closed his eyes to fight nausea, for this instability was outside of any state of consciousness he knew. When he made himself look once more he was standing on a beach of yellowish sand against which washed, with turgid slowness, a vast body of water which might even be a languid sea. But his hand was still clasped in hers and he caught what might be a sigh of relief. Then she dropped her hold moved a little away.

"So . . ." she said as if to herself, “so far that they cannot alter.”

"What is all this?" Burr asserted himself to demand, and his voice came out almost embarrassingly loud above the slight whisper of the wavelets.

"Listen," she turned a little to fix him with a very direct gaze, "they have us locked somehow. When you tried to break, I could not make it. Do you understand? They have us both locked in this dream, and it is only partly out of Uahach's memories. The ruins were hers . . . and the qwakers. They actually exist, or did exist, on Altair IV. But they are not hostile. Now . . .”

"Uahach’s memory," Burr caught the part that he understood the first. "Then you are . . .”

She laughed harshly. “ I am your backup, the dreamer. But I am now caught in my own snare. You gave the signal to wake, I would have obeyed. But there was a barrier. However, they did not, as least yet, manage to inhibit movement within this dream. We are now here." she gestured to the beach, "instead of dodging qwakers back on those hills. I do not know if they can control us within the dream, or just keep us here. But we dare not count on any safety."

Burr tightened hold on the spear haft. He understood her well enough. They were caught in this exceedingly real dream and at present there was no escape. "Can you keep doing this . . . move us around if they threaten us?"

She shrugged. "Some. I can call on Uahach's memory in a little. But if they force me to reach the end of those, then . . ." she shook her head. "Beyond her memory I have no pattern to follow. I knew of this sea in this particular dream. There are perhaps four other sites we can switch to."

"And after that," he finished for her, "we will be really Trapped?”

Slowly she nodded, and echoed him. "Really trapped."

 

Continued with Nightmare Part 2



 

 “Andre Norton's Reading Corner

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