The Girl and the Gun

The girl still stood, aiming the weapon at his heart. Tears ran down her face, but the gun did not waver. “It was the voice,” Bailey said. “You and I were . . . linked. We . . . touched him, were him. He’s the one who made me live, sent me here. Who was he? What was he? ” “He’s a man, William. A dying man, a hundred years in the future. In some way that perhaps not even he understands, he projected his mind back along his own life line-to us. ”

“A mind-reaching back through time? ” Bailey asked. I think he meant only to reach one man, to explain the terrible thing that had happened, to enlist your help to do what he believed had to be done to right the wrong. But his brain was too powerful, too complex. An ordinary mind couldn’t encompass it. I was near-on the Intermix, ready to jump. A part of his message spilled over-into my mind. I saw what had happened, what would happen-saw who and where you were, knew that I had to help you-but I didn’t know-didn’t understand what it was you were to do. ”

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“A message,” Bailey said, remembering the flood of impressions. A transmission from a point in space beyond Pluto. A ship-heading for Earth. Aliens-from a distant star. They asked for peace and friendship. And we gave them-death. ” Drans spoke up, his voice strained. “When did we attack? ” “Sarday, Sember twenty,” Bailey said. “Black Sarday. ” “Tomorrow’s date,” Drans said in a voice like cracked metal. “And Micael Drans was the man who gave the order! ” Bailey blurted. “Don’t you see, Aliea? That’s why he sent me here, why Drans has to die! ”

“For three days and three nights I’ve wrestled with it,” Drans said dully. Pro and con, trust or mistrust, kill-or welcome. There are so many factors to consider, so terrible a risk . . . ” “And you decided: it had to be death, because how could man, who had betrayed his own species, trust another race? ” Bailey accused. “Is it possible? ” Drans stared from Aliea to Bailey. “Can you know the future? In some miraculous way, were you sent here to save me from this terrible decision? Can we trust them? Are they what they say? ” “They come as friends,” Aliea said softly. Drans stood. “I believe you,” he said. “Because the alternative is too bitter to contemplate. He stepped forward, gently thrust the girl aside. “Do your duty,” he said flatly to Bailey.

“William-no! ” Aliea said swiftly. “You know now, don’t you? You see? ” Bailey looked at the defenseless man before him. He lowered the gun, nodded. “The voice-the dying man, a hundred years from now. It was-is-will be you: Micael Drans. You sent me back to kill yourself before you gave the death order. ” “Only a very good man would have done that, William,” Aliea said. “Micael Drans is one of the few good men alive in these vicious times. He has to live-to meet the ship, welcome the aliens to our world! “Will you do it? ” Bailey asked. “Why-yes. Yes, of course! ” Life came back into Drans’ face. He turned to his desk, spoke rapidly into an intercom. Bailey opened his fingers, let the gun fall to the floor. He felt suddenly empty, exhausted. It was all meaningless now, a vista of blown dust, crumbling ashes.

“William-what is it? ” Aliea’s face wavered before him. “It’s all right now. It’s over. You did it. We did it. ” “A puppet,” Bailey said. “That’s all I was. I served my purpose. There’s nothing left. I’m back where I was. ” “Oh no! ” Aliea cried. “William, you’re wrong, so wrong! “For the first time in my life, I had pride, self-respect. I thought it was me who invaded Preke territory and stayed alive, absorbed an education, sweated out the Maxpo treatment. I believed it was me, William Bailey, who faced down the Crusters on their own turf, bluffed them all, took what I wanted, made my way here. But it wasn’t. It was him, guiding me every step of the way. And now it’s over, and there’s nothing left. ” Aliea smiled, shaking her head. “No, William. Think, remember! He gave you a mission, true. And one other thing he did: he took away fear.

The rest you did yourself. ” Bailey frowned at her. “I was like a man in a dream, all those weeks. That complex plan, the twisting and turning, the bluffs and the chances I took-” “Don’t you see? He couldn’t have planned it all. He had no way of knowing what would happen, how you should meet what came. It was you, William. Once fear is gone, all things are possible. ” “Aliea’s right,” Micael Drans said. He came around the desk to stand beside them. “There’s no way for me to thank you. But in eighteen hours, the Evala ship will take up its orbit beyond Luna-peacefully.

There will be much to be done. I’ll need help. Will you stay, accept positions on my personal staff? ” “Of course,” Aliea said. “If you really think-if I can be of any use . . . ” Bailey said. He felt Aliea’s hand touch his-felt the touch of her mind, delicate as a blown feather. Together, we’ll do it, William. “Yes,” he said. “I’ll stay. ” We must tell him, Aliea’s thought spoke in his mind. Bailey closed his eyes; together they reached out across the void, found him, waiting there in darkness. Together, they waited for the sound of a new thunder in the skies of Earth.