His hundred and fifty-first birthday dawned aboard the sleek ship from Cerulean, high above the white-capped ocean that was the earth. By nightfall he would be at home, in his beautiful robot-run house. Beyond the tall windows a landscape of the western hemisphere would fall away, pure with snow, to a frozen glycerine river. Far from the weather control of the cities, the seasons came and went there with all the passion and flamboyance of young women. And in the house, the three young women came and went like the seasons.

Dark slender Lyra with her starry eyes and her music— well-named; Joya, much darker, ebony skinned and angel-eyed, full of laughter—well-named, too. And the youngest, his only born child, made with a woman from whom he had long since parted: Estár, with her green-brown hair the color or the summer oak woods, and her unrested turbulent spirit—ill-named for a distant planet, meaning the same as the Greek word psyche.

It seemed his seed made daughters, either mixed with the particles of unknown women in crystal tubes, or mingled in a human womb. They were his heirs, both to his mercantile fortune and to his treasures of art and science. He loved each of them, and was loved in turn. But sometimes Estár filled him with a peculiar fear. Her life would never be simple, and perhaps never happy. He did not like to think of her, maybe far from the shelter of the house, the shelter he could give her. In fifty, sixty more years, he might be dead. What then?

Tonight, there was the ceremonial dinner party to welcome him home, and to mark his birthday. A few charming guests would be there, delighting in the golden rooms. There would be the exchange of presents, for, with every birthday, gifts were given as well as received. This time, they had told him those three, laughing, what they wanted. “Natural things!” they had cried. Lyra wished for pearls, real pearls, the kind only to be taken from oysters which had died, neither cultured nor killed for. And Joya had demanded a dress of silk, an old dress made before the ending of the silkworm trade. Estár, he guessed, had subconsciously put them up to it, and when her turn came he had waited, uneasy in some way he could not explain. “A rose,” she said, “a grown rose. But something from a hothouse or a city cultivatory won’t do.”

“In all this snow—” exclaimed Joya.

“I can send to the east,” he said.

“No,” said Estár, all too quietly. “You must pluck it yourself.”

“But then,” said Lyra, “he would have to detour from Cerulean. He’ll never be home in time for the dinner party to give you such a present.”

Estár smiled. “It seems I’ve posed you a riddle, Papa.”

“It seems you have,” he said, wincing a little at the title “Papa” which she had adopted from some book. His other daughters called him by his name, graciously, allowing him to be a person, not merely an adjunctive relation. “Well, I’ll keep my eyes wide for roses in the snow.”

Yet how ominous it had seemed, and not until the ship landed at the huge western terminus did he discover why.


“Mercator Levin? Would you be good enough to step this way?”

The attendant was human, a courteous formality that boded ill.

“Is anything wrong?” he asked. “My cargo?”

“Is quite in order, I assure you. The commissioner wishes to speak with you, on another matter.”

Perplexed, he followed, and presently entered the circular office with its panoramic views of the landing fields. Dusk was immanent, and the miles of ground constellated by lights. Far away, little flaming motes, the ships sank slowly down or up.

He was offered wines, teas, coffees, and other social stimulants. He refused them all, his oppression growing. The commissioner, a few years his junior, was patently troubled, and paving the way—to something. At last he leaned back in his chair, folded his hands and said,

“Depending on how you see your situation, Mercator Levin, it is my duty to inform you that either a great honor, or a great annoyance, is about to befall your family.”

“What can you mean?”

“This, sir, has been placed in our care, for you.”

He watched, he looked, he saw, and the control and poise of one and a half centuries deserted him. Risen from a recess in the desk, a slim crystal box stood transparent in the solarized light. A heap of soil lay on the floor of the box. Growing straight up from it was a translucent stem only faintly tinged with color, and leafless. At the head of the stem there blossomed a rose slender as a tulip, its petals a pale and singing green. There were no thorns, or rather only one and that metaphysical, if quite unbearably penetrating.

“I see it is not an honor,” said the commissioner, so softly Levin was unsure if he were dealing with a sadist or a man of compassion. In any event, that made no odds. “I’m very sorry, Mercator. But I had no choice. And you, as you know, have none either. As you see, the name and code stamped into the crystal are your own.”

“Yes,” he said.

“So, if you would be so kind. I am to act as the witness, you understand, of your acceptance.”

“But I don’t accept,” Levin said.

“You know, sir, that failure to comply—”

“I know. I’ll do it. But accept? How could I?”

“No.” And the commissioner lowered his eyes.

When he was within a foot of the desk and the box, the crystal opened for him. Levin reached in and took the smooth stem of the green rose in his fingers. The roots broke away with a crisp snap, like fresh lettuce, and a sweet aroma filled the air. It was the most disgusting, nauseating scent he had ever smelled.


Homecoming, normally so full of pleasure, was now resonant with dread. He dismissed the snow-car at the edge of the hill, and climbed, as he always did, toward the lovely, sprawling house. Most of it was of one-story construction in deference to the high winds that blew here in winter and often in the spring also, and all weatherproofed in a wonderful plasteel that made its walls seem to catch the prevailing light within themselves, glowing now a soft dull silver like the darkening sky. It had been turned into lace besides by the hundred golden windows—every illuminator was on to welcome him.

Inside, the house was warm and fragrant, old wood, fine synthetics. The robot servants had laid everything ready in his rooms, even to the selection of bedside books and music. His luggage was here ahead of him. He prepared himself, dressed for the party, went down. He had hurried to do so, but without eagerness. The glass of spirit he left untouched.

The main communal room of the house was some forty square meters, summer-heated from the floor, and also by the huge open central fire of natural coals, its suspended chimney like the glass pillar of an hallucination floating just above. How that chimney had fascinated Lyra and Joya as children. Something in its strength and exquisite airy unactuality—

For a while, the scene held in the room. They had not noticed him yet, though they expected him at any second. Lyra was playing the piano in a pool of light. What would it mean to her to be sent away? She was studying with two of the greatest musicians of the age, and already her compositions—three concertos, a symphony, song cycles, sonatas— were phenomenal and unique. She promised so much to herself, to her world. And she was, besides, in love. The young man who stood by the piano, watching her white hands, her face. Levin looked at him with a father’s jealousy and a father’s pride that the lover of his daughter should be both handsome and good. The Asiatic blood that showed in his amber skin, the carven features and slanting eyes, the violinist’s hands, the talent of his calling—all these were charming and endearing things.

And then, standing listening by the fire, Joya, jet-black on the redness of the coals, no longer fascinated by the chimney, fascinating instead her two admirers, one male and one female. They were her friends, poets, a little eccentric as all Joya’s friends turned out to be. It had alarmed him at first. He had feared she would be forced to change. But Joya had not altered, only extending her sunshine to others, giving them a steadiness they lacked, herself losing none. And she was now four months pregnant. She had told him her news the day he left, her eyes bright. It was splendid, enchanting. The thought of her as the mother of children filled him with painful happiness. She did not know who had fathered the child, which would be a son, nor did she care, had not bothered with the tests to discover. He had chided her gently, since the father had every right to know, and Joya had laughed: “Later. For now he’s only mine.”

And to send Joya away, two lives now—No! No, no.

Seated between the fire and the piano, the other guests were also listening to the music, four contemporaries of Levin’s, well-known, stimulating and restful people of experience, and, in one case, genius, and three well-liked others, mutual acquaintances of them all. And there, on the periphery of the group, alone, his third daughter, his born daughter, and he grew cold at the perfection of the omens. The apple tint she used upon her brown hair had been freshly enhanced. Her dress, of the fashion known as Second Renascence, was a pale and singing green. She played with a glass of wine in her left hand, twirling the stem between her fingers. The translucent stem. It was as if she had known. He had heard rumors of such things before. It was ironical, for just now he recalled, of course, that she had almost never been born, her mother’s frenetic lifestyle having brought on the preliminaries of an accidental abortion—the child had been saved, and had continued to grow inside the woman’s womb to a well coordinated seventh-month term. But how nearly—

Estár seemed to feel his eyes on her. She looked about, and, not speaking to anyone, got up and came noiselessly over to him in the doorway. She was tall and slim, and almost a stranger.

“Welcome home, Papa.” She did not reach to kiss him as the others did, restrained, perhaps inhibited. He had noticed it with many born children. Those not carried in flesh seemed far easier with the emotional expressions of the flesh, a paradox. “Did you,” said Estár, “find my rose?”

He looked at her in devastating sadness.

“At first, I thought I’d have to fail you,” he said. “But in the end—look. Here it is.”

And he held the green flower out to her in silence.

She gazed at it, and her pale face whitened. She knew it, and if by prescience she had foretold it, then that clearly had not been with her conscious mind. For a long while she did not take the rose, and then she reached out and drew it from his hand. The music was ending in the room. In another moment the others would become aware of his arrival, of this scene at the door.

“Yes,” Estár said. “I see it must be me. They are your daughters. I’m only your guest.”

“Estár,” he said. “What are you saying?”

“No,” she said, “I’m sorry. I meant only I have nothing to lose, or little—a nice home, a kind father—but they have everything to lose… love, children, brilliance—No, it has to be me, doesn’t it?”

“I intend to petition,” he began, and stopped.

“You know that everyone petitions. And it does no good at all. When do I have to leave?”

“The usual period is a month. Oh Estár—if there were anything at all—”

“You’d do it. I know. You’re marvelous, but mere are limits. It’s not as if I’ll never see you again. And, I respect your judgment. I do. To choose me.”

The music ended. There was applause and laughter, and then the first cry of his name across the room.

“You fool,” he said to his youngest daughter, “don’t you know that I chose you—not because I consider you expendable—but because I love you the best?”

“Oh,” she said. Her eyes filled with tears, and she lowered her head, not letting him see them.

“That is the decision this thing forces us to,” he said. “To sacrifice in blood. Could I ask you the unforgivable thing— not to tell the others until this wretched party is over?”

“Of course,” she said. “I’ll go to my rooms for a little, ten minutes, perhaps. Then I’ll come back, bright as light. Watch me. You’ll be proud. Tell them I went to put your—your gift in water.”

Levin had been a child five years old when the planet of his birth received its first officially documented visit from the stars. The alien ships fell like a summer snow, a light snow; there were not many. The moon cities, Martian Marsha, and the starry satellite colonies that drifted between, these the aliens by-passed. They came to the home world and presented it with gifts, clean and faultless technologies, shining examples of intellect and industry, from a culture similar to, much advanced on, greatly differing from, the terrestrial. And later, like wise guests not outstaying their welcome, the ships, and most of the persons who came with the ships, went away. Their general purpose was oblique if altruistic. The purpose of those who remained less so, more so. At first they were seen in the capacity of prefects. To some extent, Earth had been conquered. Left free, no doubt she must still answer now and then to her benign superiors. But the remaining aliens required neither answers nor menials. It seemed they stayed only because they wished to, in love with Earth, tired of journeying… something of this sort. Perfectly tended by their own machineries, setting up their own modest estates far from the cities and the thoroughfares of popular life, they appropriated nothing and intruded not at all. They seemed content merely to be there. It was easy, for the most part, to forget them.

And then, about the time that Levin ended his adult education, around twenty-six or so, the first roses were sent. Immersed in a last fascinating study of something he had now quite forgotten, he missed the event. Only common outcry had alerted him. He remembered ever after the broodingly sinister concern that overcame him. It seemed the aliens in fact had decided to demand one thing. Or rather, they asked, courteously and undeniably. Somehow, without any threat, it was made clear that they could take without asking, that to ask was their good manners. The rose was a gracious summons, and with the first roses an explanation went of what the gracious summons entailed. Despite the outcry, despite petitionings, letters, speeches loudly made in the senates and councils of every nation and every ethnic alliance of the world, the summonses were obeyed. There was no other choice. I will not, had been replied to, gently, inimitably: You will

Without force, without threat, by unspoken undemonstrated implication only. The Earth was in fee to her friends. Stunned at the first, the only blow, there was, finally, no battle. The battles came later, seventy years later, when the second wave of roses—those alien roses from gardens blooming with me seeds of another planet, roses purple, azure, green—was dashed across humanity’s quietude. Some resorted to concealment, then, and some fought. Some simply refused, standing firm; alone. But once again the inexorable pressure, invisibly and indecipherably applied, undid them. Men found themselves in conflict only with other men. The aliens did not attack them or seize from them. But they waited and were felt to be waiting. Roses thrown on fire were found not to burn. Roses flung among garbage were mysteriously returned, all burnished. The aliens made no other demand. The first demand was always enough. Without their gifts, humanity would not thrive quite as it did. Gradually, persuaded by their own kind, bamboozled, worn out with beating their heads on the hard walls of censure, those who had hidden and fought and stood alone, crumbled, gave in, let go.

And it was a fact, in all the first two waves of the sending of the roses, and in all the sporadic individual sendings that had followed in these fifty years after the two waves, nothing had ever been asked of those who could not spare the payment. It had a kind of mathematical soulless logic, hopelessly unhuman—inhuman.

Always the families to whom the roses went were rich— not prosperous, as almost all men were now prosperous—but something extra. Rich, and endowed with friends and kin, abilities of the mind and spirit: consolations for the inevitable loss. The loss of one child. A son, or a daughter, whichever of the household was best suited to be sent, could most easily be spared, was the most likely to find the prospect challenging or acceptable, or, endurable.

He remembered how at twenty-six it had suggested to him immolations to Moloch and to Jupiter, young children given to the god. But that was foolish, of course. They did not, when they went to the alien estates, go there to die, or even to worship, to extend service. They were neither sacrifices nor slaves. They had been seen quite often after, visiting their families, corresponding with them. Their lives continued on those little pieces of alien ground, much as they had always done. They were at liberty to move about the area, the buildings, the surrounding landscapes, at liberty to learn what they wished of the aliens’ own world, and all its facets of science and poetry.

There was only discernible in them, those ones who went away, a distancing, and a dreadful sourceless silence, which grew.

The visits to their homes became less. Their letters and videoings ceased. They melted into the alien culture and were gone. The last glimpses of their faces were always burdened and sad, as if against advice they had opened some forbidden door and some terrible secret had overwhelmed them. The bereaved families knew that something had consumed their sons and daughters alive, and not even bones were left for them to bury.

It was feared, though seldom spoken of, that it was natural xenophobia, revulsion, which destroyed and maybe killed the hearts of humanity’s children. They had grown with their own kind, and then were sent to dwell with another kind. Their free revisitings of family and friends would only serve to point the differences more terribly between human and alien. The aliens—and this was almost never spoken of—were ugly, were hideous. So much had been learned swiftly, at the very beginning. Out of deference to their new world, out of shame, perhaps, they covered their ugliness with elegant garments, gloves, masking draperies, hoods and visors. Yet, now and then, a sighting—enough. They were like men or women, a little taller, a slender, finely muscled race… But their very likeness made their differences the mare appalling, their loathsomeness more unbearable. And there were those things which now and then must be revealed, some inches of pelted hairy skin, the gauntleted over-fingered hands, the brilliant eyes empty of white, lensed by their yellow conjunctiva.

These, the senders of roses.

It seemed, without knowing, Levin always had known that one day the obscene sacrifice would be asked of him. To one of these creatures would now travel his youngest daughter Estár, who wore by choice the clothing of reborn history.

While she ordered the packing of her luggage, he wrote letters and prepared tapes of appeal and righteous anger.

Both knew it to be useless.

Somewhere in the house, Joya and Lyra wept.

On the first day of Midwinter, the snow-car stood beside the porch.

“Good-bye,” she said.

“I will—” he began.

“I know you’ll do everything you can.” She looked at her sisters, who were restraining their frightened tears with skill and decorum so that she should not be distressed. “I shall see you in the spring. I’ll make sure of that,” she said. It was true, no doubt. Joya kissed her. Lyra could not risk the gesture, and only pressed her hand. “Good-bye,” Estár said again, and went away.

The snow sprang in two curved wings from the car. In ten seconds it was a quarter of a mile away. The snow fell back. The sound of crying was loud. Levin took his two remaining daughters in his arms and they clung to him. Catching sight of them all in a long mirror, he wryly noted he and they were like a scene from an ancient play—Greek tragedy or Shakespeare: Oedipus and Antigone, Lear with Cordelia lost—A Winter’s Tale.

He wondered if Estár cried, now that she was in private and unseen.


Estár had not cried; she was sickened from fear and rage. Neither of these emotions had she expressed, even to herself, beyond the vaguest abstracts. She had always been beset by her feelings, finding no outlet. From the start, she had seen Lyra express herself through music, Joya through communica-tino. But Estár had been born with no creative skills and had learned none. She could speak coherently and seemingly to the point, she could, if required to, write concise and quite interesting letters, essays and fragments of descriptive poetry. But she could not convey herself to others. And for herself, what she was aware of, suffered, longed for—these concepts had never come clear. She had no inkling as to what she wanted, and had often upbraided herself for her lack of content and pleasure in the riches fate had brought her, her charming family, the well-ordered beauty of her world. At fifteen, she had considered a voluntary term at Marsha, the Martian colonial belt, but had been dissuaded by physical circumstance. It seemed her lungs, healthy enough for Earth, were not of a type to do well for her in the thin half-built atmosphere of Mars. She had not grieved, she had not wanted to escape to another planet any more than she wanted anything else. There had simply been a small chance that on Mars she might have found a niche for herself, a raison d’Estár.

Now, this enforced event affected her in a way that surprised her. What did it matter after all if she were exiled? She was no ornament at home to herself or others and might just as well be placed with the ambiguous aliens. She could feel, surely, no more at a loss with this creature than with her own kind, her own kin.

The fear was instinctive, of^course, she did not really question that. But her anger puzzled her. Was it the lack of choice? Or was it only that she had hoped eventually to make a bond between herself and those who loved her, perhaps to find some man or woman, one who would not think her tiresome and unfathomable and who, their novelty palling, she would not come to dislike. And now these dreams were gone. Those who must live with the aliens were finally estranged from all humanity, that was well known. So, she had lost her own chance at becoming human.

It was a day’s journey. The car, equipped with all she might conceivably need, gave her hot water and perfumed soap, food, drink, played her music, offered her books and films. The blue-white winter day only gradually deepened into dusk. She raised the opaque blinds of the forward windows and looked where the vehicle was taking her.

They were crossing water, partly frozen. Ahead stood a low mountain. From its conical exaggerated shape, she took it to be man-made, one of the structured stoneworks that here and there augmented the Earth. Soon they reached a narrow shore, and as the dusk turned gentian, the car began to ascend.

A gentle voice spoke to her from the controls. It seemed that in ten minutes she would have arrived.


There was a tall steel gate at which the snow-car was exchanged for a small vehicle that ran on an aerial cable. Forty feet above the ground, Estár looked from the window at the mile of cultivated land below, which was a garden. Before the twilight had quite dispersed, she saw a weather control existed, manipulating the seasons. It was autumn by the gate and yellow leaves dripped from the trees. Later, autumn trembled into summer, and heavy foliage swept against the sides of the car. It was completely dark when the journey ended, but as the car settled on its platform, the mild darkness and wild scents of spring came in through its opening doors.

She left the car and was borne down a moving stair, a metal servant flying leisurely before with her luggage. Through wreaths of pale blossom she saw a building, a square containing a glowing orb of roof, and starred by external illuminators.

She reached the ground. Doors bloomed into light and opened.

A lobby, quite large, a larger room beyond. A room of seductive symmetry—she had expected nothing else. There was no reason why it should not be pleasant, even enough like other rooms she had seen as to appear familiar. Yet, too, there was something indefinably strange, a scent, perhaps, or some strain of subsonic noise. It was welcome, the strangeness. To find no alien thing at once could have disturbed her. And maybe such psychology was understood, and catered to.

A luminous bead came to hover in the air like a tame bird.

“Estár Levina,” it said, and its voice was like that of a beautiful unearthly child. “I will be your guide. A suite has been prepared for you. Any questions you may wish—”

“Yes,” she broke in, affronted by its sweetness, “when shall I meet—with your controller?”

“Whenever you desire, Estár Levina.”

“When I desire? Suppose I have no desire ever to meet— him?”

“If such is to be your need, it will be respected, wherever possible.”

“And eventually it will no longer be possible and I shall be briskly escorted into his presence.”

The bead shimmered in the air.

“There is no coercion. You are forced to do nothing which does not accord with your sense of autonomy.”

“But I’m here against my will,” she said flatly.

The bead shimmered, shimmered.

Presently she let it lead her silently across the symmetrical alien room, and into other symmetrical alien rooms.


Because of what the voice-bead had said to her, however, she kept to her allotted apartment, her private garden, for a month.

The suite was beautiful, and furnished with all she might require. She was, she discovered, even permitted access, via her own small console, to the library bank of the house. Anything she could not obtain through her screen, the voice-bead would have brought for her. In her garden, which had been designed in the manner of the Second Renascence, high summer held sway over the slender ten-foot topiary. When darkness fell, alabaster lamps lit themselves softly among the foliage and under the falling tails of water.

She wondered if she was spied on. She acted perversely and theatrically at times in case this might be so. At others she availed herself of much of what the technological dwelling could give her.

Doors whisked open, clothes were constructed and brought, baths run, tapes deposited as though by invisible hands. It was as if she were waited on by phantoms. The science of Earth had never quite achieved this fastidious level, or had not wanted to. The unseen mechanisms and energies in the air would even turn the pages of books for her, if requested.

She sent a letter to her father after two days. If read simply:

I am here and all is well. Even to her the sparseness was disturbing. She added a postscript: Joya must stop crying over me or her baby will be washed away.

She wondered, as her letter was wafted out, if the alien would read it.

On the tenth day, moodily, she summoned from the library literature and spoken theses on the aliens’ culture and their world.

“Curiosity,” she said to the walls, “killed the cat.” She knew already, of course, what they most resembled— some species of huge feline, the hair thick as moss on every inch of them save the lips, the nostrils, the eyes, and the private areas of the body. Though perhaps ashamed of their state, they had never hidden descriptions of themselves, only their actual selves, behind the visors and the draperies.

She noted that while there were many three-dimensional stills of their planet, and their deeds there and elsewhere, no moving videos were available, and this perhaps was universally so.

She looked at thin colossal mountain ranges, tiny figures in the foreground, or sporting activities in a blur of dust—the game clear, the figures less so. Tactfully, no stress was laid even here, in their own habitat, on their unpalatable differences. What Earth would see had been vetted. The sky of their planet was blue, like the sky of Earth. And yet utterly alien in some way that was indecipherable. The shape of the clouds, maybe, the depth of the horizon… Like the impenetrable differences all about her. Not once did she wake from sleep disoriented, thinking herself in her father’s house.

The garden appealed to her, however; she took aesthetic comfort from it. She ate out on a broad white terrace under the leaves and the stars in the hot summer night, dishes floating to her hands, wine and coffees into her goblet, her cup, and a rose-petal paper cigarette into her fingers.

Everywhere secrets, everywhere the concealed facts.

“If,” she said to the walls, “I am observed, are you enjoying it, O Master?” She liked archaic terms, fashions, music, art, attitudes. They had always solaced her, and sometimes given her weapons against her own culture which she had not seemed to fit. Naturally, inevitably, she did not really feel uneasy here. As she had bitterly foreseen, she was no more un-at-home in the alien’s domicile than in her father’s.

But why was she here? The ultimate secret. Not a slave, not a pet. She was free as air. As presumably all the others were free. And the answers that had come from the lips and styluses of those others had never offered a satisfactory solution. Nor could she uncover the truth, folded in this privacy.

She was growing restless. The fear, the rage, had turned to a fearful angry ache to know—to seek her abductor, confront him, perhaps touch him, talk to him.

Curiosity… If by any chance he did not spy on her, did not nightly read reports on her every action from the machines of the house, why then the Cat might be curious too.

“How patient you’ve been,” she congratulated the walls, on the morning of the last day of the month. “Shall I invite you to my garden? Or shall I meet you in yours?” And then she closed her eyes and merely thought, in concise clipped words within her brain: I will wait for you on the lawn before the house, under all that blossom. At sunset.

And there at sunset she was, dressed in a version of Earth’s fifteenth century, and material developed from Martian dust crystals.

Through the blossoming spring trees the light glittered red upon her dress and on her, and then a shadow came between her and the sun.

She looked up, and an extraordinary sensation filled her eyes, her head, her whole torso. It was not like fear at all, more like some other tremendous emotion. She almost burst into tears.

He was here. He had read her mind. And, since he had been able to do that, it was improbable he had ever merely spied on her at all.

“You admit it,” she said. “Despite your respect for my— my privacy—how funny!—you admit I have none!”

He was taller than she, but not so much taller that she was unprepared for it. She herself was tall. He was covered, as the aliens always covered themselves, totally, entirely. A glint of oblique sun slithered on the darkened face-plate through which he saw her, and through which she could not see him at all. The trousers fit close to his body, and the fabric shone somewhat, distorting, so she could be sure of nothing. There was no chink. The garments adhered. Not a centimeter of body surface showed, only its planes, male and well-formed: familiar, alien—like the rooms, the skies of his world. His hands were cased in gauntlets, a foolish, inadvertent complement to her own apparel. The fingers were long. There were six of them. She had seen a score of photographs and threedems of such beings.

But what had happened. That was new.

Then he spoke to her, and she realized with a vague shock that some mechanism was at work to distort even his voice so it should not offend her kind.

“That I read your thoughts was not an infringement of your privacy, Estár Levina. Consider. You intended that they should be read, I admit, my mind is sensitive to another mind which signals to it. You signaled very strongly. Almost, I might say, with a razor’s edge.”

I,” she said, “am not a telepath.”

“I’m receptive to any such intentional signal. Try to believe me when I tell you I don’t, at this moment, know what you are thinking. Although I could guess.”

His voice had no accent, only the mechanical distortion. And yet it was—charming—in some way that was quite abhuman, quite unacceptable.


They walked awhile in the outer garden in the dusk. Illuminators ignited to reveal vines, orchids, trees—all of another planet, mutating gently among the strands of terrestrial vegetation.

Three feet high, a flower like an iris with petals like dark blue flames allowed the moon to climb its stem out of the valley below.

They barely spoke. Now and then she asked a question, and he replied. Then, somewhere among a flood of Earthly sycamores, she suddenly found he was telling her a story, a myth of his own world. She listened, tranced. The weird voice, the twilight, the spring perfume, and the words themselves made a sort of rhapsody. Later that night, alone, she discovered she could not remember the story and was forced to search it out among the intellectual curios of the library bank. Deprived of his voice, the garden and the dusk, it was a very minor thing, common to many cultures, and patently more than one planet. A quest, a series of tasks. It was the multitude of plants which had prompted the story, that and the rising of a particular star.

When they reentered the house, they went into an upper room, where a dinner was served. And where he also ate and drank. The area of the facial mask which corresponded with his lips incredibly somehow was not there as he raised goblet or fork toward them. And then, as he lowered the utensil, it was there once more, solid and unbreachable as ever. Not once, during these dissolves of seemingly impenetrable matter, did she catch a glimpse of what lay beyond. She stared, and her anger rose like oxygen, filling her, fading.

“I apologize for puzzling you,” he said. “The visor is constructed of separable atoms and molecules, a process not yet in use generally on Earth. If this bothers you, I can forgo my meal.”

“It bothers me. Don’t forgo your meal. Why,” she said, “are you able to eat Earth food? Why has this process of separable atoms not been given to Earth?” And, to her astonishment, her own fragile glass dropped from her hand in pieces that never struck the floor.

“Have you been cut?” his distorted voice asked her unemphatically.

Estár beheld she had not.

“I wasn’t,” she said, “holding it tightly enough for that to happen.”

“The house is eager to serve you, unused to you, and so misunderstands at times. You perhaps wanted to crush something?”

“I should like,” she said, “to return to my father’s house.”

“At any time, you may do so.”

“But I want,” she said, “to stay there. I mean that I don’t want to come back here.”

She waited. He would say she had to come back. Thus, she would have forced him to display his true and brutal omnipotence.

He said, “I’m not reading your mind, I assure you of that. But I can sense instantly whenever you lie.”

“Lie? What am I lying about? I said, I want to go home.”

“ ‘Home’ is a word which has no meaning for you, Estár Levina. This is as much your home as the house of your father.”

“This is the house of a beast,” she said, daringly. She was very cold, as if winter had abruptly broken in. “A superior, wondrous monster.” She sounded calm. “Perhaps I could kill it. What would happen then? A vengeance fleet dispatched from your galaxy to destroy the terrestrial solar system?”

“You would be unable to kill me. My skin is very thick and resilient. The same is true of my internal structure. You could, possibly, cause me considerable pain, but not death.”

“No, of course not.” She lowered her eyes from the blank shining mask. Her pulses beat from her skull to her soles. She was ashamed of her ineffectual tantrum. “I’m sorry. Sorry for my bad manners, and equally for my inability to murder you. I think I should go back to my own rooms.”

“But why?” he said. “My impression is that you would prefer to stay here.”

She sat and looked at him hopelessly.

“It’s not,” he said, “that I disallow your camouflage, but the very nature of camouflage is that it should successfully wed you to your surroundings. You are trying to lie to yourself, and not to me. This is the cause of your failure.”

“Why was I brought here?” she said. “Other than to be played with and humiliated.” To her surprise and discomfort, she found she was being humorous, and laughed shortly. He did not join in her laughter, but she sensed from him something that was also humorous, receptive. “Is it an experiment in adaptation; in tolerance?”

“To determine how much proximity a human can tolerate to one of us?”

“Or vice versa.”


«Then what?“

There was a pause. Without warning, a torrent of nausea and fear swept over her. Could he read it from her? Her eyes blackened and she put one hand over them. Swiftly, almost choking, she said, “If there is an answer, don’t, please don’t tell me.”

He was silent, and after a few moments she was better. She sipped the cool wine from the new goblet which had swum to her place. Not looking at him at all, she said, “Have I implanted this barrier against knowledge of that type, or have you?”

“Estár,” she heard him say, far away across the few yards of the table, “Estár, your race tends sometimes to demand too little or too much of itself. If there’s an answer to your question, you will find it in your own time. You are afraid of the idea of the answer, not the answer itself. Wait until the fear goes.”

“How can the fear go? You’ve condemned me to it, keeping me here.”

But her words were lies, and now she knew it.

She had spoken more to him in a space of hours than to any of her own kind. She had been relaxed enough in his company almost to allow herself to faint, when, on the two other occasions of her life that she had almost fainted, in company with Levin, or with Lyra, Estár had clung to consciousness in horror, unreasonably terrified to let go.

The alien sat across the table. Not a table knife, not an angle of the room, but was subtly strange in ways she could not place or understand. And he, his ghastly nightmarish ugliness swathed in its disguise…

Again with no warning she began to cry. She wept for three minutes in front of him, dimly conscious of some dispassionate compassion that had nothing to do with involvement. Sobbing, she was aware after all he did not read her thoughts. Even the house did not, though it brought her a foam of tissues. After the three minutes she excused herself and left him. And now he did not detain her.

In her rooms, she found her bed blissfully prepared and lay down on it, letting the mechanisms, visible and invisible, undress her. She woke somewhere in the earliest morning and called the bead like a drop of rain and sent it to fetch the story he had told her.

She resolved she would not go near him again until he summoned her.

A day passed.

A night.

A day.

She thought about him. She wrote a brief essay on how she analyzed him, his physical aura, his few gestures, his inherent hideousness to which she must always be primed, even unknowingly. The distorted voice that nevertheless was so fascinating.

A night.

She could not sleep. He had not summoned her. She walked in her private garden under the stars and found a green rose growing there, softly lighted by a shallow lamp. She gazed on the glow seeping through the tensed and tender petals. She knew herself enveloped in such a glow, a light penetrating her resistance.

“The electric irresistible charisma,” she wrote, “of the thing one has always yearned for. To be known, accepted, and so to be at peace. No longer unique, or shut in, or shut out, or alone.”

A day.

She planned how she might run away. Escaping the garden, stumbling down the mountain, searching through the wilderness for some post of communications or transport The plan became a daydream and he found her.

A night.

A day.

That day, she stopped pretending, and suddenly he was in her garden. She did not know how he had arrived, but she stepped between the topiary and he was there. He extended his hand in a formal greeting; gloved, six-fingered, not remotely unwieldy. She took his hand. They spoke. They talked all that day, and some of the night, and he played her music from his world and she did not understand it, but it touched some chord in her, over and over with all of its own fiery chords.

She had never comprehended what she needed of herself. She told him of things she had forgotten she knew. He taught her a board game from his world, and she taught him a game with dots of colored light from Earth.

One morning she woke up singing, singing in her sleep. She learned presently she herself had invented the fragment of melody and the handful of harmonies. She worked on it alone, forgetting she was alone, since the music was with her. She did not tell him about the music until he asked her, and then she played it to him.

She was only ashamed very occasionally, and then it was not a cerebral, rather a hormonal thing. A current of some fluid nervous element would pass through her, and she would recall Levin, Lyra, Joya. Eventually something must happen, for all that happened now was aside from life, unconnected to it.

She knew the Alien’s name by then. It had no earthly equivalents, and she could not write it, could not even say it; only think it. So she thought it.

She loved him. She had done so from the first moment she had stood with him under the spring trees. She loved him with a sort of welcome, the way diurnal creatures welcome the coming of day.

He must know. If not from her mind, then from the manner in which, on finding him, she would hurry toward him along the garden walks. The way she was when with him. The flowering of her creativity, her happiness.

What ever would become of her?

She sent her family three short noncommittal soothing letters, nothing compared to the bulk of their own.

When the lawns near the house had altered to late summer, it was spring in the world and, as she had promised, Estár went to visit her father.


Buds like emerald vapor clouded the boughs of the woods beyond the house. The river rushed beneath, heavy with melted snows. It was a windless day, and her family had come out to meet Estár. Lyra, a dark note of music, smiling, Joya, smiling, both looking at her, carefully, tactfully, assessing how she would prefer to be greeted, not knowing. How could they? Joya was slim again. Her child had been born two weeks ago, a medically forward seven-month baby, healthy and beauteous—they had told her in a tape, the most recent of the ten tapes they had sent her, along with Lyra’s letters… Levin was standing by the house door, her father.

They all greeted her, in fact, effusively. It was a show, meant to convey what they were afraid to convey with total sincerity.

They went in, talking continuously, telling her everything. Lyra displayed a wonderful chamber work she and Ekosun, her lover, were at work on—it was obvious he had been staying with her here, and had gone away out of deference to Estár’s return, her need for solitary confinement with her family. Joya’s son was brought, looking perfectly edible, the color of molasses, opening on a toothless strawberry mouth and two wide amber eyes. His hair was already thick, the color of corn. “You see,” said Joya, “I know the father now, without a single test. This hair—the only good thing about him.”

“She refuses even to let him know,” said Levin.

“Oh, I will. Sometime. But the child will take my name, or yours, if you allow it.”

They drank tea and ate cakes. Later there came wine, and later there came dinner. While there was food and drink, news to tell, the baby to marvel at, a new cat to play with—a white cat, with a long grey understripe from tail to chin-tip—a new picture to worship, Lyra’s music to be heard—while there was all this, the tension was held at bay, almost unnoticeable. About midnight, there came a lull. The baby was gone, the cat slept, the music was done and the picture had faded beyond the friendly informal candlelight. Estár could plead tiredness and go to bed, but then would come tomorrow. It must be faced sometime.

“I haven’t,” she said, “really told you anything about where I’ve been.”

Joya glanced aside. Lyra stared at her bravely.

Levin said, “In fact, you have.”

She had, he thought, told them a very great deal. She was strangely different. Not actually in any way he might have feared. Rather, she seemed more sure, quieter, more still, more absorbent, more favorably aware of them than ever in the past. One obvious thing, something that seemed the emblem of it all, the unexpected form of this change in her— her hair. Her hair now was a calm pale brown, untinted, no longer green.

“What have I told you then?” she said, and smiled, not intending to, in case it should be a smile of triumph.

“At least,” he said, “that we needn’t be afraid for you.”

“No. Don’t be. I’m really rather happy.”

It was Lyra who burst out, unexpectedly, shockingly, with some incoherent protest.

Estár looked at her.

“He’s—” she sought a word, selected one, “interesting. His world is interesting. I’ve started to compose music. Nothing like yours, not nearly as complex or as excellent, but it’s fulfilling. I like doing it. I shall get better.”

“I’m so sorry,” said Lyra. “I didn’t mean—it’s simply—”

“That I shouldn’t be happy because the situation is so unacceptable. Yes. But it isn’t. I’d never have chosen to go there, because I didn’t know what it would entail. But, in fact, it’s exactly the sort of life I seem to need. You remember when I meant to go to Marsha? I don’t think I would have done as much good there as I’m doing here, for myself. Perhaps I even help him in some way. I suppose they must study us, benignly. Perhaps I’m useful.”

“Oh, Estár,” Lyra said. She began to cry, begged their pardon and went out of the room, obviously disgusted at her own lack of finesse. Joya rose and explained she was going to look after Lyra. She too went out.

“Oh dear,” said Estár.

“It’s all right,” Levin said. “Don’t let it trouble you too much. Over-excitement. First a baby invades us, then you. But go on with what you were saying. What do you do on this mountain?”

He sat and listened as she told him. She seemed able to express herself far better than before, yet even so he was struck by the familiarity rather than the oddness of her life with the alien. Really, she did little there she might not have done here. Yet here she had never done it. He pressed her lightly, not trusting the ice to bear his weight, for details of the being with whom she dwelled.

He noticed instantly that, although she had spoken of him freely, indeed very often, in the course of relating other things, she could not seem to speak of him directly with any comfort. There was an embarrassment quite suddenly apparent in her. Her gestures became angular and her sentences dislocated.

Finally, he braced himself. He went to the mahogany cabinet that was five hundred years old, and standing before it pouring a brandy somewhat younger, he said, “Please don’t answer this if you’d rather not. But I’m afraid I’ve always suspected that, despite all genetic, ethnic or social disparity, those they selected to live with them would ultimately become their lovers. Am I right, Estár?”

He stood above the two glasses and waited.

She said, “Nothing of that sort has ever been discussed.”

“Do you have reason to think it will be?”

“I don’t know.”

“I’m not asking out of pure concern, nor out of any kind of prurient curiosity. One assumes, judging from what the others have said or indicated, that nobody has ever been raped or coerced. That implies some kind of willingness.”

“You’re asking me if I’d be willing to be his lover?”

“I’m asking if you are in love with him.”

Levin turned with the glasses, and took her the brandy. She accepted and looked at it. Her face, even averted, had altered, and he felt a sort of horror. Written on her quite plainly was that look he had heard described—a deadly sorrow, a drawing inward and away. Then it was gone.

“I don’t think I’m ready to consider that,” she said.

“What is it,” he said, “that gives you a look of such deep pain?”

“Let’s talk about something else,” she said.

Merchant and diplomat, he turned the conversation at once, wondering if he were wrong to do so.

They talked about something else.

It was only much later, when they parted for the night, that he said to her, “Anything I can do to help you, you’ve only to tell me.”

And she remembered when he brought the rose and gave it to her, how he had said he loved her the best. She wondered if one always loved, then, what was unlike, incompatible.

“This situation has been rather an astonishment to us all,” he added now. She approved of him for that, somehow. She kissed him good night. She was so much easier with him, as if estrangement had made them closer, which it had not.


Two weeks passed, Lyra and Joya laughed and did not cry. There were picnics, boat rides, air trips. Lyra played in live concert, and they went to rejoice in her. Things now seemed facile enough that Ekosun came back to the house, and after that a woman lover of Joya’s. They breakfasted and dined in elegant restaurants. There were lazy days too, lying on cushions in the communal rooms listening to music tapes or watching video plays, or reading, or sleeping late, Estár in her old rooms among remembered things that no longer seemed anything to do with her. The green rose of her summons, which would not die but which had something to do with her, had been removed.

It was all like that now. A brightly colored interesting adventure in which she gladly participated, with which she had no link. The very fact that their life captivated her now was because of its—alienness. And her family, too. How she liked and respected them all at once, what affection she felt for them. And for the same reason.

She could not explain it to them, and would be ill-advised to do so even if she could. She lied to herself, too, keeping her awareness out of bounds as long as she might. But she sensed the lie. It needed another glass of wine, or another chapter of her book, or a peal of laughter, always something, and then another thing and then another, to hold it off.

At the end of two weeks her pretense was wearing thin and she was exhausted. She found she wanted to cry out at them: I know who you are! You are my dear friends, my dazzling idols—I delight in you, admire you, but I am sometimes uneasy with you. Now I need to rest and I want to go—

Now I want to go home.

And then the other question brushed her, as it must. The house on the mountain was her home because he (she wordlessly expressed his name) was there. And because she loved him. Yet in what way did she love him? As one loved an animal? A friend? A lord? A teacher? A brother? Or in the way Levin had postulated, with a lover’s love? And darkness would fall down on her mind and she would close the door on it. It was unthinkable.

When she devised the first tentative move toward departure, there was no argument. They made it easy for her. She saw they had known longer than she that she wanted to leave.


“I almost forgot to give you these. I meant to the first day you came back. They’re fawn topaz, just the color your hair is now.”

On Joya’s smoky palm, the stones shone as if softly alight.

“Put your hair back, the way you had it at the concert, and wear them then.”

“Thank you,” said Estár. “They’re lovely.”

She reached toward the earrings and found she and her sister were suddenly holding hands with complete naturalness. At once she felt the pulse under Joya’s skin, and a strange energy seemed to pass between them, like a healing touch.

They laughed, and Estár said unthinkingly, “But when shall I wear them on the mountain?”

“Wear them for him,” said Joya.


“For him,” said Joya again, very firmly.

“Oh,” Estár said, and removed her hand.

“No, none of us have been debating it when you were out of the room,” said Joya. “But we do know. Estár, listen to me, there’s truly nothing wrong in feeling emotion for this— for him, or even wanting him sexually.”

“Oh really, Joya.”

Listen. I know you’re very innocent. Not ignorant, innocent. And there’s nothing wrong in that either. But now—”

“Stop it, Joya.” Estár turned away, but the machines packing her bag needed no supervision. She stared helplessly at the walls. Joya would not stop.

“There is only one obstacle. In your case, not culture or species. You know what it is. They way they look. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, Estár. But this is the root of all your trouble, isn’t it?”

“How do I know?” She was exasperated.

“There is no way you can know. Unless you’ve seen him already, without that disguise they wear. Have you?”

Estár said nothing. Her silence, obviously, was eloquent enough.

“Go back then,” said Joya, “go back and make him let you see him. Or find some way to see him when he doesn’t realize you can. And then you will know.”

“Perhaps I don’t want to know.”

“Perhaps not. But you’ve gone too far.”

“You’re trying to make me go too far. You don’t understand.”

“Oh, don’t I?”

Estár rounded on her, and furiously saw only openness.

“You might possibly,” said Estár, “want to spoil—something—”

“I might. But what does that matter? He—it—whatever the alien is, he’s real and living and male and you’re committed to him, and until you see him and know if you can bear it, how can you dare commit yourself?”

“But they’re ugly,” Estár said flatly. The words, she found, meant very little.

“Some humans are ugly. They can still be loved, loving.”

“Suppose somehow I do see him—and I can’t think how I would be able to—and suppose then I can’t stand to look at him—”

“Then your feelings will undergo some kind of alternate channeling. But the way you are now is absurd.”

“Oh prithee, sweet sister,” Estár snarled, “let me be. Or, blameless one, throw thou the first stone.”

Joya looked bemused. Then she said, “I did, didn’t I? Two of them. You caught them, too.”

And went out of the room, leaving the brown topaz earrings in Estár’s hand.

It was so simple to return in the end it was like being borne away by a landslide.

All at once she was in a vehicle, the house flowing of! behind her to a minuscule dot, and so to nothing. Then she was alone and sat down with her thoughts to consider everything—and abruptly, before she was ready, the conical mountain loomed before her.

There was a ghost of winter frost in the garden by the gate. Further on, the banana-yellow leaves were falling. She had seen many places anachronized by a weather control, yet here it seemed rather wonderful… for no reason at all.

The blossom was gone from about the building, but roses had opened everywhere. Alien roses, very tall, the colors of water and sky, not the blood and blush, parchment, pallor and shadow shades of Earth. She walked through a wheatfield of roses and in at the doors.

She went straight through all the intervening rooms and arrived in the suite the Alien called—had given her. There, she looked about her steadfastly. Even now, she was not entirely familiar with the suite, and unfamiliar with large sections of the house and gardenland.

Under such circumstances, it was not possible to recognize this place as her home. Even if, intellectually, she did so.

She wondered where he might be in the house. Surely he would know she had returned. Of course he would know. If she went out into her own garden, perhaps—

A word was spoken. It meant “yes.” And although she did not know the word she knew its meaning for it had been spoken inside her head.

She waited, trembling. How close they were, then, if he could speak to her in such a way. She had been probing, seeking for him, her intuitive telepathy now quite strong, and she had touched him, and in turn been touched. There was no sense of intrusion. The word spoken in her head was like a caress, polite and very gentle.

So she went out into her garden, where is was beginning to be autumn now, and where the topiary craned black against the last of the day’s sunlight. He stood just beyond the trees, by the stone basin with the colored fish. A heron made of blue steel balanced forever on the rim, peering downward, but the fish were sophisticated and unafraid of it, since it had never attacked them.

Suppose it was this way with herself? There he stood, swathed, masked, hidden. He had never given her cause to fear him. But was that any reason not to?

He took her hand; she gave her hand. She loved him, and was only frightened after all because he must know it. They began to talk, and soon she no longer cared that she loved him or that he knew.

They discussed much and nothing, and it was all she had needed. She felt every tense string of her body and her brain relaxing. All but one. What Levin, her father, had hinted, what Lyra had shied away from saying and Joya said. Could he perceive and sense this thing in her thoughts? Probably. And if she asked, in what way would he put her off? And could she ask? And would she ask?

When they dined that evening, high up in the orb of the roof, only the table lit, and the stars thickly clustered over the vanes above, she watched the molecules parting in his visor to accommodate cup or goblet or fork.

Later, when they listened to the music of his planet, she watched his long hands, cloaked in their gauntlets, resting so quiet yet so animate on the arms of a chair they were like sleeping cats.

Cat’s eyes. If she saw them would she scream with horror? Yes, for weeks her sleep had been full of dreams of him, incoherent but sexual dreams, dreams of desire. And yet he was a shadow. She dreamed of coupling in the dark, blind, unseeing. She could hate Joya for being so right.

When the music ended, there came the slow turn of his head, and she beheld the graceful power of it, that concealed skull pivoted by that unseen neck. The cloaked hands flexed. The play of muscle ran down his whole body like a wave, and he had risen to his feet, in a miracle of coordinated movement.

“You’re very tired, Estár,” he said.

“But you know what I want to ask you.”

“Perhaps only what you feel you should want to ask.”

“To see you. As you are. It must happen, surely, if I live here with you.”

“There’s no need for it to happen now. Sometimes, with those others like yourself who are the companions of my kind, it only happens after many years. Do you comprehend, Estár? You’re not bound to look at me as I am.”

“But,” she said, “you would allow it?”


She stared at him and said, “When?”

“Not tonight, I think. Tomorrow, then. You recall that I swim in the mornings. The mechanism that waits on you will bring you to my pool. Obviously, I swim without any of this. You can look at me, see me, and after that stay or go away, as you wish.”

“Thank you,” she said. Her head began to ache and she felt as if some part of her had died, burned out by the terror of what she had just agreed to.

“But you may change your mind,” he said. “I won’t expect you.”

There was no clue in his distorted, expressive voice. She wondered if he, too, was afraid.

She made all the usual preparations for bed and lay down as if tonight were like any other, and did not sleep. And in the morning, she got up and bathed and dressed, as if it were any other morning. And when the machines had washed and brushed her hair, and enhanced her face with pastel cosmetics, she found she could not remember anything of the night or the routines of waking, bathing, dressing or anything at all. All she could remember was the thing to come, the moment when she saw him as he truly was. That moment had already happened to her maybe five thousand times, over and over, as she conjured it, fled from it, returned to it, in her mind.

And therefore, was he aware of all she had pictured? If he had not sensed her thoughts, he must deduce her thoughts.

She drank scalding tea, glad to be burned.

The voice-bead hovered, and she held out her hand. It came to perch on her fingers, something which she liked it to do, a silly affectionate ruse, her pretense, its complicity, that it was somehow creaturally alive.

“Estár, when shall I take you to the indoor pool?”

“Yes,” she said. “Take me there now.”

It was a part of the house she had not been in very much, and then, beyond a blank wall which dissolved as the molecules in his visor had done, a part of the house she had never entered. His rooms.

They opened one from another. Spare, almost sparse, but supple with subtle color, here and there highlighted by things which, at some other time, she would have paused to examine in fascinated interest—musical instruments from his world, the statue of a strange animal in stranger metal, an open book on whose surfaces he had written by hand in the letters of an alien alphabet. But then doors drew aside, and the bead glimmered before her out into a rectangular space, open above on the skies of Earth, open at its center on a dense blue water. Plants grew in pots along the edges of the pool, huge alien ferns and small alien trees, all leaning lovingly to the pool which had been minerally treated to resemble the liquids of their home. With a very little effort, Estár might imagine it was his planet she saw before her, and that dark swift shape sheering through the water, just beneath its surface, that shape was the indigenous thing, not the alien thing at all. Indeed, she herself was the alien, at this instant.

And at this instant, the dark shape reached the pool’s end, only some ten feet from her. There came a dazzle across the water as he broke from it. He climbed from the pool and moved between the pots of ferns and trees, and the foliage and the shadow left him, as the water had already done. It was as he had told her. She might see him, unmasked, naked, open-eyed.

She stared at him until she was no longer able to do so. And then she turned and walked quickly away. It was not until she reached the inner rooms that she began to run.

She re-entered the suite he had given her, and stayed there only for an hour before she sent the voice-bead to him with her request. It returned with his answer inside five minutes. This time, there was no telepathic communion. She could not have borne it, and he had recognized as much.


“Please don’t question me,” she said. “Please.” Her family who, not anticipating her arrival on this occasion, had not been waiting to meet her—scattered like blown leaves about the room—acquiesced in gracious trouble monosyllables.

They would realize, of course, what must have occurred. If any of them blamed themselves was not apparent. Estár did not consider it, would consider nothing, least of all that she was bound, eventually, to return to the place she had fled.

She went to her apartment in Levin’s house, glanced at its known unknown angles and objects, got into the remembered unremembered bed. “Bring me something to make me sleep,” she said to the household robots. They brought it to her. She drank the cordial and sank thousands of miles beneath some sea. There were dreams, but they were tangled, distant. Waking for brief moments she could not recall them, only their colors, vague swirlings of noise or query. They did not threaten her. When she woke completely, she had more of the opiate brought, and slept again.

Days and nights passed. Rousing, she would permit the machines to give her other things. She swallowed juices, vitamins and small fruits. She wandered to the bathroom, immersed herself in scented fluid, dried herself and returned to bed. And slept.

It would have to end, obviously. It was not a means of dying, merely of temporary oblivion, aping the release of death. The machineries maintained her physical equilibrium, she lost five pounds, that was all. No one disturbed her, came to plead or chide. Each morning, a small note or two would be delivered—Joya or Lyra—once or twice Levin. These notes were handwritten and full of quiet solicitude. They were being very kind, very patient. And she was not behaving well, to worry them, to throw her burden upon them second hand in this way. But she did not care very much about that. What galvanized her in the end, ousted her from her haven of faked death, was a simple and inevitable thing. Her dreams marshaled themselves and began to assume coherence. She began to dream of him. Of the instant when he had left the water and she had seen him as he was. So they condemned her to relive, over and over again, that instant, just as she had lived it over and over before it had happened. Once the dreams were able to do this to her, naturally, there was no point in sleeping any longer. She must wake up, and find a refuge in the alternative of insomnia.

Seven days had gone by. She emerged from the depths a vampire, eager to feed on each of the other living things in the house, to devour their lives, the world and everything, to cram her mind, her consciousness. Again, they humored her. None of them spoke of what must have caused this, but the strain on them was evident Estár liked them more each second, and herself less. How could she inflict this on them? She inflicted it. Three days, three nights went by. She did not sleep at any time.

Catching the atmosphere like a germ, Joya’s son became fractious. The cat leapt, its fur electric, spitting at shadows. A terrible recurring headache, of which she did not speak but which was plain in her face, began to torment Lyra. Her lover was absent. Estár knew Ekosun would dislike her for consigning her sister to such pain. Finally Joya broke from restraint, and said to her, “I’m sorry. Do you believe that?” Estár ignored the reference, and Joya said, “Levin’s in contact with the Mercantile Senate. They have a great deal of power. It may be possible to force the issue.”

“No one has ever been able to do anything of the sort.”

“What would you like me to do?” said Joya. “Throw myself from a great height into the river?” Estár laughed weakly. She took Joya in her arms. “It wasn’t you. I would have had to—you were right. Right, right.”

“Yes,” said Joya, “I was right. Perhaps one of the most heinous crimes known to humanity.”

When Estár courteously excused herself and went away, Joya did not protest. Joya did not feel guilty, only regretful at the consequences of an inevitable act. Clean of conscience, she in turn set no further conflict working in Estár—the guilty are always the most prone to establish complementary guilt, and the most unforgiving thereafter.

And so Estár came to spend more and more time with Joya, but they did not speak of him once.


On the twelfth day Estár fell asleep. She dreamed and saw him, framed by the pool and the foliage of his planet, and she started awake with a cry of loud anger.

It seemed she could never forget the awfulness of the revelation, could not get away from it. And therefore she might as well return to the mountain. Probably he would leave her very much alone. Eventually, it might be possible for her to become reconciled. They might meet again on some level of communication. Eventually. Conceivably. Perhaps.

That evening she spent in one of the communal rooms of her family’s house. She tried to repay their sweetness and their distress with her new calm, with gentle laughter, thanking them with these things, her reestablished sense of self, her resignation tinged by intimations of hope, however dull, and by humor coming back like a bright banner.

They drank cold champagne and vodka, and the great fire roared under the transparent column, for like the drinks still the nights were cold. Estár had grown in this house, and now, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, she remembered it. She smiled at her father who had said he loved her the best of his daughters. She knew it was untrue, and yet that he had said it to her had become a precious thing.

There was a movement, a flicker like light. For a moment she thought it came from the fire, or from some mote traveling across the air of the room, the surface of her eye. And then she knew it had moved within her brain. She knew that he had spoken to her, despite the miles between them, and the manner in which she had left him. There were no words at all. It was like a whisper, or the brush of a low breeze across the plateaux of her mind. She felt a wonderful slowness fill her, and a silence.

One hour later a message came for her, delivered to the house by a machinery only glimpsed in the gusty evening. She opened the synthetic wrapper. She had anticipated, nor was she wrong to have done so. There was one line of writing, which read: Estár. Tomorrow, come back to the mountain. And he had signed it with that name she could not read or speak, yet which she knew now as well, maybe better, than her own. She looked a long while at the beautiful unhuman letters.

They watched her, and she said to them, “Tomorrow I am going back to the mountain. To him.”

There was again that expression on her face; it had been there, mostly, since she had reentered Levin’s house on this last visit. (Visit. She did not belong to them anymore.) The expression of the children of Earth sacrificed to monsters or monstrous gods, given in their earthly perfection to dwell with beasts. That dreadful demoralizing sadness, that devouring fading in the face of the irreparable. And yet there was nothing in her voice, and as she left the room her step was untrammeled and swift. And Levin recollected, not wanting to, the story of lemmings rushing in blithe tumult toward the ocean to be drowned.


A peacock-green twilight enclosed the mountain garden and the building. Estár looked at it in wonder; it transformed everything. It seemed to her she was on some other planet, neither her own nor his.

A capsule had given her sleep throughout the journey. Drowsily serene she walked into the building and the voice-bead played about her, as if glad she had returned. They went to her suite and she said, “Where is he?” And opened her door to find him in the room.

She started back. In the blue-green resin of the dusk she saw at once that he was dressed in the garments of his own world, which concealed hardly anything of him.

She turned away and said coldly: “You’re not being fair to me.”

“It will soon be dark,” he said. “If you leave the lamps unlit, you won’t see me well. But you have seen me. The pretense is finished.” There was no distortion to his voice. She had never really heard him speak before.

She came into the room and sat down beside a window. Beyond the glassy material, the tall topiary waved like seaweed in the sea of sky. She looked at this and did not look at him.

Yet she saw only him.

The water-sky dazzled as the pool had done, and he stepped out of the sky, the pool, and stood before her as in all her dreams, unmasked, naked, open-eyed. The nature of the pool was such, he was not even wet.

The hirsute pelt which covered his kind was a reality misinterpreted, mis-explained. It was most nearly like the fur of a short-haired cat, yet in actuality resembled nothing so much as the nap of velvet. He was black, like her sister Joya, yet the close black nap of fur must be tipped, each single hair, with amber; his color had changed second to second, as the light or dark found him, even as he breathed, from deepest black to sheerest gold. His well-made body was modeled from these two extremes of color, his fine musculature, like that of a statue, inked with ebony shadows, and highlighted by gilding. Where the velvet sheathing faded into pure skin, at the lips, nostrils, eyelids, genitals, the soles of the feet, palms of the hands, the flesh itself was a mingling of the two shades, a somber cinnamon, couth and subtle, sensual in its difference, but not shocking in any visual or aesthetic sense. The inside of his mouth, which he had also contrived to let her see, was a dark golden cave, in which conversely the humanness of the white teeth was in fact itself a shock. While at his loins the velvet flowed into a bearded blackness, long hair like unraveled silk; the same process occurred on the skull, a raying mane of hair, very black, very silken, its edges burning out through amber, ochre, into blondness—the sunburst of a black sun. The nails on his six long fingers, the six toes of his long and arched feet, were the tint of new dark bronze, translucent, bright as flames. His facial features were large and of a contrasting fineness, their sculptured quality at first obscured, save in profile, by the sequential ebb and flare of gold and black, and the domination of the extraordinary eyes. The long cinnamon lids, the thick lashes that were not black but startlingly flaxen—the color of the edges of the occipital hair—these might be mistaken for human. But the eyes themselves could have been made from two highly polished citrines, clear saffron, darkening around the outer lens, almost to the cinnamon shade of the lids, and at the center by curiously blended charcoal stages to the ultimate black of the pupil. Analogously, they were like the eyes of a lion, and perhaps all of him lionlike, maybe, the powerful body, its skin unlike a man’s, flawless as a beast’s skin so often was, the pale-fire edged mane. Yet he was neither like a man not an animal. He was like himself, his kind, and his eyes were their eyes, compelling, radiant of intellect and intelligence even in their strangeness, and even in their beauty. For he was beautiful. Utterly and dreadfully beautiful. Coming to the Earth in the eras of its savagery, he would have been worshipped in terror as a god. He and his would have been forced to hide what they were for fear the true sight of it would burn out the vision of those who looked at them. And possibly this was the reason, still, why they had hidden themselves, and the reason too for the misunderstanding and the falsehoods. To fear to gaze at their ugliness, that was a safe and sensible premise. To fear their grandeur and their marvel—that smacked of other emotions less wise or good.

And she herself, of course, had run from this very thing. Not his alien hideousness—his beauty, which had withered her. To condescend to give herself to one physically her inferior, that might be acceptable. But not to offer herself to the lightning bolt, the solar flame. She had seen and she had been scorched, humiliated and made nothing, and she had run away, ashamed to love him. And now, ashamed, she had come back, determined to put away all she had felt for him or begun to feel or thought to feel. Determined to be no more than the companion of his mind, which itself was like a star, but, being an invisible, intangible thing, she might persuade herself to approach.

But now he was here in a room with her, undisguised, in the gracious garments of his own world and the searing glory of his world’s race, and she did not know how she could bear to be here with him.

And she wondered if he were pleased by her suffering and her confusion. She wondered why, if he were not, he would not let her go forever. And she pictured such an event and wondered then if, having found him, she could live anywhere but here, where she could not live at all.

The sky went slowly out, and they had not spoken any more.

In the densening of the darkness, those distant suns, which for eons had given their light to the Earth, grew large and shining and sure.

When he said her name, she did not start, nor did she turn to him.

“There is something which I must tell you now,” he said to her. “Are you prepared to listen?”

“Very well.”

“You think that whatever I may say to you must be irrelevant to you, at this moment. That isn’t the case.”

She was too tired to weep, or to protest, or even to go away.

“I know,” he said quietly. “And there’s no need for you to do any of these things. Listen, and I shall tell you why not.”


As it turned out, they had, after all, a purpose in coming to the Earth, and to that other handful of occupied planets they had visited, the bright ships drifting down, the jewels of their technology and culture given as a gift, the few of their species left behind, males and females, dwellers in isolated mansions, who demanded nothing of their hosts until the first flowering of alien roses, the first tender kidnappings of those worlds’ indigenous sons and daughters.

The purpose of it all was never generally revealed. But power, particularly benign power, is easily amalgamated and countenanced. They had got away with everything, always. And Earth was no exception.

They were, by the time their vessels had lifted from the other system, a perfect people, both of the body and the brain; and spiritually they were more nearly perfect than any other they encountered. The compassion of omnipotence was intrinsic to them now, and the generosity of wholeness. Yet that wholeness, that perfection had had a bizarre, unlooked-for side effect. For they had discovered that totality can, by its very nature, cancel out itself.

They had come to this awareness in the very decades they had come also to know that endless vistas of development lay before them, if not on the physical plane, then certainly on the cerebral and the psychic. They possessed the understanding, as all informed creatures do, that their knowledge was simply at its dawn. There was more for their race to accomplish than was thinkable, and they rejoiced in the genius of their infancy, and looked forward to the limitless horizons— and found that their own road was ended, that they were not to be allowed to proceed. Blessed by unassailable health, longevity, strength and beauty, their genes had rebelled within them, taking this peak as an absolute and therefore as a terminus.

Within a decade of their planetary years, they became less fertile, and then sterile. Their bodies could not form children, either within a female womb or externally, in an artificial one. Cells met, embraced, and died in that embrace. Those scarcity of embryos that were successfully grown in the crystalline generative placentae lived, in some cases, into the Third Phase, approximate to the fifth month of a human pregnancy—and then they also died, their little translucent corpses floating like broken silver flowers. To save them, a cryogenic program was instituted. Those that lived, on their entry to the Third Phase, were frozen into stasis. The dream persisted that at last there would be found some way to realize their life. But the dream did not come true. And soon even the greatest and most populous cities of that vast and blue-skied planet must report that, in a year twice the length of a year of the Earth, only eight or nine children had been saved to enter even that cold limbo, which now was their only medium of survival.

The injustice of fate was terrible. It was not that they had become effete, or that they were weakened. It was their actual peerlessness which would kill the race. But being what they were, rather than curse God and die, they evolved another dream, and before long pursued it across the galaxies. Their natural faculties had remained vital as their procreative cells had not. They had conceived the notion that some other race might be discovered, sufficiently similar to their own that—while it was unlikely the two types could mingle physically to produce life—in the controlled environment of a breeding tube such a thing might be managed. The first world that offered them scope, in a system far beyond the star of Earth, was receptive and like enough that the first experiments were inaugurated. They failed.

And then, in one long night, somewhere in that planet’s eastern hemisphere, a female of that race miscarrying and weeping bitterly at her loss, provided the lamp to lead them to their dream’s solution.

With the sound and astounding anatomical science of the mother world, the aliens were able to transfer one of their own children, one of those embryos frozen in cryogenesis for fifty of their colossal years, into the vacated womb.

And, by their science too, this womb, filled and then despoiled, was repaired and sealed, brought in a matter of hours to the prime readiness it had already achieved and thought to abandon. The mother was monitored and cared for, for at no point was she to be endangered or allowed to suffer. But she thrived, and the transplanted child grew. In term, the approximate ten-month term normal to that planet, it was born, alive and whole. It had come to resemble the host race almost exactly; this was perhaps the first surprise. As it attained adulthood, there was a second surprise. Its essence resembled only the essence of its parental race. It was alien, and it pined away among the people of its womb-mother. Brought back to its true kind, then, and only then, it prospered and was happy and became great. It seemed, against all odds, their own were truly their own. Heredity had told, not in the physical, but in the ego. It appeared the soul of their kind would continue, unstoppable. And the limitless horizons opened again before them, away and away.

By the date in their travels when they reached Earth, their methods were faultless and their means secret and certain. Details had been added, refining details typical of that which the aliens were. The roses were one aspect of such refinements.

Like themselves, the plants of the mother world were incredibly long-lived. Nourished by treated soil and held in a vacuum—as the embryos were held in their vacuum of coldness—such flowers could thrive for half an Earth century, even when uprooted.

Earth had striven with her own bellicosity and won that last battle long before the aliens came. Yet some aggression, and some xenophobic self-protective pride remained. Earth was a planet where the truth of what the aliens intended was to be guarded more stringently than on any other world. A woman miscarrying her child in the fourth or fifth month, admitted to a medical center, and evincing psychological evidence of traumas—even now it happened. This planet was full of living beings, a teeming globe prone still to accident and misjudgment. As the woman lay sedated, the process was accomplished. In the wake of the dead and banished earthly child, the extra-terrestrial embryo was inserted, and anchored like a star. Women woke, and burst into tears and tirades of relief—not knowing they had been duped. Some not even remembering, for the drugs of the aliens were excellent, that they had ever been close to miscarrying. A balance was maintained. Some recalled, some did not. A sinister link would never be established. Only the eager and willing were ever employed.

There was one other qualification. It was possible to predict logistically the child’s eventual habitat, once born. Since the child would have to be removed from that habitat in later years, the adoptive family were chosen with skill. The rich—who indeed tended more often to bear their children bodily—the liberated, the open-minded, the un-lonely. That there might be tribulation at the ultimate wrenching away was unavoidable, but it was avoided or lessened wherever and however feasible. Nor was a child ever recalled until it had reached a level of prolonged yearning, blindly and intuitively begging to be rescued from its unfitted human situation.

Here the roses served.

They in their crystal boxes, the embryos frozen in their crystal wombs. With every potential child a flower had been partnered. The aura of a life imbued each rose. It was the aura, then, which relayed the emanations of the child and the adult which the child became. The aura which told, at last, this telepathically sensitive race, when the summons must be sent, the exile rescued.

The green rose now flourishing in her garden here was Estár’s own rose, brought home.

The woman who had carried Estár inside her, due to her carelessness, had aborted Levin’s child, and received the alien unaware. The woman had needed to bear a child, but not to keep the child. Levin had gladly claimed what he took to be his own.

Estár, the daughter of her people, not Levin’s daughter, not Lyra’s sister or Joya’s either. Estár had grown up and grown away, and the green rose which broadcast her aura began to cry soundlessly, a wild beacon. So they had released her from her unreal persona, or let her release herself.

And here she was now, turning from the window of stars to the invisible darkness of the room, and to his invisible darkness.

For a long while she said nothing, although she guessed— or telepathically she knew—he waited for her questions. At last one came to her.

“Marsha,” she said. “They disqualified me from going there.”

“A lie,” he said. “It was arranged. In order that your transposition should be easier when it occurred.”

“And I—” she said, and hesitated.

“And you are of my kind, although you resemble the genera which was your host. This is always the case. I know your true blood line, your true father and mother, and one day you may meet them. We are related, you and I. In the terminology of this world, cousins. There is one other thing.”

She could not see him. She did not require to see him with her eyes. She now waited, for the beauty of his voice.

“The individual to whom you are summoned—this isn’t a random process. You came to me, as all our kind return, to one with whom you would be entirely compatible. Not only as a companion, but as a lover, a bonded lover—a husband, a wife. You see, Estár, we’ve learned another marvel. The changes that alter our race in the womb of an alien species, enable us thereafter to make living children together, either bodily or matrically, whichever is the most desired.”

Estár touched her finger to the topaz in her left ear.

“And so I love you spontaneously, but without any choice. Because we were chosen to be lovers?”

“Does it offend you?”

“If I were human,” she said, “it might offend me. But then.”

“And I, of course,” he said, “also love you.”

“And the way I am—my looks… Do you find me ugly?”

“I find you beautiful. Strangely, alienly lovely. That’s quite usual. Although for me, very curious, very exciting.”

She shut her eyes then, and let him move to her across the dark. And she experienced in her own mind the glorious wonder he felt at the touch of her skin’s smoothness like a cool leaf, just as he would experience her delirious joy in the touch of his velvet skin, the note of his dark and golden mouth discovering her own.

Seeing the devouring sadness in her face when she looked at them, unable to reveal her secret, Estár’s earthly guardians would fear for her. They would not realize her sadness was all for them. And when she no longer moved among them, they would regret her, and mourn for her as if she had died. Disbelieving or forgetting that in any form of death, the soul—Psyche, Estár, (well-named)—refinds a freedom and a beauty lost with birth.