"Ataxia in Ataraxia"
Fran Van Cleave
From the December '98 issue of ANALOG.
"Shut up," Dad snarled, flipping open his personal communicator.
"Captain Cheney, this is El Jefe. Prepare for lift-off, condition
Condition three? "Dad, you can't destroy their ship, you
said the deal was OK!"
"I said, shut up, damn you! You think I'd go along with this
ludicrous charade? Asking runaways to come out pretty please --
what nonsense! It's a trap! Arrogant bastards think I'd fall
for...." His eyes widened in shock, and then he staggered two
steps and collapsed.
McCann whirled and pulse-beamed someone behind me; a scream
floated up on the air, surreal as the hole burnt in the back of
Dad's head. It crossed my mind that he was dead, but I told
myself to stop being so melodramatic. I mean, this was real life,
it wasn't a play!
Only he wouldn't get up, though I pleaded with him, and he
didn't curse me for being a fool. And then McCann fell,
shrieking, a burn smoking half his face. A green pulse zinged my
ear, crisping my long hair, and I was so frightened I ran behind
Implacable instead of inside it. Kawasaki-Jones had disappeared,
I didn't know where.
I heard a great shuddering boom, and the wind kicked up,
whipping snow and pebbles from the ground. I peeked under the
flyer's belly and saw the building collapse with awful majesty,
engulfed in bright orange flames.
Should I try to rescue McCann first, and then Dad? McCann
was closer and probably alive, but on the other hand, the medical
people could surely resuscitate Dad, provided he hadn't lost too
much of his....
As I dithered, four Guardia rushed out of Implacable and
picked up Dad and McCann. Then they ran back in, all but one, who
shouted, "Oye!" and fell off the gangplank. His body rolled under
the flyer. It was Bobby Villa, Faerie's half-brother. The light
had gone from his eyes -- he was dead.
I heard the engine start up just as I saw two pairs of
white-trousered legs flickering across the icy field toward the
flyer. The Guardia wore dark-green trousers. Who were these
How could I get inside Implacable when the two doors are on
the opposite side, facing them?
The engine sound increased in pitch; Implacable lurched
In a panic, I ran forward too, waving my arms, but the flyer
pulled ahead of me. When it became clear I couldn't catch up, and
that no one on board saw me, I made for a nearby pile of rock and
logs, expecting to be scorched at any moment.
The two men in white seemed preoccupied with the flyer,
running after it and shooting at it with blaster rifles.
I ducked down and scurried behind the connecting piles of
rock and dead branches. After a minute or so, I ran out of cover,
and had to make a dash across an open meadow, beyond which lay a
scrub forest. The meadow was maybe ten or fifteen meters, but
looked as bare as Halcyon Beach at high tide. My ears were
freezing; I pulled the jacket-hood over my head and ran.
And then a blaster-bolt hit me.
I awoke to find myself lying face-down on a slight slope in
the meadow. I smelt burnt plastic and ozone, and my head hurt
like insanity. My hood wouldn't come off -- the polymer had
melted to my hair.
I crawled toward the trees. I could still hear the
Implacable's engines overhead, so I knew I couldn't have been out
for more than half a minute. Whoever had shot at me must've had
his beam spread too wide or low on power, otherwise I'd be dead.
Why hadn't they come to finish me off? I couldn't think. I
would've killed for a snort of Quil, but Dad made me leave the
bottle in the flyer so I wouldn't offend the Elfourans.
When I reached the trees, I got up and ran. The forest
thickened and I lost myself in it.
When I could run no further, I collapsed onto a fallen tree,
my lungs raw as a wound. An explosion shook the frigid grove.
There was dead silence for an eon or two after it faded away.
And then a bird sang noisily somewhere in the forest, one of
those mindlessly cheerful warbles. I tell you, I hated that bird.
How could it be so happy when I was so miserable?
I was shaking and sweating at the same time, my hands and
feet sopping wet. I wondered if this was worse than the time
Alaric was killed. Since that part of my memory's a blank, I
guess I'll never know.
Was this my fault? Would Dad have come here if he hadn't
been so wound up about me being too lazy and irresponsible to
make a good Administrator?
I didn't know the answers. All I knew was, I had to get
By yourself, down this mountain and through sixty kilometers
of rainforest, without a machete or even a breather mask?
Uselessness is vrill.
Tears froze on my cheeks. Where could I go? The people of
Hole-In-The-Wall wouldn't help. They were probably responsible
for the attack, though I didn't doubt that the original
barbarian, Colonel Daggs, was in on it.
Then I remembered the personal flyers on the rocket-field.
If I stole one of those, I could fly most of the way home.
I hadn't flown one since Alaric was killed. The thought of
encountering a quetzalcoatl made me feel sick enough to upchuck
my socks, but how else could I get home? I'd need to have a
breather mask for the rest of the trip, and be extra careful I
didn't injure myself landing, but ... well, I could do it. If I
I punched the 'local enviro' button on my watch. Three hours
'til dark. If I hurried -- if the attackers were gone, and I
found at least one fresh breather mask -- I could spend tonight
in a nice warm rainforest. Once I made it down to the ground and
found the road, I'd have little worry about bocas, boojums, or
quetzalcoatls. Just Colonel Daggs and his ilk....
My heart quailed. The play and the dance seemed a million
klicks away. Maybe Dad and McCann were already revived, or would
be shortly. They'd order the Guardia to find me and be quick
about it, but for now I'd have to stick to this plan.
I looked around. Which direction had I come from? Little
snow survived under these scrawny wind-blown trees, and I saw no
trace of my passage on the leaf-covered ground.
I raised my eyes to the sky, and saw a black haze that I
realized must be smoke from the burning spaceport. Had that last
explosion been Daggs' ship?
Dad had ordered the Guardia to blow it up. I jumped to my
feet, exultant, until I remembered all the sick people back on
Elfour who wouldn't get their medicine now. I told myself the
attack was partly their fault, but then I got all mixed up trying
to figure out how.
I headed toward the smoke, wondering if my head was bleeding
under the melted plastic, and what would happen if Dad was dead.
I knew he couldn't be, but I'd gotten stuck on one of those
obsessive-thinking loops my HealthMon always warned me about.
Would we be at war with Elfour? If so, the barbarians would
have the advantage. We were clustered in a single city, easily
attacked. I suspected they'd spread out -- their air was
breathable anywhere, and they were too quarrelsome to live
together as we did.
If Ataraxia were attacked, what would happen to Faerie? And
Booter? And Summer and all the other kids? I moaned. All the
wargames I'd played, and I had no clue how to save the people I
I forgot to look up at the smoke for a few minutes, and then
when I looked at it again, it was off to my left. Scowling, I
My head throbbed hideously. Despite pain that would have
felled a lesser man, I would push on to find Dad, and if worst
came to worst, lead a ragtag band of civilized norms against the
An image of Faerie's adorable self appeared before me like a
holo. She's presenting me with a medal for saving the city. Her
eyes are like twin pools, her brows as delicate as the nectar-
feeding zephyrwing, her....
Presently I became aware of a rumbling sound behind me. The
ground was smoother, so it was easy to walk faster. The Guardia
must be blowing up Hole-In-The-Wall.
But wait, wasn't the town ahead of me, near the spaceport?
I turned and saw the boxy outline of an aluminum jeep
approaching, like one I saw parked in front of the conference
Dr. Mbinga was driving. I ran, but a thousand fingers caught
me, and I hit the ground like a ripe peach.
Read the rest in the December '98 issue of