Psion

Psion by Joan D. Vinge

Book: Psion by Joan D. Vinge Read Free Book Online
Authors: Joan D. Vinge
Tags: Science-Fiction
ball. “It . . . ain’t mine.”
    “I believe that.” His voice was sour.
    I shook my head. “I mean, I never seen it before.” I couldn’t keep my eyes off of it. I never could.
    “Then I suppose it was just in your jacket by accident.”
    “Look, if you want to call me a thief, then do it. That’s what you’re thinking.” I wondered why I’d bothered to get up this morning.
    “That’s what I’m saying, then.”
    “I didn’t steal it! I-I borrowed it. I just wanted to . . . see how it worked.” I wondered why the truth always sounded more like a lie than a lie did. Probably because it was only half the truth. I’d taken it, all right, off the desk the second time he interviewed me.
    I’d picked it up for spite, almost without thinking, never meaning to keep it. But I never gave it back. . . . I couldn’t. When you held it in your hands, it made pictures, things like I’d never seen-images of some other world. When you were tired of one it made another, and if you wanted one again it came back. I’d never seen anything like it. I just couldn’t give it up. So I kept it. I knew I’d be in trouble if anyone found out, so I’d just blocked it out of my mind. The perfect crime. I felt my face getting red.
    He put his hand on the ball, gently, and there was a new image inside it. “Why?” His voice strained.
    “What?”
    “Why did you take it?” That wasn’t what he’d meant. His mind was a tangle of burning thoughts I couldn’t read, most of them not about me. . . . And suddenly I understood: that it was an alien thing, a Hydran thing. A thing that had belonged to his half-breed son. And I’d taken it. You gork, you stupid damn fool! I grimaced.
    “Why did you take it?”
    “I . . . I . . .” How could I tell him how warm it felt in my hands; how could I tell him about the pictures? How was I supposed to tell him something I didn’t understand myself? “It . . . was pretty; I liked it.”
    “You liked it.”
    “Yeah, you- “ I bit my tongue, trying to keep from saying the rest of it. “All right. I took it, and I kept it. I knew it was wrong. I’m sorry. I won’t take nothing again, I swear. All right?” It had to be all right. I was even admitting I was wrong. What else could he want?
    He whispered a name-an alien’s name. His wife’s name. And his wife was dead. Pain filled the memory. He was looking down at the ball, and I don’t think he knew he’d said anything out loud. I was sure he hadn’t meant for me to hear it. He glanced up at me again. “It shouldn’t respond for you, you couldn’t even understand. . . .” Like he was blaming me for something.
    But he was going to take the ball. I reached out, my fingers touched it. The picture changed.
    He grabbed my wrist. “Keep your hands off that, you cheap gutter thief! Maybe you think a fast apology is all you need to save you every time you ‘like’ something. Well, not with me. If that’s the best behavior you can manage, then maybe you’re not good enough to go on working here.” (And you won’t ever be-)
    “You got no right to think that.” I jerked free. “I’m as good as you are. And I’m sick of getting treated like I ain’t!”
    He picked up the ball. “Then consider yourself dismissed. Get out, I don’t want to see you again.”
    I blinked. “What?”
    “You heard me.”
    “But . . .” Somehow I stood up, numb all over. “I guess we both know why you’re doin’ this, don’t we?” He didn’t answer. I looked back at Jule. Her face was pale and her eyes were wet; she was staring down at her hands with the bitten-off nails, and they were twitching. “Jule.” I said it quietly; she didn’t look up. “It’s gonna be all right. You’ll see.” I put my hand out over hers, the only time I’d ever really touched her. Her fingers curled around mine in a kind of spasm; she clung to my hand for a second. I knew her tears weren’t about anything going on between any of us here. “Look, I’m

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