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Authors: Alan Dean Foster

Flinx in Flux

BOOK: Flinx in Flux
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FLINX IN
FLUX

 

 

Alan Dean Foster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Del Rey
®
Book

THE BALLANTINE PUBLISHING GROUP * NEW YORK

 

For all the readers who’ve stuck with Flinx and Pip since 1972, and wanted them back. And most especially for Betty Ballantine, who first saw potential in them and me, and who helped bring the three of us to life.

 

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

 

The man at the end of the table wore his attitude like a mask. In another place and time the intensity of his speech and gestures might have seemed unnatural, but they were perfectly appropriate for his present surroundings. He was a roly-poly sort of fellow topped by a short brush of inspired hair that crawled down to his shirt collar. Unlike his diatribe, his attire was simple and neat. With his mouth shut he looked quite ordinary. So did his five companions, save one. With that single exception, none was especially tall or muscular. They differed in coloring, though there was nothing unusual about that. They were of different ages. They came from different backgrounds and different worlds.

What had brought them together in this small room at this particular time was a burning fanaticism, a bond stronger than epoxene or duralloy cable—a cause each was willing to die for. They were true believers, and they knew without a shadow of a doubt that their cause was just.

When discussing it they were transformed. At such times they sloughed off their daily personas and lives as easily as a lizard sheds old skin. They sat before one another fresh and gleaming, like the holy crusaders they knew they were. Each brought something different to the cause. The man who was speaking contributed money. Another brought strength and physical skills. The man seated beside her was naturally cunning. The six complemented one another even as they shared the same passion.

They were the leaders of a growing band, having been chosen by their associates to make the hard decisions, to determine targets and courses of action.

The man who was speaking was known to his compatriots as Spider. It was an accurate description of his mind, not of his physique. When he spoke of the Cause, he no longer looked so genial. His eyes seemed to bulge from his face, and his mouth contorted in a humorless grimace.

None of them knew each other’s real names. It was safer that way. The others had adopted names such as Flora and Lizard and Ormega—identification borrowed from the natural world that they were dedicated to preserving. Ecology was their creed, worshiped without question or hesitation. They had created unnatural relationships in order to better maintain the natural ones between species. Relationships that the civilization of the Commonwealth was dedicated to destroying. Such was their perception.

They were not alone in these beliefs, but they were alone in their methods. They had moved beyond reason into the realm of religion, a place where nonbelievers were heretics to be stopped by whatever means necessary. For years they had been biding time, gathering strength, testing the limits of their organization with subtle probes here, tiny strikes elsewhere. A chemical plant sabotaged, construction of a shuttleport abruptly delayed, a few crucial votes influenced by money, persuasion, or occasional blackmail: all in the name of the Cause. With each new success, each achievement, their confidence blossomed and new recruits were gleaned.

Until recently. The organization had grown beyond being a nuisance. It was now officially classified as a Problem, albeit still a minor one. Higher visibility meant more scrutiny by the authorities, more difficulty in soliciting adherents. They were no longer preaching to the already converted. The organization had reached a plateau. They could collapse in upon themselves, stagnate, or take the great leap forward. It was time to metamorphose from a cause into a movement.

Making that transition meant announcing themselves to the Commonwealth at large. It meant making a statement that could not be ignored, showing how far they were willing to go to support their beliefs. It was time at last for a major effort, for a spectacular display that would bring them the kind of universal recognition they had heretofore shunned but now demanded. Time for a demonstration on a scale sufficient to bring double, triple the usual number of doubters flocking to their banner.

Time to show the forces of destruction that they were a power to be reckoned with.

So it was that the six had gathered in this cramped and stuffy chamber, under the assumed names that they had come to regard as their only important ones, to decide the where and when and how of the announcement they were going to make. Though they had no official leader, Spider spoke first and longest because he was the most articulate among them.

When burning with the Cause, Spider could be spellbinding. His body was a mistake of familial genetics. Within that rotund, jovial shape dwelt the soul of a tall, sepulchral figure whose spiritual ancestors had once stalked the torture chambers of earlier inquisitions. He never hesitated, never second-guessed himself. Because he
knew.
Knew what was right, what was just, what had to be done. His companions listened with respect. All felt as he did but could not put their emotions into words as facilely.

It was dangerous for them to gather together in one place these days. As a result of recent activities, the organization had suffered injuries, though no deaths. But those activities had sparked more than the usual casual interest on the part of the authorities, enough interest so that the six had had to take circuitous paths to reach this meeting place in safety. Each was certain he or she had made it unobserved. Extreme caution was their shield, anonymity their protection. No one knew which worlds the organization had cells upon. The government was persistent but clumsy, easy to fool.

Soon it would not matter. In one blinding strike for Mother Nature they would voluntarily cast off their cloak of secrecy and announce themselves to a dazed Commonwealth. Every newsfax, every tridee would declare their name and purpose. Their purifying gesture would beget an avalanche of support that would shake the foul industrialists to their knees, and a new era of respect and love would dawn across this portion of the galaxy.

It would not be a random act, of course. They were as intelligent as they were dedicated. Even an act mounted for publicity must have behind it a legitimate purpose.

Given the extent of the cancer, they had no lack of targets to chose from. There was so much to be done and so little time in which to do it. Now, at last, after so many years of planning and building and laboring in secret, they could begin the real work. From now on the government and big corporations and ravening exploiters would have to deal with the avenging angel of the emergent organization.

And if some of them should die in the process? All had agreed long ago that the righteousness of their cause was well worth dying for. What mattered an individual life here and there when the sanctity of whole worlds was at stake?

Spider concluded his presentation with a brief recapitulation of the current situation before nodding to the woman seated to his right. She called herself Flora. Her eyes were blue, and her hair was the hue of spun gold. She was taller than any of the men except Stick, who sat quietly on the opposite side of the table. Her body was like desert heat. Gazing at it caused men to hallucinate. Stardom and fame could have been hers via the tridee networks, but such superficialities did not interest her. She had much more in common with Spider and Stick and the others seated at the table. The Cause excited her in a way no man ever had.

She was a biologist, not a starlet. When she spoke, the natural seductiveness of her voice masked the intensity of her devotion to the Cause. Her dedication and early military training had overcome the organization’s initial resistance to her beauty. Now she was looked upon as merely another soldier. By herself she had induced two governments to alter their positions on issues important to her colleagues: one by persuasion, one by blackmail.

Now she held up what looked like a fragment of fabric half a meter square and five centimeters thick.

“Do you all know what this is? It’s a new product and currently only available in limited quantities on the luxury market.” The perfect slash of her mouth twisted, accomplishing the seemingly impossible by muting her beauty. “I’ll tell you what it is: the latest and greatest perversion of the natural order for profit.”

“Verdidion Weave, isn’t it?” Ormega opted as she leaned forward for a better look.

Flora nodded brusquely. “A previously untouched organism from a previously unspoiled world. It’s been genetically altered to enhance the comfort of a wealthy few, though there are plans afoot to lower the cost by increasing production.” She made it sound like an oath framed in flaming quotation marks. “In other words, the bastards responsible for this plan on expanding their operation throughout the planet of origin.”

Spider folded his hands in front of his belly. “A perfect world for our first major public operation. There are no mitigating circumstances involved. It’s not as if these slime are altering grains to feed additional mouths. This is a deliberate attempt to manipulate a natural environment purely for profit. We’re going to stamp it out, shut it down so thoroughly that every other company in the business will think three times before trying anything similar on any other virgin world.

“As you all know, our operations until now have been limited to saving a single species here, a lifeform there. This time, my friends, an entire world will be looking to us for its salvation. We have before us the opportunity to ensure the future tranquillity of a complete ecological system. We’re going in with a sword this time instead of a scalpel!

“It’s going to be expensive and dangerous. Anyone who wants out can stay behind, and they won’t be thought the worse of for their decision. If our preliminary sortie brings us the information we need, our chances of success will be greatly enhanced.”

“I guess I’m not as familiar with this Verdidion Weave and its background as some of you.” Ormega was the only other woman in the council of six. She was small and dark and a lot older than Flora, but there was a powerful bond between them. They were bishops in the same church. Ormega did not envy Flora her youth and beauty, and Flora respected the other woman’s experience and knowledge.

“It’s a complex and highly adaptable organism, as is much of the life thus far cataloged on this frontier world,” Flora explained as she laid her sample on the table. “Structurally it resembles the mosses, though it’s far more advanced than its relatives on Earth or Hivehom or any of the other damp planets. Initially it was believed that its reactions were purely piezoelectric in nature, but further research by the exploiters indicates it’s more complicated than that.” She smiled wolfishly. “We’ve been intercepting their confidential corporate transmissions for some time now.

“In its natural state it does not respond usefully, but these soulless people have been playing with its DNA.”

“What’s it been modified for?” Lizard asked.

“Carpet.” Flora spit the word. “Just carpet.”

“You mean people walk on it?” Ormega murmured. “A living creature?”

“It can support considerable weight. Stepping on it doesn’t appear to cause any injury. Watch.”

Flora placed the square of living material on the floor. Everyone rose or turned his or her chair for a better view. As they looked on, Flora stepped in the center of the dense growth. The green-and-rust-colored tendrils responded by rippling toward her feet to offer additional support.

“If you lean one way or the other,” Flora explained, “the carpet actually shifts to ease you in the direction you want to go.” Her companions could see that the glistening substance was moving her slightly to her left, like a tightly-packed column of ants.

Gingerly she stepped off the section of living carpet. The tendrils stopped moving. “It’s a communal organism that can be grown in much larger sections. Or sections can be shaped and bound together to fit any room. It draws necessary moisture from the air and is nonphotosynthetic, so it requires no light. Walking on it is like walking on air, and it even exudes a faint hibiscuslike odor.” Her exquisite blue eyes blazed, and her voice grew taut. “But it was
not
created to serve as a floor covering for privileged mankind!”

“In its natural state,” Spider told them, “the Weave reacts by pulling away from pressure, not moving to support it. A much more natural and reasonable reaction. This”—He nodded toward the altered growth.—“is an abomination. It should not exist.”

Flora removed a tiny perfume flask from the curved upper pocket of her jumpsuit and dumped the contents in the middle of the square of Verdidion Weave. Spider tossed a small incendiary capsule on top. The six watched silently as the mutated moss burned itself to a charred crisp.

It did not occur to any of them to think that the object of their loathing might feel more pain from being incinerated than from being walked upon, but that did not matter. It was not a natural growth but rather the product of perverse experimentation. It should not exist. Thus, they wasted no more thought on its destruction than they would on the destruction of those responsible for such a biological outrage. The Weave, like those who were responsible for its existence, was not worthy of sympathy or understanding. It continued to smoke pungently for several minutes following the cremation of the last cell.

Before the last of the smoke had faded away, the man who called himself Lizard was on his feet and speaking. He was slim without being sleek, neither was he gaunt of face like Stick. He was, in fact, exactly ordinary in appearance, of average height and build and younger than most of his colleagues. In many ways his very ordinariness made him the most dangerous member of the group. It allowed him to move unobserved in a crowd, to peer over people’s shoulders without drawing attention to himself, to wear the garb of harmlessness.

His profession was equally innocuous. So was his private life. Not even his wife suspected his membership in the organization. She would have been startled to learn that he was one of the six ranking officials of what she thought was a harmless fraternal business society.

Yet whenever Lizard discussed matters dear to the heart of the organization, a sudden change came over him. His expression would tighten, and a nervous tic would begin in his left eye, increasing or lessening in intensity according to the passion of his speech.

BOOK: Flinx in Flux
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