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                            CJ Cherryh — Visible Light (v1.0)
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CJ Cherryh — Visible Light (v1.0)


C.J. Cherryh


the credit for this collection plainly goes to Don Wollheim, who came up with the idea back in 1979. It
took me a few more years, to be sure, to have written a body of short fiction; and for a few years after
that what I had written was scattered here and there and some of it too currently in print. So I put the
project off. And put it off.

Then I thought of it several times and put it off again—until in 1984 Don inquired not once but a second
time where that collection was.

To answer the question, here it is, Don; and this one is dedicated to you.

Table of Contents

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began to cover Sax's face. He flinched from the sight. "She can't do anything but take orders. I made her,
if you like."
There was horror in the air, palpable.
"She's not alive. She never was."
The radiance became very pale and retreated up into the branches of one of the youngest trees, a mere
touch of color in the sunlight. Cold, cold, the terror drifted down like winter rain.
"Don't leave." The spade fell. He stepped over it, held up his hands, threatened with solitude. "Don't."
The radiance went out. Re-formed near him, drifted up to sit on the aged, fallen tree.
"It's my world. I know it's different. I never wanted to hurt you with it."
The greenness spread about him, a darkness in its heart, where two small creatures entwined, their
tendrils interweaving, one living, one dead.
"Stop it."
His own mind came back at him: loneliness, longing for companionship; fear of dying alone. Like Sax.
Like that. He held deeply buried the thought that the luminance offered a means of dying, a little better
than most; but it came out, and the radiance shivered. The Anne-image took shape in its heart, her icy
tendrils invading the image that was himself, growing, insinuating ice into that small fluttering that was
his life, winding through him and out again.
"What do you know?" he cried at it. "What do you know at all? You don't know me. You can't see me,
with no eyes; you don't know."
The Anne-image faded, left him alone in the radiance, embryo, tucked and fluttering inside. A greenness
crept in there, the least small tendril of green, and touched that quickness.
Emotion exploded like sunrise, with a shiver of delight. A second burst. He tried to object, felt a touching
of the hairs at the back of his neck. He shivered, and the light was gone. Every sense seemed stretched to
the limit, heightened, but remote, and he wanted to get up and walk a little distance, knowing even while
he did so that it was not his own suggestion. He moved, limping a little, and quite suddenly the presence
fled, leaving a light sweat over his body.
Pain, it sent. And Peace.
"Hurt, did it?" He massaged his knee and sat down. His own eyes watered. "Serves you right."
Sorrow. The greenness unfolded again, filling all his mind but for one small corner where he stayed
whole and alert.
"No," he cried in sudden panic, and when it drew back in its own: "I wouldn't mind—if you were content
with touching. But you aren't. You can't keep your distance when you get excited. And sometimes you
The greenness faded a little. It was dark round about.
Hours. Hours gone. A flickering, a quick feeling of sunlit warmth came to him, but he flung it off.
"Don't lie to me. What happened to the time? When did it get dark?"
A sun plummeted, and trees bowed in evening breezes.
"How long did you have control? How long was it?"
Sorrow. Peace… settled on him with a great weight. He felt a great desire of sleep, of folding in and
biding until warm daylight returned, and he feared nothing any longer, not life, not death. He drifted on
the wind, conscious of the forest's silent growings and stretchings and burrowings about him. Then he
became himself again, warm and animal and very comfortable in the simple regularity of heartbeat and

HE AWOKE in sunlight, stretched lazily and stopped in mid-stretch as green light broke into existence

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up in the branches. The creature drifted slowly down to the grass beside him and rested there, exuding
happiness. Sunrise burst across his vision, the fading of stars, the unfolding of flowers.
He reached for the food kit, trying to remember where he had laid it. Stopped, held in the radiance, and
looked into the heart of it. It was an effort to pull his mind away. "Stop that. I have no sense of time when
you're so close. Maybe you can spend an hour watching a flower unfold, but that's a considerable portion
of my life."
Sorrow. The radiance murmured and bubbled with images he could not make sense of, of far-traveling,
the unrolling of land, of other consciousnesses, of a vast and all-driving hunger for others, so strong it left
him shaking.
"Stop it. I don't understand what you're trying to tell me."
The light grew in his vision and pulsed bright and dark, little gold sparks swirling in the heart of it, an
explosion of pure excitement reaching out to him.
"What's wrong with you?" he cried. He trembled.
Quite suddenly the light winked out altogether, and when it reappeared a moment later it was not half so
bright or so large, bubbling softly with the sound of waters.
"What's wrong?"
Need. Sorrow. Again the impression of other consciousnesses, other luminances, a thought quickly
snatched away, all of them flowing and flooding into one.
"You mean others of your kind."
The image came back to him; and flowers, stamens shedding pollen, golden clouds, golden dust adhering
to the pistil of a great, green-veined lily.
"Like mating? Like that?"
The backspill became unsettling, for the first time sexual.
"You produce others of your kind." He felt the excitement flooding through his own veins, a contagion.
"Others—are coming here?"
Come. He got the impression strongly, a tugging at all his senses, a flowing over the hills and away. A
merging, with things old and wise, and full of experiences, lives upon lives. Welcome. Come.
"I'm human."
Welcome. Need pulled at him. Distances rolled away, long distances, days and nights.
"What would happen to me?"
Life bursting from the soil. The luminance brightened and enlarged. The man-image came into his vision:
The embryo stretched itself and grew new tendrils, into the radiance, and it into the fluttering heart; more
and more luminances added themselves, and the tendrils twined, human and otherwise, until they became
another greenness, another life, to float on the winds.
Come, it urged.
His heart swelled with tears. He wept and then ceased to be human at all, full of years, deep-rooted and
strong. He felt the sun and the rain and the passage of time beyond measure, knew the birth and death of
forests and the weaving undulations of rivers across the land. There were mountains and snows and
tropics where winter never came, and deep caverns and cascading streams and things that verged on
consciousness deep in the darkness. The very stars in the heavens changed their patterns and the world
was young. There were many lives, many, and one by one he knew their selves, strength and youth and
age beyond reckoning, the joy of new birth, the beginning of new consciousness. Time melted. It was all
one experience, and there was vast peace, unity, even in the storms, the cataclysms, the destruction of
forests in lightning-bred fires, the endless push of life toward the sun and the rain—cycle on cycle, year
on year, eons passing. At last his strength faded and he slept, enfolded in a green and gentle warmth; he
thought that he died like the old tree and did not care, because it was a gradual and comfortable thing, a

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"Go your way," said Nuallan.
"Just go. You're free."
Nuallan let fall his hand. Caith turned away from the void, walked a little distance in disbelief, and then
the rage got through. He turned back again, shaking with his anger. "Curse you, curse you to play games
with me! You're no different than his sort, Sliabhin's, Hagan's. I've known that sort all my life. Is it your
revenge—to laugh at me?"
"Oh, not to laugh, mac Sliabhin. Not to laugh." Nuallan's voice was full of pity and vast sorrow.
"Torment is your curse; and I know none worse nor gentler than to have drunk and eaten here—and to
know it forever irrecoverable. I have spared you what I could, my friend…"
"Nuallan—" Caith began.
But the dark of the Sidhe-woods of Gleann Gleatharan was about him again, and the cold, and mortality,
in which he shivered. He had the ache of his wounds back; and the gnawing of hunger and remorse in his
"A curse on you!" he cried in the night of his own stained world.
He heard only a moving in the brush, and saw there the gleam of two eyes like coals. Dubhain was there,
in boy's shape, a naked ruffian again.
"I am still with you," the phooka said. "This is my place."
Caith turned his shoulder to Dubhain and walked on, lost in this mortal woods and knowing it. He
walked, until he knew that he was alone.

THE VISIONS crowded in on him, too vivid for a while: the vision of Dun Gorm that he had seen; and
his brother growing up—but never must he go there, nor to the ruins of Dun Mhor, where he was a
murderer and worse. His new Sight told him this, not acute, but dull, like a wound that hurt when he
touched it, when he thought of the things he wanted and knew them lost.
There was no life for him but banditry, and regret, and remembering forever, remembering a land where
everything was fair and clean.
"I'll give you a ride," the phooka offered in his dreams, on the next dark night when Caith slept fitfully,
his belly gnawed with hunger. "O man, you need not be stubborn about it. I like you well. So does
Nuallan. He did let you go—"
—the phooka took more solid shape, seated on a stump as Caith dreamed he waked. "—O man, don't you
know Nuallan could have done far worse? He repented the curse. He wished it unsaid. But a Sidhe's word
binds him. Especially his kind."
But there was no comfort in Caith's dreams, when he dreamed of the beauty he had seen, and of ease of
pain; and when he rose up in the morning and had the miles always before him.
"I'll bear ye," the phooka offered wistfully.
"No," Caith said, and walked on, stubborn in his loss. Where he was going next he had no idea. He
looked down from the height of the green hills and saw Gleann Gleatharan, and Dun Gorm with its herds
fair and its fields wide; but he came no nearer to it than this, to stand on its hills and want it as he wanted
that land he saw only in his dreams.
"I am your friend," the phooka said, whispering from behind him.
It was well a man should have one friend. Caith held his cloak about him against the wind and kept
walking, passing by Dun Gorm and all it had of peace.
"Come," he whispered to the wind. "Come with me, phooka, if you like."

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Contents - Prev

the ship approaches dock. The star glows in the window, red and so dim they do not need the visual
shielding. We can look on its spotted face directly, if not for long. Its light momentarily dyes the table,
the ice in our glasses, the crystal liquid, the bubbles that rise and burst. Then the ship's gentle rotation
carries the view away.
There are no planets in this system. Only ice and iron. And a starstation.
Bags are packed. Most of the passengers are leaving. Soon the take-hold will sound.
"Packed?" I ask.
"Yes," you say. And gaze at the unfamiliar stars, thinking what thoughts I do not guess. "They're going to
have to ship that poor fellow home. Next ship back. He just can't take it out here."
"His world always traveled the universe," I say. "He thinks it's abandoned him. Maybe it has. He thinks
he'd be safe there. I'm not sure he'll ever feel quite so safe again."
"You're immune?"
I think about it. I see miniature worlds in the bubbles amid the ice in my glass. Microcosm in crystal. "I
haven't left home," I say. "I don't know what it is to leave home. And I'm as safe here as most places."
"You mean the universe."
"That, yes."
The alarm sounds then. I down my drink quickly, we both do. I rise and toss glass and ice into the
disposal. Yours goes after it.
We stare at each other then, at the point of farewells.
There is no choice, of course. This is a transfer-point. Our separate ships are already waiting at the
And they keep their own schedules.

¥ § ¥

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