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The ties that bind, p.1

The Ties That Bind, page 1


The Ties That Bind

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The Ties That Bind

  Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at


  By Walter Miller, Jr.

  Illustrated by Kelly Freas

  [Transcriber Note: This etext was produced from IF Worlds of ScienceFiction May 1954. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence thatthe U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

  [Sidenote: _The Earth was green and quiet. Nature had survived Man, andMan had survived himself. Then, one day, the great silvery ships brokethe tranquillity of the skies, bringing Man's twenty-thousand-year-lostinheritance back to Earth...._]

  "_Why does your brand sae drop wi' blude, Edward, Edward? Why does your brand sae drop wi' blude, And why sae sad gang ye, O?" "O I hae kill'd my hawk sae gude, Mither, mither; O I hae kill'd my hawk sae gude, And I had nae mair but he, O._"


  The Horde of sleek ships arose in the west at twilight--gleaming sliversthat reflected the dying sun as they lanced across the darkling heavens.A majestic fleet of squadrons in double-vees, groups in staggeredechelon, they crossed the sky like gleaming geese, and the children ofEarth came out of their whispering gardens to gape at the splendor thatmarched above them.

  There was fear, for no vessel out of space had crossed the skies ofEarth for countless generations, and the children of the planet hadforgotten. The only memories that lingered were in the memnoscripts, andin the unconscious _kulturverlaengerung_, of the people. Because of thelatter half-memory, the people knew, without knowing why, that theslivers of light in the sky were ships, but there was not even a word inthe language to name them.

  The myriad voices of the planet, they cried, or whispered, or chatteredin awed voices under the elms....

  The piping whine of a senile hag: "The ancient gods! The day of thejudging! Repent, repent...."

  The panting gasp of a frightened fat man: "The alien! We're lost, we'relost! We've got to run for the hills!"

  The voice of the child: "See the pretty birdlights? See? See?"

  And a voice of wisdom in the councils of the clans: "The sons ofmen--they've come home from the Star Exodus. Our brothers."

  The slivers of light, wave upon wave, crept into the eclipse shadow asthe twilight deepened and the stars stung through the blackening shellof sky. When the moon rose, the people watched again as the silhouetteof a black double-vee of darts slipped across the lunar disk.

  Beneath the ground, in response to the return of the ships, ancientmechanisms whirred to life, and the tech guilds hurried to tend them. OnEarth, there was a suspenseful night, pregnant with the dissimilar twinsof hope and fear, laden with awe, hushed with the expectancy of twentythousand years. The stargoers--they had come home.

  * * * * *

  "_Kulturverlaengerung!_" grunted the tense young man in the toga of anAnalyst. He stood at one end of the desk, slightly flushed, staring downat the haughty wing leader who watched him icily from a seat at theother end. He said it again, too distinctly, as if the word were a clubto hurl at the wingsman. "_Kulturverlaengerung_, that's why!"

  "I heard you the first time, Meikl," the officer snapped. "Watch yourtongue and your tone!"

  A brief hush in the cabin as hostility flowed between them. There wasonly the hiss of air from the ventilators, and the low whine of theflagship's drive units somewhere below.

  The erect and elderly gentleman who sat behind the desk cleared histhroat politely. "Have you any further clarifications to make, Meikl?"he asked.

  "It should be clear enough to all of you," the analyst retorted hotly.He jerked his head toward the misty crescent of Earth on the viewingscreen that supplied most of the light in the small cabin. "You can seewhat they are, what they've become. And you _know_ what _we_ are."

  The two wingsmen bristled slightly at the edge of contempt in theanalyst's voice. The elderly gentlemen behind the desk remainedimpassive, expressionless.

  The analyst leaned forward with a slow accusing glance that swept thefaces of the three officers, then centered on his antagonist at theother end of the desk. "You want to _infect_ them, Thauele?" he demanded.

  The wingsman darkened. His fist exploded on the desktop. "Meikl, you'rein contempt! Restrict yourself to answering questions!"

  "Yes, sir."

  "There will be no further breaches of military etiquette during thecontinuance of this conference," the elderly gentleman announced icily,thus seizing the situation.

  After a moment's silence, he turned to the analyst again. "We've got torefuel," he said flatly. "In order to refuel, we must land."

  "Yes, sir. But why not on Mars? We can develop our own facilities forproducing fuel. Why must it be Earth?"

  "Because there will be _some existing facilities_ on Earth, even thoughthey're out of space. The job would take five years on Mars."

  The analyst lowered his eyes, shook his head wearily. "I'm thinking of abillion earthlings. Aren't they worth considering, sir?"

  "I've got to consider the men in my command, Meikl. They've been throughhell. We all have."

  "The hell was our own making, baron."


  "Sorry, sir."

  Baron ven Klaeden paused ominously, then: "Besides, Meikl, yourpredictions of disaster rest on certain assumptions not known to betrue. You assume that the recessive determinants still linger in thepresent inhabitants. Twenty thousand years is a long time. Nearly athousand generations. I don't know a great deal about culturetics, butI've read that _kulturverlaengerung_ reaches a threshold of extinctionafter about a dozen generations, if there's no restimulation."

  "Only in laboratory cultures, sir," sighed the analyst. "Under rigidcontrol to make certain there's no restimulant. In practice, in aplanet-wide society, there's constant accidental restimulation,unconsciously occuring. A determinant gets restimulated, pops back tooriginal intensity, and gets passed on. In practice, a kult'laengerlinkage never really dies out--although, it can stay recessive andunconscious."

  "That's too bad," a wingsman growled sourly. "We'll wake it up, won'twe?"

  "Let's not be callous," the other wingsman grunted in sarcasm. "AnalystMeikl has sensitivities."

  The analyst stared from one to the other of them in growingconsternation, then looked pleadingly at the baron. "Sir, I was_summoned_ here to offer my opinions about landing on Earth. You askedabout possible cultural dangers. I've told you."

  "You discussed the danger to earthlings."

  "Yes, sir."

  "I meant 'danger' to the personnel of this fleet--to their esprit, theirindoctrination, their group-efficiency. I take it you see none."

  "On the contrary, I see several," said the analyst, coming slowly to hisfeet, eyes flashing and darting among them. "Where were you born,Wingman?" he asked the officer at the opposite end of the desk.

  "Lichter Six, Satellite," the officer grunted after a moment ofirritable silence.

  "And you?"

  "Omega Thrush," said the other wingsman.

  All knew without asking that the baron was born in space, his birthplaceone of the planetoid city-states of the Michea Dwarf. Meikl lookedaround at them, then ripped up his own sleeve, unsheathed hisrank-dagger, and pricked his forearm with the needle point. A reddroplet appeared, and he wiped at it with a forefinger.

  "It's common stuff, gentlemen. We've shed a lot of it. And each of us isa walking sackful of it." He paused, then turned to touch the point ofhis dagger to the viewer, where it left a tiny red trace on the glass,on the bright crescent of Earth, mist-shrouded, chastely wheeling hernights into days.

  "It came from there," he hissed
. "She's your womb, gentlemen. Are yougoing back?"

  "Are you an analyst or a dramatist, Meikl?" the baron asked sharply,hoping to relieve the sudden chill in the room. "This becomes silly."

  "If you land on her," Meikl promised ominously, "you'll go away with afleet full of hate."

  Meikl's arm dropped to his side. He sheathed his dagger. "Is my presenceat this meeting still imperative, sir?" he asked the baron.

  "Have you anything else to say?"

  "Yes--_don't land on Earth_."

  "That's a repetition. No further
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