Cora pointed them out to Rachael, who responded
by picking indiiferently at the strings of her neurophon.
“Stop that.” Cora frowned at her. “You know better
Rachael wrinkled her brow. “Oh, Mother … I’ve
got the projection matrix turned oil and the power way
down. I can’t possibly bother the shuttle.”
But Cora had experienced a telltale if faint tingle
along her spine. “Your axonics are lit. I felt it. You
might disturb the other passengers.”
“I haven’t heard any complaints,” Rachael said
softly. But she touched several contact points on the
chordal dendritics, cut final power. She plucked petulantly at one string. It produced a normal musical tone
that drifted through the cabin. Several passengers
turned back to look at her.
Cora’s nerves did not respond. Satisfied, she returned
her gaze to the port.
Rachael was sharp enough to find nonverbal ways
to show her unhappiness. Cora told herself that her
daughter knew damn well that playing a neurophon in
an unsealed room on board any craft was against all
flight rules. It would have been bad enough on board
the liner-transport they had just left. In a shuttle, where
the descent was a matter of delicate, critical adjustments by pilot and machine, it could have placed them
in deep trouble. Rachael was fooling with her damnable toy only to irritate her mother, Cora knew. It
would be so much better for her if she would simply
disown the instrument. It occupied far too much of
her study. time. Cora had tried to persuade her to
abandon the device. She had tried only once. It had
become an obsession with her daughter, and more than
that, a surrogate larynx. Rachael knew she couldn’t
battle her mother with words, so she would sometimes
counter an argument by sulking and speaking only
with the nerve music. Her daughter was turning into a
“That’s a neurophon, isn’t it? I thought I felt something picking at me a little while ago.” He smiled explosively, changing suddenly from nondescript to
“It’s a Chalcopyritic finish, Twelve Plank model,
isn’t it? Made on Amropolus? With the Yhu Hive
“That’s right.” Rachael brightened, turned in her
seat. “Do you play?”
“No.” The man sounded apologetic. “Wish I did.
I’m afraid my musical abilities are pretty nonexistent.
But I know enough to be able to appreciate a skilled
performer when I hear one. However briefly.” Again
the lustrous grin.
“Tell me,” he said, shifting in his seat as they
skipped a light bump in the atmosphere, “on directional projections, can you change keys and limbs
“Sometimes,” She sounded enthusiastic. Cora stared
resolutely out the port. “It’s hard, though, when you’re
concentrating on the music and trying to produce the
matching neurologic responses in your audience. It’s
so difficult just to execute those properly, without trying to worry about physiological orientation, too.
There’s so damn much to concentrate on.”
“Would you like me to play something for you now,
maybe?” She swung the lyre-shaped instrument into
playing position, her left hand caressing the strings, the
right poised over the power controls and projector sensors. “In spite of what my mother says, I don’t think
the pilot would mind.”
“It’s not a question of the pilot’s minding,” he said.
thoughtfully. “I know you can keep the level down.
But it wouldn’t be courteous to our fellow passengers.
They might not all be music lovers. Besides,” and he
smiled slightly again, “you might accidentally put out
the lights, or drop the temperature thirty degrees.”
“All right. But when we get down, if you don’t disappear on me too fast, I promise I’ll play something for
you. Tell me,” she went on excitedly, leaning farther
into the aisle, “do you know anything about the new
cerebral excluder? That’s the one that’s supposed to
allow you to add another forty watts’ neuronic power.”
“I’ve heard of it,” he admitted pleasantly. “They say
that it can …”
They rambled on enthusiastically, the discussion
shifting from matters musical to the latest developments in instrumental electronics.
It was all somewhat beyond Cora. A top-flight neurophon player had to be musician, physicist, and physcist.
She stole another glance at Merced. He was listening
quietly while Rachael expounded on the virtues of
Amropolous-made neurophons as opposed to those
manufactured on Willow-Wane. He had the look of a
fisherman returning home, or perhaps a financial expert shipped out by an investment firm to explore the
earnings of one or two of its floating farms. His skin
was properly dark, but his facial features and small
bone structure did not jibe with those of the dominant
Polynesian-descended settlers of the water world. He
was an ofi-worlder for sure.
They were preparing to leave the pier when she felt
a gentle tingle in her lower legs. The tingle traveled up
her thighs, ran like an acrobatic arachnid up her spine.
Simultaneously a plaintive melody sounded in her ears,
counterpointing the delicate rippling active inside her.
Apparently the subdued beauty was inspiring Rachael. Her daughter’s hands caressed the neurophon.
One strummed the dual sets of circular strings that lay
in the center of the instrument, the other fluttered over
the contact controls set in the instrument’s handle and
base. The coupling of aural music with the subsonic
vibrations aflecting her skin and nerves produced a relaxing sensation throughout Cora’s body, as if she had
just spent an hour beneath a fine-spray shower.
Merced appeared similarly affected, but Mataroreva’s reaction was quite difierent. The smile vanished
from his face and he turned so abruptly he almost
knocked Cora down.
“What’s the matter?” She tried to make the wide
grin return. “I’m no music lover myself, but …”
“It’s not that.” He was looking nervously beyond
her. “It has nothing to do with the music. I like the
music and the neuronics. It’s just that … I think she’d
better stop.” He was standing on the edge of the pier,
across from the shuttle, staring down into the muted
crystalline water. Elongated bands of light, reflections
of the sun on water ripples, flashed up at him.
Rachael paused when he made a quieting gesture in
her direction. “But you said you liked it,” she protested. “I can play something else if you want.”
“Just turn off the dendritic resonators.”
“Not again.” She petulantly ran her hand across a
long series of contacts. Cora felt something combing
her nerves. “I keep trying to explain it’s all of one
piece, the aural and the neuronics. If I can’t conjoin
them properly, I might as well give it up and take up
“Just for now,” Mataroreva said.
Merced was also staring over the side of the pier. “I
do believe there is something under the sand.”
Rachael ignored them both, her hands flicking angrily over the neurophon’s controls, generating a last
discordant dual projection before shutting the instrument off.
Cora’s nerves jumped a little under the sharp stimulation. Then she discovered herself bewilderedly
stumbling backward. Seawater geysered in front of her.
Draped by the water like a maiden in a blue-green suit
was a four-meter-high orange body, flattened like a
flounder’s and encrusted with rough protrusions like a
chunk of pumice. Several thick pink pseudopods waved
at the air. Cora did not see any eyes but received the
distinct impression that the creature perceived her
Mataroreva fell flat. From his cluttered equipment
belt he withdrew a very compact beamer. The underwater weapon functioned well on dry land; a beam of
bright blue struck the apparition in its midsection, or
what Cora assumed to be its midsection. She could see
it a bit more clearly now. Only seconds had passed. It
looked like a cross between an obese squid and a starfish with delusions of grandeur. The blue fire struck
between a pair of tentacles, pierced clean through the
orange flesh. One thick, bristly appendage slapped
wetly on the pier, only centimeters from Cora’s ankles.
The blue beam struck the creature again and it slid
back into the water. It had not made a sound.
The big Polynesian gestured toward Rachael. The
woman who had joined them nodded understandingly.
“She was playing that?”
“I—I’m sorry.” Rachael stared at them, dumbly. “I
didn’t know. I mean, I know that a neurophon’s vibrations can affect certain animals. It’s just … the
water here is so shallow, and we’re in a protected lagoon near human habitation and I—I didn’t see …”