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"That's a dirty implication to make, Mr. Alexander Vincent Henry! It just so happens that
enlightened twenty-first century girls carry instant BeeSees with them at all times, but coming from an
old-fashioned neo-Victorian family, you wouldn't know that. And coming from an old-fashioned
neo-Victorian family, you wouldn't know either that when a girl falls in love with someone and
experi-ences an overwhelming desire for him, she has as much right to make advances as he has,
especially when he doesn't know enough to. It's bad enough that you should think I'm a common thief
without thinking I'm a common tart too!"
"I don't think you're a common thief'," Alec said. "I think you're an uncommon one. And I also think
that before this night is out you're prob-ably going to try to kill me, or hire someone to do the job for you,
so that you can take possession of' the final micro-tape cartridge and so AgoCo can acquire the franchise
for the past-acular by reason of YoreCo's sub-sequent default."
She had taken a backward step and her face, so ruddy a moment ago from the sun and the wind,
was now white. "You think I'm one of those horrible agent-assassins? Alec, you can't be-lieve such a
thing!"
"Oh yes I can." Alec held out his hand again. "Give me the case. I know you have it hidden
somewhere. If it's in old Anytus's wagon, we'll go to the camp of the camp followers and you can hand it
over to me there."
For want of a better weapon she tore off one of her sandals and, before he caught on to her
intention, brought it down with all her might upon his palm. "There's your case, Mr. Alexander Vincent
Henry! The only case you're ever going to get from me!" She turned her back on him. "Go away! You
neo-Victorian hypocrite! You seducer. You you sex fiend!"
Alec blinked. Then someone coughed just outside the tent flap. A discreet moment later Pasion
stepped into the tent. "Xenophon requests your presence, Alexander."
Shaking his right hand to quell the tingling of the palm, Alec pointed to Sarai with his left. He shifted
from Anglo-American to Doric. "Keep her here till I get back, Pasion," he said unthinkingly. Then he
strode out into the night, the richer or the poorer for having lost one Babylo-nian slave girl.
X.
Apologia
ENOPHON'S TENT was considerably larger than any of the others and was pitched on slightly
X
higher ground. Alec found the Athenian sitting at a portable wooden table, a roll of papyrus before him, a
reed pen and a small cruse of ink adjacent to his right hand. He had purchased a new mili-tary outfit in
Trebisond that was even more resplendent than the one he'd packed from Athens, and lie fairly shone in
the combined radiance of a pair of klieg-like oil lamps.
After the two men exchanged greet-ings, Alec sat down on a bench oppo-site the Athenian. Casually
Xenophon reached beneath the folds of his golden mantle, withdrew the missing cartridge case and laid it
on the table. Alec gasped.
Sure, Pasion would have roused him if an outsider had entered the tent. But not if Xenophon had
en-tered it. And if' Xenophon, after re-moving the case from Alec's vest, had sworn the Arcadian to
secrecy. Pasion naturally would have told no one.
"Why, Xenophon?"
"You are an intelligent man, Alexander, and so, indubitably, are your masters. Yet you failed to
anticipate that someday one of your enemies would, by making greater use of the simultaneity of time,
gain an insuper-able advantage in the profit war you are waging.
"Let me elaborate. You, for the sake of simplicity, shall be this enemy. Very well. You find among
your slaves a husband and wife who have known semi-poverty all their lives. The woman is with child,
and the advanced science of your era en-ables you to determine that the child will be a male. You then
hold the prospect of riches before the man's and the woman's eyes not great riches, but modest ones,
for to some-one who has never owned a half--daric, a full daric represents a for-tune. You then present
your proposal, and they accept it. Then, after teach-ing them all they will need to know, you send them
back to a point in the past that precedes the Expedition of Cyrus by some thirty years. The child is born,
and the parents rear him in accordance with their instructions, preparing him throughout his youth for a
mission whose full meaning is beyond his comprehension because he belongs to a different thought-world
than they, but a mission which he should nevertheless be able to com-plete. The parents name this
child perhaps by accident, perhaps by design `Xenophon', and they explain to him exactly what he
must do when the time comes and assure him that after he has done it he can, if he wishes, remain in the
age to which the mission ultimately will lead him and in which he rightfully belongs. Are you beginning to
understand, Alexander?"
Dazed, Alec said, "I think so . . . I think your parents' so-called masters probably gambled on your
turning out to be the real Xenophon. But why are you telling me all this when the main purpose of your
mission is to murder me?"
"That is no longer so, Alexander. It is no longer so because of three reasons, none of which my
parents' masters took into consideration. In my youth. I was walking down a nar-row thoroughfare one
day when a barefoot old man with crooked legs and a misshapen face barred my path and asked me [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]




 

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