About the Author
Ursula K. Le Guin has published twenty-one novels, eleven volumes of short stories, four collections of essays, twelve books for children, six volumes of poetry, and four of translation, and has received the Hugo, Nebula, Endeavor, Locus, Tiptree, Sturgeon, PEN-Malamud, and National Book Award and the Pushcart and Janet Heidinger Kafka prizes, among others.
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In recent years she has received lifetime achievement awards from World Fantasy Awards, Los Angeles Times, Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association, and Willamette Writers, as well as the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Grand Master Award and the Library of Congress Living Legends award. Le Guin was the recipient of the Association for Library Service to Children’s May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Award and the Margaret Edwards Award.
Her recent publications include the novel Lavinia, Words Are My Matter, an essay collection, and Finding My Elegy, New and Selected Poems. She lives in Portland, Oregon, and her website is UrsulaKLeGuin.com.
The Found and the Lost VASTER THAN EMPIRES
As I recall, Robert Silverberg, who first published this story in New Dimensions 1, asked very gently if I would change the title. I could see where a reader about halfway through might find the title all too descriptive of the story itself; but it was too beautiful, and too beautifully apt, to part with, and Mr. Silverberg let me keep it. It’s from Marvell, “To his Coy Mistress”—
Our vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow. . . .
Like “Nine Lives,” this is not a psychomyth but a regular science fiction story, developed not for action/adventure, but psychologically. Unless physical action reflects psychic action, unless the deeds express the person, I get very bored with adventure stories; often it seems that the more action there is, the less happens. Obviously my interest is in what goes on inside. Inner space and all that. We all have forests in our minds. Forests unexplored, unending. Each of us gets lost in the forest, every night, alone.
Hidden in the foliage here is a tiny act of homage. The protagonist of “He Who Shapes” by Roger Zelazny, one of the finest science fiction stories I know, is called Charles Render. I christened a syndrome after him.
IT WAS ONLY DURING THE earliest decades of the League that the Earth sent ships out on the enormously long voyages, beyond the pale, over the stars and far away. They were seeking for worlds which had not been seeded or settled by the Founders on Hain, truly alien worlds. All the Known Worlds went back to the Hainish Origin, and the Terrans, having been not only founded but salvaged by the Hainish, resented this. They wanted to get away from the family. They wanted to find somebody new. The Hainish, like tiresomely understanding parents, supported their explorations, and contributed ships and volunteers, as did several other worlds of the League.
All these volunteers to the Extreme Survey crews shared one peculiarity: they were of unsound mind.
What sane person, after all, would go out to collect information that would not be received for five or ten centuries? Cosmic mass interference had not yet been eliminated from the operation of the ansible, and so instantaneous communication was reliable only within a range of 120 lightyears. The explorers would be quite isolated. And of course they had no idea what they might come back to, if they came back. No normal human being who had experienced time-slippage of even a few decades between League worlds would volunteer for a round trip of centuries. The Surveyors were escapists, misfits. They were nuts.
Ten of them climbed aboard the ferry at Smeming Port, and made varyingly inept attempts to get to know one another during the three days the ferry took getting to their ship, Gum. Gum is a Cetian nickname, on the order of Baby or Pet. There were two Cetians on the team, two Hainishmen, one Beldene, and five Terrans; the Cetian-built ship was chartered by the Government of Earth. Her motley crew came aboard wriggling through the coupling tube one by one like apprehensive spermatozoa trying to fertilize the universe. The ferry left, and the navigator put Gum underway. She flittered for some hours on the edge of space a few hundred million miles from Smeming Port, and then abruptly vanished.
When, after 10 hours 29 minutes, or 256 years, Gum reappeared in normal space, she was supposed to be in the vicinity of Star KG-E-96651. Sure enough, there was the gold pinhead of the star. Somewhere within a four-hundred-million-kilometer sphere there was also a greenish planet, World 4470, as charted by a Cetian mapmaker. The ship now had to find the planet. This was not quite so easy as it might sound, given a four-hundred-million-kilometer haystack. And Gum couldn’t bat about in planetary space at near lightspeed; if she did, she and Star KG-E-96651 and World 4470 might all end up going bang. She had to creep, using rocket propulsion, at a few hundred thousand miles an hour. The Mathematician/Navigator, Asnanifoil, knew pretty well where the planet ought to be, and thought they might raise it within ten E-days. Meanwhile the members of the Survey team got to know one another still better.
“I can’t stand him,” said Porlock, the Hard Scientist (chemistry, plus physics, astronomy, geology, etc.), and little blobs of spittle appeared on his mustache. “The man is insane. I can’t imagine why he was passed as fit to join a Survey team, unless this is a deliberate experiment in noncompatibility, planned by the Authority, with us as guinea pigs.”
“We generally use hamsters and Hainish gholes,” said Mannon, the Soft Scientist (psychology, plus psychiatry, anthropology, ecology, etc.), politely; he was one of the Hainishmen. “Instead of guinea pigs. Well, you know, Mr. Osden is really a very rare case. In fact, he’s the first fully cured case of Render’s Syndrome—a variety of infantile autism which was thought to be incurable. The great Terran analyst Hammergeld reasoned that the cause of the autistic condition in this case is a supernormal empathic capacity, and developed an appropriate treatment. Mr. Osden is the first patient to undergo that treatment, in fact he lived with Dr. Hammergeld until he was eighteen. The therapy was completely successful.
“Why, yes. He certainly is not autistic.”
“No, he’s intolerable!”
“Well, you see,” said Mannon, gazing mildly at the saliva-flecks on Porlock’s mustache, “the normal defensive-aggressive reaction between strangers meeting—let’s say you and Mr. Osden just for example—is something you’re scarcely aware of; habit, manners, inattention get you past it; you’ve learned to ignore it, to the point where you might even deny it exists. However, Mr. Osden, being an empath, feels it. Feels his feelings, and yours, and is hard put to say which is which. Let’s say that there’s a normal element of hostility towards any stranger in your emotional reaction to him when you meet him, plus a spontaneous dislike of his looks, or clothes, or handshake—it doesn’t matter what. He feels that dislike. As his autistic defense has been unlearned, he resorts to an aggressive-defense mechanism, a response in kind to the aggression which you have unwittingly projected onto him.” Mannon went on for quite a long time.
“Nothing gives a man the right to be such a bastard,” Porlock said.
“He can’t tune us out?” asked Harfex, the Biologist, another Hainishman.
“It’s like hearing,” said Olleroo, Assistant Hard Scientist, stooping over to paint her toenails with fluorescent lacquer. “No eyelids on your ears. No Off switch on empathy. He hears our feelings whether he wants to or not.”
“Does he know what we’re thinking?” asked Eskwana, the Engineer, looking round at the others in real dread.
“No,” Porlock snapped. “Empathy’s not telepathy! Nobody’s got telepathy.”
“Yet,” said Mannon, with his little smile. “Just before I left Hain there was a most interesting report in from one of the recently rediscovered worlds, a hilfer named Rocannon reporting what appears to be a teachable telepathic technique existent among a mutated hominid race; I only saw a synopsis in the HILF Bulletin, but—” He went on. The others had learned that they could talk while Mannon went on talking; he did not seem to mind, nor even to miss much of what they said.
“Then why does he hate us?” Eskwana said.
“Nobody hates you, Ander honey,” said Olleroo, daubing Eskwana’s left thumbnail with fluorescent pink. The engineer flushed and smiled vaguely.
“He acts as if he hated us,” said Haito, the Coordinator. She was a delicate-looking woman of pure Asian descent, with a surprising voice, husky, deep, and soft, like a young bullfrog. “Why, if he suffers from our hostility, does he increase it by constant attacks and insults? I can’t say I think much of Dr. Hammergeld’s cure, really, Mannon; autism might be preferable. . . .”
She stopped. Osden had come into the main cabin.
He looked flayed. His skin was unnaturally white and thin, showing the channels of his blood like a faded road map in red and blue. His Adam’s apple, the muscles that circled his mouth, the bones and ligaments of his wrists and hands, all stood out distinctly as if displayed for an anatomy lesson. His hair was pale rust, like long-dried blood. He had eyebrows and lashes, but they were visible only in certain lights; what one saw was the bones of the eye sockets, the veining of the lids, and the colorless eyes. They were not red eyes, for he was not really an albino, but they were not blue or grey; colors had cancelled out in Osden’s eyes, leaving a cold water-like clarity, infinitely penetrable. He never looked directly at one. His face lacked expression, like an anatomical drawing, or a skinned face.
“I agree,” he said in a high, harsh tenor, “that even autistic withdrawal might be preferable to the smog of cheap secondhand emotions with which you people surround me. What are you sweating hate for now, Porlock? Can’t stand the sight of me? Go practice some auto-eroticism the way you were doing last night, it improves your vibes. Who the devil moved my tapes, here? Don’t touch my things, any of you. I won’t have it.”
“Osden,” said Asnanifoil in his large slow voice, “why are you such a bastard?”
Ander Eskwana cowered and put his hands in front of his face. Contention frightened him. Olleroo looked up with a vacant yet eager expression, the eternal spectator.
“Why shouldn’t I be?” said Osden. He was not looking at Asnanifoil, and was keeping physically as far away from all of them as he could in the crowded cabin. “None of you constitute, in yourselves, any reason for my changing my behavior.”
Harfex, a reserved and patient man, said, “The reason is that we shall be spending several years together. Life will be better for all of us if—”
“Can’t you understand that I don’t give a damn for all of you?” Osden said, took up his microtapes, and went out. Eskwana had suddenly gone to sleep. Asnanifoil was drawing slipstreams in the air with his finger and muttering the Ritual Primes. “You cannot explain his presence on the team except as a plot on the part of the Terran Authority. I saw this almost at once. This mission is meant to fail,” Harfex whispered to the Coordinator, glancing over his shoulder. Porlock was fumbling with his fly-button; there were tears in his eyes. I did tell you they were all crazy, but you thought I was exaggerating.
All the same, they were not unjustified. Extreme Surveyors expected to find their fellow team members intelligent, well-trained, unstable, and personally sympathetic. They had to work together in close quarters and nasty places, and could expect one another’s paranoias, depressions, manias, phobias, and compulsions to be mild enough to admit of good personal relationships, at least most of the time. Osden might be intelligent, but his training was sketchy and his personality was disastrous. He had been sent only on account of his singular gift, the power of empathy: properly speaking, of wide-range bioempathic receptivity. His talent wasn’t species-specific; he could pick up emotion or sentience from anything that felt. He could share lust with a white rat, pain with a squashed cockroach, and phototropy with a moth. On an alien world, the Authority had decided, it would be useful to know if anything nearby is sentient, and if so, what its feelings towards you are. Osden’s title was a new one: he was the team’s Sensor.
“What is emotion, Osden?” Haito Tomiko asked him one day in the main cabin, trying to make some rapport with him for once. “What is it, exactly, that you pick up with your empathic sensitivity?”
“Muck,” the man answered in his high, exasperated voice. “The psychic excreta of the animal kingdom. I wade through your faeces.”
“I was trying,” she said, “to learn some facts.” She thought her tone was admirably calm.
“You weren’t after facts. You were trying to get at me. With some fear, some curiosity, and a great deal of distaste. The way you might poke a dead dog, to see the maggots crawl. Will you understand once and for all that I don’t want to be got at, that I want to be left alone?” His skin was mottled with red and violet, his voice had risen. “Go roll in your own dung, you yellow bitch!” he shouted at her silence.
“Calm down,” she said, still quietly, but she left him at once and went to her cabin. Of course he had been right about her motives; her question had been largely a pretext, a mere effort to interest him. But what harm in that? Did not that effort imply respect for the other? At the moment of asking the question she had felt at most a slight distrust of him; she had mostly felt sorry for him, the poor arrogant venomous bastard, Mr. No-Skin as Olleroo called him. What did he expect, the way he acted? Love?
“I guess he can’t stand anybody feeling sorry for him,” said Olleroo, lying on the lower bunk, gilding her nipples.
“Then he can’t form any human relationship. All his Dr. Hammergeld did was turn an autism inside out. . . .”
“Poor frot,” said Olleroo. “Tomiko, you don’t mind if Harfex comes in for a while tonight, do you?”
“Can’t you go to his cabin? I’m sick of always having to sit in Main with that damned peeled turnip.”
“You do hate him, don’t you? I guess he feels that. But I slept with Harfex last night too, and Asnanifoil might get jealous, since they share the cabin. It would be nicer here.”
“Service them both,” Tomiko said with the coarseness of offended modesty. Her Terran subculture, the East Asian, was a puritanical one; she had been brought up chaste.
“I only like one a night,” Olleroo replied with innocent serenity. Beldene, the Garden Planet, had never discovered chastity, or the wheel.
“Try Osden, then,” Tomiko said. Her personal instability was seldom so plain as now: a profound self-distrust manifesting itself as destructivism. She had volunteered for this job because there was, in all probability, no use in doing it.
The little Beldene looked up, paintbrush in hand, eyes wide. “Tomiko, that was a dirty thing to say.”
“It would be vile! I’m not attracted to Osden!”
“I didn’t know it mattered to you,” Tomiko said indifferently, though she did know. She got some papers together and left the cabin, remarking, “I hope you and Harfex or whoever it is finish by last bell; I’m tired.”
Olleroo was crying, tears dripping on her little gilded nipples. She wept easily. Tomiko had not wept since she was ten years old.
It was not a happy ship; but it took a turn for the better when Asnanifoil and his computers raised World 4470. There it lay, a dark-green jewel, like truth at the bottom of a gravity well. As they watched the jade disc grow, a sense of mutuality grew among them. Osden’s selfishness, his accurate cruelty, served now to draw the others together. “Perhaps,” Mannon said, “he was sent as a beating-gron. What Terrans call a scapegoat. Perhaps his influence will be good after all.” And no one, so careful were they to be kind to one another, disagreed.
They came into orbit. There were no lights on nightside, on the continents none of the lines and clots made by animals who build.
“No men,” Harfex murmured.
“Of course not,” snapped Osden, who had a viewscreen to himself, and his head inside a polythene bag. He claimed that the plastic cut down on the empathic noise he received from the others. “We’re two lightcenturies past the limit of t...
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